After some much-needed R&R, Mauricio Pochettino finally looks ready to jump back into the world of management.
The Argentine was dismissed from his duties at Tottenham Hotspur in November in what was, arguably, the most unexpected managerial change in recent times, having taken the Lilywhites to last season’s Uefa Champions League final.
But in a recent interview with Sky Sports, Pochettino cut a far more relaxed figure than that which we last saw in a rather forlorn Spurs dugout. Most significantly, he confirmed he is seeking a return to the Premier League.
“To be honest, I would love to work in the Premier League,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult, I know, and for now it’s a moment to wait and we’ll see what happens. I’m ready and waiting for a new challenge. I have the belief and confidence that the next challenge will be fantastic.”
Where Pochettino could pitch up next has long been discussed, even before he left Tottenham, so now feels about the right time to start weighing up his options. But where could he go? And who would be the winners and losers of each plausible appointment? Let’s take a look.
Manchester United have, by far, been the club most linked with Pochettino over the past couple of years. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s permanent appointment has done little to temper those rumours. In fact, given United’s middling form under the Norwegian, coupled with the pressure being heaped on Ed Woodward, you could say Pochettino looks an even more likely option now than he did a year ago. So, who stands to gain the most if Poch does, indeed, appear at the Theatre of Dreams?
- Winner – Ed Woodward: Woodward has had to endure some horrendous treatment in recent weeks that nobody should be subjected to. However, the fact remains that the United chairman has overseen a dismal post-Sir Alex Ferguson period and is under huge pressure to restore the club to its former glories. With Pochettino having been linked to the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in recent times, his appointment would be a huge victory and statement for Woodward.
- Loser – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Of course, if Pochettino is the man stood in the dugout, you can safely say things will have to have gone a little south for Solskjaer. Results have been in a steady state of decline at United since the former striker took the job on a permanent basis and although they’re still in with a chance of Champions League football, that’s mostly down to Chelsea’s own unpredictable form. A failed spell at Cardiff is the only other barometer with which to measure Solskjaer’s effectiveness in the Premier League, so another failure would be a disaster for him.
- Winner – Luke Shaw: “I do hope that I can play for him again one day. He used to call me his son, that’s how good our relationship was,” responded Luke Shaw when asked about a potential reunion with Pochettino in 2017. Injury has meant things haven’t quite gone to plan for the left-back since leaving Southampton but at 24, Shaw still has years ahead of him and who better to get his career back on track than the man who gave it a start in the first place?
- Loser – Brandon Williams: Pochettino’s record with English youngsters is remarkable but if he does indeed go with Shaw, that can only be bad news for Brandon Williams. The teenager is showing a ton of potential and his right-footedness means he can operate on either flank. However, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has the right-back spot on lockdown and Pochettino’s love of Shaw could hamper Williams’ progress at a critical time in his career.
- Winner – Paul Pogba: As Mino Raiola has made quite clear, Paul Pogba wants out of Manchester United. From Kyle Walker to Kieran Trippier to Gylfi Sigurdsson, Pochettino has never been scared of letting a big player go and the sale of Pogba would leave the Argentine with one hell of a war chest to flesh out his United squad with. Everybody wins.
After dominating English football for the last two years, Manchester City have dropped off drastically in the Premier League and are now pinning most of their hopes on Champions League glory. Failure in this department would leave even the great Pep Guardiola in a precarious position, or so he has suggested himself ahead of the upcoming Real Madrid tie.
“If we don’t beat them, OK, come the chairman or the sport director and say, ‘It’s not good enough, we want the Champions League, I’m going to sack you’,” said Guardiola in his own interview with Sky. “OK, [I’d say], ‘Thank you, it was a pleasure’. I don’t know [if this would happen]. It has happened many times and could maybe happen.”
In any case, the Catalan tactician is in his fourth year at City. He’s never managed at a club longer than that and may take matters into his own hands by calling it a day. There will be other targets on the shortlist, but Pochettino is absolutely one of his most likely replacements and, if a return to the Premier League is really what he’s after, it’s hard to see another job big enough for his ambitions becoming vacant.
