Luis Enrique has tactical nous to handle PSG's treacherous managerial challenge

Ligue 1 club have brought in coach who is unafraid of confrontation, be it with superstars or orthodox opinion

New PSG manager Luis Enrique, left, with club president Nasser Al Khelaifi on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. AP
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A new training centre, the latest state-of-the-art declaration of Paris Saint-Germain’s yearning for elite status among Europe’s superclubs, greeted the French champions’ new manager on Wednesday.

Luis Enrique, formerly of the Spain national team, Barcelona and Roma, enjoyed his inspection of its facilities, but can only hope that future activities there run more smoothly than they did for his official unveiling.

The ceremony, Enrique’s first official act of his two-year contract, was delayed for more than three hours as attendees waited for the club’s president, Nasser Al Khelaifi to arrive after his flight into Paris had been delayed.

It was an inauspicious start to a job that has become notoriously treacherous, its previous incumbent, Christophe Galtier having lasted a single season, and his predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino, barely 18 months.

They both won the Ligue 1 title shortly before being fired, but fell a long way short of capturing the prize Al Khelaifi craves most urgently, the Champions League title.

The training site at Poissy certainly looks a fitting launchpad for the next attempt at that dream, and, for the first time since Carlo Ancelotti was appointed coach 11 years ago – to coincide with Qatar Sports Investments taking full ownership of the club and a big-spending recruitment drive that has characterised the last decade – PSG have brought in a manager with previous experience of winning the European Cup. Luis Enrique guided Barcelona to it in 2015.

He returns to club football after six years away, most of them spent in charge of Spain, who reached a European championship semi-final and a Uefa Nations League final on his watch. In Qatar last December, however, the momentum petered out, with elimination on penalties to Morocco at the last-16 stage of the World Cup.

Luis Enrique stepped down, but found his reputation still high enough to have been sounded out for a number of heavyweight posts in the months since. Chelsea spoke to his representatives, as did Tottenham Hotspur.

The job he has accepted betters both of those in the likelihood of silverware – PSG have won nine of the last 11 French leagues – and in that it means Champions League participation in 2023-24.

There is also the privileged status PSG enjoy as the only top division team from a city that is perhaps the most fertile capital in Europe in terms of young talent. Above that, there’s the financial muscle. Money from Doha has smashed various transfer-fee and salary records to bring in some of the game’s finest attacking players.

The costliest duo, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are both hot issues this summer, as they were for Galtier, Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel, the last three PSG bosses. Mbappe’s future is again clouded after he made public his intention not to trigger an extension clause in a contract that expires in 2024.

It means PSG could at the end of this season lose, without a fee, a footballer they have invested over €500m in, taking in his vast wages and the sum paid to Monaco for him. PSG may yet feel they should cash in if a mammoth offer comes in for Mbappe before September.

Asked about Mbappe, Luis Enrique said only: “We will try to have the best squad possible. Any discussions we have had remain private.”

Neymar, for whom PSG paid Barca €222m in 2017, ended last season injured and, on one alarming afternoon, saw PSG fans crowding around the gates of his Paris mansion to boo him and demand he leaves the club.

Unless a suitable new employer can be found, an exit remains unlikely. To a question about Neymar, Luis Enrique responded: “I haven’t had a chance to talk with him yet,” but added: “This is the start of a new era.”

For his part, the Brazilian is understood to feel positively about Enrique’s appointment. They worked together at Barcelona, a period that included the 2015 treble of Champions League, Liga and Copa del Rey.

That remains the high point of the Spaniard’s managerial career, one punctuated by tough calls and proof of an independent mind.

He has been a bold enough coach to have dropped Francesco Totti, the Roma icon, when he was a relatively novice manager in Rome; he benched Xavi and – briefly – Lionel Messi while in charge of Barca, and effectively retired from international football the Spain legend and captain, Sergio Ramos.

He has been tactically imaginative, especially while in charge of Spain, and unafraid of confrontation, be it with superstars or orthodox opinion.

At PSG, where the dressing room, the executive floor and the grandstands have all been sites of conflict in the years of striving in vain for a first Champions League title, they will discover a manager who does not easily yield.

But after a long wait for his official introduction, Luis Enrique welcomed the challenge. “I’m grateful for the confidence the club have shown in me,” he said.

Updated: July 05, 2023, 4:46 PM