Man United: Mauricio Pochettino’s sides play attractive football but his CV contains omissions
Manchester United‘s sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was triggered without a long-term permanent successor available, and they are now hoping one of their preferred candidates kicks up a fuss to try and force a move.
The former Tottenham boss is unhappy in the French capital and is still living in a hotel nearly 12 months after he joined the club while his family remain in London.
Mauricio Pochettino is prepared to quit Paris Saint-Germain and join Manchester United now
Pochettino was heavily linked with the Old Trafford hotseat when Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho in December 2018 and is still admired by the under-fire club hierarchy.
But if Pochettino can force an exit from the Parc des Princes and come in at Old Trafford, what sort of expectations should Red Devils supporters have of the former Argentina defender?
Here, Sportsmail looks at the advantages and disadvantages of appointing the ex- Southampton and Spurs manager.
SENSE OF STYLE
Whether it be Pochettino, Ajax boss Erik ten Hag, Zinedine Zidane or Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers who is named the permanent successor to Solskjaer, their in-tray is extensive.
United’s performances on the pitch have been uninspiring and devoid of ideas on too many occasions in recent weeks, and five Premier League defeats in their last seven is the devastating consequence of those tepid displays.
The primary objective therefore will be to establish a brand of football in both attack and defence that can eventually allow United to compete for the major trophies once more.
Pochettino certainly has a brand which has attracted the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG, and in the case of the latter played a significant role in him replacing Thomas Tuchel.
Pochettino’s brand of football has attracted United, Barcelona and Real Madrid before
He places a large emphasis on possession and looks for his teams to build out with swift passes to be played into the central midfielders, though a more direct approach still has a place in his system to convert defence into attack quickly.
The full-backs played a vital role at Tottenham in moving quickly in transition, with cover provided by two central midfielders, a feature which has allowed him to switch between a 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 formation.
That formation has transitioned into a 4-3-3 now at PSG as he attempts to extract the best out of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, but it demonstrates a proclivity to switch formation yet maintain the same philosophy.
The high press is perhaps the most distinguishable feature of said philosophy, with attackers interchanging positions with the ball and forcing the opposition into mistakes deep in their own territory to prevent attacks from being launched – and launching counter-attacks of their own.
The high press from Pochettino’s side is the most distinguishable feature of his style of play
Sir Alex Ferguson is reportedly a huge admirer of Pochettino and few would argue against claims that United’s attacking football has dwindled since the Scot’s retirement.
It would be as yet too bold to claim Pochettino could restore United’s forward displays to the levels that saw Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney take the Premier League by storm under Ferguson.
However, the prospect of a similar style of play that United supporters would enjoy is present and would represent a significant step-up in attractiveness in comparison to the approach of Louis van Gaal and Mourinho which Gary Neville labelled ‘boring’.
Pochettino’s system could allow the likes of Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka to flourish and help develop the all-round game of Mason Greenwood, 20, and Jadon Sancho, 21.
The England internationals would perhaps be among the most excited members of the United squad should Pochettino arrive given his record with young players.
The Argentine also helped develop young players such as Harry Winks (left) at Tottenham
The 49-year-old gave a young Harry Kane his first chance in the Spurs first team during his debut campaign, while Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Harry Winks among other names who developed into regulars under Pochettino’s tutelage.
Their careers have all gone through peaks and troughs ever since but Winks and Alli almost indisputably have not reached the same level under the likes of Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo that they did under the Argentine.
Greenwood and Sancho’s stock is considerably more developed than Winks and Alli but as a result the pressure on them is greater, and while the former has shown sparks of his ability this term, the latter has failed to get going following his £73million summer move from Borussia Dortmund.
Nevertheless, kickstarting Sancho’s United career and turning Greenwood into a player who produces more consistently appears plausible given Pochettino’s track record of turning Alli into a brilliant goalscoring midfielder behind a prolific Kane.
That should be good news for Mason Greenwood (left) and underperforming Jadon Sancho
The likes of Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters – now part of the first-team picture at Spurs and Southampton respectively – were also given their chance under Pochettino and even now at PSG, 19-year-old defender Nuno Mendes has played seven times already this term in the league. Such examples could provide further encouragement to the likes of Amad Diallo with regard to first-team chances.
A COOL HEAD
One aspect Pochettino does not have going for him in comparison to Solskjaer is that he is not a United legend, or former player even for that matter.