- Winner – Phil Foden: David Silva is on his way out of the Etihad and an heir to his midfield throne is required. Phil Foden seems the most likely candidate but has found regular minutes hard to come by under Guardiola. Walker, Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks are just four of the English players to thrive under Pochettino at Tottenham and you can bet your bottom dollar he’d love the chance to develop an immense creative talent like Foden.
- Loser – Kyle Walker: Despite their increased importance in recent years, it’s hard to reject a £45m bid for a full-back. However, Kyle Waker’s departure to Man City in 2017 runs much deeper than that and there have been shots fired from both his and Pochettino’s camp since. Can those bridges be rebuilt if Pochettino arrives at the Etihad? The answer to that question becomes even more unclear when you consider that Walker turns 30 this summer and City already have another big-money right-back at their disposal, a right-back Pochettino reportedly once tried to sign, at that.
- Winner – Joao Cancelo: Pochettino and Cancelo might have worked together sooner if it wasn’t for Juventus, according to Goal. The full-back’s time with the Serie A champions was relatively shortlived and since joining City last summer, he has started just seven Premier League games, having to remain extremely patient in waiting for his opportunities so far. Should Walker and Pochettino be unable to mend their relationship, the door would be wide open for Cancelo to finally make that right-back spot his own.
- Loser – Gabriel Jesus: How many seasons does this guy have to wait to become a first-choice centre-forward? Whatever the answer, it’s probably longer than he envisioned upon signing for Man City three years ago. Based purely on what Pochettino has previously said, this hypothetical managerial change could create two conceivable obstacles for Jesus. One of those is detailed in the next paragraph. The other has to do with the fact Pochettino might try to play him a little further away from goal. “I know him very well because I saw him play in his national team in Brazil,” said Pochettino a couple of years ago. “I think he’s not a proper striker, he’s more a player that can play like a second striker.” Much has changed since Pochettino’s initial evaluation. But under a manager who chose to move Harry ’20+ goals a season’ Kane back into a No.10 role, no striker is safe.
- Winner – Sergio Aguero: Whoever manages City next season will get to preside over the final season on the current contract of the man whose goal famously clinched their first-ever league title. If it is to be Guardiola, it seems feasible that Aguero will be gradually phased out in favour of a more long-term option (almost certainly Jesus). If it is to be Pochettino, might the Argentine coach opt to squeeze every minute of game time possible out of someone he once described as ‘the Mozart of strikers’?
What if Pochettino doesn’t get his Premier League dream?
Of course, just because Pochettino wants to return to the Premier League, that doesn’t mean he will. The 47-year-old has been linked with a number of Europe’s biggest clubs and, so, here are some potential options awaiting him on the continent:
- Real Madrid: During an interview with El Pais last year, Pochettino claimed he only rejected an offer from Real Madrid due to his increased commitment to Spurs. Zinedine Zidane is a club legend as both player and coach, but it’s not as if club president Florentino Perez hasn’t dismissed a decorated former player recently (see Santi Solari) and ‘Zizou’ himself has walked away from the job before. With Pochettino no longer tied to Tottenham, these two could find themselves drawn together once again soon enough.
- Bayern Munich: Hans Flick currently occupies the Allianz Arena dugout but, despite getting their title defence back on track, perhaps doesn’t have the credentials to be seen as a long-term candidate. Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has long been an admirer of Pochettino and regardless of how the Bavarians fare in the Bundesliga and Champions League this term, they’re unlikely to want to pass up an opportunity to secure a manager of this calibre.
- Paris Saint-Germain: PSG continue to sweep up domestic trophies at an alarming rate in France but, as we all know, it’s in the Champions League they’re truly judged. So far, the Ligue 1 giants have failed miserably in this respect and unless things change this season Thomas Tuchel will be staring down the barrel in terms of job security. Pochettino has admitted in the past that returning to the club he spent two years of his playing career would be a “dream” and the Parisians would likely jump at the chance to bring in a coach with Champions League final experience.