A Real audition for Pochettino
Spurs' clash with Manchester United pits a prospective Real Madrid manager against a former one
The time for Mauricio Pochettino to step up to the elite level is rapidly approaching.
Real Madrid are circling like vultures above Tottenham once more, with their manager now the latest target.
The hot seat at the Bernabeu will be Pochettino's to lose.
He has already passed the first test, after the Lilywhites comprehensively humbled the reigning European champions in a Champions League group stage win two months ago.
Phase two of making the grade begins with Manchester United's visit to Wembley tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
But the right job is not necessarily emerging at the right time for Pochettino.
When Zinedine Zidane is being derided as a false prophet, with two Champions League wins to his name, his prospective successor in the Spanish capital would face a greater uphill task.
Real have chewed up and spat out some of Europe's great and most promising coaches on a whim. It has become symptomatic of Florentino Perez's obsession with a "Galactico" ideology.
Even Zidane, Perez's great protege, is not immune from the savagery after surrendering their La Liga crown to Barcelona at a time when their great rivals appeared destined for a fall.
Immediately following in the footsteps of a Champions League winner at Real has often been a kiss of death; Rafael Benitez never really stood a chance of airbrushing his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti's "La Decima" success, a long-awaited 10th European Cup, to the Bernabeu's trophy cabinet.
The rising stock of Alex Ferguson's one-time assistant Carlos Quieroz similarly, diminished when he succeeded a two-time continental champion in Vicente del Bosque, while Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes left an impossible act for Guus Hiddink to follow.
Though often self-assured, Pochettino risks joining them with a physically intense philosophy that resonates far greater with impressionable players than an established dressing room core.
His opposite number at Wembley tomorrow is the ultimate cautionary tale of trying to take down a tight-knit group that had become the widow-makers of several former managers.
That is where any similarities with Jose Mourinho start and end. The United boss is a specialist in short-termism; often hitting a dead end before his third season is out.
Pochettino, meanwhile, is a uncharacteristically slow-burner by the standards of modern football.
As a former Espanyol coach, he will doubtless see parallels between his current Spurs side and La Sagrada Familia, the undisputed landmark of Barcelona by Antoni Gaudi.
They are impressive, even awe-inspiring yet crucially, are still some distance from the finished product.
Few clubs at the vanguard of Europe's top-five leagues would be willing to afford either the resources or patience that Pochettino has enjoyed in the past four years with chairman Daniel Levy's backing, if interrupted by the occasional poaching, predominantly by Real themselves.
Walking away from cultivating a team which is aggressively making inroads on the English Premier League's hierarchy for one shot at bounty is by no means assured, either.
United are not the only audition that Pochettino will need to pass before receiving a seal of approval.
Next month, he will have to avenge the North London Derby defeat by Arsenal.
Sometimes, it is better the devil you know than the one you don't.