Tottenham face a major battle to keep Mauricio Pochettino at the club after it emerged Real Madrid are stepping up their pursuit of the club’s Argentinian manager.
Sportsmail understands that initial contact has been made between Real Madrid officials and associates of Pochettino.
Sources in Spain believe he is tempted by the possibility of working at Real Madrid.
Spurs, however, will take a firm stance with the Spanish side and attempt to resist all overtures.
Pochettino’s contract, which runs until 2021, does not contain an escape clause and therefore Madrid and the manager would have to persuade chairman Daniel Levy to release him.
It represents a huge challenge for Levy, particularly as Tottenham’s hopes of keeping key players such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris appear tied to the manager’s long-term future at the club.
It would also be a significant setback to lose Pochettino, the mastermind of this exciting Tottenham team, just as Spurs head into their new stadium next season.
Real have made Pochettino their first-choice target as the pressure grows on beleaguered boss Zinedine Zidane in the Spanish capital. It is understood that Madrid would not want Pochettino to replace Zidane mid-season, but instead would like the Argentine to reshape the side this summer.
Pochettino would be handed a significant transfer budget as the club attempt to return to the pinnacle of Spanish football.
Zidane won the Champions League title in the previous two campaigns, but Madrid are fourth in La Liga, 19 points behind leaders Barcelona, and the team suffered a humiliating Copa del Rey defeat by Leganes this week. Zidane’s immediate future hinges on the upcoming Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain.
But Real president Florentino Perez is planning a charm offensive to lure Pochettino back to Spain, where he spent eight years as a player at Espanyol and also began his coaching career.
Perez was encouraged when Pochettino launched an attack on Manchester City manager and Barcelona icon Pep Guardiola in October. The Spurs boss branded Guardiola disrespectful and ‘sad’ when he called Tottenham the ‘Harry Kane team’.
It was seen as a defence of his own staff and players, but some have noted that Pochettino timed the attack curiously. As Tottenham were travelling to Real Madrid in the Champions League just a few days later, it was perceived in Spain as an attempt to win the hearts of the Madrid locals by criticising Guardiola.
Asked on Thursday if he would rule out a move to Madrid, Pochettino said: ‘My commitment is massive in this club. I am working like I am going to be here forever.
‘But in the end... you never know what is going to happen in football. Tomorrow Daniel Levy could have a bad night and say, “Oh I am going to sack Mauricio”.
Spurs are confident Pochettino is content in north London. The Argentine also recognises he retains a unique level of control over the direction of the club and an attachment to his squad.