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Mauricio Pochettino on Paris, Barcelona and building a better world

"We always trust in the players," Paris coach Mauricio Pochettino tells UEFA.com ahead of his team's UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie against Barcelona.

Pochettino on Paris
Pochettino on Paris

It was 20 years ago that Mauricio Pochettino first came to Paris Saint-Germain, joining the club from Barcelona-based Espanyol as a central defender. Now, he is back at the Parc des Princes as coach, with a UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie against Barcelona next up.

The 48-year-old, who steered Tottenham to the 2019 UEFA Champions League final, talks UEFA.com through his first period in the French capital, his view of Ronald Koeman's Barcelona, and how a recent bout of COVID-19 has shaped his outlook on the world.

On playing for Paris from 2001 to 2003

Mauricio Pochettino in action for Paris in 2003
Mauricio Pochettino in action for Paris in 2003Icon Sport via Getty Images

There were other players with different reputations like Jay-Jay Okocha, [Nicolas] Anelka and also Ronaldinho, when the club signed him. Mine wasn’t a glamorous name in the day-to-day life at PSG. But it's true that, thanks to how Argentinian people are, the way we compete, our personality, I think we established a good relationship with the whole PSG family really quickly. And, of course, with my team-mates.

I was quite an aggressive player who competed well. I wasn't too technically gifted, but I was very strong mentally. We had a great squad with plenty of talent. But, at the same time, the club was going through some uncertain times; there was quite a bit of instability. It was a shame, actually, not to build up a solid project with time to make the most of all the talent that squad had in order to achieve big things.

On Paris's prospects against Barcelona

2020 final highlights: Paris 0-1 Bayern
2020 final highlights: Paris 0-1 Bayern

[By reaching the 2020 UEFA Champions League final] PSG had an opportunity last year, of achieving something the club had been dreaming of doing for 50 years, and we've got another chance. It has to be taken step by step in order for things to go well, and we need to bear in mind that things will be tough. First we need to face Barcelona.

I've seen Barcelona's entire evolution, first from my home in London, when Ronald [Koeman] took over. It's clear that the team is moving to a different stage, to a different chapter. As soon as Ronald came in, he started working to get the best performance out of his team. Now, after seven months, Ronald has put his ideas in practice and the team knows what's expected by the coach.

I see a solid team with some clear ideas and amazing football players. They're a team that knows how to compete, a team that's built to win. Their mindset is built to win like big clubs, like PSG, which is also a team which wants to compete and win.

Of course we need some clear structures and ideas on how to attack and how to stop Barcelona getting at us. But we always trust in the players to do their work in the best way possible and get a positive outcome.

Paris vs Barcelona down the years
Paris vs Barcelona down the years

On recovering from COVID-19

During the week that I was locked up in my room, I spent a lot of time thinking, obviously, because you have so much time for reflection. I'm an optimistic person. I'm always looking at the future, but I also try to enjoy the present. Maybe it's all about working in the present towards the future with the same responsibility as always. But maybe we need to give life another go, to try to enjoy things a bit more, maybe more intensely.

Even though I didn't have a good time, my experiences with COVID taught me to become a better person, think more about other people, the people around me, and how to be more responsible while enjoying what we do, always with responsibility and thinking about the future, because we also need to leave a better world to our children and grandchildren. We need to take responsibility for our neighbours, our children, our grandchildren. We hope there'll be a better world.