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Zinedine Zidane is the only man who can get PSG on the right track again

Zinedine Zidane is widely considered a top candidate to take the PSG job this summer. Juanjo Martin/EPA.

Change is coming to Paris Saint-Germain. The club’s Ultras, who have staged protests since the damaging Champions League exit to Real Madrid, will make sure of it. The current leadership, they argue, hasn’t achieved the success expected of them. A changing of the guard is almost certain to happen this summer.

Leonardo is reportedly set to stand aside as sporting director and Mauricio Pochettino, it is widely believed, will follow him out the same door. This will open up a front office vacancy and a managerial vacancy at a club now synonymous with humiliating failure and wastefulness. Finding the right men to take over will be a challenge.

However, Zidane Zidane might just fit the bill. The 49-year-old, who is a three-times Champions League winner as a manager, has been out of work since leaving Real Madrid at the end of the 2020/21 season and is reportedly only willing and ready to return to soccer management for the right project. 

PSG need a dressing room leader with genuine aura to control a group of players full of egos. Pochettino is a good coach, but the Argentine has never truly had the stature to rule with authority at the Parc des Princes. Zidane, on the other hand, has exactly that. In the eyes of Lionel Messi and Neymar, the Frenchman would be their equal.

Zidane’s aura has always been his biggest strength as a manager. It was the thing that made him so successful over four years in two separate spells at Real Madrid. While Rafael Benitez and Julen Lopetegui struggled to mould a unit from a group that included strong characters like Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema, Zidane got them pulling in the one direction. PSG need someone to that can execute similarly with their strong characters. 

As a tactician, Zidane trails behind some of his peers, but the former Ballon d’Or winner is better at setting up a team than many give him credit for. His approach would certainly be different to Pochettino’s – under Zidane, Real Madrid were renowned for staying compact and exploiting space in quick transition.

Mbappe’s expected departure this summer might actually help Zidane impose a better structure on PSG. This season, Pochettino has been unable to balance the strength of his attack with the rest of his side. On individual talent, Mbappe would be a great loss, but Zidane could use Messi and Neymar in the same way he used Benzema and Ronaldo as a front two at Real Madrid. 

It’s possible Paul Pogba, a player Zidane chased for years during his time as Real Madrid manager, could pitch up at the Parc des Princes this summer with the 2018 World Cup winner set to leave Manchester United as a free agent. PSG’s capture of Pogba would strengthen their midfield unit and help rebalance the squad.

Some trimming of the squad would be required. Georginio Wijnaldum has struggled to make much of an impression after signing from Liverpool last summer and has been linked with a return to the Premier League. Sergio Ramos’ fitness remains a concern, although a reunion with Zidane this summer could offer him a second chance to make a first impression in the French capital.

Between Gianluigi Donnarumma and Keylor Navas, Zidane would be wise to make a decision on a first-choice goalkeeper, although this might not be so difficult for a manager who picked Thibaut Courtois over Navas at Real Madrid. At left back, Nuno Mendes has still to demonstrate he can be PSG’s long-term option in that position. 

There has been talk of a fundamental change of tact at PSG recently with supporters urging the club to establish a pathway between the youth ranks and the first team. Paris is a soccer hotbed and has produced many of the game’s greats, yet PSG have sold their best young talents and watched them flourish elsewhere — see Christopher Nkunku, Odsonne Edouard and Mike Maignan.

In the meantime, though, PSG must find a way to get the best out of their current squad and Zidane would surely be at the top of their shortlist should Pochettino leave this summer, as looks likely. The Frenchman would be a good bridge between where PSG are now and where they want to be in the future.

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