Exclusive: Pochettino make sense for Chelsea, Messi PSG exit for the best & more – Jonathan Johnson
This week’s exclusive column – click here to subscribe for more from myself, Fabrizio Romano, Ben Jacobs and Christian Falk!
A Ligue 1 perspective on Chelsea’s manager search
Chelsea are on the hunt for a new manager and Frank Lampard has just been officially announced as interim until the end of the season, but we’ve seen one or two names with Ligue 1 connections linked with the full time job as well.
In terms of current managers in the French top flight, I’m not sure there’s an obvious candidate who’s suitable for a job of this stature. I think one who could jump to the Premier League at some point in the future is Will Still after his hugely impressive work with Reims. I could see him being one for West Ham if they decide to move on from David Moyes, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Paulo Fonseca, given his experience and given that he was very close in the past to taking the job at Tottenham, could be another good option for Premier League clubs, but I wouldn’t read too much into talk about Christophe Galtier being in contention at Spurs. Then again, now a lot of what happens with Spurs and Chelsea will be inter-linked, because a lot of the candidates will be the same for both posts.
I think there’d be a lot of logic to Mauricio Pochettino returning to the Premier League. He didn’t have great success at PSG, and I do think that spell ultimately has been fairly damaging for Pochettino and it makes his next move extremely important – there’d be risks associated with going back to Spurs, and also the role at Chelsea. If he suffers another setback in his career it could really derail things, so I can understand if there’s an element of temptation to wait and see what happens at Real Madrid, where he’s held in high esteem.
Zinedine Zidane’s name has come up a few times even if he doesn’t appear to be in contention right now, and with him my understanding is he’s tended to distance himself from jobs in the Premier League as he waits for a job with a club in France or with the French national team. He’d need to massively improve his English, and I think that’s one reason he’s hung a lot of hope on a return to France. I can understand Premier League clubs looking at him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it never came to fruition. Time will tell, but there’s no strong link right now, certainly in comparison to someone like Pochettino, who is waiting for offers from England or Spain – two leagues he knows well, and which looks like more of a logical fit.
Could PSG rival Chelsea for Julian Nagelsmann?
With PSG’s manager situation, I think we will likely be discussing the prospect of Galtier moving on in the very near future. I don’t think it bodes well for him, with what’s been happening in recent weeks on the pitch, and also a lack of clarity from PSG over his future. There’s been a lot of talk in France this week about how the next few days being crucial for whether or not Galtier stays on until the end of the season. He’s got Nice away and Lens at home, two difficult games, and it could have a significant say on the title race as well.
In terms of Nagelsmann and a rumoured approach from PSG, he’s a bright manager and the club will know him well from coming up against him in the Champions League, but I think there’d be a couple of issues with him. Because of his age, he seemed to struggle to a certain extent with the Bayern dressing room, so I don’t see that he’d be better suited to what would be awaiting him in that department at PSG.
There’s also the cultural consideration as well – he’d have to adapt to life in France and learn a new language, and it’s also worth noting that PSG feel they have a manager of the future of their own who’s in a similar age group in the form of Thiago Motta. The 40-year-old is a former player, he managed their Under-19s, and he’s been linked with the PSG managerial role a couple of times in the past. He previously didn’t really have the experience, but he’s now had a couple of years with Spezia and his current job at Bologna, and there are bigger clubs taking notice of that, so it could be a good time for them to bring him back – he knows how the club works, he has a good relationship with the ownership, so for me Motta would be a better fit than an outsider, for want of a better word, like Nagelsmann. That’s not to say Motta is a better coach than Nagelsmann, it’s just that PSG is a specific environment and I think even if it’s changed a bit since Motta left, he’d be better suited to it than Nagelsmann.
A look at the Ligue 1 title race
Despite some poor recent form from PSG, I’d say this Ligue 1 title is still theirs to lose at this moment in time. They’re still six points clear of both Lens and Marseille, but I think there’s some potential for a shock – we’ve seen this group of players have issues with motivation before, and in the end they weren’t able to overcome Lille in 2021, that was just a couple of years ago so we’ve seen that it can happen.
And I definitely don’t buy the argument that there isn’t enough quality from the other clubs to potentially overtake PSG – you look at how Marseille and Lens have played and been able to compete of late, they’re definitely good enough to get ahead of the reigning champions and win the title. A lot will depend on the next few games – Nice away is not easy and Lens at home is a tricky one because they have a very good record against PSG. You’re potentially looking at PSG’s lead soon being cut to just three points, so it’s a real crunch period and Galtier is by no means certain to see out the season as manager.
It’ll be between Lens or Marseille to overtake PSG, I think Monaco, at nine points adrift and with the inconsistency they’ve had this season, it’s probably a bridge too far for them. But if Lens and Marseille can continue to perform, then they have every chance – I think there’ll be some frustration among Marseille fans that their home form hasn’t always been the best, and that if they’d done better in recent weeks than they could have been even closer to PSG than they are now.
