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red rage The arguments against Mauricio Pochettino don’t add up in the hunt for United's next manager

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Pochettino

Pochettino

Pochettino

There it was, emphasised in a scoreline that read Nantes 3-1 PSG: Mauricio Pochettino is not the manager Manchester United need.

Forget the inspired performance from home goalkeeper Alban Lafont at Beaujoire Stadium, who strongly thwarted open-play efforts from Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

Never mind one of the all-time hideous penalty howlers from the latter – kiss the ball, shimmy, stutter, softest strike going – which killed what was shaping up to be a likely comeback.

Ignore too that Paris Saint-Germain are more a brand than a collective, more headliners than harmony and sustainability.

The details do not matter to those that are convinced that Pochettino shouldn’t be who the United hierarchy turn to this summer, and the list of reasons they hold against his name.

What has he won? Perhaps people aren’t aware, but Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham aren’t really in the habit of collecting silverware. Diminishing Pochettino’s work at all three on account of a measurement stick that shouldn’t be applied is silly.

He saved a financially unstable Espanyol from relegation, against all logic, after becoming their third throw of the dice in 2008-09.

Their highest league finish of 8th over the past decade and some change was achieved under Pochettino for the first time.

He recast Southampton, getting them to play with the ambition and aggression of a big club – delivering victories against Manchester City, Liverpool (twice) and Chelsea, as well as draws with Arsenal, Manchester United (twice) and City that the players still reflect on fondly in WhatsApp groups.

The development of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne, Calum Chambers, Dejan Lovren and others under his watch fetched huge income via transfer fees for Southampton.

Tottenham were transformed from “lads, it’s Spurs” to a club suddenly expected to seriously compete domestically and in Europe. Pochettino defied zero squad investment, stadium upheaval and a series of injuries to guide them to the 2019 Champions League final.

The scoreline in Madrid against Liverpool does not erase the scale of that achievement, especially when the north Londoners might not be dining amongst Europe’s elite for a while.

But he still failed at Spurs? As a refresher, until Jurgen Klopp had transformed Liverpool into near-perfect monsters, only City had amassed more league points than Tottenham since Pochettino’s appointment.

You’d have to stretch all the way back to the start of the 1960s to find a more promising succession of top-flight finishes for Spurs.

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And what of their almost moments? They lost two FA Cup semi-finals to Chelsea and United, as well as the League Cup final defeat to the former (when Mourinho was in charge at Stamford Bridge) in March 2015. A depleted side was beaten on penalties by Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea in the last four of the League Cup.

Those are bigger clubs, with greater pedigree and more monetary muscle than Tottenham, who have the lowest wage bill of the big six. In 2019, their net spend read £29m in contrast to City £518m, United £466m, Arsenal £225m, Chelsea £200m and Liverpool £183m.

It is glossed over that Harry Kane was a fourth-choice striker that morphed into a world-class forward under Pochettino’s charge. He resuscitated Philippe Coutinho’s career after stagnation at Inter, before the Brazilian went on to become one of the finest pieces of transfer business for Liverpool – both as a purchase and sale.

Pochettino was not the problem at Tottenham, something Daniel Levy has since admitted by pleading for him to return. The gradual refresh he pointed would be crucial since 2016 was never granted, and as such, the miracle naturally turned to meh.

At PSG, trophies are a guarantee. He has a Coupe de France and will lift the league in his first full season at a club that cuts against everything Pochettino represents as a manager.

He was brought in to erase their status as Individuals FC, to offer a structure and discipline that prevents the state-owned juggernaut from being truly elite. PSG’s transfer policy and commitment to what is sexy rather than what is sustainable undercuts that.

Neymar’s penalty against Nantes was a perfect window into all show no substance.

So If Pochettino doesn’t win the Champions League with PSG, a club that hasn’t done so, why is that a reflection of his managerial nous? What if Chelsea had swerved Thomas Tuchel because he didn’t lift the European Cup with PSG?

The final two black marks against Pochettino – he is old news, he’s not Erik ten Hag – are perhaps the most interesting as it speaks to a wider trend in football.

The Argentine is not mysterious nor untainted to us: we have seen his flaws, watched his tactical losses, and know his identity in the dugout as well as a person.

The game’s desperation for “new, new, new” and a habit of enhancing the “exotic” or unknown over the familiar – best encapsulated by the transfer window – promotes a need to disregard the old, current or established.

Think about how many times a key contributor and core player at the club you support is marginalised in analysis or comments to underscore the talents of a signing.

What about the obvious tendency to want a recruit to emerge from beyond these borders and the fantasy world created before they arrive? Memphis Depay being the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo immediately springs to mind...

Ten Hag is an excellent manager supported by a solid, clear operational mechanism at Ajax. He has style and tactical substance, most highlighted in Europe but the Eredivisie operates away from a global glare, so his shortcomings are not openly on display.

The 52-year-old’s reaction to the murky Marc Overmars situation – focusing on the victims of his sexual harassment rather than the brilliance of the sporting director – was a welcome one.

However, there is a lot of talk locally about what the manager was aware of, especially considering Ajax admitted they knew about the indiscretions before handing Overmars a new contract as well as their long-standing, strong personal relationship.

The Dutch publication NRC have uncovered a “culture in which sexual misconduct can thrive” at the club and “no open atmosphere to discuss this abuse of power. Subordinates keep quiet. The few women who took it higher were not heard. Signals were not picked up.”

The story, bar the main bits – Overmars’ disgusting misuse of power and subsequent resignation – has not been closely followed in England.

This is not to knock Ten Hag, but to point out that there is a distant rather than intimate wisdom of the surroundings he works in and weaknesses he may have.

Ajax have been exhilarating in the Champions League under him – just watch their evisceration of Borussia Dortmund this season – and maximise their advantages to extend an expected domestic dominance.

That the former Bayern Munich II boss has not worked in the hyper-competitive, high-pressured Premier League is actually framed in his favour. Where an audience has seen Pochettino be unable to steer past Pep Guardiola and Klopp in the top flight, Ten Hag offers a clean canvas.

The leap from Ajax to United is an almighty one, a steep step into the unknown, even if the Dutchman stylistically fits the requirements of progressive, possession-based football crowned by a high press.

Ten Hag is the sexy choice, the popular one and the one that will generate the most fuss because of all the unknowns, the freshness, the feeling of something totally different.

But United have twice before come close to plumping for Pochettino, and have regretted not doing so both times.

Will it be a hat-trick based on ridiculous arguments rather than the reality he is built for the job?

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