June 23, 2024


The French champions are exploring hiring the Roma boss to replace Christophe Galtier, a move that would have massive implications at Parc des Princes

Picture it: It’s December 2022, Paris Saint-Germain are 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1. They have topped their Champions League group, beating Manchester United twice en route to an undefeated European slate. Eleven individuals have now become a well-oiled machine, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe running for all 90 minutes. No player takes any unsanctioned flights or eats fast food late at night. And the manager, Jose Mourinho, has the Parisians playing the counter-attacking football of dreams.

This is what PSG’s world could look like if everything goes to plan over the next six months. The Parisians have been heavily linked with bringing in the mercurial Portuguese manager for some weeks now, with current boss Christophe Galtier looking increasingly likely to be fired at the end of the season.

PSG hope that Mourinho’s no-nonsense attitude and scathing reposts of the media will earn the respect of their fans. They will surely bank on ‘The Special One’s’ status to bring the egos that currently run rampant in Paris into check. Ultimately, the narcissist-in-chief could be the man to pull the strands of a messy team together.

Except, it probably won’t work like that. Mourinho might be a short-term solution in Paris, his notoriously stern managerial style bringing temporary peace to a chaotic club. But over a long period, this will undoubtedly go badly wrong, with Mourinho serving as the antithesis to the change that PSG need.

If it happens, the whole thing promises to be totally unmissable

The logic behind it

In a way, hiring Mourinho makes some sense. PSG have never had a complete manager, one to quell all of the club’s many issues. Instead, they have relied on overcorrection with each new hire.

Thomas Tuchel was a masterful tactician, but was too controlling of those in the dressing room and could not handle PSG’s erratic superstars. The board responded by bringing in the good vibes and modern style of Mauricio Pochettino, but he was simply too free-spirited and idealistic for a club that required more rigidity.

The next solution was Galtier. He was French, slightly scary looking, and knowledgeable about Ligue 1. His smart 3-4-3 system looked to be the right fit to get the best out of the Parisians’ front three. He also denied PSG the title in 2021 while in charge of Lille. The club, in effect, hired the man who had beat them.

However, it hasn’t worked out. The tactics have gone stale, and Galtier has started fiddling with his formations. Although they will win Ligue 1, European success is nowhere to be found. Off the pitch, he has let Neymar and, most recently, Lionel Messi, get away with antics in droves. And perhaps most importantly, the fiercely loyal ultras have fallen out of love with the manager. That he is from the wrong part of France hasn’t helped, either.

So, Mourinho appears to be the next step. This is very much in line with the same old model, despite the fact that PSG insist that they are trying to change.

Mourinho can rile up a fanbase. He has handled superstars with some success in the past. He will have the Parisians playing in a recognised style, and will demand the absolute respect of a dressing room that seems to have little of it for their current manager. He is also an expert in cup competitions, and has won the Champions League twice. So far, so rational.

A manager who demands control

But management doesn’t work like that. In reality, PSG is the last place Mourinho should be. It’s a dysfunctional institution, and throwing the Portuguese into that powder keg is akin to setting the timer on a ticking bomb.

It all starts with the mandate of a Mourinho managerial appointment: power. He has made a career off functioning as a dictatorial figure. He demands control from top to bottom, both internally with his squad, and externally with the media. Mourinho is a totalitarian leader, and he needs to be made to feel as such in order to be a success.

And there’s evidence for that set up working. It brought domestic success to Chelsea (twice), a Champions League to Inter, and helped Real Madrid piece together one of the best seasons in La Liga history. It brought a promising, if admittedly short, period of success for Tottenham, and has delivered a European trophy for Roma, with perhaps another to come this season.

But in the past, when that control has started to fall apart, so too has Mourinho. In 2007, his relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich reached a breaking point — forcing the manager out of the door. In 2013, Madrid’s dressing room was left in tatters by a Mourinho who criticised his own players, refereeing and the media. He left at the end of the season, one he later called the worst of his career.

The same has since happened at Manchester United and Tottenham, with the manager feeling undercut by either the board above him or the players he coaches.

And this is a terrible sign for PSG. Galtier has been engulfed by an open power struggle with football advisor Luis Campos, who has made a point of repeatedly undermining the manager both in the press and in the dressing room. Chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi isn’t exactly known for his laissez-faire approach, either.

