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Masterclass Manchester City Champions League does not show well for restless Mauricio Pochettino at PSG

LONDON: Despite all the will and ambition of a manager, sometimes the fit of a club is not quite right.

As much as Mauricio Pochettino insists he is happy at Paris Saint-Germain, speculation about a transfer to Manchester United will not go away.

Not now – not even with the surprise appointment of Ralf Rangnick on Thursday as interim manager of Old Trafford clubs until the end of the season – and not before someone is eventually chosen as a permanent replacement for Ole Gunnar Solskjaers.

Pochettino remains a leading candidate for that role.

And despite his belief that his PSG players will not be distracted by what happens in the next six months, football history has often shown that dedication and quality don’t always emerge when there are rumors of managerial position, both positive and negative.

Midfielder Ander Herrera, who ironically came from United to PSG in 2019 after five years at Old Trafford on a free transfer, said: We are confident we know he is focused on the season and our club and that he is trying to get the best out of the team to get.

We are not distracted at all [by the situation]. Since the first day I came here, everyone likes to talk about it, everyone likes to make rumors about it. That doesn’t affect us at all.

That’s up for debate, given their tasteless and incoherent display in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League.

It was a result that saw Pep Guardiolas lead the pack with the French side finishing second, facing a potentially stronger last-16 opponent.

City had the balletic attacking brilliance and cultured ballplayers that Lionel Messi and Neymar once had alongside them during their Barcelona heyday.

Now they were mere passengers, observers at a Guardiola masterclass that deserved a greater margin of victory for the champions of the English Premier League.

Based on his success over five years at Tottenham Hotspur, Pochettino has built a reputation for building sides with a strong work and team ethic. That is not visible in a PSG outfit that seems unbalanced and unconvincing and has to earn their wins.

In the first half, they had just three touches in the penalty area, compared to City’s 23.

Blessed with enviable individual talent, and despite a lucky lead via Kylian Mbappe, they were often unraveled by a City squad that missed the injured Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and 100 million signed Jack Grealish.

In Bernardo Silva, the hosts had a player described by Gabriel Jesus – who scored the winning goal after an equalizing goal from Raheem Sterling – as one of the best players in the world right now. The Brazilian striker also said that “no one is selfish” in the City team.

The hashtag #PochOUT! was quickly popular on Twitter after the defeat, with Pochettino being criticized for being too defensive, lacking creative ideas and incapable of getting more out of a frontline of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe that was more arduous than deadly.

Pochettino felt PSG suffered against City, while Herrera said Guardiolas had the quality to kill you.

But captain Marquinhos gave insight into his own shortcomings, adding: The Champions League, that is, you have to know how to play against the big teams.

At the moment PSG cannot.

With the Champions League coveted by their Qatari owners, this doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season, nor for Pochettinos’ future.

Just two seasons ago, Thomas Tuchel led them to the Champions League final, where they were knocked out 1-0 by Bayern Munich. Four months later, he was sacked with the highest win rate in Ligue 1 history.

PSG should now be ready to compete for the trophy, but look a level below their European rivals.

Pochettino has to respond to that. The results will determine whether he stays in Paris or whether the Argentine will be their first and best choice when United make their decision at the end of the season.

While PSG have decided not to let Pochettino leave midway through the season, he will also be aware that Zinedine Zidane had been discussed as a replacement – and would be popular with fans and the owners.

Ten years ago, when Qatar made a bid to host the 2022 World Cup, they brought on board a host of great names to raise their profile and increase their chances.

Among them were Guardiola and Saudi Arabian superstar Sami Al-Jaber. But it was Zidane’s signing that was seen as the pivotal moment in helping them succeed against all odds.

The Frenchman is often referred to as the football hero for many of those at the forefront of sporting change in the Middle East.

A gifted player for clubs like Juventus and Real Madrid and its national team, Zidane was iconic and inspiring, a legend.

But also in the Gulf, he was admired for his Arab roots – a Muslim of Algerian Kabyle descent.

Zidane would be the prestigious asset to the Qataris a la Messi – or Guardiola in coaching terms as he took over at City and transformed them with style and success.

With 11 trophies in his first managerial job at Real Madrid – in two spells and five years – he would also be the biggest winner since Carlo Ancelotti had a 16-month spell in 2012.

By winning three consecutive Champions League titles, Zidane managed to bring out the best in Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to show that he can handle big names, and the challenge and anticipation of managing a big club.

Imagine what he could do with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe if he were persuaded to stay by adopting a more aggressive and attacking approach?

While Madrid still seem favored to lure French striker Mbappe when his contract expires next summer, perhaps Zidane at the helm could bring him to stay a little longer.

As he admitted before, if you’re a boy and you’re French, then your idol is Zidane.

Mbappe, 22, will also have watched Benzema blossom under Zidanes’ tutelage to become one of the world’s best strikers again at the age of 33.

Revered and respected by his tough-demanding colleagues, Zidane could breathe new life into PSG – and give Pochettino the chance to build a United team that underperforms but still has so much potential. In the end, this would seem like a perfect match – and a fait accompli.




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