The news that Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked as manager of Tottenham Hotspur has re-opened another discussion; whilst not quite dominating the headlines, the subplot potentially developing at Old Trafford will have a fair few Manchester United supporters preparing themselves for more unsettling times.
Pochettino was fired last night and before 7am this morning Jose Mourinho was hired as his replacement at Spurs. Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, is renowned for making hard decisions in the best interests of the club and in this move it is clear that he is keen to see trophies come to his club after a few years of progression, but no pots, to show for it.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — on the brink as United manager after a defeat against Newcastle a few weeks ago — might have been breathing more easy after his side put together a promising recent run of results.
United, however, are only ever one defeat or poor performance away from a disaster, and should that come even this coming weekend against Sheffield United, you can expect increased speculation that the now available Pochettino will be coveted for the job Ed Woodward has apparently wanted him for for the last few years.
One can’t help but think of an almost identical set of events four years ago, when Louis van Gaal’s 2015 Christmas was undermined by constant press haranguing about his job security after Jose Mourinho was sacked. Back then, it was transparent that Woodward wanted Mourinho, and what followed was an arduous six months and one of the most distasteful changes of managers in the club’s history — possibly the most.
However it was the immediate set of results which followed Mourinho’s second Chelsea dismissal which should serve as a greater warning for United fans. Back then, United’s form was diabolical, with some of the worst performances in modern memory with surrenders to Bournemouth, Norwich City and Stoke City.
It was clear the situation was irretrievable for Van Gaal, and it took an injury crisis, and the good will caused by a back-to-the-wall scenario, a Cup run, and the introduction of young players to salvage the end of the campaign. Still, though the likeable Dutchman was sacked after winning the FA Cup, the point remained that perhaps he should just have been dismissed in December with a title race still to negotiate.
United have no such fortune this time around, there are few positives to be gleaned from this season other than the hope of minor progress, but we should learn just as much as we did back then about the mentality of the squad and how behind Solskjaer they are. Will heads be turned by the lure of working with Pochettino — will players think that just one or two below par showings will be enough to convince Ed Woodward to pull the trigger once more?
And Woodward himself, who has continued to extol the virtues of a long-term plan and Solskjaer as the man to front it — will he be able to resist the temptation to hire the person who was reportedly his first choice this time last year? Will he have the integrity to stand by the conviction of his words and lead a period of stability even when the predictable noises of rentagobs demand Solskjaer be sacked because there’s a new toy available for Christmas?
This is not a commentary on Solskjaer being the right man, or Pochettino being the right man or a better manager. I guess my own opinion would fall in line with the majority on the first and last of those points.
But now more than ever (one could say this about more than one thing) it’s a crucial time to remember how important it is to believe in the leadership from above, how important it is to have some sort of trust. Dismissing Solskjaer doesn’t mean Woodward is a ruthless executive who wants the best for the club; it only further solidifies the concern that he lurches from one short term knee-jerk reaction to another, undermining his own words and public position.
We have seen this once with the awarding of a three-year contract to Jose Mourinho at the start of 2018, only to not truly back him in the summer and dismiss him before the calendar year was out. This time around Woodward has hired a man who is more than happy to work under the structure as it is, who won’t even privately create some kind of conflict; the noises have all been about backing Solskjaer. What would it say to undermine everything said and done for the last few months?
The disappointing thing is that it would not be a surprise; it would, however, still be disappointing, because even if Solskjaer was dismissed and even if Pochettino is a better fit and performs better, this period of Manchester United history, which is projected to be one where stability and grounding is being put in place, could end up just like all the others in the post-Ferguson period.
As excited as some might be by the lure of a new shiny manager for the new year again, it would only be yet another example of why supporters cannot have any faith in the noises that come from the man responsible for hiring and firing.