Mauricio Pochettino, PSG

Pochettino: 'Can't go higher than Neymar, Mbappe, Messi'

Pochettino: 'Can't go higher than Neymar, Mbappe, Messi'

Publish on 11/11 at 11:23


Mauricio Pochettino played with Ronaldinho and Jay Jay Okocha as a Paris Saint-Germain player and now coaches Neymar Jr., Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi - some of the best players in the world from two generations according to the man himself.

Question: I want to start by talking a bit about you, and your relationship with Paris Saint-Germain. You played here two decades ago, you captained this club, and you left behind some great memories. What has it been like coming back?


Mauricio Pochettino: "I think it was great, it was an amazing return. 20 years ago when I was a player I lived I think one of the most beautiful periods in my career. I discovered how amazing it was to live in Paris, to live in this football club. It was great. Then to have the possibility to share with my coaching staff that experience is amazing, because when you were a player you were alone with your family. We are a big collective - the coaching staff is there, and we are not only colleagues, but we are also friends, and to live this experience is amazing."


Question: Is it an advantage do you think returning to a club you already know?


Pochettino: "I think you never know. You never know because when I was coach in Espanyol I was player too, and then we moved to Southampton, then Tottenham, and now Paris Saint-Germain. Always it is different. I think you keep in your mind the idea of a club when you were a player but the evolution that changed. When you arrived, you know, the persons. In many ways it was good, but in many ways it was strange. Something when you are discovering new clubs like Southampton and Tottenham, and you feel like you spend a long time in there, it's good too. But of course, I think always it is different because your position is different. It is not the same to be a player and a coach."


Question: In your managerial career so far, you've managed Espanyol, having played for them previously. Now PSG… does that mean you are somebody who listens to his heart?


Pochettino: "I think always all my decisions that I remember in my life was always through my heart. Through my emotion. Of course when you are running in this life, now I am nearly 50 years old, you start to share a little bit more with your brain, your mind starts to be more involved in your decision. But always the final decision is about my emotion and my heart. And of course when you feel that, you can be successful or not, but always it is right the decision."


Question: You say you enjoyed one of the best periods of your playing career at PSG. What comes in to your head when you think back to that time?


Pochettino: "Well, the first day I arrived, the first goal that I scored at the Parc des Princes… to have the possibility to play with players like Okocha, Ronaldinho… Yes, to be in the Parc des Princes with our fans. They were amazing. I don't know, many, many memories."


Question: You scored a goal in your first match the Parc des Princes. Did you already feel a special connection with the place?


Pochettino: "Yes because the fans are amazing in Paris Saint-Germain. They love and recognise when the player shows the character and the commitment with the match. And I think they love the South American players, Argentine and Brazilian players, and I think the connection was great. It is the example that all the Argentine and Brazilian players are always well accepted in this club."


Mauricio Pochettino, PSG, Monaco


Question: PSG play Marseille soon. You know how huge the games against Marseille are. What memories do you have of that fixture from your time as a player?


Pochettino: "I try to keep the good memories. I remember when I scored in the cup, 2-1, and we won in the Parc des Princes… the 3-0 in Marseille. Many memories. And you feel the… this feeling, the adrenalin when you play this type of big games. PSG vs Marseille and Marseille vs PSG are among the biggest games in the world and the most expectation and the clubs that fight, you know, and feel that it is more than a game… and I think it is going to be great again to feel that."


Question: I looked at the internet this morning at the 3-0 at the Velodrome and I noted that you got a yellow card in that fixture…


Pochettino: "Ah yes? (laughs)"


Question: It was one of the best individual performances from Ronaldinho that I have seen. I was lucky enough to be there. Do you remember what it was like to be playing with him on that day?


Pochettino: "Yes I remember. I remember the game; I remember I was the captain… I didn't remember the yellow card… But, I remember. I think it was great to play, the team, with such a talented player because for me he was one of the best players in the history of football, and this day he was amazing. The way that he played, the way he managed the ball, managed the tempo of the game, I think it was a pleasure to play, not only in this game but to share many games with him on the pitch."


Question: The guys you played with back then… you mentioned Okocha, Anelka was there, of course Ronaldinho. How would they get on again your PSG team with Messi, Mbappé and Neymar today?


Pochettino: "We are talking about the best players in the world. It is difficult to compare because… I hate to compare the players because we are talking about the best players in the world, and 20 years ago of course this with Okocha, Ronaldinho, Anelka… Many players that were amazing. And now we are talking about Neymar, Mbappé, Messi… you cannot go higher than this level of player." 

Question: Outside of France people maybe don't realise that PSG are a huge club here and have this history… how important is it to keep that historical link, something that your presence is helping to do?


Pochettino: "I think that people start to realise how big is Paris Saint-Germain. 50 years old, but big. I think in the last years, ok it was about to collect titles, domestic titles, trying to dream of winning the European Cups, and of course the Champions League is the most desired title that we try to deliver at this football club. And now I think the world understands that PSG want to be a contender to win the Champions League. And that is an objective. I was talking before about how this cannot be an obligation, but a desire, a wish to win, because many clubs want to win the same title. But PSG today is a massive contender to win. In the last years, people start to realise, or already realise, how big is the club."


