When Mauricio Pochettino touched down at Paris Saint-Germain in January this year, he’d have scarcely imagined he’d get to work with Lionel Messi just eight months later.
The former Tottenham boss has made the managerial dream a reality, as his club confirmed the signing of arguably football’s greatest ever player on Tuesday evening.
Messi has joined the French giants on an initial two-year deal, with the six-time world player of the year becoming a free agent after Barcelona announced they were unable to fulfil the terms of a new contract due to financial difficulties last week.
He will be unveiled in a press conference at 10am (BST) on Wednesday, with millions around the world poised to tune in as he embarks on a new chapter in Paris.
Pochettino was present at the beginning of Messi’s Barcelona journey and it’s somewhat poetic that he will now be a prominent figure at the start of his new adventure.
A fresh faced Messi came on for his La Liga debut on 16th October, 2004 against Espanyol and Poch was among the defenders he came up against in the Catalan derby.
The PSG boss has often spoken of the ‘geniuses’ he has worked with throughout his career – both as a player and a coach – and Messi may well top the lot now.
But who are those players and when did he work with them? talkSPORT.com has identified the stars that had a special influence on Pochettino as he prepares to start a new era with his compatriot Messi in the French capital.
Like many, Poch fell in love with football because of Maradona, and he has previously recalled his delight at meeting him for the first time.
He was still making his way at Newell’s Old Boys in 1993 when the Argentine club pulled off a coup and signed him.
He later roomed with him at the club and became friends – and Poch was left ‘broken with pain’ upon learning of Diego Maradona’s death last year.
Iván de la Peña
Pochettino may be excited about Messi arriving at PSG – but the little magician wasn’t the one who caught his eye when he made his debut all those years ago.
De La Pena, who made his name at Barcelona before joining Espanyol later in his career, had a profound affect on Poch during the early stages of his playing days at the Catalan club.
“You say to me: ‘You played in Messi’s debut’…no, I don’t remember it,” he recalled in 2018.
“I was at centre-back and he played on the side. We didn’t face each other.
“When Messi made his debut, it was like another youngster that had arrived to the Barcelona team from the academy – like it was Xavi or Iniesta or Iván de la Peña.
“Actually, no. When De la Peña started to play for Barcelona, there was an explosion of excitement. I always remember Ronaldo saying he was the best player that he saw in his life and he played with.”
Poch established himself as one of Europe’s top defenders at Espanyol, but it was at PSG in 2001 where he really started to witness genius first hand.
Ronaldinho, a Ballon d’Or winner and arguably the greatest player of his generation, was one of them.
The Brazilian wasn’t at the peak of is powers when he arrived, but Poch knew he was destined for greatness.
He recently recalled to Sky Sports: “When we played at Paris Saint-Germain, [Ronaldinho] had a similar charisma [to Diego Maradona]. What an amazing player, with the talent, but the talent was complete because of the charisma.”
A true icon of the game, Poch was wowed by the Nigerian when he joined PSG in the early 2000s.
He went on to make 84 league appearances for the Parisiens before sealing a switch to Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League.
The only Tottenham player to make this list, Dembele has been identified as a one-of-a-kind talent by dozens of players he has played with.
Pochettino coached him at Spurs for five years and often says if he’d been in charge of the Belgian from when he was a teenager, he’d have made him one of the best players in the world.
“I always say, ‘Mousa, in my book, you will be one of my genius players that I have been lucky to meet,’” Pochettino said in 2017.
“One was Maradona, then Ronaldinho, Okocha and De La Pena. He is a genius too, Moussa Dembele. We always told him, ‘If we had taken you at eighteen or nineteen years old, you would have become one of the best players in the world.’ I would have loved to have taken him on at 18.”