When Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur step onto the pitch at Wembley, it will be a clash between alternate realities.
The immediate focus on the match will undoubtedly be on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer going for his sixth straight win while Mauricio Pochettino is trying to keep his team in the narrowing title race conversation.
Of course, the ramifications of those 90 minutes of football on the docket at Wembley will be important for both teams as United makes its push for top 4 and Spurs makes its push for relevance in the top 4. However, make no mistake, everyone in that stadium and around the world will wittingly or unwittingly witness a duel between two men pegged to manage Manchester United Football Club next season — an appointment that will forever shape the future of the club and the rest of the Premier League.
If Sir Alex Ferguson, CBE — put ALL of the respeck on his name — is the football managerial Jesus, then Solskjaer is one of his most loyal and trusted disciples. Ferguson might have walked away from the game in 2013, in a fashion fit for a legend, but he has returned in reverse-Phil Jackson style to play puppet master and save his former club. Reports suggest that Solskjaer was Ferguson’s pick to succeed everyone’s favorite finger counter, José Mourinho, and the Norwegian was installed as caretaker manager as effortlessly as a Fergie Time counterattack.
The baby-faced assassin has more age in his face since he donned the red shirt and bagged goal, after goal, after goal for SAF’s sides. However, Solskjaer has repurposed his nickname as he continues to “caretake” United into one of the most dangerous attacking teams in the Premier League. Ole’s gunning for a top 4 spot, and, even though he says he’s only the interim manager, he also won’t rule out his desire to manage United in a long-term capacity — a fact reflected in his soaring odds to become the next full-time manager for the Red Devils.
The man who will stand opposite Solskjaer on the touch line at Wembley is the oddsmakers and pundits’ favorite to take over at Manchester United. If reports are to be trusted, Pochettino is Ed Woodward’s — still waiting on that Director of Football, Ed — pick to takeover as manager next season.
Therefore, the stage is set for an almost Cold War-esque proxy battle. If Tottenham earn a win over United, Woodward’s man, Pochettino will continue to ascend as the predestined next United gaffer. However, if United continue on its winning trajectory and slay its first top 6 side under Ferguson’s man, Solskjaer, we will witness the beginning of a truly contentious debate between Manchester United supporters that will surely reach a fever pitch if Solskjaer makes a run and collects a trophy. See you all in June in Madrid?
OGS wasn’t even on the odds list of potential interim managers until United embarrassingly leaked its own release a day before his announcement. Now, the populist masses are mobilizing and that scenario casually thrown around in the last paragraph that seemed impossible, circa November 2018, could now be a (slight?) possibility.
Whether Pochettino truly wants the Manchester United job or not, he needs to recognize that if he wants the door to remain open — whether it be for his own internal negotiations with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, or Woodward — he needs to come out swinging on Sunday and overcome his direct competition for the job. The Argentinian manager has postured since Mourinho’s firing that he’s interested in staying as the manager at Tottenham for a long time. However, with apologies to one of my best friends Sean and the rest of the Spurs faithful: Tottenham ain’t Manchester United, and the possibilities granted to a United manager will be difficult for Pochettino to resist.
Therefore, when Tottenham and Manchester United square off on Sunday, Jan. 13, not only will we watch a potentially uproarious match of football, but we may also watch our future manager ascend to an indomitable position in the Manchester United managerial search — unless it ends in a lackluster draw, in which case, have you read our piece analyzing Zinedine Zidane as the potential next manager?