Aug 15 (Reuters) - Mauricio Pochettino once said he would rather return to his ranch in Argentina than coach Barcelona, yet he is now the top candidate to be their next manager as they look to the future after Friday’s 8-2 drubbing by Bayern Munich.
Quique Setien is certain to be sacked after Barca were humiliated in the Champions League quarter-final, a result which completed a miserable season, as for the first time since 2014 they failed to win a major trophy.
Pochettino, who had previously ruled out taking charge of Barcelona after spending a number of seasons with city rivals Espanyol as a player and coach, leads a short list of candidates to succeed Setien.
Media reports suggest Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman, former player Xavi and Thierry Henry are also being considered for the role by the club’s hierarchy.
Pochettino was reported to have been approached by Barca alongside Koeman and Xavi when they sacked Ernesto Valverde in January, barely two months after the Argentine was fired by Tottenham Hotspur.
At the time he declined the offer as he was taking a break after spending an intense five years revolutionising Tottenham, who he led to four consecutive top-four finishes in the Premier League and a first ever Champions League final in 2019.
But after nine months out of work, Pochettino could be on the verge of taking charge of the Camp Nou dugout as he admitted he has softened his stance on coaching Barcelona.
“I didn’t mean to disrespect Barcelona (but) Espanyol gave me a platform...,” Pochettino told newspaper El Pais earlier this month.
“Perhaps I wouldn’t say that now because you never know what will happen in life.”
Pochettino has admitted to being on good terms with Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu from when he lived in the city. He has met Bartomeu for dinner when he has returned to the city, where he still owns a home.
Although the Argentine has never won a trophy as a manager and is from a different school of thought to the brand of football Barca have been famed for since the days of Johan Cruyff, several factors make him a wise choice to lead the club.
The coach who nurtured Harry Kane and other young players could appeal to fans who want the club to take greater interest in their famed La Masia youth academy, which has recently developed exciting prospects in Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati.
He also fostered a spirit of hard work and energetic pressing, something Barca have been lacking in recent years while the other top teams in Europe have moved towards a more dynamic style of play.
Should Barca turn to Pochettino, they need to have more patience than they have shown in previous coaches.
But given the right amount of time and freedom, he could revive a crumbling institution back into one of Europe’s best teams.