IMAGINE the scene, maybe 12 months from now.
Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag are sipping cappuccinos together in a pavement cafe, as these elite coaches tend to do, and reminiscing about the time they were the shortlist for the Manchester United job.
Pochettino has been linked with the Man Utd jobCredit: REUTERS
Ten Hag is believed to be closing in on the job at Old TraffordCredit: GETTY
“We dodged a bullet there, heh Erik?” chuckles Poch, after United’s caretaker- interim boss Steve Bruce has been sacked with his team in the bottom half of the Premier League.
It is an unlikely scenario but one which United undoubtedly deserve.
We are told, on genuinely good authority, that United have offered the job to Ajax boss Ten Hag, rather than Paris Saint-Germain gaffer Poch, because they believe the Dutchman would “fit in better to their structure”.
You mean to say Man Utd are claiming to have an actual structure?
Nobody who watched them shamble to defeat in Saturday’s underachievers derby against Everton would imagine it — nor anyone who’s observed United for most of the past nine years.
But, in fact, chief executive Richard Arnold does the important stuff, like bragging about the club’s social media reach.
And United will soon appoint a “deputy football director” to assist “football director” John Murtough and “technical director” Darren Fletcher.
Then there’s “head of corporate development” Matt Judge, who is busy in recruitment.
Oh, and Ralf Rangnick will still be hanging about in the background being a tactical genius for six days a month.
Perhaps Ten Hag could report to Rangnick via a dotted line in the management structure.
Ten Hag is apparently being demanding and exacting in talks with United.
And well he might be, given that he would be leaving a club which is famed worldwide for knowing exactly what they are doing for a club infamous for knowing no such thing.
He’d be joining a club with fewer European Cups than his current employers, too.
There is something delusional and patronising about that line emanating from Old Trafford about Ten Hag “fitting in”.
As if he would become a cog in a well-oiled machine.
But what if Ten Hag came to his senses and decided, as his compatriot Louis van Gaal has advised, to find a “football club, not a commercial club”?
And what if Pochettino — strongly touted for the United job since a lunch meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson six years ago — decided he wouldn’t fancy trying to fit into United’s so-called structure anyway?
Money and ego may well dictate otherwise for Ten Hag, or for Pochettino.
But Poch for United could end up alongside Brian Clough for England as one of those “greatest managers we never had”.
For Pochettino, a move to United would represent a one-way ticket from frying pan to fire.
From one Galactico club in PSG to another in United.
From a fading Lionel Messi to a fading Cristiano Ronaldo. This is not what Pochettino does.
There is, however, one Premier League job perfectly suited to Pochettino’s strengths. And it is, of course, Arsenal.
This is a man who moulded an excellent crop of youngsters, whipped them like dogs and broke into the Champions League at Tottenham.
Poch could go from managing Messi to RonaldoCredit: REX FEATURES
United could look to clear out high earnersCredit: EPA
Arsenal, like Spurs eight years ago, have an excellent crop of youngsters and crave regular Champions League football.
And, as any Gooner will testify, they looked as if they needed whipping like dogs during defeats by Crystal Palace and Brighton.
The Gunners seem to have an unshakeable faith in Mikel Arteta. He probably “fits into their structure”.
He clears out high-earning sulkers like Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he embraces the academy — and Arsenal, unlike United, do at least have a sense of direction.
But would Pochettino be better qualified than Arteta to get Arsenal back to the top table? Undoubtedly.
Poch once said that he’d rather work on a farm than manage Tottenham’s bitter foes — but in reality no football professional gives a hoot about club rivalries.
This bloke played for Argentina, so don’t pretend he’s not capable of cynicism.
Like Ten Hag, he is a damned good manager. Too good for that faded Disneyland up in Stretford.
Over the moon at rivalry
THE pre-match press box chat at the Etihad on Sunday was intense.
When I asked if it would be OTT to state that City versus Liverpool was the biggest Premier League match for years, the fella sitting beside me was adamant I’d be guilty only of understatement.
Given that these were the best two teams in England, almost certainly in Europe and therefore the world, and that football is perpetually improving, we were about to witness the best match in the history of the world.
Manchester City vs Liverpool was a Premier League showdown that lived up to the billingCredit: Getty
And given that football is the only sport, the biggest and best sporting event ever staged.
So the only rivals to this spectacle would be the moon landings or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
And either of those would have been more momentous had Ederson been fannying around in the background trying to clear his lines.
Let’s Pep up run-in
SOME po-faced pundits claim this title race is actually enhanced by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp refusing to indulge in puerile mind games.
Everyone loves a ruck — from rubber-necking schoolkids in the playground, to keyboard warriors piling in on social-media spats, to the 94,000 who will pack out Wembley to watch Tyson Fury on Saturday week.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola refuse to take part in mind gamesCredit: Alamy
So come on, lads, give the people what they want and bin all this tiresome ‘mutual respect’ malarkey.
As someone once said: “I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it. Love it.”
THERE were fulsome tributes paid to Neil Warnock after the arch promotion-winner and ref-botherer announced his retirement, aged 73.
Just like last year when Roy Hodgson retired, aged 73. And we all know what happened there. These men are addicts. Don’t believe a word they say about kicking the habit.
Sub fat chance
YES, yes, we know the introduction of five subs in the Premier League will favour the richest clubs, with the deepest squads.
But the news could actually be heartening for those of us who grew up loving players like John Robertson and Paul Gascoigne — geniuses who might not get a top-flight game these days because of their shape and the modern game’s ridiculous levels of athleticism.
Five subs might allow elite managers the luxury of cameo roles for a gifted chubster or two.
Perhaps they may even be allowed to have a fag on the go during their warm-ups.
Overweight drinkers and smokers need something to aspire to.
It’s called inclusivity.
WHO’S making up the new rules for Champions League qualification which will allow clubs who used to be good, but aren’t any more, to qualify anyway?
My money is on Finchy, David Brent’s mate in The Office, who, after narrowly losing a quiz night, decreed that the result should instead be settled by which man could throw a kettle over the pub.
PLENTY of stick for the fan who charged on to the pitch and halted a West Ham attack late on in their Europa League quarter-final against Lyon.
But it could have been worse.
Plenty remember Mido, Ilan, Benni McCarthy, Marco Boogers and Savio Nsereko coming on up front for the Hammers.
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