If you’re looking for reasons Mauricio Pochettino won’t join Manchester United this summer – and let’s face it, aren’t we all? – then look no further than the blue half of Manchester.
Spurs fans have been understandably upset with the constant linking of Pochettino to a move up north following the departure of Jose Mourinho, with journalists and ex-players-turned-pundits alike throwing petrol on the fire at every opportunity.
But there’s a generation game at play here. Most of those writers, and all the ex-pros, still think of Utd as the swashbuckling team of Sir Alex Ferguson, the irresistible force that was the embodiment of adapt or perish. When Ferguson’s teams faced new threats from up and down the country, he rebuilt his squads and found ways to beat them.
But since he left, Utd have finished seventh, fourth, fifth, sixth, and second. Over the same period Spurs have finished sixth, fifth, third, second and third. As I write this, Spurs are second and Utd are 13 points behind in sixth. 2013 was a long time ago: Utd no longer have Ferguson at the helm, and Spurs are no longer reliant on Gareth Bale rescuing games single-handedly for Andre Villas-Boas.
Football has changed, but the weight of Utd’s history means most people are failing to wake up to it. Yes, Utd still have considerable commercial power, particularly in comparison to Spurs, but that seems to be the only other legitimate reason anyone can find to suggest that Pochettino should leave.
Given his history as a player, and profile with Sky Sports, it’s no surprise that Gary Neville has been a go-to voice on the subject. He’s been clear from the outset that Pochettino is the man needed to fix things at Old Trafford, but in response to criticism from Spurs fans he felt compelled to clarify his position on his post-Super Sunday podcast with Martin Tyler following our demolition of Everton.
Neville said there was a difference between saying Pochettino is the right man for the job, and saying he should leave Tottenham. There is no disputing that if we take him at his word, so we can look more closely at the reasons why Pochettino – or any manager who is making a good fist of things somewhere else – should want to step into Mourinho’s hot seat once Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is done keeping it warm.
Neville has also been clear that Man Utd need a complete overhaul behind the scenes in senior positions at the club. Why on earth would Pochettino want to be the guinea pig manager in place if all that change goes ahead this summer? And if it doesn’t, what have Utd shown under their current structure that looks appealing – other than their ability to spend big on players who only turn it on when they feel like it?
This is where the Man City comparison comes in. During its phase as a coming force in English football, City eventually realised it needed to put all the building blocks in place to make sure that as a club it was structured and ready to one day slot in Pep Guardiola as manager.
Pochettino would be wise to look at that. Imagine the sort of job Pep would have had on his hands if he’d swooped in during the early years of City’s somewhat desperate spending, which is how a lot of Utd’s transfer business looks now. Guardiola wouldn’t have the harmonious squad he has today – he’d be managing egos out of the door and telling his bosses that they don’t know what they are doing.
The same will happen to whichever manager takes on the poisoned chalice of Utd next. Pochettino made it clear in his early time at Spurs that he had no time for players who weren’t the right sort of characters, and while he wasn’t exactly kicking out megabucks stars, he had the backing of his board to sweep a new broom through the squad. It’s difficult challenges like that, and doing them well, that are why Spurs fans now see on a weekly basis a squad that want to play for each other and their manager.
Imagine if Pochettino got to Utd and within a few months decided that one of the big names that sells red shirts all over the world isn’t pulling his weight, and he’d rather move them on? Ferguson had that influence during his reign, but player power has run rampant in the Utd dressing room since then. Pochettino wins those battles at Spurs even if it means freezing out a top name.
Another change many of the football experts are failing to pick up on is that the days of good managers getting one chance to say yes to a job are long gone. Big clubs do well to have the same manager for five years these days, so this isn’t a now-or-never for Pochettino. His stock is high, but still climbing, and these big jobs he is being linked to will keep coming round again. That includes Utd: Since Ferguson left, no manager has lasted two and a half seasons at Old Trafford.
One day, Man Utd might have sorted itself out behind the scenes and be a well-run club again that needs a top manager as the final piece in the puzzle.
If that time ever comes, Pochettino would still, in the words of Neville and so many others, be the perfect man for the job. But right now, Manchester United is not the right club for him.
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