Manchester United failed to take their first opportunity to hire Mauricio Pochettino as manager, but they can't afford to miss their second chance following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's departure on Sunday.
It will require ambition and a readiness to pay whatever it will take to get him, but sources told ESPN that the Paris Saint-Germain head coach could be tempted by the prospect of being the man to finally bring success back to Old Trafford.
Despite extending his contract at Parc des Princes in the summer until 2023, after an attempt by Tottenham Hotspur to rehire the coach they dismissed in November 2019, sources have said that Pochettino has yet to fully settle at PSG since joining them in January and the United job is one that would make him consider a return to the Premier League.
The Argentine has supporters among the decision-makers at Manchester City who, always mindful of the eventual need to replace Pep Guardiola, see Pochettino as a potential successor to the ex-Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach, whose contract expires at the end of the 2022-23 season. Real Madrid are also long-term admirers. Yet the only elite club with a managerial vacancy right now is United, following Solskjaer's departure; they have a clear run at persuading the leading coaches in the game to take on the challenge of reviving the self-styled world's biggest club.
United have history, financial power and, despite what could be nine years of failure since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013, they remain the best-supported team in the most high-profile league in the world. They are a football superpower and, according to sources, a club that has long intrigued Pochettino, who believes United have a squad of talented players that can become successful.
In the immediate term, Pochettino, 49, will head to Manchester this week to take charge of PSG in their Champions League Group A clash with Manchester City at the Etihad. PSG sit top of Ligue 1, 11 points clear of second-placed Nice, and are well placed to qualify for the Champions League knockout phase. Barring a calamitous run of results, Pochettino will win his first domestic league title this season to add to the Coupe de France he won after replacing Thomas Tuchel as coach midway through last season.
Though the picture appears to be rosy at PSG, sources have said Pochettino has grown frustrated with the politics at the club, both on and off the pitch, and that there's a constant sense of unease around his job security. Attempts to impose discipline on the squad have proven to be a challenge, and are not helped by the PSG hierarchy's laissez faire attitude to the so-called partying culture of star players. The anticipated departure of Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid at the end of his contract next summer has left the club with an ageing forward line of Neymar, Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and the unpredictable Mauro Icardi.
Pochettino's personal situation is another issue United could use to their advantage. Eleven months after taking charge at PSG, Pochettino continues to live in a luxury hotel in Paris while his wife remains in the couple's home in north London. But do United have the appetite to attempt to prise Pochettino from his PSG contract and pay whatever compensation the French club would demand?
When United sacked Jose Mourinho in December 2018, sources told ESPN that Pochettino was the top choice for executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. At the time, Pochettino was employed by Spurs, so United appointed Solskjaer on an interim basis in the hope of negotiating a deal with Tottenham. Solskjaer's incredible start, which saw him win 10 of his first 11 games, led to a change of plan, with the Norwegian being handed the job on a permanent basis. United abandoned their pursuit of Pochettino and, by the time he was sacked by Spurs, they had moved on.
Yet Pochettino's reputation for team-building, trusting young players, producing exciting football and working harmoniously within a club's football structure has long appealed to Woodward and United's owners, the Glazer family, and sources have said that Pochettino remains the favoured candidate within the corridors of power at Old Trafford. Leicester's Brendan Rodgers is also well-regarded, and potentially easier to recruit, but Pochettino is not as out of reach as he may appear.
The ball is now in United's court. It's now up to them how they play it.