New PSG coach Pochettino wants ‘combative’ identity for team

Mauricio Pochettino pledged to instill a “combative and attacking” identity for Paris Saint-Germain as he takes over as coach.

The French champions announced the hiring of Pochettino — their former captain — on Saturday to replace the recently fired Thomas Tuchel.

“This team has fantastic potential and my staff and I will do everything we can to get the best for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions,” Pochettino said. “We will also do our utmost to give our team the combative and attacking playing identity that Parisian fans have always loved.”

Pochettino, who brought Tottenham to the Champions League final in 2019, signed a contract to coach PSG through June 2022 with an option for an extra year, the club said.

The 48-year-old Pochettino inherits a squad that is talented but underperforming — by PSG standards. It starts the new year in third place behind Lyon and Lille.

His first training session is Sunday ahead of Wednesday’s visit to Saint-Etienne. PSG faces Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16 in February and March.

Pochettino played 95 games for PSG as a rugged central defender from 2001-03 and was a fan favorite.

“I have wonderful memories, especially of the unique atmosphere of the Parc des Princes,” he said. “I return to the club today with a lot of ambition and humility, and am eager to work with some of the world’s most talented players.”

Among those stars are Kylian Mbappé, Angel Di Maria and Brazilians Neymar and Marquinhos.

During the recent break, Neymar was under scrutiny from media reports claiming he flouted pandemic warnings with a large New Year’s bash at or near his mansion in Rio de Janeiro state. Representatives for Neymar denied the star’s links to the party.

Tottenham fired Pochettino in November 2019, only months after the Champions League final appearance, where Spurs lost 2-0 to Liverpool.

Similarly, Tuchel was fired four months after he led PSG to the 2020 Champions League final — losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich.

“The return of Mauricio fits perfectly with our ambitions and it will be another exciting chapter for the club and one I am positive the fans will enjoy,” PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaïfi said.

PSG finished 2020 just one point back in third place in the French league after beating Strasbourg 4-0 on Dec. 23, but Tuchel was questioned after the game about comments he made to German broadcaster SPORT1.

The German coach reportedly claimed that managing PSG was more akin to being a politician or a sports minister, such was the level of difficulty, and that he did not receive enough recognition for leading the club to its first Champions League final.

PSG has struggled at times this season with four league defeats. It fell short against its main rivals, losing 1-0 at home to Lyon and Marseille, and drawing 0-0 at Lille. It also lost two of the first three games in the Champions League but ended up advancing to the knockout stage by topping its group.

The season start was delayed after several players — including Neymar and captain Marquinhos — tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from a club-sanctioned trip to the Spanish party resort of Ibiza.

Tuchel also clashed with PSG sporting director Leonardo, who publicly rebuked him over comments made shortly before the end of the transfer window in October.

Tuchel said he needed new recruits and that the club let players go too easily, such as 200-goal scorer Edinson Cavani and stalwart defender Thiago Silva. Their contracts were not renewed and both are doing well in the English Premier League. Goal-scoring winger Di Maria is also nearing the end of his contract.

Pochettino was Tottenham’s manager for five years after helping Southampton avoid relegation in the Premier League. He began his coaching career at Espanyol in 2009.

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