It wasn’t that long ago in Mauricio Pochettino’s management career that he went a full summer without being granted any new players at all.
Three years later, in a different country and, on the surface, in a different footballing stratosphere, he is about to be handed the most glamorous signing in the history of the sport, Cristiano Ronaldo.
For Pochettino, there may well be a sense that he has earned something like this at this point. His time at Tottenham was characterized by limited resources for the majority of the time. The notion of being in charge of Lionel Messi must be sending him into a condition that is almost like a dream.
For Pochettino and Paris St-Germain, this is truly the stuff of fantasy, and they will at the very least be aware that the anticipated arrival of Messi will significantly increase the global profile of their club.
This is a move that cannot go wrong for a team like PSG. Pochettino, on the other hand, is dealing with a different situation. Expectations are already sky-high in Paris, and they will skyrocket much higher if and when Messi’s arrival is officially announced. Although Messi-Neymar-Mbappe appears incredible on paper, Pochettino will pay the price with his career and his reputation if he fails to make the combination work in practice.
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Messi’s efficacy at the top level of the club game has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, and it has gotten increasingly difficult to ignore the evidence. With the exception of the 2015 Champions League title, he and Barcelona have only advanced once farther than the quarter-final stage of the competition since that time.
There is one caveat: Barcelona is a complete wreck, and their squad-building has been haphazard in recent years, particularly in the Champions League. Despite this, Messi has regularly been the best player on the planet, which speaks something about his own abilities. However, there have been a few instances in which Messi has been a contributing factor to a team’s woes in key European games.
Today’s top-level European football is, more than ever before, a game of systems. The previous three Champions League champions were Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich, and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, all of whom are currently playing in the Premier League. Every single one of the three coaches in German, and they all coached teams in which the collective was considerably more important than the individual. When up against these 11-man units, Messi has appeared as if he is a helpless soloist at times.
Pochettino already has a player in Neymar who has an on-and-off relationship with defensive attentiveness, and he can use him to his advantage. Is it possible for a team to win the Champions League in 2021 with two stars who prefer to pursue their own interests? Will the other nine players be willing to do their jogging for Messi and Neymar if they are given the leeway to do so? Will Mbappe not believe himself to be deserving of special consideration?
Messi and Neymar have a close friendship away from the field and have previously flourished when they have played together. They were part of the Barcelona team that won the treble in 2015, alongside Luis Suarez. However, Neymar was still a youngster at the start of that season, and he was still looking to establish himself. Messi was at the pinnacle of his physical abilities at the time. Furthermore, they had an accomplice in the form of Suarez, who could both perform the dirty work and create goals for his teammates. Mbappe, on the other hand, is not that player.
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Having said that, there is no doubt that Messi will bring goals, assists, and an abundance of spectacular moments to PSG. After all, we’re talking about a player who has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last 13 seasons. Ligue 1 teams such as Troyes, Metz, Strasbourg, and Brest are in for a rough ride in 2018, and few would bet against Paris Saint-Germain reclaimed the Ligue 1 championship.
PSG’s team of individuals will be put to the ultimate test later in the season when they will unavoidably come up against one of Europe’s greatest collectives. Recent history, as well as the growth of the game, suggests that greater glory for the greatest of all time is far from assured.