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London Evening Standard - 2021-11-25

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Manner of defeat shows why Pochettino may be willing to take United job

Sport

At the Etihad

Manchester City 2 Sterling 63, Jesus 76 Paris Saint-Germain 1 Mbappe 50 James Robson MAURICIO POCHETTINO’S reasons for wanting to take up the challenge at Manchester United became abundantly clear in the heartland of their bitter rivals. It would have been too perfect for the Argentine to issue a statement win against Pep Guardiola last night. But in defeat for his Paris Saint-Germain side came an explanation why he is so willing to walk away from the French giants, Lionel Messi, Neymar and all. This is not Pochettino’s team. He is just along for the ride. And as he stood, almost impotently on the touchline (below), with hands in pockets, he felt as much a spectator as anyone else here in the Etihad as Manchester City secured a 2-1 win that barely reflected their superiority. There is little sign of Pochettino’s influence on PSG. None of the hallmarks of the Tottenham team on which he built his reputation and came within a whisker conquering Europe with. Where is the high-energy, high-pressing football that took the Premier League by storm? Could he have possibly achieved such success if Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son had been allowed to abdicate their duties in the manner of PSG’s superstar forwards? Watching the trio of Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe watching their overworked team-mates try to hold back the relentless tide of City’s attacks, begged the question: Why doesn’t Pochettino do something about it? But perhaps that is precisely the point in this role. Is there anything he can do about it? Can you mould a group of such individual talents — and egos — into a cohesive unit? And if not, can such a tactile manager ever be satisfied in this job? Even he did not sound convinced when addressing that issue. “We are improving,” he said. “I am happy with how we are improving step by step. They are better than a month ago and they are much better than two months ago. Little by little, I think the team is going to improve.” But will it ever be a discernibly Pochettino team — in the same way that City embody Guardiola? City’s winning goal, courtesy of Gabriel Jesus in the 76th minute, was everything the Premier League champions are — everything PSG are not. It was a moment of precision and harmony, lifted straight from exhaustive training ground rehearsals and delivered to perfection on the big stage. Pochettino could only dream of such cohesion from his team — a description they barely warranted on the night. He can only dream of being given the opportunity to build a side in his own image, in the manner of Guardiola at City. That is what is so appealing about United. While, from the outside, the glamour of PSG seems so alluring, with an all-star squad that looks built for success — the reality is a club that serially underachieves, with enough A-listers to dominate domestically but not the structure to triumph in Europe. Pochettino is caught in the same trap as so many of his predecessors — cruising to the title in France, but knowing that he is just one knockout tie away from being branded a failure. The expectations are not so high at United — but that is not the reason Pochettino yearns for Old Trafford. There he will be given the resources and time to shape his own project — just like Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. He will not just be a hired hand, directing someone else’s vanity project. He will be given the chance to stamp his mark on United and be the latest man charged with the responsibility of reviving the sleeping giant. Succeed or fail, it will be on his own terms. A luxury he has not been afforded at PSG.

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