The status of Mauricio Pochettino's contract has been a major point of discussion in English football circles, and not just here on Carty Free. Pochettino has been continually linked away from Tottenham and specifically has been linked over and over again to Manchester United. This is despite alternating stories coming out of the United camp that suggest they are either signing Jose Mourinho or sticking with Louis Van Gaal for another season.
But if you're the type of Spurs fan who likes to worry a lot, or if you're prone to believing sensationalist photographic evidence that might or might not mean anything, you might want to sit down. Because today the Sun has posted photographs that depict Mauricio Pochettino and his top assistant Jesus Perez apparently leaving a London restaurant with none other than Sir Alex Ferguson.
Cue the conspiracy theories!
These photos are clearly Pochettino and Perez, leaving Scott's Restaurant in London. Poche and Perez take off down the sidewalk and Fergie gets into a waiting car. So what we can confirm from this is that Poche and Fergie most certainly had lunch at the same restaurant. J'accuse!
There are a couple of things that these photographs can mean, so let's go through the possibilities.
Pochettino is planning to leave Spurs for Manchester United. Start freaking out.
This is what The Sun would want you to imply from the photographs, because they are The Sun and they are in the business of ginning up controversy and selling newspapers. And there's a non-zero percent chance that this is exactly what is going on! According to The Sun's story, this is the end result of a "secret meeting" between the two managers, and what else would they be discussing in public at a downtown London restaurant than how Pochettino should not sign his Spurs extension and come work in Manchester, right?
We thought all was good in Pochettino contract-land after he announced in a press conference that he had verbally agreed to a new deal, which he would sign after having it fully vetted by his lawyers. Poche's deal also is reportedly the lynchpin for a number of other Tottenham player contract extensions, including Hugo Lloris, Christian Eriksen, and possibly Harry Kane. But, United has more money than God and if Poche wants to go, he'll go and there's not much Tottenham can do to stop him.
Does a series of photos in The Sun, of all places, mean that Pochettino is definitely leaving Tottenham? Of course not. But the fact that this isn't certain evidence that he's leaving doesn't mean that Spurs fans shouldn't be a teensy bit concerned that he's apparently meeting with a Manchester United higher-up, and allowing himself to be photographed, along with his top assistant.
Pochettino is publicly leveraging his contract negotiations with Spurs by being seen with Ferguson.
Pochettino doesn't have an agent as he prefers to do his own negotiations. That actually gives him a great deal of power when it's time to renew or extend his contract. Poche says that he has verbally agreed to a new contract at Tottenham, but until that contract is actually signed, all bets are still off. This could be a power-play by Pochettino to get a few more concessions from Tottenham in that new contract
The flip side of this equation is that Ferguson is currently embroiled in the equivalent of a boardroom knife fight with United chairman Ed Woodward over the future direction of the club. You don't have to look very hard to find evidence that United is completely split, with a Woodward faction that wants to dump LVG for Mourinho, and a Fergie faction that wants someone, ANYONE else. The two groups are apparently at loggerheads and are actively trying to undermine the other side. What better way for Fergie to do that than to have "secret meetings" with a rival Premier League manager that's set for a top three league finish with a club with much smaller reach and resources?
Finally, if there really was going to be a "secret meeting" between Ferguson and Pochettino to hammer out an agreement to bring Poche to Manchester, that meeting would be just that: secret. There's no way it would be publicly held in a London restaurant. In this hypothetical scenario, of course the subject of Poche-to-United would come up, but it would be more for show than for serious.
Let's imagine for a second how the conversation leading up to this lunch might have gone:
Fergie: Hello, Mauricio, want to have lunch? I want to talk to you about United.
Pochettino: Oh hi Fergie I'm happy at Spurs at present but want some more money.
Fergie: That's okay, I'd just like to f**k with Woodward.
Pochettino : Cool, let's go to Scott's.
This is stupid, Poche and Fergie really like each other and just wanted to have lunch. Shoot The Sun into the sun.
This is certainly the scenario that all Spurs fans hope is happening right now, and if you're Tottenham that's the line you're putting out there. Pochettino has come out and said that he'd like to build a dynasty at Spurs similar to the one that Ferguson built at United, so it's clear that there's a great deal of mutual respect between the two of them. Why wouldn't Pochettino want to have lunch with the greatest managerial mind of the past generation?
It's also not impossible that they just happened to run into each other at lunch and walked out together, but that would be a remarkably dumb thing for two media savvy managers like Poche and Fergie to do, since they KNOW that they're going to have photographers following their every move.
Finally, there's this tweet from Dan Kilpatrick, Tottenham correspondent for ESPNFC.
#thfc Spurs say they were aware of the social meeting, it wasn't secret & there is mutual admiration between Poch & SAF.— Dan Kilpatrick (@Dan_KP) May 10, 2016
So what can we conclude from all this? Unfortunately, not much, and we're already probably reading way too much into a series of candid photographs posted in a vacuum. All of the above scenarios are possible, and the only thing that we probably know for sure is that The Sun is using this photo, which may or may not be significant, to drum up controversy and generate website clicks.
I'm not saying that there isn't any reason to be worried about this photograph. It's troubling on a matter of levels, especially as Poche's contract extension remains, as far as we know, unsigned. In the mean time, it makes for a story that's rife for speculation in what's been a slow news week.