Are elite football players a blessing or a curse? Watching Mauricio Pochettino, a man who transformed two Premier League sides with his cutting-edge tactical philosophy between 2013 and 2019, glumly preside over a celebrity-stuffed Paris Saint-Germain side might lead you to that conclusion.
As much criticism as Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gets for failing to produce some sort of convincing tactical gameplan given the huge names in his squad, perhaps the Norwegian’s struggles to speak to a wider point.
Pochettino, after all, cannot be doubted for his ability to set a team out with clear instruction and duly produce big results. Tottenham Hotspur enjoyed their greatest period of the modern era under his watch but, sadly, that appears to be too difficult to do at PSG.
Thomas Tuchel, who figured how to make Chelsea one of the greatest teams in Europe again about a week after his appointment, has previously spoken about how he felt more like a government minister than a coach while working in the French capital with their elite football players.
While Solskjaer clearly cannot be compared to either Tuchel or Pochettino, he is working at the English equivalent of PSG. Though both clubs are capable of spending big money, they appear to lack much in the way of joined-up thinking behind the scenes, or a long-term vision behind some wishy-washy ‘values’ akin to a bunch of meaningless words you’d see posted as an inspirational quote on LinkedIn.
If neither Tuchel or Pochettino can get a tune out of PSG, how could Solskjaer do the same at United in a similar set-up?
Indeed, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp do not buy ready-made superstars. The former might have to field questions about being a cheque-book manager at times and has obviously been backed at Manchester City but their whole ethos is to buy malleable players on the up, rather than the finished article when it comes to elite football players.
Klopp, meanwhile, has never been afforded access to the kind of funds available at clubs backed by nation-states. Most of the time, it seems like he wouldn’t want to.
The Liverpool manager’s charm comes from building teams, both at Anfield and at Borussia Dortmund. Sure, there have been big signings, but pretty much every single one of them have increased in value under his watch.
Antonio Conte and Diego Simeone – the remaining of the six outstanding managers working in Europe – are others rarely reliant on superstar signings, as much as the former might demand investment and the latter has struggled following the club-record addition of Joao Felix.
Is the answer, then, merely turning to managers in the mould of Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane? Individuals proven they can relate to the egos and lifestyle of elite football players, having been there themselves?
The problem for Solskjaer is that he’s neither (or at least has yet proven to be) a genius tactician or a ‘Galactico whisperer’.
The problem for the rest, is that they actually might too good as managers to want to deal with the all baggage. They have ideas to make teams greater than the sum of their parts, it’s just the parts they’re sometimes given are paid millions upon millions and are too valuable to their clubs to dispose of.
As we edge closer and closer to another European Super League proposal, it’ll be fascinating to see how this pans out. If the clubs involved are nothing but soulless safe-havens for celebrities, will it only be former players able to massage egos who thrive?
The challenge then, for genuine coaches, could come in the waters beneath the eerily serene sea of the Super League. Some elite football players might just be too good to manage.
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