It has been reported in some sections of the English media today that Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino is being lined up by Manchester United to replace Louis van Gaal at the end of the season. United have been dreadful viewing in recent months and their fans are crying out for some high energy football to return to Old Trafford, something to excite them and make the team fun to watch again. So you can understand why the club would look to the likes of Pochettino as a potential replacement, his work at both Tottenham and Southampton in the Premier League is making the elite clubs look very seriously at his talents.
Starting his managerial career at my beloved Espanyol, where he was formerly a player for the Periquitos, Pochettino immediately caught the eye with his high pressing tactics. Drilling hard work into his players that gave them the energy to not only defend well as a team, but be effective and entertaining in numbers on the offence. Coaching methods that he learnt from his mentor, the sometimes crazy and always entertaining Marcelo Bielsa. His record there was very impressive, especially considering the budget he was forced to work with at Espanyol and he would remain as coach, and a favourite of the fans, for three and a half years. He left by mutual consent with the club bottom of La Liga which is a little deceptive, his star players had been sold out from underneath him and he knew that the style of play that he encouraged was not going to be suitable for a relegation scrap with the remaining players at his disposal. This is backed up by the way Espanyol fans still feel about the Argentine, he is loved and admired and they understand that they had one of the games great young coaches in charge of their side.
In January 2013 Pochettino would begin his managerial (coaching) career in the Premier League, taking over the role at Southampton that was previously held by Nigel Adkins. Initially the press and media would give the Argentine a hard time, lambasting the decision to sack Adkins and bring in ‘some unknown Argentinian’, one pundit even thought he was Spanish which shows the research that goes into such things by some quarters. It was quite astonishing listening to some of the ex-professionals talk about Pochettino as if they had never heard of him, he played against England in the 2002 World Cup so it wasn’t as if he was a new name in the game, but their defence of the fallen English manager was clouding their opinion. Pochettino wouldn’t take long before he showed exactly who he was, turning Southampton from a side that avoided relegation (defying the bookies odds on his appointment) to a free flowing, exciting team that were fighting in the top half of the table the following season.
His style of play, a 4-2-3-1 high pressing formation, coupled with his development of the Southampton youth players caught the attention of Tottenham Hotspurs who were in desperate need of a change of management and direction. Tottenham had made a habit of hiring and firing their managers in recent years and saw in Pochettino the perfect man to clean up and revitalise their flagging squad. A deal with Southampton was struck and the Argentine became the North London clubs 10th manager in 12 years in the summer of 2014.
Tottenham is Pochettino’s biggest club and challenge to date, taking over a large squad with a number of high profile, big money players who hadn’t performed as expected for their previous managers. He wasn’t afforded a massive amount of money to work with in the transfer market as the club had spent large amounts previously and were preparing to construct a brand new stadium. He also had to contend with players that were not his, who were not as willing to adopt his methods and press on the pitch as his tactics required, so his early months at White Hart Lane were considered underwhelming by some. Gradually though the Spurs fans started to notice the change, the team had more energy, were working harder and the ‘bad eggs’ in the squad were slowly being moved out of the door. Regular visitors at the Lane would remark that this was the most fun they’ve had watching their team for years, particularly with the introduction of their young academy talent to the side such as Harry Kane and Ryan Mason.
Now in the 2014/15 season Spurs find themselves in a title challenge in the Premier League, an unthinkable possibility before Pochettino took over. The football is quick, energetic and entertaining as the manager’s high pressure tactics have now been fully implemented. Clever signings in Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld have given the side extra quality in their spine, and even the likes of Érik Lamela and Mousa Dembélé have rediscovered their form under the coach. Young players like Carroll, Pritchard and Onomah are being introduced to the first team on a regular basis and the Spurs fans are loving every minute of it. The media have gone from scoffing at the very notion of the Argentine managing in the Premier League, to lauding his talents and how he has helped improve a number of youngsters who have gone on to represent England, both at Southampton and Tottenham.
So would all this make him the ideal candidate to take over at Old Trafford this summer? Absolutely on the face of it. His high pressing style is exactly what the fans want, his inoffensive mannerisms and the classy way he conducts himself, the way he also brings through the academy players just like the great Sir Alex Ferguson. Most of all at Manchester United the fans want to win, and win with excitement. Mauricio Pochettino it appears ticks all the boxes, but would it be a good move for the man himself.
Tottenham fans I know will rightly argue “why leave?”, chances are that Spurs will be playing Champions League football next season and Manchester United will not. At Tottenham he is part of a major project that includes youth development, a new stadium and a young team on the rise. He is loved by the fans at White Hart Lane and has the respect and admiration of all the players that perform so well for him, so why would he take the risk?
The answer, sadly for Tottenham fans, is that’s it Manchester United. Even during his time at Espanyol it was clear that Mauricio Pochettino had a ‘major club’ coaching role in his future, he was even being considered as a potential replacement for José Mourinho during a rather sticky period in his Real Madrid tenure. Those links with the Madrid club incidentally still persist to this day, and many Spurs fans would have been relieved to see Zinedine Zidane replace Benitez at the Santiago Bernabéu this week. But he still does have a big club in his future, and yes Tottenham are hardly small time themselves, but if any coach is given the chance to go to Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich they’d be foolish not to take it.
Again the questions will come from Tottenham fans, “why go to a side in turmoil?” and there are obvious risks to it, there would be in joining any of the games giant clubs. At Old Trafford Pochettino would experience all the problems he discovered when walking in the door at White Hart Lane, disgruntled players, experienced heads with their own opinions, players on big wages that aren’t used to the work rate he would require and a fan base that demand entertaining, winning football at all times. All this that he experienced at Tottenham, but multiplied. So yes it would be a hugely difficult job with a lot of risk attached, but the management, staff and fans will know exactly the quality they are getting, and the players would have little hiding place if they didn’t go along with the coach’s methods. I mean compared to risk levels attached at Real Madrid, where they sack managers who win titles, Manchester United is a walk in the park.
So in summary Pochettino is the right man for the job at Old Trafford, he’s also the right man for many jobs, he’s the right man for the job at Tottenham too. He has that big job in his locker still, it’s up to him when he decides to take that extra chance. He is one the brightest coaches (managers) in the game today and Tottenham will be desperate to convince him to stay, he is the latest star name they don’t wish to part with, whether he leaves or not is impossible to predict.