It has been only a week since Mauricio Pochettino signed a new five-year contract at Tottenham, but already his future is the source of speculation again following Zinedine Zidane’s shock resignation at Real Madrid.
Madrid are one of the few clubs with the financial muscle to even consider trying to poach Pochettino, and one of the few that could perhaps interest the Argentinian. Spurs’ manager has ruled out ever working at Barcelona or Arsenal but has been more careful when discussing Real.
The attractions of the job at the Bernabeu are obvious. He would have the chance to work with a host of the best players in the world, with great riches at his disposal. If he wanted to silence those critics who point out he has never won a trophy as a manager, he could quickly shut them up and build up an impressive collection. When it comes to glamour and prestige, few clubs can match Real Madrid, and that may make for unsettling days for Spurs supporters.
Yet it is understood that there is no buyout clause in Pochettino’s contract, nor a verbal agreement that would facilitate a departure. And, even if Real president Florentino Perez were able to come to an agreement with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy — a famously tough negotiator who demanded a world-record fee when the Galacticos signed Gareth Bale — it is worth pausing to question whether Pochettino would really want the Madrid job right now.
After all, many of the aspects he seems to enjoy about his current role would be missing at the Bernabeu.
Pochettino has hailed the Premier League as the “most difficult competition” and the “most important league” in the world, while suggesting it is easier for teams outside England to perform on the continent because they can rest players in their domestic fixtures. He has also stated that “when you’re in the Premier League, you’re competing with the best, and that means a lot more than money.”
Significantly, he has also said he enjoys the role of the underdog.
“With a big team, you are already very close to winning,” he said last April. “If you are there but not spending the money and are still challenging, that is what I like the most.”
Such feelings can change, of course, but Pochettino has all of these desirable challenges at Spurs, as well as the ability to develop young players — a passion of his that would be far less applicable at Real Madrid. He has been encouraged to change Tottenham’s culture and create a lasting legacy. Is it similarly realistic that he would be invited to mould Real Madrid in his own image? It is highly doubtful.
Rather than nurturing the talents and personalities of youthful and impressionable talents at Spurs, while creating a harmonious first-team dressing room and a single-minded squad, he would have to manage large egos in Madrid. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Zidane has departed. Either way, the fact the Frenchman no longer wants the job is in itself a warning sign.
Zidane said as he left his role on Thursday that Madrid is “a demanding club,” adding: “There have been good moments but also difficult times.”
Perhaps most importantly, he stated: “It would have been difficult for me to win again next year.”
That is the crux of the matter: How do you top the achievement of winning the Champions League for the third time in a row? How do you even meet expectations, let alone exceed them, after such success?
There is great wealth and status to be had at the Bernabeu, but with great power comes great responsibility — winning the top trophies — and that will weigh heavily on Zidane’s successor. Most managers replace someone who has failed, but Zidane has gone out on a high and made himself an extremely, perhaps impossibly, tough act to follow.
There is a lot to be said for embracing the toughest challenges, and the best managers have to do just that. It is perfectly possible to envisage Pochettino taking charge of Real Madrid in the future. But, at just 46 years old, it is highly questionable whether this would be the right time for him to make that move — even if the decision were up to him.
Last week, Pochettino expressed his excitement at the part he is set to play in “one of the most significant periods in [Tottenham’s] history,” and the pride he feels at being “the manager that will lead this team into our new world-class stadium.”
“This is just one of the factors that makes this one of the most exciting jobs in world football,” he added.
Another of those jobs is now available. But Pochettino has every reason to cherish the role he has now, and play the long game.
Ben is ESPN FC’s Tottenham blogger. Follow on Twitter: @BenPearceSpurs.