Seven months into his Chelsea reign, Pochettino is facing questions about his long-term future. Despite spending more than £1billion in the transfer market since American investor Todd Boehly took control, the Blues are 11th in the Premier League, 15 points behind fourth-placed Villa. Now they must win at Villa Park to stay in the FA Cup after the original fourth-round tie at Stamford Bridge ended goalless.
Emery has no such worries after leading Villa up the table yet in another world it could have been Pochettino rather than the Basque who was spearheading their revival.
As Steven Gerrard’s tenure stumbled towards its painful conclusion, Villa co-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens started to consider possible successors. Thanks to his outstanding work at Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal, Emery was high on the list. So too was Pochettino, admired by Sawiris for turning Tottenham into one of the best teams in the country from 2016-19.
There is thought to have been contact between Sawiris and Pochettino in London, in the months after the Argentine was sacked by Paris St Germain in July 2022. Yet Mail Sport understands that although these were friendly conversations, neither side was ready to take the decisive step.
Mauricio Pochettino (left) could well envy the Premier League success of his opposite number in the dugout, Unai Emery (right)
The pair used to meet frequently as the head coaches at Tottenham and Arsenal respectively (pictured in 2019)
Aston Villa's owners Nassef Sawiris (right) and Wes Edens (left) toyed with appointing the Argentina after the sacking of Steven Gerrard
Pochettino had not long left France and it is thought he was wary of taking charge in the middle of a season – especially with Villa risking relegation under Gerrard.
On Villa’s side, there was the sense that Pochettino was waiting for another top Champions League club.
When Villa checked on Emery, there were no such games of cat and mouse. The Villarreal manager liked the sound of the project straightaway and once he received personal assurances from owner Sawiris, the deal was done within only five days of Gerrard’s exit. It is safe to assume Sawiris and Edens are happy with how things turned out.
Nobody can know how Pochettino would have performed at Villa but it is a push to think he would have had the impact Emery has had. Villa have beaten both Manchester City and Emery’s former club Arsenal this season and though they have not sparkled in the same way since Christmas, they are still only five points behind leaders Liverpool.
Emery and Pochettino were briefly on opposite sides of the north London divide from 2018-19 and lived close to each other in the suburbs north of the capital. Pochettino was sacked by Tottenham on November 19, 2019, and Emery by Arsenal 10 days later.
‘When we were both in London we would sometimes meet, and the first time we met was when he visited me in Spain, when I was coaching Valencia,’ recalled Emery. ‘I respect him.
‘He is a very good coach who has always been successful in Spain and England, and at PSG too, more or less. He worked very well with Tottenham and Southampton and his team at Chelsea are getting better.
‘This season is a little bit difficult but I believe in his work and his progress at Chelsea. He is an experienced coach and all coaches are in trouble and under pressure at some time or other. Everyone feels the pressure differently.
‘When I’ve been under pressure or results have been poor, I’ve always tried to prepare properly for games, be focused and support the players, give them confidence. I am sure Pochettino is doing the same.’
Aston Villa and Chelsea will go toe-to-toe at Villa Park in their FA Cup replay on Wednesday
Almost 10 years ago Harry Kane scored the winner against Aston Villa for Tottenham's 2-1 win
Pochettino felt his former player's goal saved his skin at Spurs - and will hope for a similar outcome from his Chelsea stars
Villa Park was a significant staging post in Pochettino’s career long before their billionaire owners sounded him out.
In November 2014, Pochettino was trying to correct a disappointing start at Spurs and his team trailed Villa 1-0 late in the game. Goals from Nacer Chadli and Harry Kane turned defeat into victory and gave Pochettino breathing space.
‘Kane’s goal that day gave us the chance still to be at Tottenham today,’ said Pochettino in 2017. ‘We were under pressure and when you don’t get results, the first person to pay is the manager. That goal allowed us to carry on working and try to change the club.’
Nearly a decade later, Pochettino would give a heck of a lot for the same result.
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