FEATURE | Why picking Erik Ten Hag over Mauricio Pochettino was the right call for Manchester United

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With little input of his own, April 2022 was an important month in Mauricio Pochettino’s career. Erik Ten Hag was announced as Manchester United’s new coach, leaving Pochettino’s managerial career a little more open-ended ahead of next season than he might have expected. The former Tottenham coach was, for some time, the favourite to succeed the sacked Ole Gunner Solskjaer as United’s next permanent coach but he could now start next season unemployed.

The United job was seen as something of an honourable escape route out of Paris for Pochettino. After succeeding Thomas Tuchel in January 2021, the Argentine has never felt like a good fit – a notion that has since slowly dawned on both club and coach. The French media reported in January that Pochettino had told those around him he planned on leaving at the end of this season, a year before the end of his contract. PSG, meanwhile, took the initiative and offered Zinedine Zidane Pochettino’s job. With both parties making longing glances at other partners, a summer divorce seemed inevitable, as was seemingly confirmed by Le Parisien last month.

As it stands, Pochettino has few options other than joblessness. Real Madrid were a possibility at one stage but Carlo Ancelotti’s impressive Champions League success, at PSG’s expense, and La Liga title win have bought him time. No other major coaching role is likely to be available this summer. PSG meanwhile, unable to convince Zidane for now, also lack options. Ten Hag is taken. Paris sporting director Leonardo is an admirer of Inter’s Simone Inzaghi but his appointment would be risky and speculative. With reports that Spurs coach Antonio Conte has offered himself to PSG for next season, while sources contacted by GFFN explain Pochettino has been in contact with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy over a return, an odd managerial swap is possible – and perhaps the only option for Pochettino.

Picking Ten Hag over Pochettino was, unusually, the right call by United. Not only is Pochettino an awkward fit in Paris, but he would also be so at Old Trafford. Pochettino’s PSG reign has exposed the Argentinian’s limitations. PSG have been devoid of fluidity, creativity and cohesion. Many of their wins have been born out of fortunate VAR calls, late goals and sheer weight of quality players. The dream of Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Lionel Messi combining to become some continent beating behemoth, supported by Marco Verratti, hasn’t been realised. 

In the process, seemingly lacking much of a Ligue 1 plan at all, Pochettino has proven that he’s stumped when faced with a well-organised low-block, is unable to overcome PSG’s mental frailties (although he’s not alone there) and too easily outsmarted by truly elite coaches, exemplified by the suffocating Champions League semi-final defeat to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City last season. Despite coaching the runaway league champions, Pochettino was even surprisingly omitted from the UNFP’s usually big club biased manager of the season shortlist of five coaches.

Although PSG have had the quality to win Ligue 1 regardless and Pochettino’s preference for counterattack has been more productive against stronger sides in Europe, United would also suffer the same issues under the Argentine without the gulf in class enjoyed at PSG to fall back on. United might’ve improved under Pochettino in the short term, considering their exceptionally low ebb and that opposition teams have been emboldened as a result, perhaps playing into Pochettino’s hands. But the idea that Pochettino could mould a domineering title-winning side to overtake Manchester City, Liverpool or even Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea is, based on the Ligue 1 evidence, fanciful.

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