Though the sight of constant jousting between Tottenham Hotspur’s media officer and a reporter at Mauricio Pochettino’s recent press conference descended into something resembling comedic tones, there was a serious undercurrent.
For all of the eagerness of the media department to move on the discussion, the fact that ‘Poch’ didn’t come straight out and flatly deny he wanted the Manchester United manager’s job as soon as his candidacy was mentioned meant that the floundering officer was left batting away questions like his life depended on it.
He didn’t want any questions on the subject, but it was the biggest story at his club, and indeed across the entire Premier League on that day.
It’s remained a huge talking point over the Christmas and New Year period, particularly as Tottenham moved into second place after the Boxing Day fixtures, further emphasising just what a super job the Argentinian is doing.
Not a single penny spent on summer transfers, not even playing at their own ground… and still the Lilywhites are genuine challengers for Manchester City’s crown.
However, there’s one ingredient missing in any discussion about Pochettino’s movements come the end of the 2018/19 campaign; Real Madrid.
Los Blancos approached the north Londoners in the wake of Zinedine Zidane’s departure, and all of the noises in the Spanish press were that he was their top target.
Daniel Levy played hardball, nothing new there, and Real were forced to look elsewhere, plumping for Julen Lopetegui… and look how that turned out.
Since then the link has gone quiet, but importantly hasn’t disappeared, and much depends on how Santiago Solari fares over the next few months.
Pochettino’s countryman has had a reasonable start at the Santiago Bernabeu and winning the Club World Cup will have given him some credit with his employers.
What can’t be overlooked, however, is the way in which Real were beaten so easily by Eibar and CSKA Moscow. Both were highly unfancied opponents and yet they dispatched Solari’s side without really having to get out of second gear.
Those two performances in particular have sounded alarm bells, as has a perceived inability to change the course of a game with tactical nous. Keeping Isco and Marco Asensio on the bench clearly isn’t helping.
Quite how the club can even contemplate looking beyond Solari at this early stage is baffling mind, but it’s not the first time Florentino Perez will have considered acting in haste.
With talk of United’s rumoured interest, Levy has slapped a £42m price tag on his coach in the hope that it forces other sides to think twice before making an approach.
Such a tactic is admirable but merely delaying the inevitable… unless Spurs win the Premier League this season which, at this point, isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Assuming that weren’t to happen and Solari’s second half of 2018/19 isn’t as successful as he or the club hope, is Pochettino really going to turn down the overtures from a club he admitted in the recent past he would have joined had Levy allowed it?
The chance to work with some of the world’s best players and, importantly, the best youngsters, as Los Blancos try a different tack in their quest for further European and world domination.
If there’s one thing guaranteed to get Pochettino interested, it’s a project that has youth at its core, melded together with world-class experience and genuine title challenging potential.
United will go all out if he does become available, and why wouldn’t they, but theirs is a longer-term project with no guarantee of success.
That’s precisely what he would be leaving behind at Tottenham, so if he’s going to move anywhere, the sunnier climbs of the Spanish capital are much more appealing than the Manchester rain.