Mauricio Pochettino has come to the defence of his compatriot Lionel Messi after the criticism the forward has received in his first Paris Saint-Germain spell.
Messi joined the French Champions for free in the summer following budget cuts at Barcelona and has gone on to produce average numbers at the club. In 23 league appearances due to injuries and bouts of COVID-19 and other illnesses, the mercurial Argentine has scored just four goals while assisting 13.
The combined figures (17 goal contributions in 23 games) glossed over the fact that Messi has underperformed in an overwhelming manner at the Parc De Princes. Unlike at Barcelona, however, he has had the talents of Neymar and Mbappe to count on for the goals and as a result, PSG have matched the record number of Ligue 1 titles with their draw against RC Lens two weekends ago. Incidentally, PSG’s only goal in the game came from Messi.
The fans of the club have not taken kindly to his performances, booing him for most of the season. Many have come to his defence including Pochettino. The manager has again spoken up in defence of the former Barcelona forward as the season draws to a close.
“To judge Messi in this way is unfair,” Pochettino said.
“You can’t talk about Messi that way. It is like when I talk about Maradona. I’m not talking about an ordinary player. Messi is on the same level as Diego Maradona.
“I have no doubts about his quality. Messi has enough talent to do what he has to do. He will do it. Next season will be completely different for him. It was a year of learning, and not just on a professional level coming to Paris Saint-Germain, in a new league and with new teammates, but also on a family level.
“You must take that into account. It is a significant upheaval that can affect a player.”
Rumours of a Messi return to Camp Nou have been touted since the player started getting booed by the fans at the Parc De Princes, but the player’s camp have come out to debunk the reports.
His contract runs up in 2023 and Messi intends to remain at the club. He is also understood to be open to taking up the club’s option of extending his stay by another year.
Pochettino, meanwhile, has coached Messi for the last time in his career as PSG is set to axe the Argentine manager from the club following disappointments in the Coupe de France and especially in the UEFA Champions League, which was the genesis of the animosity if fans towards Messi.