Why Manchester United Are Willing to Wait for No. 1 Target Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino is the standout candidate to become Manchester United's next manager, and the club is biding its time in an attempt to land him.
That's the view of informed sources, who are convinced United's approach to replacing Jose Mourinho is a ploy to land the Tottenham Hotspur manager.
News of Mourinho's departure spread throughout the football world on Tuesday, but it also emerged the club is taking a specific view on how to move forward.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been named as caretaker manager until the end of the season, but United then plan to name a permanent boss in the summer—and with good reason.
According to sources, they feel it is impossible to land Pochettino, their No. 1 choice, at this moment in time because of the project he is the middle of, with Spurs moving to a new stadium and progressing in the UEFA Champions League.
But at the end of this season, there is a belief among United's power figures that he will be more willing to accept the role.
They have tried David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho on full-time deals—and next will go all out to get Pochettino. The terms of his contract mean it will cost around £34 million in compensation, but that will not deter them.
The No. 1 Target
Zinedine Zidane is being spoken of as a front-runner to become United's permanent next manager by outlets such as The Sun, but it will not happen because he doesn't want to risk damaging his CV in a country he has never worked in. Sources say that under different circumstances, it may have been tempting, but not in the current state.
Antonio Conte and Leonardo Jardim are high-profile managers out-of-work—but neither is being considered. This is obvious in that United would move for them now—not wait until May or June.
Pochettino is a man United have had eyes on since 2016, but executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward went ahead with the appointment of Mourinho instead.
At the time, Woodward knew it would be tough to get the Argentinian out of Spurs, and even though Mourinho's personality and character did not seem a great fit for United, it was decided he was the best man to go head-to-head with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
The decision can now be viewed as the wrong one, but United's admiration of Pochettino has not waned.
There is no doubt he has a good relationship with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, and he has shown all the signs of loyalty to his club after penning a new five-year contract in May.
But there were whispers among insiders that he was keen on the Real Madrid manager's job earlier this year, and it has been suggested to B/R that United is the only club in England he would leave Tottenham for.
At the end of this season, and with Spurs in their new home, he will have a clearer view of how his future is shaping up and whether it is time to move on.
Fergie the Matchmaker
Sir Alex Ferguson no longer leads Manchester United, but he could still play a crucial role in landing Pochettino.
The Spurs manager idolises him, and they have built a level of friendship that sees them in contact from time to time.
The pair met for dinner in May 2016—an evening Pochettino explained in his book Brave New World: "I'll always remember each and every detail from those hours of conversation. It was a dream come true. I felt like a teenage footballer all over again, listening to a knowledgeable coach."
One of his close pals at Tottenham reacted by calling the Spurs boss a "hero worshipper," and in the book Poch added on Ferguson: "His character, his charisma engulfs you. I'd love to keep calling on his advice."
The pair have remained in contact, mainly swapping text messages from time to time. Interestingly, one source revealed to B/R that after undergoing surgery recently, one of the first people outside of United to speak to Ferguson was Pochettino.
"There is a level of admiration and respect from both sides," the source said. "There are real similarities between them and how they view the game."
Integrating New Talent
Mourinho's management style left a bad taste in the mouth for a lot of fans. There were fallouts with star players, a turgid style of football that was difficult to watch and a sense that no one around the club was ever settled or comfortable with their role.
Pochettino is different, preferring to put an arm around players, defending them and protecting them from scrutiny. In his time at Spurs, he has had disagreements with players but never a major falling-out. He has embraced high-tempo, exciting football and developed the team by integrating new signings carefully as well as promoting standout players from the youth setup when they deserve chances.
Sources indicated to B/R that Alexis Sanchez will be a high-profile casualty of Mourinho's exit, and any money they get for him will help the next permanent manager strengthen the squad. Interestingly, United have already shown some interest in signing Tottenham's Toby Alderweireld, while Harry Kane is a player they would love to one day lure too.
Pochettino was not able to add any new signings at the start of this season, yet his side are 13 points clear of United—who bought Fred and Diogo Dalot for a combined £71 million.
Add those additions to Sanchez, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eric Bailly, and the full extent of Mourinho's failure to succeed despite adequate financial support becomes more obvious. It is thought Pochettino could get more out of the squad and is also well placed to make key signings who would fit into the setup.
Changing the Mentality
For all the hard work and praise earned during his time at Spurs, Pochettino has won nothing. For all the money ploughed into United over the past two years, they are not reaching the heights they aim for. Both situations could change if the Argentinian moves to Old Trafford.
A change of mentality is needed for United to return to the summit of European football, and a package will be put together over the coming months to tempt Pochettino into accepting the opportunity to lead them.
Officially, United will claim that an exhaustive and extensive search is to be carried out to decide their man, but privately key figures in the boardroom, including Woodward, have set Pochettino as their prime target.
He will be offered a raise on his £8.5 million-per-year Tottenham deal. He will also be given transfer funds unlike anything he has seen before. United sources believe Ferguson will even be the man to reach out to him and sell the chance of a lifetime.
Over the past year, Pochettino has been asked by other managers and friends why he has not moved on to one of the game's biggest clubs, and one source told B/R that Pochettino's career trajectory in England has always been with a plan that leads him to one place: United.
Now we wait for him to make the leap.