PSG appoint Pochettino: Mauricio's Messi dream could come true in Paris

By Sports Desk January 02, 2021

A sliding doors moment kept Mauricio Pochettino and Lionel Messi apart in 2005. But 15 years later, their paths could well realign at Paris Saint-Germain.

Back when Messi was in the embryonic stages of a Barcelona career that has seen him win six Ballons d'Or, 34 trophies and score a world record 644 goals for a single club, a temporary switch to cross-town rivals Espanyol was mooted.

There he would have linked up with an uncompromising defender by the name of Pochettino, and the subsequent decade and a half could have turned out very differently.

"I remember that summer, he was so close to moving to Espanyol," Pochettino said ahead of Tottenham facing Messi's Barcelona at Wembley in a Champions League clash in October 2018.

"If he did, maybe he could have been the biggest star in Espanyol. We should be the Barcelona! He would have been my team-mate and maybe I would still be in Espanyol managing him."

It only would have been a loan move, but an 18-year-old Messi convinced Barca he was ready for a more prominent role in the team by producing a stunning display in a victory over Juventus in the Joan Gamper Trophy.

Fabio Capello was in the opposition dugout at Camp Nou and after 25 awestruck minutes, he approached his counterpart Frank Rijkaard to ask if he could take the Argentine wonderkid on a temporary deal.

Barca finally realised they had a generational talent on their hands and opted against letting him go.

"I'd started to hear about Messi when I was an Espanyol player – this small guy playing in the Barcelona academy, who had arrived from Argentina when he was 13," Pochettino said.

"And then I heard he was very close to signing for Espanyol. But because he was so fantastic in the Joan Gamper against Juventus and Fabio Capello praised him afterwards in the press conference, Barcelona changed their minds. They kept Messi at Barcelona."

2030 vision

Messi began his youth career with Newell's Old Boys in 1994 – the same year Pochettino left the club for his first stint with Espanyol – and has often been linked with a return to the Rosario side to end his playing career.

Pochettino has been out of work since being sacked by Tottenham in November 2019 and was reportedly approached by Barcelona to replace Ernesto Valverde two months later, but his request for more time to consider the offer due to his loyalties to Espanyol resulted in Quique Setien getting the job instead.

Still, Pochettino retained hope that he will still have an opportunity to join forces Messi.

"I want to return to Newell's with Messi," he told Radio del Plata last March. "I can still wait, [for an opportunity] and the best [possible scenario] would be in 10 years with Messi."

But with PSG's decision-makers showing minimal festive cheers by firing Thomas Tuchel on Tuesday, Pochettino has been gifted a potential opportunity to work with Messi far sooner.

Pochettino was on Saturday named as the successor to Tuchel. Sporting director Leonardo and president Nasser Al Khelaifi will no doubt hope his appointment helps tempt Messi to forego a reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and relocate to Paris when his Barcelona contract expires at the end of the season.

"He's one of the gods of football"

Pochettino may not have won a trophy with Tottenham, but he led them to four straight top-four finishes in the Premier League.

His crowning achievement was steering them to the 2019 Champions League final, which ended in a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool.

Spurs finished behind Barcelona in the group stage that season. Messi scored a double in a 4-2 win for the Blaugrana at Wembley, while a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou saw Pochettino's men edge Inter to the runners-up spot in Group B.

After Spurs lost the first leg of their semi-final to Ajax 1-0, Pochettino urged his team to play like Messi during the second leg in order to have another chance of taking on the Barcelona captain in the final.

"He's one of the gods of football. It's unbelievable, it's unbelievable. It's unbelievable, the desire and the capacity to fight with the ball at his feet, to fight without the ball at his feet," said Pochettino.

"What happens when he touches the ball? When he doesn't have the ball, it's unbelievable the character, how he presses, how he works for the team. If we play like him, for sure we are going to have a chance. Of course.

"But not like him doing what he does with the ball. If we play like him without the ball, with the desire that he showed, for sure we are going to have a chance to qualify for the final. If not no chance."

Should Pochettino's desire to work with "one of the gods of football" at long last become reality, together they will be expected to help PSG finally conquer their Mount Olympus: winning the Champions League.

