The better Harry Kane plays, the closer it theoretically takes him to the Bernabeu with the Tottenham striker likely to be fit enough for another grand audition for the millions of Madridistas watching worldwide.
However, while the future of the 24-year-old and the fanciful zeros that form the speculatory transfer fees make for fun conversations, perhaps the real object of Florentino Perez’s future affection will lurk elsewhere in London.
No not Christian Eriksen, although the Dane lining up in a midfield of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric screams panache (with Casemiro, admittedly, having to bear an even heavier workload), or Dele Alli who is probably not yet the player his country believes him to be, but, instead, the man who has helped turn this attacking triumvirate into the most eye-catching in English football.
Mauricio Pochettino is a coach whose star is on the rise and with each impressive performance in the Champions League he is proving himself a man who can operate at the highest level.
Zinedine Zidane’s position is far from being uncertain but, at the same time, a slightly dubious start to the season has opened up previous debates about his tactical acumen, while he has consistently presented a Guardiola-esque air of not wanting to be in the job for an extended period of time.
Didier Deschamps extending his France contract on Tuesday by a further two years may have altered Zidane’s plans slightly, as leading Les Bleus remains his ultimate dream, but the Bernabeu has never been a breeding ground for longevity and Perez an owner who fits the profile of the man in the distracted boyfriend meme more than most.
Indeed, a report in Spanish daily Sport two weeks ago detailed that despite Zidane being under contract until 2020, Perez has earmarked Pochettino as his preferred replacement. The Argentine’s declaration in March that he would never manage Barcelona an apparent source of much respect.
But, in a less emotional and more practical sense, the way Pochettino is progressing as a coach is ticking more and more boxes. And while his playing career and Espanyol connections inevitably draw him back to La Liga, the mere fact he’s being talked about in this nature after just over three years with Tottenham is impressive in itself.
Spurs are no longer a punchline, an afterthought or an example of underachievers – lack of trophies aside – with the Argentine transforming the character of the club.
Tottenham have always been associated with a certain playing style, but Pochettino has married this with a defensive steel and organisation without losing any entertainment in the final third.
He has been tactically flexible in shifting from a four-man, to a three-man defence; to wing-backs pushed high up the pitch – or kept deep, like at the Bernabeu – all sometimes within the course of a single match. And with the consensus that the future player must be malleable in where they operate on the field from game to game, the same will also be true of managers.
While on an individual level the amount of players who have improved on his watch is remarkable: Kane, Alli, Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele, Hugo Lloris and the recently-departed Kyle Walker are all now outstanding Premier League players; while Ben Davies, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier and Son Heung-Min are extremely valuable squad assets who also exemplify Pochettino’s Swiss-Army knife approach to each encounter.
Harry Winks, Davinson Sanchez and, to a lesser extent, Kyle Walker-Peters are young players who have seamlessly fit into his system; Sanchez in particular with a £42 million transfer fee and potential Danny Rose-related barbs hanging over him, but already looks a gem.
The only real misses have been Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, Clinton N’Jie and Vincent Janssen.
With Perez’s new vision of Madrid expected to be built around the young talent of Marco Asensio, Jesus Vallejo, Theo Hernandez and Vinicius Junior and largely eschewing the Galactico model of past misadventures, post-Zidane – whenever that may be – Madrid will require a coach who is equal thinker and man manager.
Clearly Pochettino has it and, at just 45, still has many, many seasons to hone and perfect his craft. At Wembley, he can further reveal how far down the line he is.
📉 Madrid form
🏟 The occasion
Mauricio previews a mouth-watering European clash at Wembley. #COYS pic.twitter.com/amto5TTt5s
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) October 31, 2017