Levy could be third player in suc­ces­sion game:

Spurs chair­man Levy is a no­to­ri­ously tough ne­go­tia­tor and will have his say

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

It was the mo­ment that en­shrined Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer into Manch­ester United le­gend. David Beck­ham’s cor­ner, Teddy Sher­ing­ham’s flick and, well, you know the rest. What has re­mained a se­cret un­til now was that up in the Camp Nou directors’ box – fol­low­ing an out­ra­geous piece of blag­ging – was Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino. And when Sol­sk­jaer did what he did to win the 1999 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal against Bay­ern Mu­nich, Po­chet­tino found him­self cel­e­brat­ing as crazily as any United fan.

The way the Tot­ten­ham man­ager tells it, he was sim­ply car­ried along by the emo­tion of the mo­ment. Po­chet­tino was an Es­panyol player at the time and, to­gether with his team­mate Toni Jiménez – who is now the goal­keeper coach at Spurs – he had watched the first half from seats that were not so great. And so he and his part­ner in crime de­cided to up­grade.

They were on the same level as the VIP area and they hopped from block to block un­til they got there. Re­mark­ably, they spied two padded seats that were empty, jumped into them and, even more re­mark­ably, they were not moved on.

“We sat, like this,” Po­chet­tino says, mak­ing like the meek­est of boys. “Then the se­cond half started and we watched it from there – the pres­i­dents’ [area]. When Sher­ing­ham scored for 1-1 in the last minute, we said: ‘Wow, amaz­ing game, now in­jury time.’ And then when Sol­sk­jaer scored, we were cel­e­brat­ing. How I shouted for a Manch­ester United goal was in­cred­i­ble! I don’t know why be­cause in that mo­ment, we were neu­tral. But the at­mos­phere was amaz­ing.”

Re-en­er­gised

It is a story that res­onates par­tic­u­larly loudly be­cause to­mor­row at Wem­b­ley, Po­chet­tino’s Spurs take on a United team that has been re-en­er­gised un­der the care­taker man­age­ment of Sol­sk­jaer. And, of course, there is the small mat­ter of who may be given the United job on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

Could it yet be Sol­sk­jaer, who has won his first five matches – al­beit against low-rank­ing op­po­si­tion – but, per­haps more im­por­tantly, has reac­quainted United with a sense of ad­ven­ture and fun? The Spurs game is his first ma­jor test. Were he to tri­umph, it would cer­tainly help his case.

Or could it be Po­chet­tino, who United and Alex Fer­gu­son have in their sights? Fer­gu­son, now back to health and in­flu­ence, had ad­vanced Po­chet­tino’s can­di­dacy in 2016 only for the Glaz­ers to pre­fer the surer thing of José Mour­inho.

Po­chet­tino wears his van­ity more ap­peal­ingly than Mour­inho these days and since the Old Traf­ford sack­ing of a man he coun ts as a friend, he has been cute, play­ful and frankly mis­chievous at var­i­ous times with re­gard to the sto­ries link­ing him with United.

It is a soap opera that prom­ises to run and run, al­though Po­chet­tino played it straight for a change yes­ter­day at his pre-match press con­fer­ence when he stressed that Pre­mier League points were the only thing on his mind. He looked flab­ber­gasted when asked whether his play­ers had joked with him about the United job.

“No,” he said. “They are too re­spect­ful.”

There has been the temp­ta­tion to bill the game as Po­chet­tino ver­sus Sol­sk­jaer, with the win­ner tak­ing all, but that is not only glib, it is in­cor­rect. It is so for sev­eral rea­sons, and the big­gest one is a man called Daniel Levy, the Spurs chair­man who, if United come call­ing for Po­chet­tino, will make it un­be­liev­ably difficult.

There was a time when United would have who they wanted from Spurs – Sher­ing­ham, Michael Car­rick, Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov. Fer­gu­son de­scribed the busi­ness of dealing with Levy as “more painful than my hip re­place­ment”.

Eco­nomic land­scape

There has since been a shift in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the clubs. As Po­chet­tino noted, the eco­nomic land­scape of the Pre­mier League has shifted, mak­ing all of the clubs more fi­nan­cially pow­er­ful and able to re­sist un­wanted over­tures from the big­ger ones.

Levy has long been a night­mare to deal with but now it can be close to im­pos­si­ble. United, for ex­am­ple, wanted to take Eric Dier from Spurs in 2017. There was never any pos­si­bil­ity of Levy sanc­tion­ing the de­par­ture of a player he wanted to keep. “Daniel is, as you know very well, so tough to ne­go­ti­ate with,” Po­chet­tino said.

Po­chet­tino, un­usu­ally, does not have an agent and he ne­go­ti­ated the new five-year con­tract he signed last May di­rectly with Levy. He thought he did a good job. “For me, if there was one per­son that was easy to do busi­ness with, it was Daniel,” Po­chet­tino said. “I think it was more difficult for him than me be­cause I am the man­ager and he can­not up­set me.”

If United or Real Madrid were to try to take Po­chet­tino in the sum­mer, it is likely that the dy­nam­ics of any ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween him and Levy would be dif­fer­ent. In Levy’s favour would be the length of Po­chet­tino’s con­tract and, cru­cially, the ab­sence of a buy­out clause in it.

As re­cent history has shown, Tot­ten­ham tal­ent does not get away from Levy with­out a fight.

If Po­chet­tino does want a new chal­lenge, he may have to ask him­self just how hard he is pre­pared to push for it. Levy has been here be­fore with some of his play­ers and, al­though it would be a new ex­pe­ri­ence with a man­ager, he would ap­proach it with trade­mark iron fists.

Fer­gu­son knows this bet­ter than any­one. Po­chet­tino ver­sus Sol­sk­jaer? There is a third player in the game. – Guardian

If Po­chet­tino does want a new chal­lenge, he may have to ask him­self just how hard he is pre­pared to push for it

Tot­ten­ham’s Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino and Manch­ester United’s Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer go head to head at Wem­b­ley to­mor­row. IM­AGES PHO­TO­GRAPHS: GETTY

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