Manchester United have reportedly held talks with Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino as well as Jose Mourinho over the possibility of taking over from incumbent manager Louis van Gaal—but the conversations with the former "could wreck" the latter's "dream" of managing the club.
That's according to an exclusive from the Sun's Neil Custis, who reported the Red Devils "chiefs have spoken to representatives" of Pochettino as they believe he "can lead them long term and deliver trophies as well as good football."
After three steady years managing Espanyol, with whom he spent much of his playing career, Pochettino took charge at Southampton and helped them survive the 2013-14 season, before guiding the Saints to eighth place the following year.
His brief but impressive stint on the south coast earned him a move to Spurs, where he took them to a Capital One Cup final and a fifth-placed finish last season. This year, the Lilywhites are firmly in the title race as they sit second in the Premier League.
Former Tottenham striker Gary Lineker has showered praise on Tottenham this season, in which they have shown far more resilience than they are typically known for:
Spurs are good these days, and exceedingly well coached.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) December 13, 2015
Spurs these days are a totally different proposition, with a healthy looking back-bone.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) January 3, 2016
What likely appeals to United is his track record of developing young players—something Mourinho isn't known for.
Who would be a better appointment?
He did so back at Southampton, bringing the likes of Luke Shaw through successfully, and he's had even more success at Spurs with players such as Nabil Bentaleb, Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
Eric Dier—whom Pochettino signed in his first summer at White Hart Lane—has come on leaps and bounds under his care, and Erik Lamela has shown far more consistency this season than he did at the start of his Tottenham career.
Of course, the 43-year-old is also more of a risk than Mourinho, having never won silverware or managed a club of United's stature before—a risk that backfired with the hiring of David Moyes from Everton, though he was arguably not given enough time to grow into the role.
Football writer Liam Canning believes Manchester City's appointment of Pep Guardiola necessitates someone of Mourinho's quality and record, lest the club be left behind by their rivals:
If United don’t appoint someone on Guardiola’s level (E.G. MOURINHO) then #MCFC will be the Kings of Manchester for some time.— Liam (@OffsideLiam) February 1, 2016
Man City backed United into a corner with the Guardiola announcement. They must respond by appointing José Mourinho. https://t.co/biRyBGamo4— Liam (@OffsideLiam) February 6, 2016
Of course, by his own standards, Mourinho won relatively little when the pair went head-to-head while they were in charge of Real Madrid and Barcelona—just one league title in three seasons, along with one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Super Cup.
As Custis noted, Mourinho would be much more straightforward to appoint as he's not only a free agent but is "desperate" to take over at Old Trafford, while Pochettino is contracted to Spurs and the club could require significant compensation to allow him to depart.
The Argentinian is an exciting young manager, though, so it's not completely inconceivable United would be interested, provided they're willing to take a risk.