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Mauricio Pochettino was blindsided by Erik ten Hag’s Man United appointment, where could he go next?

When Mauricio Pochettino was revealed as being on the two-man final shortlist for the Manchester United job along with Erik ten Hag, he was clear favourite and there was a school of thought which had the Argentine as the only realistic option. 

Ten Hag had never managed a top club or even been a manager outside Holland, whereas Pochettino has Premier League experience and unfinished business in England after being sacked at Tottenham.

He has a reputation for exciting attacking football, high pressing and stringent fitness demands, and is a modern coach with the presence and top-level playing experience to command respect in such a huge job. The players wanted him too.

United’s attentions went back years, with legendary former boss Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly pushing his case since 2016 after meeting him. He was said to have spent months studying the club, city and players, and held positive talks with the hierarchy.

It made perfect sense, went the theory, at least. But Pochettino was left blindsided by ten Hag’s appointment on Thursday and was reportedly shocked by the decision because no one at the club told him, leaving him marooned at Paris Saint-Germain.

The 50-year-old is expected to leave the French giants this summer after crashing out of the Champions League against Real Madrid and struggling with the big egos, with a canter to the Ligue 1 title unlikely to prevent his departure.

With Carlo Ancelotti thriving at Real Madrid, Antonio Conte improving Pochettino’s former club Tottenham and no standout job at a big club available, he might be stuck in an unhappy marriage in Paris until his contract runs down in 2023. 

So where he could go next? Sportsmail assesses his options…

Mauricio Pochettino was caught unaware by Erik ten Hag's appointment as Man United boss

Mauricio Pochettino was caught unaware by Erik ten Hag’s appointment as Man United boss

The Dutchman (pictured) was confirmed as the Red Devils' new manager on Thursday morning

The Dutchman (pictured) was confirmed as the Red Devils’ new manager on Thursday morning

The 50-year-old's hopes of landing one of Europe's top jobs after leaving PSG are dwindling

The 50-year-old’s hopes of landing one of Europe’s top jobs after leaving PSG are dwindling

How the United dream died 

The Athletic claim United cooled on appointing Pochettino for several reasons. 

They had already decided to go for Ralf Rangnick as an interim option, knowing how difficult it would be to extricate Pochettino from PSG mid-season, and those problems continued.

The French side initially dug their heels in on compensation, with some French outlets reporting they wanted around £10million. That is believed to have fallen to circa £5million amid their Champions League exit, but it is still a significant fee.

Real Madrid’s interest also provided a risk of the LaLiga side swooping in at the 11th hour and gazumping United, while the hierarchy wondered if Pochettino had already done his best work, as with Jose Mourinho.

United had intended to call Pochettino to inform him he had missed out to Ten Hag

United had intended to call Pochettino to inform him he had missed out to Ten Hag

PSG (pictured: president Nasser Al-Khelaifi) demanded a substantial release fee for Pochettino

PSG (pictured: president Nasser Al-Khelaifi) demanded a substantial release fee for Pochettino

The risk of big egos disrupting the dressing-room dynamic, as has undermined Pochettino’s PSG reign, are not exactly unheard of at United.

It is also possible his less-than-ideal trophy record at PSG – just a French Cup and domestic Super Cup, probably followed by a Ligue 1 trophy this season – counted against him. Ten Hag has two league and cup doubles in Holland, with another potential Eredivisie win too.

Widespread fan preference for ten Hag – 82 per cent of 219,000 respondents to a Gary Neville Twitter poll pitting the two together plumping for the Dutchman – was noted but did not affect United’s plans. 

The players’ reported preference for Pochettino was not factored in at all, claim the Athletic. In fact, some staff are said to have semi-joked that if Pochettino was their choice, United should go down a different route.

A Spurs return unlikely 

Pochettino was in the picture to return to Spurs last year, but that prospect looks dead in the water now.

Antonio Conte, previously a Premier League winner with Chelsea, has instantly improved the north London side, reinvigorated star striker Harry Kane, and put them into genuine contention for a top-four spot and Champions League football.

The former Chelsea boss only has one year left on his contract, but it seems he will be heavily backed in the transfer market this summer and unless things go badly wrong it is difficult to see Spurs parting company with him.

Maybe one for Pochettino to explore later on. 

