Pochettino has still not proven Man Utd were wrong to appoint Mourinho

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The Argentine was in the running for the job before Jose took charge, but without a trophy at Spurs he still needs to show his true potential

When the Manchester United board were discussing the possibility of sacking Louis van Gaal and offering Jose Mourinho the Dutchman’s job as manager, there were many people promoting the idea of approaching Mauricio Pochettino as an alternative.

Indeed, this correspondent was one of those believing the Argentine to be a closer fit to what a United manager should be. Towards the summer of 2016, Pochettino had got Tottenham playing an expressive brand of football based around the abilities of young, local talents and complemented by signings who were as savvy as they were silky.

Spurs were about to finish third in the Premier League and, while it felt like a disappointment to some having spent much of the run-in challenging eventual champions Leicester City, that was the best placement for the club since finishing second in 1963 during arguably the greatest period in their history.

Pochettino even had the pleasure of Sir Alex Ferguson’s company shortly after Leicester had pipped his side to the title, with he and his assistant Jesus Perez seen leaving a Mayfair restaurant with the legendary former United boss following a long lunch. The meeting only served to stoke the flames of speculation that the Reds would plump for Pochettino as their new boss.

But United went for Mourinho instead, considering him to be the best bet for a speedy return to the top of the game. His CV was littered with silverware, and the club wanted – maybe even needed – to show their supporters they were serious about winning things once more following a period during which they had slid away from the top of the table under David Moyes and Van Gaal.

Two years on, and United are still waiting for a concerted title push despite currently sitting in second place in the Premier League. They have added three more trophies to the cabinet, including a first-ever Europa League crown, but they head into Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Pochettino’s Spurs at Wembley knowing that defeat will see them come up empty in 2017-18.

Mourinho’s record at United so far is something which has divided opinion. Those praising his ability to see them over the line in the League Cup and Europa League last season are at odds with the critics, who see the Portuguese’s brand of tepid football as an uneven trade-off for those relatively unfancied pieces of silverware.

His tendency to pick apart his players in public has only been exacerbated since he arrived at Old Trafford, as exemplified by his handling of Luke Shaw, while the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have seen their chances to start games minimised in recent times.

Mauricio Pochettino Jose Mourinho

For many pundits, Mourinho was favoured over Pochettino because of his ability to garner immediate results and the lack of a league title under his watch is proof of failure. For others, their progress is enough to suggest their goals have been met thus far even if more is expected next season.

Over in north London, Pochettino’s stock has plateaued somewhat since United were last on the lookout for a manager. Spurs’ second-place finish last season was a step forward, but this term they have regularly been punished for a tendency to switch off at key times.

The midweek draw with Brighton was the latest example of a lack of the kind of intensity needed to compete at the very top, while their Champions League exit to Juventus was the most high-profile occurrence. As a result, they go into Saturday’s clash with perhaps an even bigger point to prove than United.

Some might argue that Pochettino has taken Spurs as far as he can. A club which has gone 57 years without a league championship and won only a couple of League Cups since 1991 is finally a true competitor at the top of the table once more, and that reflects well on their manager.

Mauricio Pochettino Tottenham

But an FA Cup triumph would be proof that the former Espanyol and Southampton boss can go to the next level. So far Pochettino’s hard evidence of an ability to compete with the game’s most successful coaches amounts to a few Manager of the Month awards and little else. Until he has something rather more tangible to show for his apparent progress with the Lilywhites, he could continue to be overlooked when one of the true giants is looking for a new boss.

Pochettino could yet be a Manchester United manager of the future. Indeed, if the Mourinho experiment at Old Trafford were to be ended in the next 18 months or so then the Argentine may well be in pole position to step in.

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But for now he still has something to prove. He still has something to win. If he can crown his achievements at Tottenham with an FA Cup victory, then he can truly argue that he has shown he has what it takes to lead a club of United’s size and appeal with all the myriad expectations that come with the role. He can undoubtedly bring the style, but can he bring the medals?

While Mourinho has picked up multiple trophies with United, just one might be enough for Pochettino to stake his claim for the Portuguese’s job.

It just so happens he’ll need to beat United on Saturday to have a hope of making that a reality.

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