Paris Saint-Germain – Real Madrid: From Ancelotti to Pochettino, PSG’s offbeat strategy with its coaches

December 30, 2011. The revolution started a few months earlier by QSI at PSG takes a first big turn. Carlo Ancelotti is appointed coach of the capital club, eight days after the ousting of Antoine Kombouaré. A choice that makes some teeth cringe, since the Kanak was sacked while his team was leading the championship. But at least the message is clear. By recruiting a coach twice titled in the Champions League with AC Milan (2003 and 2007), Paris is already showing its ambitions to become a major player in the competition.

A little over eleven years later, « Carletto » will be on the bench opposite. That of Real Madrid, where he added a third Champions League to his list in 2014, a year after leaving PSG. On that of Paris, there will be a man still looking for his first Cup with big ears. Mauricio Pochettino did not go far in 2019. He brilliantly led Tottenham to the final, lost to Liverpool (2-0). The Argentinian had thus missed the opportunity to open in a spectacular way a list of winners that had remained hopelessly empty until his arrival in Paris.

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Nobody embodied the project better than Ancelotti

The abysmal gap between the CVs of the two men symbolizes PSG’s radical change of course in the choice of its coaches. With Ancelotti, the Parisian leaders had acquired a coach capable of growing the club. A renowned and respected technician for having won the greatest titles as a player, then as a coach. An ultra-refined man with the highest demands, with this science of detail so precious in C1, and who had proven his ability to manage star locker rooms. In short, a coach who embodied the culture of « winning » and thus stuck to the PSG project.

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The Parisian leaders did not continue on the same path. Ancelotti would even be the exception that proves the rule. Subsequently, Paris bet on coaches with ever less extensive track records than the Italian technician. Laurent Blanc landed in Paris with a title of champion of France (2009) and a Coupe de la Ligue (2009) won with Bordeaux. Even if the President also had experience as a coach of the France team and a quarter-final of the Champions League to his credit, he already did not offer the same references as Ancelotti.

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The trend was confirmed with the appointment of Unai Emery to succeed the Frenchman in the summer of 2016. The Spaniard had made a solid reputation with his three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla FC (2014, 2015, 2016), but he had never distinguished himself in the queen competition of European cups. Thomas Tuchel, who took over in 2018, had only won a German Cup with Borussia Dortmund in 2017 before arriving at PSG. It was little, but still more than Mauricio Pochettino, without a title when he signed in Paris in January 2020.

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This does not call into question the quality of the technicians who succeeded Ancelotti. But if the Italian was clearly in the category of safe bets among the best coaches in the world, his successors inevitably looked more like bets, more or less risky depending on the case. Because they still had to prove their ability to win the biggest competitions. Growing together is the project that the Parisian management has set up with Blanc, Tuchel, Emery then Pochettino.

The symbolism of the last summer transfer window

The paradox of this strategy is that it differs considerably from that which the Parisian leaders have chosen to build their workforce. They had started by recruiting up-and-coming players, like Javier Pastore, figurehead of QSI’s first transfer window in the summer of 2011, or Blaise Matuidi. Also because the club was starting from afar and it was certainly more difficult to convince more experienced players to join the club. The arrival of Carlo Ancelotti also coincided with the first turn towards the acquisition of well-established elements in the Champions League such as Thiago Motta or Maxwell, then Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva.

The sequel confirmed the trend with the arrival of players like Edinson Cavani, David Luiz, Angel Di Maria or Neymar, among others. With the highlight of the last summer transfer window which saw three players already titled in the Champions League, Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos and Georginio Wijnaldum, come to swell the ranks of the Parisian workforce. A locker room of players accustomed to winning the biggest titles which is perhaps less suitable for a coach who has everything to prove like Pochettino, than for an ultra-confirmed coach like Ancelotti. But Paris has chosen another path. Hoping that she finally leads him to the top.

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