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AP Interview: PSG's Tuchel cautious when talking of ambition

(AP Photo/David Vincent)

By JEROME PUGMIRE

AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain is in a hurry to win the Champions League but its newly hired coach, Thomas Tuchel, is cautious when it comes to talking about ambition.

Tuchel has only a two-year deal, giving him little time to impose his methods. But the 44-year-old German, who carved a path from youth team coach to the top echelons of European football, does not believe in fast-tracked success anyway.

"It's way too early to speak about next May," Tuchel said Sunday in an interview with The Associated Press. "We are very aware that we're here to win games. But before that, we have to do our work and there are things to do. We have to build a structure. We have to evolve the team spirit, a certain atmosphere."

He believes in simpler notions, like getting to know his players and how they think.

"I don't know the structure within (the team) and I don't know the bonds within, the impact of the players in the dressing room," Tuchel told the AP, adding that he does not foresee big changes in player personnel this summer. "If you want to evolve things you have to be patient and you have to believe in the players who are here. They are amazing players, among the most talented.

"This is my first target, to get known by every player, to speak to everybody and have a clear view of what is possible with this team."

Tuchel wants his players to always set an example.

"We have to take care of this every single day, in the way we talk to each other, in the way we behave, in the hotels, in the training center, to other people and to supporters," said Tuchel, who conducted the AP interview in English on the side of the pitch at Parc des Princes.

The German replaced Unai Emery, after PSG lost in the last 16 of the Champions League for the second straight season. Since cash-rich Qatari investors QSI took over in 2011, the club has not reached the semifinals.

Key players lacked composure against Real Madrid in the last 16 this season, losing home and away. There was also a perceived lax code of conduct behind the scenes, with striker Edinson Cavani and midfielder Javier Pastore returning late from the winter break, earning a stern rebuke from club captain Thiago Silva

A little more than a week before the first leg in Madrid, star striker Neymar hosted a lavish 26th birthday party in Paris. Around 250 guests attended, and videos of some players dancing at the party into the early hours circulated on social media.

Asked if this was not the appropriate preparation, Tuchel quickly agrees. He compares it to players returning late, and says it's crucial to understand why.

"There's always a reason. (Someone) asked me `What are you doing (would you do) in winter when the players (return) late?' It's the same question," Tuchel said. "I hope and I truly believe we can create a spirit in here and live up to it. I believe the biggest players have a sense (that) you need this to achieve the biggest goals."

Tuchel made his name at Mainz from 2009-14, getting the job after one year with the youth team.

Despite limited funds, he kept newly promoted Mainz in the Bundesliga, finishing ninth. He nurtured talented young players like forward Andre Schuerrle, a World Cup winner with Germany in 2014. In his last season, Mainz qualified for the Europa League. It earned him a move to Borussia Dortmund as Juergen Klopp's replacement when he joined Liverpool.

Tuchel is lean with an angular frame as befits his days as a center back, before a serious knee injury ended his career at the age of 25. He has a reputation for strictness, particularly when it comes to diet, but he laughs when asked if he considers himself a disciplinarian.

He is more a mixture of approaches: psychologist, dietary adviser and mediator.

"Of course we want them to be good athletes and take care about what they eat. We convince them to have their sleep," he said. "This is very clear to me. I'm very strict there. If you have these ambitions as a team you have to act like a team, live up to it every single day."

But he also believes players learn for themselves.

"Control is the wrong word because I'm not the police. I'm not the guy who is in charge of everything and runs behind the boys," he said. "I want to convince the biggest players (because) normally the biggest players are the hardest workers. When you have that you can start flying."

AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Updated May 20, 2018

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