Question: Does that excite you? You got to a Champions League final with Tottenham, that was an incredible achievement and more of a surprise. Now you are almost expected to do that with PSG. Is it pressure or is it exciting for you?


Pochettino: "We arrived at the semi-final against Manchester City last season, and hope this season to arrive again, to be there, with the best teams in Europe. But like I told you before, it is an obligation for many people around, yes, but for us we need to be a little bit far of that. We need to create our wish, our desire, to be there and to conquer this trophy. If we feel that it's an obligation we start to put the limits, to put on the shoulder too many things that are not going to help in the end. That is why we need to live that history or experience wishing to win, not to feel like it is an obligation."


Question: You want to win back your domestic title this season too… You've made an excellent start, that must be really pleasing given that there are many new players who have come into the team and are settling in?


Pochettino: "I think Paris Saint-Germain made a very good shop, first trying to improve in the different areas where we need to improve, we identified, and then to attack the market doing great business with players who are at the end of their contract. That was a very good shop in two different ways that we need to recognise the club make."


Question: You said the new signings are all fine players, but also fighters with a winning mentality (Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Gini Wainnaldum clear examples of that). Was that a priority for you?


Pochettino: "I think it was the priority of the club. I am part of this football club. I think the club identified the players that were available on the market, and I think made a very good shop. But of course I am happy not only with the players who came and are today in the squad, if not with the players who were here last season, I am very happy with the squad. Maybe a bigger squad but with massive quality."


Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, Lionel Messi, PSG


Question: Your teams are known for their pressing and their aggression… are you starting to see a team really in your own image now?


Pochettino: "I think we need always as a coaching staff to adapt in our ideas. When you arrive to a different club with different characteristics as well of the players. The most important is to try to decide the plan for them, or their strategy to them to performance in the best way and to try to win games, because that is the objective for any coaching staff. Our identity, or our sign of how we love to play, maybe in different clubs maybe we can use that 100 percent in different clubs, a percentage maybe higher, in Paris maybe it is less. But always being clever in… like the club need to be clever in sign a new coach and coaching staff. What the players need, how the players are, the players can deliver its own job or not, and in that case the same, the coaching staff can deliver for some club some shop, That is I think so important to realise. And for us the coaching staff we need to analyse that and to know what we have in our hands, and to design the strategy for them to play in the best way and to perform and in the end to deliver in the job."


Question: Hakimi has settled in incredibly quickly!


Pochettino: "Yes, he was really well from the beginning, not only doing his job you know, scoring goals. And adding to the team… giving to the team very good points, helping the team to achieve points. Yes I am happy with him, but with the rest of the players that arrived this season too."


Question: Was Hakimi's late goal away to Metz an example of the kind of determination and fighting spirit you are seeking?


Pochettino: "Yes it's true that we were showing great mentality until the end. Games like Metz and Lyon too. And yes, that is a group of players that for me are winners, have great mentality, are in PSG because they show their quality maybe in another club… and players that are born in PSG, different cases like Kimpembe, that had this quality from the beginning, no? From when they started their career, when they played with the kids in the academy of PSG. I think it's important and we know very well that they are very talented players."


Question: It really feels like the league is getting stronger… This season, Marseille, Nice, Lyon, Monaco, Rennes and even Lens have joined PSG and Lille among the contenders. Do you sense this improvement too?


Pochettino: "Yes but my impression is that it is a very complicated league. The quality is there. I think it's the most physical league in the world. I think the talent is amazing, and the great coaches too that you discover when you are not here now… French and foreign coaches that are here are very good. And of course it's a league that I don't say that surprise us, but of course when you are involved, and you are inside you enjoy a lot. Every single game you can see all the teams have quality, have the capacity to win the games, never give up, I think it's a very good, very good league, and we are so happy to be here."


Watch: Highlights of PSG's 2-1 win over Metz

Question: You think it's more physical even than the Premier League?


Pochettino: "Yes. Yes."


Question: That would surprise people in England.


Pochettino: "Well, always… I don't say that it's a better league than the English, than the Premier League, I think that in the way that the games are here, I think they are more physical than the Premier League."


Question: One of the difficulties as well… you talked about surprises, there are so many young players, and each year we see new young talents, and in the recent game against Rennes we saw the teenager Sulemana was superb against PSG. That makes it challenging as well for you?


Pochettino: "Yes of course. It's a massive, massive challenge. France is a country with in football they for me… if you see the national team of France and I think they have amazing quality and talent. And of course they have the capacity to create this kind of talented players, and after to send to different leagues, no? Spain, Premier League, of course the Bundesliga, Italy. But I think because of this characteristic of the football here in France that is why the French player can adapt very quick to the Premier League because they are very similar, no? But yes, it's a massive challenge because in every game that you play you discover a new player."


Question: This season, we're seeing the best player in the world here. The scenes in Reims for his debut were amazing. Have you ever known a player to be cheered on by the opposition fans before?


Pochettino: "No, it's difficult to see that. But Messi has this capacity to empathize with the opponents, to empathize with the supporters that are playing against you. Rennes was the same. It's because he deserves it, he's one of the greatest players in the history, and of course the talent that he has is amazing."


