Mauricio Pochettino once said he would rather go back and work on his farm in Argentina than coach at the Nou Camp but now, as he weighs up his next managerial move, could he really end up as Barcelona’s next manager?
He has made no secret of his admiration of Real Madrid but Quique Setien is heading rapidly towards the trap door after Barcelona’s abject, humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Friday night.
It seems as though whoever takes charge will have an enormous job on their hands to reverse the decline but Pochettino could be the ideal candidate and has already discussed taking the helm after having dinner with club president Josep Bartomeu earlier this week.
Here, Sportsmail looks at the intriguing possibility of the man who rejuvenated Tottenham taking charge of Lionel Messi in his final seasons.
Pochettino told El Pais that the comment needed to be put into context. Luis Enrique had just left Barcelona and he had been spotted chatting with Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu.
The rumours were flying and he wanted to kill them dead – that farmyard line certainly did the trick: ‘I’m never going to coach Barcelona or Arsenal because I am linked to Espanyol and Tottenham. I grew up at Newell’s Old Boys and will never coach Rosario Central. I would rather work on my farm in Argentina than coach some clubs’, he said.
He says his priority at the time was to end the rumours because he was still at Tottenham and that’s not the case any more. There seemed to be genuine regret he had said it when he spoke to El Pais.
It’s true that they are linked by non-football matters having had children who attended the same school.
It’s also true that Bartomeu knows what a top coach Pochettino is and if he has to appoint someone, he will not be able to promise them long-term security because he only has one year left to serve as president.
He will have limited options and Pochettino, currently free, stands out in a narrow field. There was some contact between Pochettino and the club when they were considering replacing Ernesto Valverde, who was eventually sacked last January.
Coaching Espanyol has never ruled anyone out of managing Barcelona before. Comments that he would like to coach Real Madrid one day would also be regurgitated if it happened but such things would be forgotten after the first big win.
Barcelona have been rudderless for some time and it came to an ugly head in the Bayern mauling on Friday night. Pochettino is respected and would be welcomed by most on the basis of his ability.
It’s unfair to say that Messi hires and fires at Barcelona. If he had anywhere near the power to pick team-mates and coaches as is sometimes portrayed the squad would have looked very different over recent seasons.
He wants to win and Pochettino has always over-achieved with the resources he has had available to him. They have the Newell’s connection too although no one would suggest something so flimsy would be enough to win Messi’s backing.
This is a tough time for any coach at Barcelona. Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Messi and Luis Suarez are giants but managing their last years at the club, knowing what to ask of them and when to replace them is a tough job and it requires a light touch.
Pochettino has always worked with young players who are easier to mould and fashion to play as he wants them to. So no, the timing is not ideal. But Pochettino would adapt, and it’s not as if the club is devoid of young impressionable players he can make ‘his’. Even though it seems Barcelona are at their lowest ebb, that might in fact be an attractive proposition for Pochettino with expectations slightly lowered.
Riqui Puig showed that he is ready for the first team. Ansu Fati was sensational when he played although the 17-year-old’s second season is likely to be tougher.
Add the talents of Pedri, Francisco Trincao, Monchu, winger Alex Collado and full back Sergio Akieme and there are young players with promise. The latter three all look on their way out of the club because of limited opportunities but Pochettino might want to change that.
Paris Saint-Germain are one of several big clubs who have shown interest in the past. And at PSG he wouldn’t have to answer questions about his previous allegiances.
But the former Espanyol man has the perfect answer: ‘I never wanted to manage against them. But they are not in the first division so it won’t be an issue.’