Why Manchester United must act now and appoint Mauricio Pochettino
In an ideal world, Manchester United would perhaps give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer more time, but as 2020 has proven we do not live in an ideal world, and it is not every day that coaches of Mauricio Pochettino's ilk express their desire to return to management. He is young, hungry and free - that cannot have gone unnoticed in Manchester, writes Pete Hall.
Perhaps it is time. After a rare television appearance on Monday night, it is clear a year away from football has not extinguished the managerial fire inside Mauricio Pochettino. Now, he just needs a project to really get his teeth into.
If only there was a big club with a manager who continues to look out of his depth; a side Pochettino knows well, that would benefit from someone who revels in getting the best out of underperforming players.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hanging on at Manchester United, with another celestial Parisian night again coming to his rescue recently. Domestically, however, Solskjaer is doing very little to win over the naysayers, and it was revealed on Thursday that United have already reportedly 'made an approach to Pochettino'.
United have taken just seven points from their six Premier League games this season. It is their lowest tally at this stage since David Moyes' short stint at the helm in 2013-14, a campaign in which they went on to finish 7th, while the club have failed to win any of their opening four top-flight games at Old Trafford for the first time since 1972-73.
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At most other big clubs, most other managers may well not have lasted this long. Arsenal sacked Unai Emery in November last season following a dismal start to the campaign. Ten days after Pochettino himself lost his Tottenham job.
Mauricio Pochettino (l.) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (r.)
Image credit: Getty Images
Part of the reason Daniel Levy came to such a heart-wrenching decision just five months after Pochettino had guided Spurs to their first ever Champions League final was that the next man Levy wanted, the glamour appointment to ensure they would be considered a real top club, was available. Jose Mourinho. In fact, he was even in the building the day Pochettino was clearing his desk.
United don't need to be that extreme with Solskjaer, given what the Norwegian has achieved at the club, but Pochettino's appearance on Monday Night Football and ostensible longing to get back to work will not have gone unnoticed.
“I was always ready to be involved again in the game,” Pochettino told Sky Sports.
I love football. It’s my passion, it’s not my job. It’s not stressful when you are working. It’s not a stress to go into a training ground, it’s not a stress to prepare [for] a game.
On paper, Solskjaer is not doing too bad a job. He steered United back into the Champions League with a fine end of season push, culminating in a third-placed finish in 2019/20, with some famous Champions League wins keeping fans on side.
The club have bought into what Solskjaer has offered, and like the long-term outlook in every decision he makes, but the results cannot continue as they are, and two years into his time at the Old Trafford helm, interim spell included, Solskjaer does not even know his best formation, never mind his best team.
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In an ideal world, for fans and the club themselves, the Norwegian would be afforded more time, as sacking manager after manager is rarely the most successful approach.
However, United are in the same predicament as Levy found himself in with Mourinho. If United wait, another club could snap up Pochettino, and that would be the Argentinean set for years.
It is rare that a coach as talented as Pochettino is available and, important in Covid times, available for free. Can United, desperate to revive their fortunes having made progress initially under Solskjaer, afford to miss out? There is plenty of talent in that United squad, in dire need of someone to extract every last drop of quality out of them.
Unfortunately for the more romantic United aficionados, that man may not be the fan favourite who scored the most famous goal in the club's illustrious history after all. The question is, will United, in a predicament Spurs found themselves in 12 months ago, go with their head, or their heart?