Daniel LEVY cast an envious eye over the CVs of Carlo Ancelotti, Fabio Capello and, most of all, a certain Louis van Gaal last year when he considered who would be the best candidate to lead Tottenham Hotspur into a new era.
Through a combination of good judgment and good fortune, however, Spurs eventually settled on a relative novice who is yet to win anything as a manager, but has already convinced chairman Levy that he has the better man of the two who will be in the Old Trafford dugouts tomorrow.
White Hart Lane insiders have suggested that Mauricio Pochettino has displayed some of the best qualities of Ancelotti, through his relationship with the players, and Capello, with his attention to detail.
Most strikingly ahead of Tottenham's Premier League trip to Old Trafford, Pochettino appears to be near the front of a new generation of managers who threaten to consign the likes of Van Gaal to history.
Levy, having sacked Andre Villas-Boas, met Van Gaal in the Dutchman's penthouse in Holland to see if he could persuade a proven winner to take charge of Spurs.
Van Gaal expressed an interest in the position, but could not give an immediate commitment because of the World Cup, so Levy handed Tim Sherwood a chance while he considered his long-term options.
In the intervening five months, there was a growing feeling around Spurs that Van Gaal was holding out for the United job and Levy was warned that the 63-year-old may simply have been interested in adding England to the list of countries he had worked in, rather than building for the future.
With Tottenham needing to move home while their £400m stadium is built, Levy craved some stability.
Research into Pochettino's work at Espanyol and Southampton convinced the Tottenham hierarchy that they could not pass up the opportunity to appoint one of the most progressive young coaches in the game, having missed out on Brendan Rodgers in 2012.
While Van Gaal has lived up to his reputation as a dictator at Old Trafford, Pochettino has proved there is far more to his methods than double training sessions and making his players walk over hot coals - as he did at St Mary's.
Fitness is undoubtedly a key part of Pochettino's philosophy and the Spurs players were treated to his boot-camp regime during one of the toughest pre-seasons at the club.
But the Argentinian has adapted his methods to cope with Levy's instruction that he had to take the Europa League seriously and make full use of a large squad.
With Spurs often playing three games in a week, Pochettino put on few of the double training sessions that his Southampton players became so used to, with his focus instead shifting on to how best to rotate his team to cope with the demands of combining Premier League, Europa League and cup competitions.
As well as fitting his players with GPS vests in training, as most managers now do, Pochettino instructed that every Tottenham training session should be filmed from various angles.
That has allowed him and the club analysts to decide on who is fully fit for each game and which players need a rest.
Fitness comes above reputation and, occasionally, even form for Pochettino - as was proved when Christian Eriksen started last month's derby against West Ham on the substitutes' bench.
Eriksen and his team-mates may not always be happy about having to take a rest, but the club's much improved injury record and their ability to out-run opponents and score late goals has convinced the players that Pochettino's way is best.
Tottenham's experts claim that the club's injury rate was at about the 30pc mark last season, with an average of seven to eight players missing for each game.
Pochettino's methods are credited with bringing that figure down to virtually zero this term, with the head coach often able to pick from a full squad.
"We almost do not have injured players and you can see that we can fully play 90 minutes with the high tempo and that has helped us in big games," said Nacer Chadli.
"He (Pochettino) wants to make everyone sharp and be well trained. We always train with GPS. They are looking at players. If they get tired, they can see it on the GPS. The amount we run, they can check everything. You cannot cheat, or put the GPS on a cat. I've tried that!"
Striker Harry Kane's injury-time equaliser against West Ham meant Tottenham had secured 11 Premier League points with goals scored in the 88th minute or later.
Pochettino's success with young players, such as Kane, points to a skill he showed at Southampton.
Kane has scored 26 goals in all competitions and the 21-year-old became the first player to win back-to-back Premier League player of the month awards since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2006.
If Spurs win tomorrow, only goal difference will separate them from United. They will move up to fifth, with Liverpool not playing until Monday.
And, with Leicester City, Burnley and Aston Villa next to come, they would be on course to qualify for a place in next season's Champions League.
The problem is that, for all their improvement this season, they are still waiting for one big statement victory away against a good team, although they played well in patches in Premier League defeats at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium, and in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates.
If there is a justified criticism of Spurs' recent form it is that they have kept just one Premier League clean sheet in 2015, but Pochettino insisted there would be no change of approach for this game.
"My football idea is always to think about going at the opponent's goal," he said. "This will not change. That would be to go against myself. My philosophy is to always have the ball and play attacking football and try to damage the opponent. I am brave. I want to win games."
Victory at Old Trafford would be a huge boost. But even a defeat will not change Levy's mind that he ended up with the best man, rather than yesterday's man. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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