As the dust has now settled on the surprising decision by Tottenham to sack Mauricio Pochettino, all thoughts now turn to where the Argentinean will be employed next.
There is plenty of demand for the 47-year-old, who guided Spurs to Champions League qualification four times in five seasons.
Yet there are those who doubt him as he has yet to win a major trophy as a manager.
Pochettino’s finest hour in north London came only seven months ago when he took Tottenham to their first ever Champions League final. Who would have thought that he would be walking away from the club, in such a short space of time since that moment? Especially after when he sunk to his knees in the Amsterdam Arena following that dramatic comeback to beat Ajax 3-2 in the second leg of the semifinal.
When recentlly speaking to Fox Sports Argentina, Pochettino made it clear that he is currently concentrating on clearing his head and rebuilding himself.
“It is my intention to return to manage in Europe. It is hard for me to imagine a project in Argentina. However, for the sake of my family, I would not refuse to work over here. But I expect to return to Europe to make decisions on my future. At my age I don’t need a lot of time to recover. I am open to listen to projects put before me.”
Yet which project will be the one that suits him the most at this current time?
Here are the top contenders we think for Pochettino’s services.
1. MANCHESTER UNITED
Pochettino has been high on United’s list before to take over as team manager. It appears that the feeling may be mutual.
Ole Gunnar Solskjear’s reign at Old Trafford is starting to look a little vulnerable. Last Sunday’s poor performance in the 2-2 draw at home to Aston Villa has led yet again to question marks over the Norwegian’s suitability for the position. However, it’s thought that the United hierarchy are still backing Solskjaer, as well as support his long-term vision in rebuilding the team.
Pochettino would make a lot of sense for United if the board were to reassess the managerial situation. At the age of 47, the Argentinean is still a relatively young manager. He would have time ahead of him turn United’s fortunes around.
The long-term project that has been the vision for the Solksjaer tenure could also be applied to Pochettino.
Pochettino plays a progressive and expansive game, a style of play that would be welcomed by the United faithful. He has also been a promoter and a nurturer of youth, improving and introducing the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. It’s a policy that would more than fit right into the United tradition.
There has been reports that Pochettino would lose his compensation fee of £12.5 million after his Tottenham sacking if he joins another EPL club before the end of this season. United could easily reimburse him for that though. Let’s not forget they only had to pay Molde a small compensation fee for Solskjaer.
Pochettino’s net spend at Tottenham has been considerably less than his main rivals in the EPL. At United he is sure to have a bigger budget than he has been used to in London.
Yet United has become a poisoned chalice in recent years.
There appears to be a lack of clear structure and vision at Old Trafford, where there has been some debate about whether to appoint a sporting director or not. There are some United supporters who remain unconvinced by Pochettino becoming manager. The fact that he would arrive without a single trophy to his name has caused debate about whether he would be the right man.
2. BAYERN MUNICH
Following the sacking of Niko Kovac after 16 months in charge, the Bavarians are thought to be interested in Pochettino’s services.
In the meantime, Hansi Flick has taken over as interim manager. However, Bayern Munich are looking for a permanent replacement for Kovac. There is no doubt that the history, profile and traditional success of Bayern would fit the kind of position that Pochettino would vision for himself.
A move to Germany would enhance the Argentinean’s chances of winning that elusive first major trophy. Bayern have won a total of 29 domestic titles, 19 German cups, and are sure to add to that total such is their domestic dominance.
The Bundesliga giants are in the midst of a rebuilding job. In recent years, they have lost the likes of Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Arjen Robben has retired after ten years at the club, while Franck Ribery has moved on to Fiorentina. Thomas Muller, another club stalwart, has not been receiving much game time and is also contemplating pastures new.
Yet money is being spent, with the club record arrival of Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid for £72 million last summer. Benjamin Pavard was purchased from Stuttgart for £31 million. Phillip Coutinho may make his year long loan move permanent at the end of the season.
Pochettino could complete the rebuilding job, and has youth on his side in Sule, Kimmich, Goretzka, Coman and Gnabry.
Bayern have not won the Champions League since 2013, which would provide Pochettino with a further target. Yet due to the domestic dominance of the club, just how much of a challenge would it be, and perhaps bigger challenges lie elsewhere. The Argentine does also not speak German, which initially would be a significant barrier to overcome.
3. REAL MADRID
Pochettino was thought to be the first choice after Zinedine Zidane shocked the club by announcing he was going to step down after winning their third Champions League title in a row last year. Ironically, he now could be in the frame to replace Zidane in very different circumstances.
The Frenchman’s second spell at the Bernabeu has been generally fraught. But there has been a recent upturn in performances and results, meaning the Pochettino arriving in the Spanish capital is less likely.
Los Blancos have been put off approaching Pochettino in the past, as they would have to deal with tough Tottenham owner Daniel Levy. It’s an experience they endured in the signings of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, but now that would not be necessary.
Pochettino would enjoy the benefit of a much higher transfer budget compared to what he had at Tottenham. Although Madrid’s transfer dealings can be towards the Galactico route. And it’s not necessarily a structured transfer policy that would suit Pochettino more.
Also, the revolving door managerial policy at the 13-time European champions would hardly suit Pochettino, who surely is looking to build something.
Madrid have employed 15 managers since May 2004, with Jose Mourinho being the longest serving during that time lasting three years.
Pochettino has said before that he would never manage Barcelona. This is due to his loyalty to Barca’s cross town rivals Espanyol, who he managed for three years before moving to England to join Southampton. These are sentiments that might change, especially as Ernesto Valverde’s contract is up in Catalonia at the end of this season.
So far there appears to be little appetite to extend Valverde’s reign, despite Barca being top of La Liga.
Pochettino has been linked strongly to the position in 2017 when Luis Enrique stood down.
Barcelona would be a huge opportunity in familiar surroundings, and Pochettino’s style of play would be no issue at the Nou Camp. It’s also thought that the now former Tottenham manager has allies inside Barcelona’s technical team.
Like in Madrid, Barcelona are unlikely to be a long-term project that he would be more likely to be afforded in England. It also might be the wrong time to run into this Barcelona team, with so many key players approaching the end of their careers. Gerard Pique is 32. Jordi Alba is 30. Defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets is now 31. Luis Suarez has reached 32. However, the hardest decision of all that potentially could come Pochettino’s way is how to replace Lionel Messi, who turns 33 next year.
A hop over to Tottenham’s main local north London rivals would be the most controversial of all for Pochettino.
Yet many Arsenal fans would greet such a move with delight–and would see the move as effectively poaching a top level coach from under the noses of their rivals.
It would be a different scenario to when Gunners legend George Graham managed Tottenham, as he was on the downward curve in his career. This would surely mean that Pochettino would be accepted at Arsenal far more easily that Graham was at White Hart Lane.
Accepting the Arsenal position would provide a huge challenge, but that would also provide room to shake up a giant of English football.
It could be a similar task to what was presented to Jurgen Klopp when he first arrived at Liverpool.
Defensively, Pochettino would have to strengthen the Gunners significantly. However, the transfer budget at Arsenal is not going to be as substantial as what he could have at other clubs.
It’s a move that could provide Pochettino with the same frustrations as he faced at Tottenham. As big as what Arsenal are, the Argentine might believe that he has already done a rejuvenating job by elevating Tottenham into a regular Champions League club and finalist.
Perhaps he now believes the time has come for a bigger hot seat in Manchester, Munich or Madrid.