Paris Saint-Germain pulled off the signing of the century earlier this week when they brought Lionel Messi to the French capital from FC Barcelona, but believe it or not, that was the easy part.
Integrating Messi into the PSG squad and keeping him and everyone else happy is the tough part and that task falls squarely on second-year manager Mauricio Pochettino. If he fails, well, the kertoimet, or odds, of him being sacked at the end of the season are fairly high.
Pochettino will first have to decide how frequently he wants to play his 34-year-old superstar. Messi will want to play every match from Ligue 1 to Coupe de France to UEFA Champions League, but should he? Ligue 1 is often dismissed as not being as competitive as La Liga and other leagues around Europe, but make no mistake about it, French football is physical. Just ask Neymar Jr.
Messi, like the rest of PSG’s superstars, was brought in to win the Champions League and help the club elevate its profile on the global stage. Winning Ligue 1 is essential, but it shouldn’t come at the detriment of Messi’s health. The same goes for the Coupe de France. Pochettino and his staff have a delicate dance ahead of them and they have to get it right.
On the pitch, Pochettino will have to sort out the best position for Messi and which players to surround him with. I think everyone can agree that when healthy, Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappé should be on the pitch together. But, does Pochettino also include Angel Di Maria in his attack? What about adding a natural striker in Mauro Icardi to the mix?
For me, I believe Messi would excel as a free-flowing attacking midfielder with Neymar, Mbappe, and either Di Maria or Icardi ahead of him. Combining Messi’s playmaking ability with that kind of attacking force would be absolutely deadly.
The problem with this, however, is that with four attack-minded players, that leaves the defense exposed. Marco Verratti and Georginio Wijnaldum would be relied upon to do the dirty part in midfield and a backline of Juan Bernat (once healthy), Sergio Ramos (again, once healthy), Marquinhos, and Achraf Hakimi would need to provide protection for Keylor Navas or Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal.
Fortunately, this is a problem most managers would love to have. Trying to figure out how to get so many world-class players on the pitch at once is a manager’s dream and it’s certainly a far cry from what Pochettino had to work with at Tottenham Hotspur.
For PSG, and Pochettino, to be successful this season, keeping Messi and the other stars healthy, and figuring out the jigsaw puzzle that is the starting lineup is absolutely essential. More than ever before, the world is watching PSG and now is no time for foolish mistakes.