Jose Mourinho had just been sacked for a second time by Chelsea, while Manchester United were a complete state under Louis van Gaal. I was in my former role as a United Correspondent, and the message was passed down to me... “The boss wants you to write a piece saying United should sack Van Gaal now and appoint Mourinho before he goes off the market.”
“No way, I’ve been saying for months that Mauricio Pochettino is the man for Man United,” was my emphatic response. That was in December 2015.
Five years on, it’s hard to shrug off the belief that the Argentine remains the right bloke for the Old Trafford job, despite the fact that United have since appointed two men who are not Pochettino. Both Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have been given a go in charge of the Red Devils in the intervening years, but fortunes haven’t markedly changed since those days when Van Gaal’s struggles were at their most concerning.
Maybe it is Pochettino’s lack of trophies at Tottenham which has held United back from making their move over the years, but the way he built attractive footballing sides with an attacking intent and a united front at both Spurs and Southampton seemed to be evidence enough that he was an Old Trafford gaffer in the making. And with rumours abounding that United’s board are lining him up as a replacement for Solskjaer following Sunday’s 6-1 loss to Spurs, it does feel like the time might be right to call on Poch.
There is a freshness about him, a positivity, and there’s also a body of work there that screams of legacy-building. He primed Southampton for greater things to come, then went to Spurs and made them Champions League finalists following decades of being English football’s great under-achievers. That’s exactly what United haven’t had since Sir Alex Ferguson.
United overlooked Pochettino in 2016 when appointing Mourinho as a perceived sure-fire success in the short term, but the rewards were no greater than a League Cup and a Europa League. Then they backed themselves into a corner by handing Solskjaer the interim reins and watching on as the Norwegian made hay in his early days in charge. By the time United had overhauled a two-goal first-leg deficit against Paris Saint-Germain on a memorable night in the French capital, there was no way they couldn’t hand the role to their legendary former striker.
Solskjaer then got them into the Champions League again thanks to a late rally last season, achieving the objective set for 2019-20, and in essence has earned another crack. But the United job was never really meant for Ole, as much as he hasn’t done too much wrong.
The United gig feels tailor-made for Pochettino, and having now been on the market for almost a year the former Argentina defender must be getting sick of waiting for his perfect role. If United miss out on him this time, they may never get another chance.