Patience eventually ran out with Solskjaer but many would argue the Norwegian’s crucial role in the treble-winning season and subsequent elevated status at the club helped him keep the job longer than many believe he should have.
Pochettino could therefore face more instant scrutiny if things go awry, but he is an equally likeable figure and is a popular former PSG man, having represented the club between 2001 and 2003.
Speaking in 2019, former Spurs left-back Danny Rose said of Pochettino: ‘He’s a very likeable person, he’s very calm and even when we’re losing there’s only been one or two times where he’s raised his voice at half-time.
PSG’s Coupe de France win in May was just Pochettino’s second trophy as a manager
‘He’s very approachable too, so I can’t speak highly enough for him and what he’s done for my career at Tottenham.’
He remains a popular figure at Spurs and his kind words whenever speaking about the club mean few fans are likely to turn on him if he ends up at Old Trafford two years after his five-and-a-half-year stint in north London ended.
LACK OF TROPHIES
But no doubt Pochettino’s popularity – and later concerns about his credentials – increased after leading PSG to victory over Marseille in the delayed 2020 Trophee des Champions – the French equivalent of the Community Shield – 11 days after joining.
Success in the Coupe de France final against Monaco followed in May for the second trophy of his 12-year managerial career, but their failure to win Ligue 1 or repeat their feat of reaching the Champions League final for a second straight season certainly saw questions emerge.
The Argentine cannot boast as having a league title on his CV as yet, and Spurs fans’ greatest regret will be not seeing his exciting young squad collect any silverware despite appearing in a League Cup and Champions League final.
He has yet to win a league title and came up short with Spurs in the Champions League final
United’s need for silverware is more desperate than most other top clubs given their trophy drought extends back to the 2016-17 Europa League, and while Pochettino’s sides impress on the field they have not become serial winners.
PSG demand similar levels of success to United but his latest shortcomings were not enough to push him out of the door, as he extended his contract until 2023
DISLIKE OF BIG EGOS
PSG’s summer investment saw Messi and Sergio Ramos join after leaving Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Their arrivals saw two further high-profile stars added alongside Mbappe, Neymar and Angel di Maria – among others – to the squad, and Sportsmail understands he is becoming increasingly frustrated at managing a dressing room with such big egos.
He managed to successfully weed out the few egos at Spurs effectively, but the personalities that constitute part of the current PSG squad are not only among the most distinguished stars in the league, but also around the globe.
Pochettino has yet to find the right balance consistently at PSG with these players too, though Messi’s first Ligue 1 goal in his sixth appearance against Nantes at the weekend will build some hope his plans are moving in the right direction.
Pochettino is frustrated with managing egos such as Lionel Messi (front) and Neymar (back)
However, the Argentine would encounter several egos if he switched Paris for Manchester, none greater than Ronaldo himself of course. The Portuguese has already stormed off the pitch sulking against Everton and is worried about the drop in standards at the club.
His latest gripe is believing that his United team-mates want it too easy, while Spain boss Luis Enrique is the manager he wants to succeed Solskjaer, albeit the ex-Barcelona boss appears to be out of the running following his comments.
It therefore remains to be seen whether Pochettino would be willing to take on the challenge of keeping Ronaldo in check as well as dealing with other colourful characters such as Paul Pogba and the uncertainty over the Frenchman’s future.
The World Cup winner’s chances of leaving appear to be increasing by the day, but he is just one a small part of issues United must address, with a title challenge looking at least two or three years away.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City appear largely to have the perfect options in key areas of the field and have provided clarity over the roles they expect their star players to play.
That could represent an issue with Cristiano Ronaldo already showing his frustrations
Meanwhile, Solskjaer failed to find a solution that allowed Ronaldo, Sancho, Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Pogba to feature effectively together all in the same side.
Pogba’s departure could create less competition on that front but central midfield remains a major issue with the future boss perhaps not viewing Scott McTominay and Fred as critical to the system as Solskjaer did.
Ronaldo is 36 years old too and while he is continuing to produce in front of goal United will require a new global superstar to lead the club back to their glory days.
It is therefore a squad that needs addressing in key areas, and while Pochettino has demonstrated his ability to build and develop a project, there will be doubts with his trophy record and failure to manage egos which will leave lingering concerns.
Fred (left) and Scott McTominay (right) may not feature in the new manager’s plans