‘I have a universal dimension’

There is an obviously curated segment of Tottenham’s 2019 Amazon Prime ‘All or Nothing’ series where Mourinho meets with Harry Kane. During the one-minute exchange, Mourinho speaks on his so-called “universal dimension” and promises his immense influence can help Kane reach a new level of superstardom. Kane, captivated by the promise, agrees. It was Mourinho asserting his ego, stating that his own personal brand outweighs that of the England captain. And, as it turned out, Mourinho was right.

Kane would go on to have arguably the best 18 months of his career at that point, upping his goal and assist totals after a forgettable 2018-19 campaign.

Mourinho did the same with Cristiano Ronaldo. The Madrid forward scored 60 goals in 2011 under the Portuguese’s guidance, before winning the Ballon d’Or two years later. Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Karim Benzema have all benefited from his methods, too. There is reason to suggest, then, that Mourinho could handle the massive names in the PSG dressing room.

When it all goes wrong

But a series of high-profile arguments with the kind of big-brand, social media obsessed players that PSG’s dressing room is full of should offer reason for caution.

The best example is, perhaps, Paul Pogba. The France international repeatedly butted heads with the manager, with a series of incidents seeing Mourinho antagonise United’s record signing. Mourinho publically criticised Pogba for his work rate in 2018, and insinuated that the player didn’t focus enough on football. He also lambasted him for flying to Miami for treatment and suggested that one of Pogba’s Instagram posts poked fun at his team-mates. It culminated with Mourinho stripping Pogba of the vice-captaincy, and arguing with him in training in a now-infamous video.

And Mourinho hasn’t really coached a player of that notoriety since then. Kane and Son Heung-min are big names, but not social media stars. Mbappe and Neymar, though, are the very definition of the kind of personal brand that he relentlessly clashed with.

In the past, before social media profiles of individuals outweighed the clubs they represent, the manager has been able to out-ego the biggest personalities he has coached. This time, it looks like a losing battle — one Mourinho will likely not concede.

The bare minimum

There has been a notion, for some time, that PSG are uncoachable. Messi, Neymar and Mbappe have all been dubbed some version of unable or unwilling to put in the kind of work needed to sustain a winning team.

And it’s a fair critique. In Champions League clashes, PSG have been defensively exposed for effectively playing eight versus 11 against some of the continent’s top sides. Their minimal work rate is, indeed, one of the many reasons why the club hasn’t won a European trophy — despite being laden with immense striking talent.

Enumerate managers have tried to change that. Tuchel demanded that the big names should run as much of the rest of the team. Pochettino was non-committal. Galtier has changed his mind, first suggesting that everyone should work off the ball, before asserting that his side should put in the work that Messi, Neymar and Mbappe simply cannot — or, more accurately, refuse to.

Mourinho, though, is not one to compromise. The exact system that he would employ at PSG remains to be seen, but if he sticks to his normal principles, the Parisians will defend with 11 and look to spring on the counter-attack. Theoretically, this is a devastating concept — one that will benefit Mbappe in particular. But it’s all built on the mandate of work rate.

And there are no guarantees here, regardless of Mourinho’s presence. Neymar is notorious for his lack of interest these days, while Mbappe, despite wearing the armband plenty, doesn’t exactly put in a captain’s work rate when the Parisians aren’t in possession.

This is a sticking point, a basic expectation. But it’s unlikely that his team will embrace it.

The inevitable collapse

All of this might go well. In fact, for a few blissful months, it probably will. But the same issues tend to repeat in the Mourinho managerial cycle. And all of the potential touch papers are here: The big egos, the power struggles, the reluctance to buy into some of the manager’s tactical principles.

This current Mourinho isn’t exactly a steady one, either. He has repeatedly been sent off and fined for his bad behaviour on the sidelines at Roma. He has suggested openly that referees are being paid off by rival club Juventus. Most recently, he wore recording equipment to document the supposed verbal abuse he receives from officials.

There are also the dangers of the fractious relationships he already has with high-level managers. Mourinho is known for famously dubbing Arsene Wenger “a specialist in failure” and calling Frank De Boer “the worst Premier League manager of all time”. But those two are not the only coaches to have found themselves in public disagreement with the Portuguese. Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and Tuchel have all exchanged jabs with ‘The Special One’ via the media and on the touchline.

But football has a deep obsession with Mourinho. For all of his controversies, he remains a genius, a manager capable of amazing things, even as his tactics become more outdated. By now, Mourinho operates in sound bites, gestures and Twitter clips. But he still manages to win. It is a captivating paradox.

And there’s a predictable timeline here. For a few months, those points of appeal will bring something out of PSG. But it will inevitably blow up. And the footballing world will have its eyes glued to their screens as it does.

An analysis by Thomas Hindle

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