It felt like the Harlem Globetrotters had arrived in Paris in August when Paris Saint-Germain unveiled their five new summer signings, Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi and Gini Wijnaldum, ahead of the new season.
It has been impossible to warm to PSG across the last decade. The Qatar state-owned club have bought their way into the European elite with incessant wealth from questionable sources and their latest spending spree was their most brazen transfer window yet, but money doesn’t guarantee success. It needs to be spent in a shrewd manner and Manchester United know that all too well.
There have been 218 days since those five new signings, including seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, were unveiled on the Parc des Princes pitch and the mood at the club has turned toxic. PSG beat Bordeaux 3-0 last weekend but the players were booed by supporters. PSG had been knocked out of the Champions League days before and even Messi was not exempt from the anger.
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Real Madrid’s win over PSG in the last-16 would have been closely followed by those in the Old Trafford board room. Pochettino has long had admirers at United and he’s a candidate under consideration to permanently replace Ralf Rangnick at the club.
Pochettino was quizzed on his future in his pre-match press conference on Friday and he placed the power in PSG’s hands. “We will analyse everything at the end of the season,” he said. “We will see at the end of the season. It will be the club’s decision.”
Erik ten Hag is understood to be the other leading candidate and there is a degree of irony that both Pochettino and Ten Hag were knocked out of the Champions League Round of 16 with PSG and Ajax respectively. It has been an utterly miserable season for United and it’s rather fitting that the two managers that have been heavily linked with the club were subject to disappointing exits.
There is currently a clear dearth of elite managing talent available. Chelsea’s predicament would have put United on red alert with uncertainty surrounding Thomas Tuchel, but it seems Pochettino and Ten Hag are the most realistic candidates to succeed Rangnick.
The size of the rebuild needed at United should not be underestimated. This summer is a sliding doors moment for the club and the next managerial appointment is the most important since 2013. There will be many departures from the playing squad in the summer, at least another four quality incomings are required and Rangnick’s successor will have the opportunity to make their mark.
When considering the size of the task ahead, Pochettino should be ahead of Ten Hag in the pecking order. Ten Hag has exclusively had success in the Eredivisie and it is fair to question whether the Dutchman is qualified to make the switch to the biggest club in the Premier League, especially when it finds itself in a transitional period. It just feels there is too much risk attached to Ten Hag.
Pochettino has to be the most risk-averse option. The 50-year-old has had two stints in the Premier League with Southampton and Tottenham, and he enjoyed relative success – without winning a trophy – at the latter, going close to winning the league title in 2017 and just falling short in the Champions League final. Failing to land a trophy at Tottenham is the only criticism of Pochettino.
Pochettino’s experience at PSG will undoubtedly make him a better manager. It hasn’t always been easy this season at PSG, hence the noise from the terraces at the Parc des Princes last weekend, but learning to manage Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Messi will stand him in good stead going forward. He will no doubt lean on that experience if arriving at Old Trafford this summer.
There is a real possibility that United won’t play Champions League football next season. The allure of the club should still remain to any ambitious manager, but it has always felt like Pochettino has been a United manager in waiting over the years.
United should have appointed Pochettino after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s interim spell. They appointed Solskjaer permanently instead and the club finds itself back in a similarly difficult position to the one which Jose Mourinho left behind after some deceptive progress.
The managerial landscape is currently challenging to manoeuvre but Pochettino seems the safest option.
United have form for placing their bets on the wrong horses and they can’t afford to gamble again.
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