Why Lionel Messi exit could make sense for PSG
When you look at how the situation is unfolding with Lionel Messi and his future at PSG, it’s important to look at what’s been happening on the pitch since the World Cup – Messi and most of the PSG team just haven’t been nearly as good since the club season re-started. A large factor is that Messi and a number of the other players who gave it their all at the World Cup haven’t been able to repeat that strong form and consistency they showed in the first half of the season.
PSG’s record since the start of 2023 is horrendous – it’s cost them in the Champions League, in the Coupe de France, and it could end up costing them in the title race as well. It’s not just specific to Messi, but it does mean that, at this moment in the PSG project, Messi doesn’t have a massive amount of leverage – his contract, which is very expensive, is expiring, and PSG need to trim their wage bill to keep in line with Financial Fair Play. There’s a growing pressure for PSG to move away from this model of bringing in ageing superstars and to build more around younger, local players. This means the likes of Messi and Sergio Ramos are becoming a little less important, with important people behind the scenes recognising the financial headache it’s giving the club. Ultimately it will be with the Qatari owners to decide about how the project will move forwards, but it seems likely it’ll be built around Kylian Mbappe and other French players.
There was a sort of half-hearted effort to start this new process last summer under Luis Campos, but a lot of the signings haven’t really worked out. I think we’ll now see a more severe change in direction this summer, so it wouldn’t surprise me if we see Messi move on as part of that. Still, it will also depend on how desperate the Argentine is to play in Europe for a bit longer and have another stab at winning the Champions League. There’s no guarantee that Barcelona will be a happy homecoming for him because there are so many question-marks about their finances as well at this moment in time.
Things could still change, but with all the noises coming out of the Parc des Princes in the last few weeks, it does seem more and more likely that Messi’s future ultimately lies away from PSG as things stand.
Trouble brewing for Nuno Tavares at Marseille?
There’s been a big story in the last week about Nuno Tavares supposedly being kicked out of a Marseille training session by Igor Tudor, but it’s important to clarify that this major incident with the on-loan Arsenal man hasn’t been confirmed by Tudor. The Marseille boss was speaking about his project and mentioned that he’d removed a player from a training session, in the context of explaining what he wants and expects from his players, with one of them not giving everything during a training session.
There certainly has been some frustration with Tavares’ performances as it sometimes seems like he doesn’t show the best attitude or work hard enough. I’ve written here before about what a fine attacking threat he poses from left-back, but there is major work still to do on the defensive side of his game.
So while it wasn’t Tudor coming out and saying he’s not happy with Tavares, there have been hints at issues there. In terms of what it means for Arsenal, I think they’ll be well aware of his strengths and his weaknesses – they have a player there who can potentially offer a lot going forward, with some impressive numbers of goals and assists for the position he plays, but equally, if they’ve kept close tabs on him over the course of this season they’ll have noted that there are major question marks over his defensive contributions.
It’s hard to predict what will happen, but it will be interesting to see if Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff decide that’s something they can work on with him, or if they pay attention to what Tudor has been saying about his characteristics and if they decide it’s going to be too much of a challenge to make him more disciplined on the pitch.
Breel Embolo, Paul Mitchell and what to expect from Monaco this summer
Breel Embolo is a player with an interesting profile. He’s obviously been a good source of goals for Monaco this season and has always been highly rated ever since he burst onto the scene at a very young age. I think he’s someone who represents a good fit for Monaco and the type of players they like to build around – he’s still in his mid 20s, so he has some way to go before he’s in the prime of his career, but he’s a proven goal-scorer, as he’s shown in Switzerland, Germany, and now in France.
We can probably expect major changes at Monaco this summer, because we know Paul Mitchell is going to be moving on as sporting director. It’s always been very important for Monaco to have a supply of first-team-ready quality players, and so I’m not sure selling Embolo would fit in with that. There’s been the expectation that he would eventually end up taking over the mantle from Wissam Ben Yedder as the main man up front and the most prolific source of goals at the club, and he’s probably not at the peak of his value yet.
Still, we’ve seen him linked with West Ham, and previously with bigger clubs in the Premier League, and I think there’s the realistic sense that if a big offer came in from an English club it would be hard for them to turn it down. Still, if I were to put money on the players who’ll be attracting the most interest this summer, I’d probably put a couple of names before Embolo.
We could see players like Youssouf Fofana and Axel Disasi attracting interest from Premier League clubs – two France internationals, two quality options in midfield and defence, respectively.
Overall I rate Paul Mitchell’s work very highly, he’s done some impressive work in difficult circumstances at Monaco, as he did previously with the Red Bull group. The squad was massively bloated when he first arrived at Monaco, and he streamlined it really well, and played his part in an important sale with Aurelian Tchouameni as well.
For Monaco, the sporting director is probably the most important position at the club – they don’t have the same potential to fill their stadium week in, week out, which would provide them with a boost in income, so it’s massively important that they get the right replacement for him. I’d expect Paul Mitchell’s next club to be a little closer to home, and I could see him doing a job at one of the bigger Premier League clubs, perhaps like Liverpool, where there’s going to be a vacancy, though my understanding is he’ll see out the summer transfer window with Monaco first.
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