This is Erik ten Hag, and that is Erik ten Hag. There has been a lot of speculation linking the Dutchman to the Manchester United job this week, and there is a lot to be excited about what he could bring to the club.
Ten Hag interviewed with United this week, and according to The Times, he was impressed. While he is the clear favorite, let us not be so blind as to ignore the fact that there are credible alternatives.
Mauricio Pochettino is the most frequently mentioned alternative, and according to The Telegraph, he is also expected to meet with United. The manager of Paris Saint-Germain is highly regarded, and there is a strong case to be made for hiring him, even if he is not as exciting an appointment as Ten Hag.
1 Premier League experience
Mauricio Pochettino has a significant advantage over Erik ten Hag due to his Premier League experience. The Argentine was manager of Southampton for 18 months and Tottenham Hotspur for five full seasons, which means a lot.
Pochettino is immediately familiar with the task at hand, the opposing grounds and teams, the styles of play, and the British media, which can be a very impatient bunch.
While Ten Hag may have a “higher ceiling,” there is also the possibility that it will implode spectacularly, whereas Pochettino is a far safer option who knows exactly what he is getting himself into.
Pochettino took Tottenham as far as he could and will be stronger for his time at PSG, ready to take on the mammoth task of restoring United’s former glory.
2. Long term plan
With Ten Hag, there is a risk that United will become enamored with the man of the moment,’ who may not have been the top choice a year ago. Meanwhile, Pochettino has been a long-term target.
The Independent stated in 2016 that Pochettino was the club’s first choice ahead of Jose Mourinho, but Tottenham would not consider letting him go.
Prior to being swept up with ‘Ole’s at the wheel,’ United’s hope after Mourinho was ousted was to wait the season out in order to employ Pochettino in the summer of 2019. They did not follow to the plan, but there is a second bite at the cherry this time.
Sir Alex Ferguson, whose voice carries a lot of weight, has a lot of respect for Pochettino. Back in 2016, SkySports reported that the two met in London, and the Argentine has a high-profile backer behind the scenes.
3. Ability to improve players
Manchester United has looked to the transfer market to fix difficulties in the past and will continue to do so in the future, but it is not the panacea. United has a talented squad that requires a coach who can help them improve.
Marcus Rashford is a vital player who might benefit from this, and Pochettino also helped Luke Shaw’s career take off at Southampton. These are two assets that the new CEO will be expected to improve rather than simply discard.
Pochettino has demonstrated this skill; at Southampton, he helped Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez breakthrough, while at Tottenham, he was a driving force behind Harry Kane’s rise and helped Heung-Min Son become a star following a difficult first season at the club.
Pochettino has helped some of the club’s lesser-known players flourish during his tenure, with Danilo Pereira recently applauding his man-management technique for giving his career at the club a new lease of life.
4. Ruthless streak
It would be unfair to hold Pochettino’s inability to flawlessly blend PSG’s superstars together against him when no one else has done it either. He is far from a soft touch and has demonstrated at Tottenham that he is not afraid to take on big names.
Younes Kaboul and Emmanuel Adebayor were among the squad’s leaders when Pochettino arrived at Spurs. He soon realized they weren’t what he wanted, and Kaboul was released after one season, while Adebayor was instructed to practice on his own and finally released.
Fan-favorite Sandro was also dropped, and Aaron Lennon was assigned to train with the under-23s after Pochettino decided he wasn’t in Pochettino’s plans.
These moves demonstrated Pochettino’s willingness to make difficult, and often unpopular, decisions, and this United group requires a firm voice who is not afraid to be brutal when necessary.
5. Worked with ‘difficult’ board
There is a sense that any Manchester United manager is doomed as long as the Glazers are in charge.
Pochettino has had prepared for the arduous task ahead thanks to his stint at Tottenham Hotspur, where he worked under controversial chairman Daniel Levy.
Pochettino was granted no money to invest in the summer of 2018, so he had to squeeze every last drop out of his squad. By the end of the season, he had led Tottenham to the Champions League final, when they defeated Ten Hag’s Ajax.
Ten Hag is able to focus on the squad and his coaching at Ajax, whereas United’s manager will have to do a lot more. Pochettino is well prepared for some of the more peculiar problems that the Red Devils will throw at him, and while this may be seen as a negative by some, he will work within the budget he is given without throwing a Mourinho-style tantrum.
6. Give youth a chance
Manchester United has a history of developing young players, and guys like James Garner and Hannibal are prepared to take on an Anthony Elanga-style role.
Pochettino has a track record of giving young players opportunities, having done so with Shaw at Southampton and continuing to do so at Tottenham.
Harry Kane, along with teenage signing Dele Alli, was a notable success at Tottenham, while Ryan Mason, Harry Winks, and Oliver Skipp were among the young players given their first opportunities under Pochettino.
Pochettino’s ability to use the academy was critical to his work at Tottenham, and United want a manager who will do the same at Old Trafford. Pochettino could even unearth his second Harry Kane in teenage academy striker Charlie McNeill.
7. He wants it
Hiring a manager who wants the challenge and isn’t afraid of it is a critical element of taking the job at United, and by all accounts, Pochettino is keen to take it on.
The Times reported in November that Pochettino was ready to start as soon as possible, yet PSG would not allow him to leave so soon.
Pochettino’s family still lives in England rather than France, indicating that he never saw the PSG job as a long-term commitment.
“I think Mauricio Pochettino – although he’d never say it – he’d quit coming to Man Utd on a five-year deal tomorrow,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports last year.
“He’d look at that bunch of players, he’d look at the club, and he’d realize he’d probably be able to achieve more in terms of a project at Man Utd.” At PSG, you are on a season-by-season basis – the ‘win the Champions League or you’re out model. That does not seem to suit Pochettino.
“I think he’d come to Manchester United on a five-year deal with backing.”
With all of the momentum pointing towards Ten Hag, Pochettino demonstrating a willingness to fight his corner and fight for the position will tell a lot about his want to land it, and will persuade United to seriously consider him.