Antonio Conte (above) and his success at Spurs means a return to White Hart Lane is unlikely

Antonio Conte (above) and his success at Spurs means a return to White Hart Lane is unlikely

Real cooling on Poch prospect 

Real Madrid are still going strong in the Champions League and, at 15 points clear, will almost certainly wrap up the LaLiga title.

Current boss Carlo Ancelotti is an authoritative figure who has managed the club before, won plenty of trophies and brought through youngsters like Eduardo Camavinga and Vinicius Junior. 

However, their European run could easily end in the semi-finals against Manchester City, and their league title has come in the absence of any real competitors. Xavi’s resurgent Barcelona could push them next year.

Real Madrid are thought to be cooling on the idea of replacing Carlo Ancelotti with Pochettino

Real Madrid are thought to be cooling on the idea of replacing Carlo Ancelotti with Pochettino

Moreover, there are frustrations within the club at the prosaic style of play, and Pochettino is a known quantity, having been pursued in both 2018 and 2021 to take over by Los Blancos.

Indeed, PSG felt Madrid were sniffing around him again after he guided the French side to a 1-0 win in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie.

How Ancelotti finishes the season could be crucial – but there is no desperate urge to sack the Italian, for now.

Liverpool or Manchester City?

In terms of big clubs in the Premier League, succeeding the Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola empire at Liverpool or Manchester City might be on the cards.

Spaniard Guardiola’s deal expires in summer 2023, but is happy and settled at the club and still harbours strong ambitions to win the Champions League.

City chiefs do respect Pochettino, so if Pep wins the trophy he and the club dearly crave and rides off into the sunset, the former 20-cap Argentina international could replace him.

The Argentine may replace Jurgen Klopp (left) at Liverpool or Pep Guardiola (right) at Man City

The Argentine may replace Jurgen Klopp (left) at Liverpool or Pep Guardiola (right) at Man City

Klopp’s contract runs down the following year, and has previously discussed stepping down then given the intensity of the job. Pochettino is one of not many managers in world football who has the charisma and personality to replace him. 

Then again, both clubs would demand success instantly, rather than afford time for a long-term rebuild. And that hasn’t worked so well at PSG…

Could he stay at PSG? 

With another year left on his contract in the French capital, if Pochettino cannot find a suitable club and club president Nasser El-Khelaifi decides to keep him, he may well stay where he is.

Another Ligue 1 title would likely follow, and if the club go on a decent run in Europe and don’t contrive to throw away a big lead and get knocked out in disgrace, he may decide PSG is the best place for him after all.

However, the club is in a serious state of flux, with disaffected fans booing the team on multiple occasions and whistling against big-money stars Lionel Messi and Neymar.

How Pochettino deals with unhappy big-name players would likely dictate his success next season, and whether he decides to stay long-term.

High-profile summer signings Messi, Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi are already said to be unsettled, with Argentine trio Leandro Paredes, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi set to leave.

Losing world-leading forward Kylian Mbappe would be a massive blow if he leaves as expected when his contract expires this summer, too.

Outside bets

Perhaps an aspirational club outside the global elite – similar to Tottenham when he joined them in 2014 – as opposed to a club which demands instant success might suit Pochettino better.

There are whispers of discontent at Bayern Munich after exiting the Champions League against Villarreal, but Julian Nagelsmann, the most expensive managerial transfer of all time, will be given time and trust as they romp to the Bundesliga title.

A team with vibrant young players like Borussia Dortmund or RB Leipzig might appeal if Marco Rose or Domenico Tedesco lose their jobs – the former more likely than the latter.

Pochettino could be in contention to replace Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone (above)

Pochettino could be in contention to replace Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone (above)

Atletico Madrid seem to be running out of steam under Diego Simeone, but there are no real suggestions he will be sacked, while Valencia may be appealing if they sack Jose Bordalas after a middling season.

Atalanta play high-octane football in Pochettino’s mould but have struggled in Serie A under Gian Piero Gasperini, while Roma may still reach the top four under Jose Mourinho. Both managers, especially Gasperini, have probably done enough to stay.

A romantic return to Argentina to manage the national team might be an option towards the latter stages of his career, but Lionel Scaloni has credit in the bank after winning the 2021 Copa America title. 

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