Think back to a time when José Mourinho argued that his side had the better performance in an 0-3 drubbing at Old Trafford. Weirdly, it feels that midweek August 2018 match against Tottenham was a long time ago when the Theatre of Dreams hosted a Lucas Moura-induced nightmare.
That nightmare persisted when Mourinho — doing his best impression of Emperor Nero fiddling as Rome burned to the ground — emphatically applauded the Stretford End before claiming moral victories to the media.
Take it from me, a lifelong Jacksonville Jaguars fan, moral victories are definitely not actual victories.
It’s safe to say, during THAT second half, Manchester United supporters were upgrading the managerial dilemma from DEFCON 2 to DEFCON 1.
However, inevitably, Mourinho’s scorching hot seat cooled down considerably in recent weeks after stabilizing results against Newcastle United, at Chelsea and against Everton. Like a monster in Fallout 4, Mourinho not only survived the nuclear meltdown, but, now, his future has hellishly mutated with news that Anthony Martial would sign a new contract and the board may approve £100 million for the winter transfer window.
Anyone else fear we’re in the football equivalent of Stranger Things’ Upside Down?
Harkening back to our opening ponderance, we shan’t forget that it was occasional Diego Simeone-clone Mauricio Pochettino who slayed United’s Portuguese Demogorgon. And as the man with 10-1 odds according to SkyBets, Pochettino is the next consideration of our series analyzing the managers with the best betting odds to take over at United.
The major thread surrounding Pochettino that did not creep up in our pieces analyzing Zinedine Zidane and Antonio Conte is a lack of silverware.
Sure, he doesn’t have the trophy cabinet of a Mourinho, a Zidane or a Conte, but Poch is a builder — a damn good one too.
The TL;DR of Pochettino’s career includes taking the reins of the relegation-destined Espanyol in January 2010 — with his first match at the helm of a first division side against Barcelona — and saving his team from relegation, leading Southampton to an eighth place finish in his first full year with the Saints and, most recently, transforming Tottenham from an occasional top four pretender into a dominant Premier League contender and potential European power.
Pochettino installed a culture at Tottenham that required players to buy-in through hard work and development. Those players unwilling to buy-in were kicked to the curb, and Pochettino was left with a core of young talent that grew into some of the most important players at both Tottenham and their national teams.
His commitment to building a foundation that supported long term success has caught the attention of football directors and pundits across the continent. It goes without question that such a commitment to development would be lauded by Manchester United’s own Class of ‘92 alumnus Gary Neville.
“What [Pochettino]’s had to do, in these last 12 to 18 months, is knock the house down and try and rebuild it again,” Neville said of Pochettino’s progress at Tottenham in 2015.
“He’s not just transforming a squad, he’s transforming a culture -- a culture of being a little bit flimsy.
“Mauricio Pochettino teams work damn hard,” Neville continued.
Anyone seeing parallels in Neville’s comments if Pochettino joins United?
Since taking over Tottenham in May 2014, Spurs finished top five every year including two third-place finishes and a second place finish. Outside of England, Tottenham finished as the Europa League Runner Ups in the 2014-15 season and appeared in the Champions League each of the last three seasons. Pochettino achieved this success while spending only a net £29 million over that stretch.
Spurs’ success in the standings and on the pitch stem from a combination of rigorous conditioning and Pochettino’s fluid, pressing system of play. Many regulars in the starting XI are expected to be able to play several positions on the pitch. As outlined by COPA90, Pochettino’s men can press when the situation requires it, and they seamlessly fill in attacking or defending roles to regain possession.
The system yielded 69, 86 and 74 goals in the last three seasons, respectively, and Spurs remained sound defensively — conceding no more than 36 goals in any of those seasons.
Comparatively, United matched Tottenham’s defensive output in those seasons but only scored 49, 54 and 68 goals respectively. We’ve seen in flashes this season that United can score goals when it throws caution to the wind, therefore, an infusion of Pochettino’s more attacking-minded philosophy could solve the woes currently exhibited by United’s current crop of talented, expensive and underachieving attackers.
The arrival of Pochettino could also mean an exodus of Tottenham players to Northern England. Tottenham Chairman Daniel Levy’s budget at Spurs is already strangled by the continued delays to the new White Hart Lane’s opening, and, with Pochettino leaving London, Levy may need to conduct a fire sale to recoup money to aid the next Tottenham managerial transition.
It is tantalizing to imagine the likes of a Christian Eriksen, a Davinson Sánchez, a Dele Alli, or a Harry Kane donning red kits alongside Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, David de Gea, etc.
Pochettino’s potential success with United will be measured by first team trophies and youth development. Even the most cynical fringes of United’s supporting groups will find its savior in Pochettino if he can start to replicate the systems that produced the legendary Class of ‘92.
Kane and Danny Rose are two of the high profile Tottenham Academy graduates that have thrived under Pochettino’s tutelage while Harry Winks and Kyle Walker-Peters are two of the newest academy graduates to start making an impact with the first team. Pochettino, again, proved his commitment to the academy this October when he named 18 year old Oliver Skipp to the bench in Tottenham’s Champions League match against Barcelona.
If the yet to be named director of football works in concert with Pochettino to emphasize producing talent that eventually graduates to the first team, United could regain its foothold as the premier English side and one of the best clubs in the whole world.
Ultimately, Pochettino’s ceiling as the manager of Manchester United should be limitless. He’s already proven he can build and sustain successful teams under tight budgetary restrictions, and with United’s financial and scouting resources Pochettino has all the opportunity in the world to maximize United’s potential.
Therefore, the Argentine should be viewed as one of the frontrunners to take over at Old Trafford, and he’ll be celebrated for years to come if he accepts Ed Woodward’s offer.