Related items

  • Pavlovic signs two-year contract extension with Bayern Pavlovic signs two-year contract extension with Bayern

    Aleksandar Pavlovic has signed a contract extension which will keep him at Bayern Munich until 2029.

    Pavlovic's current contract was due to run out in 2027, but the club have chosen to trigger a two-year extension.

    The 20-year-old enjoyed an impressive breakout campaign in 2023-24, in which he made 22 appearances in all competitions, scoring two goals and providing two assists.

    Pavlovic joined Bayern as a seven-year-old and was handed his debut for the first team in November last year when he came off the bench to assist Harry Kane in a 4-0 victory.

    His club form earned him a call-up to Germany's squad for Euro 2024, but he was forced to withdraw after coming down with tonsillitis days before the opener against Scotland.

    "Unfortunately, this tonsillitis has denied me my dream of playing in the European Championship on home turf, which is very disappointing – but I'm thrilled that my contract with FC Bayern has been extended until 2029," Pavlovic said.

    "It shows the club has trust in me, which I'm eager to repay. FC Bayern is my home. I'm proud, happy and grateful, want to win trophies with the team and continue my personal development."

    Pavlovic made 19 appearances in the Bundesliga this season, winning 15 of those, with the team scoring 54 goals in the process.

    In the 15 games that the midfielder missed in the league, Bayern won just eight times, conceding 14 more goals.  

  • 'I would never abandon Brazil' – Ronaldinho backtracks on Copa America comments 'I would never abandon Brazil' – Ronaldinho backtracks on Copa America comments

    Ronaldinho has declared he will never "abandon" Brazil, rowing back on his previous claim that he will not support the Selecao at the upcoming Copa America.

    Brazil are gearing up for a tilt at a 10th South American title, with Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica awaiting Dorival Junior's team in Group D.

    Just 10 days prior to their opening game against Costa Rica in Los Angeles, Selecao great Ronaldinho said he has "had enough" with the team and would not watch any of their matches at the tournament.

    The 2002 World Cup winner said the current Brazil squad displayed a "lack of love for the shirt and lack of grit", adding: "I've never seen a situation as bad as this."

    However, Ronaldinho has now suggested those comments were simply reflecting the stance of many fans and were not his own feelings.

    In a video posted to his Instagram account, he said: "I would never abandon Brazilian football, ever. I'd never say those things you see… 

    "Actually, these words came from real Brazilian fans, they are real comments that I saw on the internet. 

    "Imagine listening to these messages before you play? Motivation goes down... fan support makes a huge difference to the players. I know what I'm talking about. 

    "What our boys need is support at this time. The more confidence we show, the more confidence they will have on the field."

  • Philadelphia Union 1-2 Inter Miami: Afonso hits last-gasp winner for nine-man Herons Philadelphia Union 1-2 Inter Miami: Afonso hits last-gasp winner for nine-man Herons

    Leo Afonso scored an incredible 94th-minute winner as Inter Miami fought back to beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in MLS on Saturday despite being reduced to nine men.

    Miami's grasp on top spot in the Eastern Conference looked like being weakened when Gerardo Martino's team – who were without both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as Argentina and Uruguay continue their Copa America preparations – fell behind after three minutes.

    Mikael Uhre's one-on-one finish put the Union ahead, but Miami levelled just after half-time as Julian Gressel fired into the top-right corner from the centre of the box.

    The Herons, though, found themselves up against it when both David Ruiz and Tomas Aviles were sent off, the former for a horror challenge on Leon Flach and the latter earning a soft second booking for kicking the ball away.

    With the Union throwing men forward in search of a winner, they were struck with a sucker punch.

    Afonso raced away on the counterattack, ignoring Benjamin Cremaschi to his right before slotting his finish past Oliver Semmle to hand Miami an eighth win in their last 11 games (two draws, one defeat).

    Data Debrief: No Messi, no problem

    Ahead of Saturday's game, Miami had only won three of their 14 matches without Messi since the Barcelona great arrived in MLS (five draws, six defeats).

    However, even without Messi, Suarez or a full complement, Miami showed they are the team to beat in MLS this year.

    Martino's team ended the game having enjoyed more possession (57.4 per cent), shots on target (four to three) and touches in the box (17 to 16) than Philadelphia, despite playing almost 40 minutes at least one player down. 

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.