Members of the press were already on their way to Spurs’ training ground in Enfield when the story broke on Tuesday morning that Jose Mourinho had lost his job at Manchester United. With that news the line of questioning that would be put to Mauricio Pochettino was set. Spurs face Arsenal in the Carabao Cup tonight, but the agenda was led by something else.
With Mourinho gone, United have appointed a caretaker replacement (Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) until the end of the season. At that point, a permanent successor will be found and Pochettino’s name has risen to the top of the prospective shortlist. Prising the Argentinean from the grip of Spurs and Daniel Levy will be difficult, and costly, but most of a red persuasion are of an opinion that Pochettino represents everything United need.
Indeed, he has forged one of the most exciting, dynamic teams in the Premier League over the past four years at Spurs. Not only that, but Pochettino has done so while bringing through a number of young players.
Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Juan Foyth, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier and Harry Winks all have a lot to thank him for. Harry Kane might have been given his first start by Tim Sherwood, but it’s under Pochettino that he has become a superstar.
While Mourinho complained of not being backed in the transfer market, of, as he saw it, not being able to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool for players, Pochettino has made do with what Spurs have given him.
He is a coach in the purest sense of the term, drawing the best out of what he already has.
This has allowed Spurs to operate on the tightest of playing budgets. Their net spend over the four years that Pochettino has been in charge stands at just £29 million. For context, City’s over the same time period stands at £518 million, with Man Utd’s £466 million and even Liverpool’s, who have sold Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez for big fees, £183 million.
This year, Spurs became the first team in the history of the Premier League not to sign a single player in a summer transfer window, and yet Pochettino has kept them at the top end of the table, just six points off the pace set by Liverpool, also qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League from a group that included Barcelona and Inter Milan.
Pochettino has become English football’s great maximiser and this is just one of the qualities that will surely draw Man Utd to him. At Old Trafford, he would be handed a squad that was massively under-utilised by Mourinho. Without even spending a penny, Pochettino could take United to where they want to be.
And therein lies the one concern that would come from the appointment of Pochettino. Given his effectiveness at working on a shoestring budget, is it possible that the arrival of the Argentinean at Old Trafford could tempt the Glazers to pull the purse strings again? Could they use Pochettino in the same way they used Sir Alex Ferguson for years, depending on one man’s ability to get the best from players in order to mask an institutional lack of ambition?
This hypothesis should be a worry for United fans. Talk that the Glazers could sell the club, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (the son of King Salman of Saudi Arabia), believed to be interested, refuses to dissipate and so it’s possible that transfer funds could be frozen until such a transaction has taken place.
Pochettino would be the perfect candidate to handle the challenges that would bring, but is that really what Man Utd are looking for in their next permanent manager? Furthermore, would this be what Pochettino wants for his career at this point? Would he really leave Spurs for such a potentially toxic situation?
Guilty of suffocating the club in the transfer market over the final few years of Ferguson’s tenure, the Glazers have had no choice but to spend big in the time since. It was the only way to keep Man Utd’s head above water as a football team. But what if they had the choice again? What if United had a manager who could keep them competitive without the big money signings?
Could the Glazers be trusted to keep spending? Pochettino’s appointment would test that hypothesis.