Much of the week’s Premier League chat has been focussed on Manchester United and Jose Mourinho. No sooner had the unshaven Portuguese been driven out of Carrington had speculation begun over who would replace him and the weekend’s festive football programme was a bit overlooked in the midst of it all.
It didn’t take long for much of the media to alight on the name of Mauricio Pochettino, notwithstanding the fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was hired to keep the hotseat warm until the end of the season. The Norwegian did well in his opening game against Cardiff City but he won’t be there long. Besides, what United do is pretty inconsequential between now and May. The teams who will matter are Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.
While Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have spent heavily to get their teams into contention, what cannot be ignored is the outstanding work done by Pochettino to get his team so close to the Reds and City at this stage of the season.
Through it all, it has been reasoned that the Tottenham manager is the steadying hand that United need to guide them through what is crucial stage of development. That may well be true considering the nurturing that he has conducted throughout his four years at Spurs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Pochettino should be tempted by the prospect.
While United undoubtedly have the money and the lustre, right now they seem very much like a club of the past. It is Spurs, not United, that are going places.
The extent of their backstage crises have been laid bare by the media this week, delivering the contradiction that United are at once one of the world’s most attractive clubs and also one that is not being run properly. That contrasts profoundly to Spurs, where Pochettino is no longer seen to be working miracles. He is taking them places and expectations of success with this team are logical.
Tottenham have become Champions League mainstays under his tenure, shaking up what had been a cosy club of four. Spurs are closer to Liverpool and Manchester City than any other contending club and, despite the North London derby defeat to Arsenal recently, remain the better team in that district too.
His work at Spurs has been so noteworthy because he is competing against clubs with much higher budgets and – in some cases – more high-profile players. But the manner in which he has overseen things has seen them move from promising young upstarts to one of the league’s best and most consistent teams.
That was all in evidence on Sunday at Goodison Park, as they ran out 6-2 winners against Everton. Despite the fact that the Toffees got a couple of goals against them, there was always a sense that Spurs would remain in control. They delivered – arguably – their most complete attacking performance under Pochettino in the Premier League. Every time they came forward they looked like scoring. Goodison was half empty by the time Spurs got their sixth.
For the first time in the same Premier League match, Son Heung-min, Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen were on the scoresheet. They cut Everton open at will, not only through the strength of that all-conquering foursome, but through the guile of Harry Winks and the much-improved Moussa Sissoko.
This is very much the team that Pochettino built and one which deserves more promotion in certain quarters. This game will do plenty for their goal difference and is a major signpost too of their intentions for the title. If City are in contention then why not Spurs? They are only two points behind.
Even the Spurs fans bought into the week’s big chat. The way they sang – consistently – for the last five or 10 minutes of the game was a reminder to all of where they believe their manager belongs. “Mauricio Pochettino, he’s Tottenham, you know,” gets an airing most games but not usually with so many verses. It was like the travelling Spurs army were reminding everyone – United, the Sky cameras, Pochettino himself – of where his future should lie.
Pochettino has had his run-ins with Spurs – due to transfer windows failing to launch most recently – but there is nothing like the dysfunction that there is at Old Trafford.
Up north he would be expected to hit the ground running and get the club back to where they were under Sir Alex Ferguson. The price for an inability to do so – as David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho found out – is unemployment.
While there are grand statements being made around United about the need for patience and the importance of flushing things out and starting again, Pochettino is already at a club that gives him all the guarantees he needs.
United would always be an attractive proposition for any manager but the job comes these days with many more cons than pros.
Would he get the time? That question is pertinent at United but not applicable at Spurs. Pochettino is getting all the time he needs because of the quality of his work. He has a hard-working, talented team capable of delivering his football on a consistent basis. Many of them have put their roots down at Spurs for the long-term and are ready – along with the manager – for the new stadium move that 2019 will bring.
It’s clear that Pochettino is a manager ready for the very top but he has more of a chance of getting there with Spurs than he does with Manchester United.
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