If you are like me, you’ve been either mostly or partially away from the internet today as you either continue celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, or head out into the world to participate in Black Friday shopping. However, if you’re a football fan, everybody has probably heard by now that Arsenal fired their manager Unai Emery, appointing Freddie Ljungberg as caretaker.
The Ljungberg appointment is intended to be an interim situation, much like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was after Manchester United sacked Jose Mourinho last year. And much like Solskjaer, there’s a chance that former Arsenal legend Ljungberg could play his way into the job permanently. But that’s not what anyone’s talking about at the moment. A report in the Athletic (£) today hints that Arsenal have a concrete interest in hiring former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino this summer, and it’s gotten some Spurs fans in a tizzy.
It’s probably true and accurate that Pochettino is high on a list of potential Arsenal candidates. He should be! He’s an amazing manager, and there’s a certain appeal to the Arsenal job — he’d get to stay in England, probably doesn’t even have to move, and would be at a club that has a history of success and likes to develop young players. In many ways, Arsenal would be perfect to be the next evolution of a “five year project” like what he had at Spurs, but this time with a bit more money.
You might be worrying about this happening. You probably don’t have to. Here’s why.
First, it would be immensely difficult to cross the Tottenham-Arsenal divide so close to Pochettino leaving Spurs. George Graham and Tery Neill are the only two managers who have led both clubs. Neill even went straight from Spurs to Arsenal in the mid-1970s. But that was a long time ago.
Pochettino is also on the record saying he could never manage Arsenal, for the same reason that he could never manage Barcelona — because of his loyalty to the clubs he has managed and played for in the past. When asked about managing Arsenal one day, this was his response:
“I would never train Barcelona or Arsenal because I am tied to Tottenham. I grew up at Newell’s and I would never train Rosario Central. This is my decision. I would prefer to work on my farm in Argentina than to go and work in certain places.”
There are other managers who have made similar statements, including Jose Mourinho when he said he’d never manage Spurs while he was at Chelsea. But I believe Pochettino. He’s always been a man with solid principles and extreme loyalty. It would open him to a huge amount of personal criticism if he were to land at Tottenham’s biggest rivals, even after being fired. It would be Pochettino making the most egregious of heel turns, and from what we know of Pochettino and how he has handled himself in the past, it would be an incredibly explosive and uncharacteristic move.
Finally, the Athletic article itself acknowledges exactly how unlikely this scenario is. Poch is on a list of candidates that includes Max Allegri, Carlo Ancelloti, and former Gunner Mikel Arteta. The strong implication is that even the Arsenal hierarchy knows what a difficult sell it would be for Pochettino, and that his place on the Arsenal shortlist represents more respect for his managerial ability than any realistic chance of him actually ending up at the Emirates.
Poch is taking a break from football at the moment and wouldn’t consider taking a job until at least this summer. And in the meantime, that provides opportunities for other clubs to show their interest and make their case to Poch and his family. PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Manchester United could all make managerial changes this summer, and all (except maybe United) would be superior jobs to Arsenal. It’s not clear that Poch would be interested even if Arsenal were to make an approach.
Arsenal would probably love to hire Poch. Who wouldn’t? He’s going to be high on the list of every major managerial appointment that opens up, and some journalists like David Ornstein have hinted that the managerial merry-go-round could be “seismic” this summer. But moving from Spurs to Arsenal seems like a bridge too far. It’d be the ultimate #banter appointment, and would instantly turn Pochettino into a pantomime villain on the level of Sol Campbell. That wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially when there’s every indication that he’ll be a favorite to land at a number of bigger, better clubs this coming summer.