The race to succeed Zinedine Zidane is on following the Frenchman’s shock resignation from Real Madrid on Thursday, only days after steering the Spanish giants to a third successive Champions League trophy.
Tottenham’s Argentinian manager Mauricio Pochettino tops the bookmakers’ list of favourites, with Chelsea handler Antonio Conte and former long-time Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also in the mix.
As a former centre-back with Barcelona-based Espanyol, Pochettino has vast experience of Spain’s La Liga. But it is the 46-year-old Argentinian’s coaching nous, man-management skills and consistency with Tottenham Hotspur that has hoisted him among the favourites to replace Zidane.
Under Pochettino, Spurs have secured three successive top-four finishes in the Premier League, allowing the London club to rub shoulders with the elite of European football on a regular basis.
But Pochettino has yet to win a trophy in any of his coaching stints, at Espanyol (2009-2012), Southampton (2013-2014) or Tottenham.
Pochettino signed a new, improved contract extension until 2023 last week and Spanish sports newspaper AS reported Friday that it does not contain any written agreement allowing him to leave if Real make an approach.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is a notoriously tough negotiator, but apparently has good relations with Real president Florentino Perez.
Amid claims that Chelsea’s players are fed up with his demanding training sessions and intense ways, Conte could soon be on his way out of the club, who have been linked to current Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri.
But whether the 48-year-old Italian is an adequate replacement for the taciturn Zidane, and the right choice for such a demanding club, is up for debate.
Conte enjoyed unbridled success with Juventus in Italy’s Serie A, leading the club to three successive domestic titles before joining Chelsea.
But in Europe, the Turin giants struggled, failing to reach the Champions League final in his tenure.
Conte led Chelsea to the Premier League title in his first season in charge at Stamford Bridge, in 2016-2017, but failed to repeat the achievement in a far less successful 2017-2018 season, in which only an FA Cup triumph saved his reputation.
Wenger is available and has the name and the top-level experience, having coached Arsenal for 22 years in England’s Premier League and, less regularly, in Real’s favourite playground of the Champions League.
But would Real Madrid’s demanding fans back the 68-year-old Frenchman, whose last piece of silverware with the Gunners came in 2017 with the FA Cup? His last league honours date back 13 years to 2004, proving the steady decline during his long reign.
Wenger spent the intervening years trying, unsuccessfully, to replicate the success of his early campaigns.
Real, record 13-times winners of the Champions League including the last three years in succession, are used to winning trophies and fans will expect a coach with lofty ambitions.
Leading Liverpool to the Champions League final, and a 3-1 defeat to Real last Saturday, won’t have done any harm to Klopp’s chances of joining the Spanish giants.
But whether the easy-going, fan-hugging German fits the bill at Europe’s most successful club remains to be seen.
In coaching terms Klopp’s CV stands up to scrutiny: tactics, man management and unfettered enthusiasm for the game and his players are among his biggest attributes.
But the 50-year-old’s rate of success is less impressive.
Klopp led Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League final in 2013, only to suffer defeat to Bayern Munich.
Three other runner-up places grace Klopp’s CV, including the English League Cup (2016), the Europa League (2016) and this season’s Champions League.
In the absence of a standout favourite from outside the club, Real president Florentino Perez could opt to promote from within and push their under-19s coach Jose Maria Gutierrez, known as Guti, into the Real hot seat.
A former star midfielder for Real, who made over 500 appearances between 1995 and 2010, Guti’s intimate knowledge of the club would be a distinct advantage over his rivals.
As coach of Real’s under-19s, Guti enjoyed regular contact with Zidane and his successful methods.
On paper, the 41-year-old Guti is an outsider as he has yet to cut his coaching teeth at senior coaching level — although, prior to his appointment in 2016, the same could be said about Zidane.
The Frenchman, who made over 150 appearances for Real, became a sports director with Real in 2011 before becoming assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in 2013 and then heading the Real Madrid ‘B’ team.