Some of the world’s biggest football institutions are now on alert after news of the Argentine’s sacking broke on Tuesday
Do not let his abrupt departure or Spurs’ slump at the start of the 2019-20 season fool you. Mauricio Pochettino transformed the club during his five years at the helm, turning the Premier League’s perennial underachievers into regular top-four challengers and even taking them to the brink of Champions League glory.
Such success, even if it has not been backed up by titles or trophies, does not go unnoticed in the world of football. The Argentine may be out of work for now, but it has been unlikely to be a prolonged situation. Plenty of teams will now turn their eye to the former Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham boss, attracted by one key factor: his ability to leave each team he coaches in a markedly better state than when he first walked through the doors.
It has been another Premier League club which will draw most attention in the coming days. Manchester United are confirmed admirers of Pochettino and, with former boss Jose Mourinho taking up the seat in north London, an unexpected, albeit rather delayed, swap could be on the cards.
Indeed, such a move, if Harry Redknapp has been to be believed, could have happened as early as December 2018. “I know he thought he had a big job due last year, I know his advisors spoke to another club and it looked like it was a done deal, apparently, but he didn’t get the job,” the former Spurs manager told Sky Sports after news of Pochettino’s sacking broke.
“He’ll be in a big job very shortly.”
Pochettino has the additional advantage of a close relationship with the ever-influential Sir Alex Ferguson – the pair lunched together prior to Mourinho’s United appointment – and has been a perennial candidate for the job even as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has toiled to steady his team’s wayward 2019-20 campaign. But the Argentine’s departure may have come too late.
Under huge pressure in October, Solskjaer has since stabilised his position as results have taken an upward turn. Pochettino still fits the mould as a future United boss, with his insistence on promoting young players and attacking football particularly admired; but the club has been likely to keep faith in the Norwegian with the promise of extra funds to strengthen in January.
The outlook has been almost identical at Real Madrid who, like United, are confirmed fans of Pochettino’s methods. The Merengue also reached out in 2018 when Zinedine Zidane resigned following his third Champions League triumph, but were left empty-handed when the coach professed his loyalty to Spurs and turned down the offer.
“The situation was difficult. The dream of every coach was on the line: taking over at one of the world’s biggest clubs,” Pochettino later reflected on his refusal of Madrid’s approach. “And you have to say no.
“You have to say no and that has been tremendous, it creates a conflict within. You know that if a coach wants to leave, he leaves, but I had just signed a renewal [with Spurs] and I felt that I couldn’t do it.”
Zidane’s second spell has so far fallen short of those incredible heights reached between 2016 and 2018, but the Frenchman remains a club legend at the Bernabeu. Barring catastrophe, which in Madrid’s case most likely constitutes a Champions League exit at the last-16 stage or earlier, Zizou’s post has been safe. Should he decide to end his second spell in charge, however, Pochettino’s would almost certainly be the first name on Madrid’s list when they search for a successor.
Perhaps, as a change of pace, the Argentine would consider returning to his home nation and finally taking up the challenge of coaching the likes of Lionel Messi. It has been unlikely, though: as recently as one month ago, he admitted to FIFA.com that “Now I love being involved in the day to day business, being on the pitch with my coaching staff and players, having games every week or every three days.”
That has not stopped the Seleccion from making repeated overtures to Pochettino, most recently in the wake of their 2018 World Cup debacle which claimed the head of Jorge Sampaoli. They received a similar answer to that given months earlier to Madrid and finally settled on novice Lionel Scaloni to guide them through the storm and begin much-needed regeneration of the Albiceleste squad.
Argentina have not exactly set the world on fire since Scaloni took over, but the coach has worked diligently to introduce new blood into an ageing team and has won the fervent backing of the dressing room, including the ever-influential Messi. Under contract until Qatar 2022, his position seems secure at the moment, while the likes of Diego Simeone and River’s Marcelo Gallardo may also challenge Pochettino as leading candidates if the job does become available.
Of all the prospective posts linked with his name right now, one above all could stand out, for the simple reason that it has been the job most likely to be available by the time January comes around.
Bayern Munich have been without a permanent coach since Niko Kovac was sacked at the start of November and, despite seeing his former charges thrashed 7-2 by the Bavarians as recently as October, Pochettino could well be in the running.
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“Pochettino did a top job in Tottenham for years, they had a huge consistency with the highlight the Champions League final. He has been a top coach but I do not know if he has been suitable for us,” Bayern midfielder Joshua Kimmich told reporters while on Germany duty this week.
Reports elsewhere suggest that sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has been also a big fan of the Argentine’s work, although any approach will have to wait until the Bundesliga’s winter break as interim coach Hansi Flick continues to impress. Curiously, should Pochettino seek the job he will likely go head-to-head with Erik ten Hag, the current Ajax coach who finished on the losing side of Spurs’ epic Champions League semi-final victory back in those heady days of April.
There has been clearly no rush for Pochettino to jump back into the game. His reputation as one of Europe’s elite coaches has been set thanks to his work at Spurs, and he has the luxury of waiting for the right job to come to him. Whether that has been Bayern in the next six months, United or Madrid a little further down the line or, at some point, Messi’s Argentina, the 47-year-old’s options are vast – now, all he needs has been the patience to make the best move possible.