Real Madrid has only a small cast of managers to choose from to replace Zinedine Zidane, but there is one in particular that has all the possible references required, and who has become the number one target for the club: Mauricio Pochettino. There is talk of Arsene Wenger, Allegri, Löw, Conte, even Guti or Santi Solari, but Florentino Pérez, who feared the French coach's departure in the middle of the season, has been gathering information for months about the Tottenham manager. In fact, even when at Espanyol Pochettino was already on the radar of Los Blancos' president.
The rise of Pochettino
The trajectory of the Spanish-Argentinean manager has been in acsendancy since he began on the Espanyol bench. Perhaps he remained in Cornella-Prat longer than he should have, for the love of the club and loyalty to its management, but after deciding to step away was advised to sign for Southampton before the wave of coaches from LaLiga arrived in England to take charge of some of their most important clubs. Rafa Benitez opened the door, Roberto Martinez was called 'the British coach born in Spain', Juande Ramos also won titles, but Pochettino made this introduction of Spanish talent on the Premier League benches feel normal.
The year and a half at Southampton, which included victories over the champions Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, ended because the people who had brought him in began to disappear from the club. Tottenham offered him the chance to change a negative dynamic of a lost institution with potential, and although without the finances of others, he took the bull by the horns. He had to change the culture of the club, the mentality of the board - and even of the fans - and ended up turning the club around. Still at the bottom of the 'big six' in terms of expenses and income, he made them arguably the most stable of all, with regular appearances in the Champions League, including while their new stadium was being built.
The new challenge for Real Madrid
Sir Alex Ferguson wanted him at Manchester United and Roman Abramovich tried to convince him to replace Antonio Conte this summer, but just over a week ago Pochettino signed a new five-year contract with Spurs, with one significant change, an obstacle for would-be suitors. In the previous one there was a release clause, but in this new one there is neither a clause nor a verbal agreement to let him go if Real Madrid knocked on his door. So Los Blancos would have to deal directly with Daniel Levy, the club president, a man known for being a tough nut to crack when negotiating.
On Friday morning, Pochettino was in Barcelona to present the Spanish version of his biography, one which has become the best-selling book of the year in the United Kingdom, and was nominated for the Football Book of the Year 2018. In whatever language you choose to read it, you will learn that it is not money that motivates him or helps him make decisions. Instead it's projects, respect for his work, and the feeling that by taking those steps it will help him, and those who go with him, grow.