Why Mauricio Pochettino’s path from Tottenham to Manchester United is not as simple as is being portrayed

If Ed Woodward really is serious about going for Pochettino in the summer, it may well be his biggest test in the role

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Wednesday 19 December 2018 08:11 GMT
Jose Mourinho sacked as Manchester United manager

After such a long and drawn-out ending, where Manchester United so hesitated on the decision to sack Jose Mourinho, the next choice is clear and obvious. Mauricio Pochettino is the man that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward wants above anyone else.

The club know that the Tottenham Hotspur manager is impossible to get mid-season so will go for a stand-in appointment, expected to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but that is not the only obstacle.

Because whether Pochettino should even go to United is now far from the obvious choice. It has got to the point where it is fair to ask the question. Should he swap a position at an upwardly mobile club, for one that now just seems utterly directionless - and, in short, a basket case?

For United’s part, one of the reasons that Mourinho was sacked was because he was against the appointment of a director of football, because they do now have some kind of plan. They want that direction it.

The appointment of a manager as talented as Pochettino would only hasten it.

There is a lot of talk that United need a change of squad as much as manager, but that is to overlook the reality that players can very quickly look very different under different coaches.

Look at the case of someone from Pochettino’s current squad. It was coincidentally a bad defeat away to Liverpool, in April 2014, that saw Jan Vertonghen dismissed as something of a joke. Belgian sources say his then manager Tim Sherwood even felt the defender had a bad attitude, just like what is said of so many United players now.

No one is saying that about Vertonghen now. That was the effect of Pochettino, and the player’s response to him.

That is what he is capable of.

It is just that there is still much work to do all around United, in what would really be going to start of something, when it feels like there is still so much unfinished business at Tottenham.

In a feat that is hugely impressive and actually deserves even more credit than it has got, the Argentine has already smashed the idea that he has hit a ceiling there, as seemed the case when they didn’t sign anyone in the summer.

Pochettino has instead persisted, getting them so much higher up the table than expected, and getting them through to the Champions League last 16 when everyone expected them to get eliminated.

Mauricio Pochettino is adored at Spurs (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty)

It also seems the worst is over in a few ways, with the club set to move into a new stadium in the next few months.

There is a sense of optimism and possibility at the place.

There is only a sense of puzzlement at United, and frustration.

There is also, however, a lot of money.

Old Trafford has a special allure (Getty)

For all the justified talk about the lack of football structure at the club, they are still so wealthy that the right manager could still do wonders even in that. One of Mourinho’s few successes by the end was sufficiently clouding the debate to deflect from that.

And this is a huge thing.

As one figure who works at the top level of the English game told the Independent, United can afford about eight to 11 players on over £200,000 a week.

That is highly persuasive, and is something that Pochettino would idealise at Spurs.

Few sides can rival Manchester United's spending power (Getty)

One of the reasons he has lost players is because his club haven’t been able to pay like that. One of the reasons he hasn’t been able to truly upgrade his team - and take them to that next level - is because his club haven’t been able to pay like that.

It is why what Pochettino at Spurs has done is close to a miracle.

United would be able to solve such problems at a stroke… but also bring a host of other problems.

Pochettino now has everything working as he wants it and in the one direction at Spurs, where is the main man.

United would require so much reshaping.

There’s also that feeling that he is tantalisingly close to something bigger at Spurs. There would be a greater sense of romance in him remaining to see it through, and that hugely appeals to Pochettino. He talks of it an awful lot.

It’s just that the romance of United appeals too.

It’s still something that will just come down to business, though.

Daniel Levy is a notoriously stern negotiator (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty)

If Woodward is serious about going for him in the summer, it may well be his biggest test in the role. He will have to deal with as tough a negotiator as Daniel Levy, something even David Gill regularly struggled with.

The subject of one of the deals they struck says it all.

Levy had a simple line for Michael Carrick, when the current United assistant was looking to move to Old Trafford in 2006.

“Well, they need to pay the money,” Levy told the midfielder in a phone call, before just repeating the message as the player pleaded. “Well, they need to pay the money.”

“Arguing with Daniel was pointless,” Carrick said in his recent autobiography. “I would have got more joy talking to a brick wall… It was all about the money for Daniel.”

It’s not quite all about that with Pochettino, as there are other obstacles and issues. Woodward knows this, and knows how difficult it would be. The path to Old Trafford isn’t as clear as has been presumed.

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