Watch: Messi makes his PSG debut

Question: 17 years ago, you played against Messi on his professional debut. He was starting out; you were coming towards the end. Did you choose a good time to stop playing, just as Messi was starting up?


Pochettino: "I finished… I think it was a coincidence that he made his debut against Espanyol in Montjuic. I think… I don't remember but I think I was in the pitch, but I think it's not important. The most important is the career that he created in Barcelona, of course, showing to the world that being the best. And of course always to the people that love football watching him play is always a pleasure. That is why we love football. To see a player like Messi playing is… is… classic music in my eyes, you know?"


Question: In your ears…


Pochettino: "In my ears… no in my eyes. Maybe we can, yes, innovate something. Classic music in my eyes, if you can describe the music classic in a vision, it is Messi playing football. That is music classic in my ears."


Question: Ah ok!


Pochettino: "You understand now? Good, good, it's important the people understand."


Question: What's it been like, how has Messi been in and around the training ground during these last few weeks?


Pochettino: "No, he is very good, and he adapted very well. He is very humble; he is very normal day by day. Being at the top player in the world. Yes I think there is a very, very good dynamic on the training ground."


Question: It's said great players will always be able to play with other great players. Can you, as a coach, can you teach Messi, Mbappé and Neymar to play together? Or do you need to give them the freedom that they need…


Pochettino: "No, I think you cannot teach this type of guys how we need to behave on the pitch. I think they have an amazing talent that… I think only that they need is time, together, to start to create this type of link. But you cannot teach these great players."


Mauricio Pochettino, Kylian Mbappe, PSG


Question: There's so much attention on the attackers, how they are playing, whether one is substituted, or not, whether one said something to the other one. What would your advice be to these three players in terms of learning to live with this? I know they are used to having this attention, but maybe not as a three.


Pochettino: "I think it is impossible to advise because that is about… they are going to behave how they feel, because they live how they feel, they play how they feel through the emotions, and you cannot advise. I think they are clever enough to know what they need to do. I think they feel the responsibility too because you know to be in PSG is about to win is about the pressure to deliver good things. I think they need time to find their place and to start to have this dynamic together. Like you say before, great player need time only to create the contacts, the links, after to enjoy football, because they are on the same page."


Question: Everybody talks about the three attackers. The guys who are shining at the moment are your midfielders…. Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera maybe aren't the ones we expected to be scoring goals and playing really well. You must be delighted with them…


Pochettino: "Yes. Because football is about the collective, it is about the team, it is about to compensate things between each other. When we talk about the balance of the team, it is because when you have the ball and when you don't have the ball, you need to work like a team to try to score, and then to recover the ball as soon as possible. Then try to defend because the opponent wants to damage you. For me it is about that. You need the artists; you need the people that do different jobs. That is, I think, the challenge. The challenge when you have this kind of player is to find the good balance for them to feel free to express themselves and to make the difference. But of course I am happy when players that are in different position can help the team to win, because the midfield needs to arrive to the box to score goals during the season, not only the offensive players."


Question: You are well known for making good players better. What have you done to give Idrissa Gueye this amazing confidence and dynamism?


Pochettino: "I think it is his responsibility. We create the platform, and we create the (?) to give them to improve. But in the end it is up to them, to use or not. In that case, if you say what we do, it is what he does every day to be the best and to try to fight to be on the starting XI and to be on the pitch. Sometimes it is confused, no, because they say 'oh the coaching staff needs to give me confidence, need to give me that…' no, no, we can only offer you the platform for you improve and show me that you deserve. And then if you deserve then you are going to play. In that case is Gana Gueye, from the day one, in the pre-season was working so hard to try to deserve to be on the pitch. Only we do what is right."


Question: Pep Guardiola said he is in love with Marco Verratti. Do you share similar sentiments towards the Italian?


Pochettino: "Er, I didn't hear that… I don't know in which way…"


Question: This was after the game against Manchester city, he was asked about Verratti's performance, and he said, 'I am in love with this player'.


Pochettino: "Ah no, no, he was amazing, no? I love too, like a man, Marco, because he is a top guy, I love. And then, football player, we are not going to discover, we know him. The best player. He won the Euros with Italy. And like a player he is amazing, we are not going to say nothing new. But like a professional and like a man, I love him too."


Marco Verratti, PSG


Question: Is there a better player today at escaping the press? At helping the team to get away from the press?


Pochettino: "Yes, it is a player that has this capacity. How he keeps the ball, how he drives, the ball, dribbles, this capacity to make things easier when, for another player, it is difficult. He is amazing in this way."


Question: Just to finish Mauricio, what are the priorities for you in the comings months? What are the objectives and how are you going to achieve them?


Pochettino: "The objective? For me, at PSG there is only one objective: it is to win the next game. If not, you have a problem. I know what is happening in this type of club. Paris is one of the biggest clubs in the world and you have to be focused on winning the next game. And you need to win. In the end you need to deliver some big things. Of course all the people are waiting for us to deliver some big things… winning the Ligue 1, winning the French Cup or winning the Champions League."

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