The football world went through a myriad of emotions on Tuesday after news broke that Tottenham Hotspur sacked longtime manager Mauricio Pochettino. Even though he took his side to the Champions League final just six months earlier without signing a single player, it wasn’t enough for chairman Daniel Levy and now the Argentinian becomes one of the most coveted managers in the game.
Within twelve hours of announcing his dismissal, Tottenham followed up the revelation with news of former Manchester United manager José Mourinho’s hiring. According to the release, The Special One will be parking the bus at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium until the conclusion of the 2022/2023 campaign.
Over the last several weeks, United have arguably had some improvements on the pitch. Forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are scoring again, the midfield is looking stronger under the interim leadership of Scott McTominay and the Red Devils are getting a major boost ahead of a busy December with the imminent returns of Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, and Victor Lindelöf.
For manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who took the reins after United sacked Mourinho in December 2018, this could be a pivotal moment for him to regain the trust lost by many supporters who called for his firing after an uninspiring summer transfer period where the Norwegian overpromised and underdelivered. Should this mini run escalate into a major turn of events heading into another pivotal transfer window, Solskjaer could find himself at the end of the year with a couple of trophies and maybe job security.
When things started going left for Mourinho last year, a number of names surfaced as possible replacements should he eventually get the boot. Pochettino was on the shortlist of successors, with critics highlighting his recruiting tactics and managerial style as catalysts behind his success.
Pochettino’s sudden availability in lieu of recent events puts an immense amount of added pressure on Solskjaer to convince Ed Woodward and the Glazer family that he can create magic at Old Trafford again, reminiscent of his successful trial period as caretaker.
There are a number of reasons why Solskjaer was awarded the role of permanent manager earlier this year. A former Red Devil himself, he was managed by the greatest boss of all time in a period when United were the most threatening side in European football. His promise to clean house upon arriving was reasonably met, even if he didn’t manage to replace those who have bid adieu to Manchester under his reign. Finally, his run of five wins in the last six contests may temporarily restrain the critics leading the #OleOut campaign.
Pochettino is an easy fall-back choice should Solskjaer completely bottle United’s chances of Champions League qualification and silverware, but the former Spurs man comes with concerns regarding whether he’s indeed the right fit at Old Trafford, and if Woodward is keen on shelling out a rumored compensation package of £34 million. United are lauded for their quick, attacking football and a promising academy core. Pochettino may have managed one of the most vibrant young sides in the Premier League for the entirety of his career in England, yet he doesn't have any trophies to show for it.
Sure, the same could be said about United’s current manager. However, many of the defenses of Solskjaer’s disappointing first half year as permanent manager have been about giving him time to recruit players of his own and undoing the damage done by the last three predecessors. Solskjaer seemingly has the faith of his bosses, but as the weeks progress, the idea of Pochettino being a short plane ride away from managing United is enough to incite impatience.
United got the better of Spurs the last time both sides met in the Premier League, with Rashford scoring the lone goal at the stroke of half-time. It was a statement win for Solskjaer and some would say a blow to Pochettino’s chances of being considered for the then-open manager’s role. The two teams are set to meet in a matter of weeks at the Theatre of Dreams for what will be a storied clash. Certainly, Mourinho will savor in getting one over the club who sacked him nearly a year before the match, the man who replaced him, and the players who loathed him.
Regardless of where Mauricio Pochettino eventually takes his talents, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is officially on notice. If a Champions League final appearance wasn’t enough to keep him Pochettino in North London, a possible Europa League trophy likely won’t seal the former United legend’s fate, either.