Is Luis Enrique already avoiding the errors made by his predecessors at PSG?

In July, Paris Saint-Germain officialised the arrival of the seventh coach of the QSI era in the form of Spaniard Luis Enrique.

Thomas Tuchel is arguably the most successful PSG manager in recent history. After having taken the French club to the final of the Champions League (still the club’s most outstanding achievement in the competition), playing an attractive brand of football that won over the fans at the Parc des Princes and fostered the development of a large number of Parisian ‘titis‘ such as Moussa Diaby, Christopher Nkunku and Tanguy Nianzou Kouassi, it would be an understatement to say that the German tactician’s achievements have not been matched by any of his successors. 

As the iconic French pop rock band ‘Les Rita Mitsouko’ remind us in their popular hit ‘Les histoire d’A,’  “love stories end badly in general”. Unfortunately, it was not an exception for Tuchel and PSG. An interview he did for German broadcaster SPORT1 sealed his fate with the capital club. In the interview, he claimed that managing PSG was akin to being a politician or a sports minister. He was not adequately recognised for leading the club to its first Champions League Final. Surely, now that the years have passed, with no other PSG manager matching his achievement, the Parisian board can recognise his work at the club.

When Tuchel was appointed as coach for PSG, he explained during his first press conference that despite his lack of trophies, PSG made it clear to him that they were not necessarily looking for a coach with the greatest track record. They were looking for someone with a precise style of play, a leader with a vision.

The appointment of Argentinian coach Mauricio Pochettino was a perfect match on paper. A former PSG player between 2001 and 2003, he was a tough defender. He showed great charisma and leadership qualities, which led him to wear the club captain’s armband numerous times. Undoubtedly, he was the right man to pick up where Tuchel left off. Unfortunately, being a former PSG icon is not synonymous with being a brilliant PSG coach. After two years on the PSG bench, the coach was seemingly out of ideas. In his presentation press conference, he said he wanted his side to play with “style,” but ultimately the Parisian public were left with few memories from Pochettino’s underwhelming passage.

The appointment of Christophe Galtier seems to be more of a casting error than anything else. Make no mistake: the Marseille-born coach did a great job at AS Saint-Etienne and Lille, where he even won the French league title in 2021. But he looked out of his depth at PSG, uncomfortable set against unfamiliar surroundings. The calibre of player he had to manage was much higher than what he was previously accustomed to.

Although he had a relatively good start to the season, he quickly became overwhelmed by the player’s egos, unsurprising given the presence of Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, and Neymar in the dressing room. In addition, tactically, during major European matches, he rarely had the answers to the dilemmas posed by his opponents. Galtier is not a bad coach. He just was not cut out for a club of PSG’s stature.

In recent years, Paris seemed to be an “uncoachable” team. For many reasons, doing a good job has seemed nearly impossible at a complex and highly political club. But isn’t dealing with such complexities part of a coach’s job? In the 1990s, a club as iconic and well-run as Bayern Munich was renamed FC Hollywood because of the dramas off the pitch. The German club recently appointed Tuchel as their tenth coach since the beginning of PSG’s QSI period, while Luis Enrique is only Les Parisiens’  seventh within the same period. What PSG really need is to learn from their mistakes.

PSG told Tuchel that “they were not necessarily looking for a coach with the greatest track record,” but maybe they should have been. With the appointment of Luis Enrique, this is the first time since Carlo Ancelotti in 2011 that PSG has signed a manager who has already won the Champions League.

He could, therefore, possess the secret to lifting the trophy that is so coveted by PSG. During his unveiling, the Spanish coach said: “There are dozens of teams at this level who have the same dream, sometimes even teams in Europe with more experience than us. But just because they have more experience doesn’t mean we can’t reach their level. The Champions League is almost unfair.”

PSG also told Tuchel they were looking for a leader with a vision back then. Out of all the managers who took charge of the team since Neymar arrived at PSG, the Spanish tactician was the only one with a tempered opinion on the desire to build his team around the Brazilian playmaker. Tuchel declared on the former number ten Parisian:  “He’s an artist, an exceptional player, one of the best in the world. All special players need special treatment. If we can find a way of creating a structure around him, a structure in which he can express all his talent on the pitch, I think we’ll have a key player to win our matches.”

Pochettino said on Neymar: “Over time when Neymar returns from injury, we’ll find the best position for him to express himself best on the pitch.” That sentiment was mirrored by Galtier, who said on the Brazilian: “Neymar is a world-class player. What coach wouldn’t want Neymar in his squad?”

But when it comes to Luis Enrique, perhaps aware that the player he once coached at Barcelona is no longer operating at the same level, he said: “No, I haven’t spoken to Neymar yet. But I haven’t spoken to any of the other players in the squad. We’ll soon have the chance to get to know each other. But I’ll tell you again, I’d love to give you this kind of information, but it’s an internal matter and I have to discuss it directly with the players concerned. Obviously, I’m going to make decisions, but I’d like them to be decisions made by consensus. First, I want to see how the players train, listen to them, and see how they behave.”

Given Neymar’s €90m departure from PSG, it is clear that the Brazilian did not fit in Enrique’s plan. With Messi leaving for free and Neymar’s departure, it will be easier for the Spaniard coach to instil his ideas into a team with fewer egos to manage. By releasing several thirtysomethings from the squad, PSG are finally moving with the times to accommodate the demands of modern football. Leaving Mbappé as the figurehead, he embodies what the club aspires to inspire – an ambitious club with more French prospects.

Luis Enrique may or may not be the perfect coach for this “new PSG” – how many times has this been proclaimed in recent times? But by making decisions such as leaving out Neymar Jr. and more generally, refusing to massage egos, regardless of their status within the dressing room, he is giving himself the means to succeed. We have previously seen that the Spanish coach is fearless in making controversial decisions to triumph, as he did with the Spanish national team or Barcelona. This time in the French capital, the coming months will tell us whether these choices paid off or not.

GFFN | Jerry-More Takou Nguelo

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