Manchester United may not have the luxury of having Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings to be their next manager much longer.
The Athletic’s David Ornstein (via @UtdRobbo) has claimed this week that the Argentinian is ‘not on the verge of taking a new job but he is ready, in no rush and is watching and waiting Manchester United in particular.
#mufc completely support Ole Gunnar Solskjær & are fully backing him — both publicly & privately. Mauricio Pochettino is not on the verge of taking a new job but he is ready, in no rush & is watching & waiting Manchester United in particular. [@David_Ornstein]
— ً (@utdrobbo) November 11, 2020
Whilst it is no doubt true that United would be Pochettino’s ideal next move, the comforting tone of Ornstein’s report seems misleading.
A week today, Pochettino will have been unemployed for exactly one year. He admitted on Sky’s Monday night football last week how much he misses the game, so how long will he wait?
To date, there have not been many other opportunities that would represent a step forward for Poch on his previous job at Spurs. He reportedly turned down the one obvious vacancy, that at Barcelona, which was subsequently filled by Ronald Koeman.
This was taken by many to underline his determination to join United, but in fact Barcelona was one of three clubs, along with Arsenal and Rosario in Argentina, that Poch said he would never manage due to his allegiances to their sworn rivals Espanyol, Spurs and Newell’s, respectively.
‘I’d rather work on my farm in Argentina than coach certain clubs’ were the 48-year-old’s exact words.
However, along with Solksjaer at United, there are four other head coaches at top flight clubs who could lose their jobs within the next few weeks, or even days, if results don’t go their way.
The first and most obvious is Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid. Los Blancos’ start to the season has been as patchy and unpredictable as that of United; they have beaten Barcelona in El Classico and overcome Inter Milan in the Champions League. But there have been shock and shocking results as well, most recently a 4-1 drubbing by decimated and struggling Valencia in which they conceded three penalties and an own goal.
Real also suffered back-to-back home defeats against Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk. Zidane has possibly been saved by the fact that Barcelona are doing even worse than they are, but President Perez is not known for his patience and Pochettino’s would surely be one of the first doors he would knock on to find a replacement for the Frenchman.
Real’s defeat of Inter mentioned above was one of a string of bad results for the Italian side and Antonio Conte’s position as head coach is once again under the spotlight. The Nerazzurri started the season like a house on fire, scoring 21 goals in their first four games, but since then the wheels, it must be said, have come off. They have only won one in eight games and it does not help matters that Inter’s neighbours and serial underperformers AC Milan are currently sitting top of Serie A while they lie in seventh.
Given that Conte’s relationship with owner Zhang Jindong was already very fractious after a huge public falling out toward the end of last season, it is surely now only the huge payoff that would be required to terminate Conte’s contract that is stopping the billionaire from ringing the changes.
Inter could be the perfect challenge for Pochettino if he wanted to test himself in Serie A.
The third possibility that might not be as glamorous as the other two but which might hold appeal for the Argentinian is Athletic Bilbao. Marca claims that Garitano is facing the axe, that Pochettino is coveted by the Basque side and that ‘People close to him recognize that Athletic’s challenge would fit into his philosophy.’
The Spanish outlet quote Pochettino as saying during a visit to the San Mames with Spurs that “Athletic is an exciting role model, which generates enormous respect for everything it represents. The merit that Athletic has is enormous, with a commitment that reaches the limits … and sometimes exceeds them.”
Finally, the jury is still very much out on whether Juventus have backed the right horse in giving former player Andreas Pirlo the job in Turin. The club-legend-turned-manager experiment that also includes Solskjaer, Arsenal’s Michel Arteta and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard – one could even argue, even Zidane at Real – generally buys the coach some time because of the fans’ love for and loyalty to the figurehead. Ultimately, though, results are everything and Juventus will not tolerate lying fifth in the table and failing to beat the likes of Verona and Crotone in Serie A much longer.
Pirlo’s job is probably the safest of the four, but even in his case, a couple of bad results could see the Old Lady cut their losses and reach out to Pochettino if they opt not to return for the out-of-work Massimo Allegri.
The problem for United is once again, the lack of a director of football. The non-football men charged with making a decision on who should manage United going forward appear to be taking matters on a result-by-result, match-by-match basis with current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This is short-sighted.
Last week, there was widespread speculation that if United had lost against Everton, Solskjaer would be sacked and that Poch would take over. But United won. In what world should a decision like that be based on the result of one match?
It is like flipping a coin.
United have had 100 games to decide whether Solskjaer is good enough and should have a clear view of whether they think Pochettino represents an improvement. If he does, then he should be appointed irrespective of whether see-sawing Solskjaer has lost the last three or won the last three.
If we are simply waiting for Solskjaer to lose a few so that the sacking is more popular, the United board risk losing out on the right man for the job just to avoid being even more unpopular than they already are.
It is time to make that decision, once and for all, one way or the other and not just base it on the result of the next game.
United have had some world class goalkeepers over the years and some entertaining ones too. Take our quiz below to find out how much you know about United’s number 1’s, past and present.