European football’s worst kept secret is finally out. Gone in a 35-word statement.
“Paris Saint-Germain confirm that Mauricio Pochettino has ended his role at the club. The club would like to thank Mauricio Pochettino and his staff for their work and wish them the best for the future.”
After 18 months in charge, Pochettino will not serve the final year of his contract at Paris Saint-Germain and has been replaced by Christophe Galtier, the man who spent last season in charge at Nice.
“I’m ready, I accept the responsibilities and I’m capable,” he said at his impressive barely hours later.
“Alone it will be difficult. We will be a lot strong working together. I will understand if there is any scepticism but I am relishing the challenge.”
Galtier inspired Saint-Etienne to a first trophy in over 30 years – the Coupe de la Ligue – in 2013. He was also the man who changed Lille’s fortunes in 2021, just three years after the club narrowly avoided relegation to Ligue 2.
This is also the man who was once assistant manager to Alain Perrin at Portsmouth, following up being the answer to one of the Premier League’s ultimate quiz questions with a spell at Al Ain on the United Arab Emirates’ border with Oman and back to his homeland at Sochaux, Lyon and Saint-Etienne.
It has been quite the journey to the Parc des Princes for the one-time journeyman footballer whose professional career was bookended by two spells with Marseille but not complete without brief stints in Italy and China.
This is a man who is well-travelled and has bided his time to grab his chance at an increasingly poisoned chalice.
There is one very clear and obvious link that connects Galtier to the most prized, most privileged, and yet most pressured role in French football. Luis Campos was sporting director at Lille alongside him and the pair have maintained a healthy relationship having masterminded that historic 2021 triumph at PSG’s expense.
During an exclusive interview with Sky Sports in June 2021, Campos talked up Galtier’s abilities in the dug-out.
Having been heavily linked with the vacant position as Everton manager following the departure of Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid, Campos said: “Christophe has all the qualities to coach in England, technically he is very astute and is extremely detailed in his planning when preparing a team.
“He likes a 4-4-2 system, which would fit with the Premier League and he is a fantastic motivator in the dressing room. He likes to build a side with quality and youth, he is someone that can develop a team ethic, and he is also a fantastic human being.”
Campos is now football advisor at PSG and while Galtier stands alone as a viable option, it is undeniable that their strong connection is one which the PSG hierarchy are willing to put their faith in after the failed Pochettino project. It is a fresh slate and day zero again.
“It is like going back to school when all the books were in order on the first day,” Galtier admitted at his opening press conference. “July 11, we will have the players back. Of course, it is great to have everyone arrive on time.
“Whether or not I’m a bling, bling coach, I am very demanding. I like my payers to work hard. I also like my players to be happy. You get that by having good relations. In order for them to be happy, I think the squad needs to be smaller. I have spoken to the board. I can’t have players in the dressing room all season who don’t play. I have to get the right dynamic in the squad so that everyone is involved.”
PSG are changing tack in spite of a parallel with his predecessor. Pochettino plateaued in Paris and Galtier arrives having seen his own stock stall at Nice.
Pochettino suffered the ignominy of a 7-2 humbling to Bayern Munich that signalled the end of his Tottenham tenure in November 2019. He stayed on for seven more games but the wheels were already in motion to lure Jose Mourinho back to the Premier League.
A year out afforded the Argentine time to pause before he was tasked with constructing a long-term project at PSG, but further ignominy would ensue when Galtier would pip him to the French title despite a sizeable gulf in resources.
“It was a long, tough day, we were under a lot of pressure and beating PSG on the last day is outstanding,” said Galtier after sealing Lille’s first French title in 10 years.
“The credit goes to the players. This team scored points against their title rivals. I can’t forget that they beat PSG away after losing against Nimes at home. I love this squad, I love these players.
“Nothing is stopping me from staying. I’m not telling you that I am leaving. I have often fielded this question and a lot of things have been said. I have a meeting with my president [Olivier Letang], not to give him my decision or position, but to discuss and exchange with him. After that, we will decide together and always in the interest of the club as well as ourselves. Nothing is done.
“I have been approached by these two clubs [Nice and Lyon] and others too. Napoli as well, but I did not turn them down. I like it in France, but I cannot answer whether it is a decision between Nice and Lyon. We spoke two months ago, the president and I. We discussed everything.
“However, there has been no further discussion in recent weeks as we were focused on this incredible goal. No decision has been taken. Everything is possible and I am under contract with Lille.”
Celebrations on an open-top bus parade in the centre of the city had barely subsided when he was gone – two days following the success – citing a “deep belief” that his time was up at Lille and that he was moving on to avoid “falling into a routine”.
“This four-year cycle is long enough for a coach,” he told L’Equipe. “Having done four years, I feel inside that it’s time to leave this beautiful club, this magnificent club. I’m leaving Lille with an incredible result, I need something else.”
Despite winning a fourth French title in their history by a solitary point, history has shown this was a club in decline. Several of Galtier’s key components soon followed him out the door. The Stade Pierre Mauroy was a sinking ship.
Boubakary Soumare joined Leicester, Mike Maignan moved to AC Milan while wingers Jonathan Ikone and Luiz Araujo signed for Fiorentina and Atlanta respectively.
Renato Sanches, Zeki Celik and Sven Botman were retained along with Jonathan David and the evergreen Burak Yilmaz mainly due to the temptation of Champions League football acting as a shop window for potential suitors.
It is one of the somewhat depressing truisms of French football that teams who pip PSG to the Championnat crown are immediately picked apart. In the same way AS Monaco were overhauled following their 2016/17 success, Lille’s unexpected triumph wasn’t built upon as they stuttered to 10th place last term.
Galtier had shown his managerial acumen since steering Lille from relegation candidates in 2017 through to 2019 Champions League qualifiers and beyond.
His experience of the league and qualities in denying PSG only a third domestic title since the club were bought by Qatar Sports Investments back in 2011 had been noted by the establishment.
And yet rather than make the direct move to the French capital, a brief and unsuccessful sojourn on the French Riviera is what provides PSG supporters with reservations.
Nice had shown ambition to replicate Lille’s success with a similar model and their goal was to compete last season for the title themselves. Finishing in fifth place and the booby prize of a Europa Conference League play-round berth fell far below expectations.
Campos’ arrival as football advisor to replace Leonardo has shifted the landscape. There is an acceptance of a need to do things differently.
On his relationship with Campos, Galtier said: “Clearly, the presence of Luis being here was an added motivation to accept this job with great humility and no less determination.
“We’ve worked together for over three years. We have been constantly in dialogue and preparing for the future of the club. Campos knows what I expect from the team and what I want to see from them.
“Before getting into recruitment we speak a lot about how we can convince players to come and join us. We have experienced many transfer windows together and no player has ever come in without my agreement.
“While he is in charge of the recruitment since the start, he is in direct contact with the players. He is the person that knows the players best. I expect to see investment and if there is something I don’t like, I will intervene.”
PSG want to relaunch an identity and there were fan protests echoing these sentiments in Paris at times last season. Supporters want to get that connection going again and Galtier can tap into this by creating a stronger team ethos that isn’t built on the wrong type of reputation.
“It’s a new era, and a new objective,” Al-Khelaifi said on Tuesday at Galtier’s unveiling. “I don’t like to compare one trainer with another. We want the team to enjoy its football and play attractive football.
“We are not going to talk about the Champions League. We have big finals every day. We need to play as a team. We have a strong philosophy and style of play. We have world-class players but also young talents. The academy is very important to us.
“We believe in Christophe. The team spirit is very important and everyone has to respect the regulations in place. Luis Campos is now in charge of that. We want our players to be proud to be here. This is the biggest club in the world. If anybody doesn’t want to respect the regulations of the club, they have no place here.”
That is why Jose Mourinho and the like were non-runners. Kylian Mbappe has pledged his future to the club, which gives Galtier a head start. The conviction with which he spoke throughout his first press conference offers plenty of encouragement.
“The way I work with Luis means there are no compromises,” he continued. “No member is bigger than the team. It is not about playing with the right foot, left foot, or the head, it’s about taking this talent and using it for the best as a strength.
“I am determined to make a solid team. If there are players who don’t fit into that framework, they will be left out in a way that will be dealt with internally.”
Winning isn’t enough. It has always needed to be achieved with style, but there is an acknowledgement that a different approach is needed.
This wasn’t the time to talk tactics, but Galtier showed his unwavering appetite as a hands-on coach by not dismissing such details when asked about whether he would move to a back three with wing-backs. “It will also be important to assess how we play down the middle of the pitch,” he responded.
Galtier is after what he calls the “right balance” while getting Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar onside, buying into his high-octane philosophy.
“We have lots of international players here,” he said. “As a French coach, I was thrilled that Kylian made a decision to stay at PSG. It is good for French football and it’s good for PSG. He is one of the best players in the world. We know what he brings and we know what his strengths are. We can’t give him all the responsibility and the weight of generating results.
“All the great individuals who I’m going to be with here need to play for the team, and that will ensure PSG have a great season. I don’t need to put extra weight on his shoulders. I expect him to be a decisive player in a team of very strong players.”
The national press have highlighted more nuanced challenges beyond the obvious subject of player power. Issues surrounding the team’s No 1 goalkeeper after last season’s ongoing saga and his Marseille origins given the historic rivalry with PSG are just two of the other challenges he faces.
But judging by this opening statement, Galtier is ready to tackle whatever he faces head on.
‘Pochettino wasn’t the right fit at PSG’
Sky Sports News reporter Michael Bridge:
“Pochettino’s departure has been coming for quite some time now. PSG’s owners have spoken about wanting to go back to a Parisian style with no more big-name signings. That is why they are appointing Christophe Galtier.
“Thomas Tuchel won the domestic treble in Paris and so did Unai Emery. To them, it’s all about the Champions League. The domestic trophies are the very least they expect. It’s not gone well for Pochettino. What he’s good at has been nurturing young players by putting an arm around those who need a bit more confidence and turning them into superstars.
“Maybe in hindsight, he wasn’t the right fit when you think of the ready-made superstars they brought into the club. Gianluigi Donnarumma was the best goalkeeper at Euro 2020, Sergio Ramos couldn’t keep himself fit and then Lionel Messi joined the club. You just got the impression this wasn’t the right fit. The news doesn’t come as a shock at all.
“For the last six or seven years, here’s been heavily linked with Manchester United. I thought he would end up there but they ended up going for Erik ten Hag. Tottenham fans still love him and he still wears Spurs clothing at home.
“I think he will return to Tottenham one day, but right now they have a supremely talented manager in Antonio Conte. I think he’ll take some time out before returning but it depends on what job is available.”
Is Galtier the right fit for PSG?
A ground-breaking data analysis in-depth review of the leading candidates to succeed Pochettino has raised concerns about the suitability of Galtier for PSG.
Carteret Analytics combine raw manager data with their own bespoke algorithms to come up with the Carteret Manager Rating – a tool used by football club decision-makers to assess the ability, quality and potential of prospective managerial appointments.
The complex analysis draws on managers’ performances over the past six seasons and is then weighted against expectations, strength of opposition sides and various other factors such as styles and formations.
It is usually confidential information to assist football club leaders but they shared their PSG analysis as part of a special study for Sky Sports.
Galtier has a far lower rating than Pochettino or other replacements who had been linked with the role in Zinedine Zidane and Jose Mourinho and his exceptionally defensive style contrasts with the usual approach of PSG.
Read the analysis here – and see why Zidane would have been an ideal option for the Paris club, if he was available, according to the study.
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