Is This The End Of The Pochettino Era At Spurs?
Mauricio Pochettino has been at the helm of a club on a continuous upward trajectory since he took over as manager of Tottenham Hotspur on the 27th of May, 2014.
I am a Spurs fan and in those 5 and a bit years, the club I have loved since I was a small child has changed out of all recognition. We have graduated from being either spectacular or spectacularly bad, with nothing in between, into a team that look like real contenders.
First came a state-of-the-art training complex. Then a team that could finally defend, thanks largely to a loyal French captain and a Belgian wall. A team that was no longer flaky but consistently good. With this came Harry Kane & we looked like contenders. Then came regular Champions League football for the first time in my life. Then a glorious new stadium and a Champions League final.
At the heart of this glorious off-field coaching and on-field consistency was Pochettino & his band of brothers in the backroom.
Everything just looked right for several years. Our chairman, Daniel Levy’s, masterplan for the club seemed to be coming into full bloom.
And then it didn’t.
We signed well in the summer, bringing in Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon, Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis and talented youngster, Ryan Sessegnon from relegated Fulham. We also managed to clear out a lot of fringe players.
At the time of writing this Spurs lie in 6th place in the Premier League and are only a point off 4th place. With the remaining Champions League group fixtures, you would still expect the club to qualify into the knockout rounds.
This is absolutely not disastrous. It is still extremely plausible that we could finish top 4 and have another good run in Europe.
But something, suddenly, doesn’t feel right.
We need to ask if the end-game has been reached.
There have been mitigating factors such as injuries to Alli, Ndombele, Sessegnon & Lo Celso. But there is much more to it than that.
Eriksen, Alderweireld and, most contentiously, Christian Eriksen are in the final year of their contracts, with no real signs that any of them are going to renew. For a financial genius like Levy, this is going to sting.
Given that he managed to get £18 million from Stoke for Kevin Wimmer, you can only imagine what losing Eriksen on a free might feel like to him.
We sold our best right back, Kieran Trippier, to European heavyweights, Atlético Madrid & have left ourselves with rotation option Serge Aurier as unrivalled first choice. Kyle Walker-Peters hasn’t had enough time to develop at the level we need and Dier seems to have been inexplicably sidelined and remains at the club like a haunted specter at the feast.
Dier, who can play at right back, centre back and defensive midfield is still a better option than the hard-working Harry Winks. People will wheel out Winks’ passing stats & defensive work. But ultimately he is a safe player. He doesn’t do much wrong but doesn’t do much, often enough, to win games. Dier will take on riskier passes and weigh up risk and reward.
Pochettino has been a miracle worker and arguably the best coach, in terms of developing young players into bona fide stars, in world football. Occasionally he has been tactically naive. It looked like he had learned from his schooling at the hands of Max Allegri’s Juventus a couple of years ago.
But then last night happened.
Spurs, since their formation in 1882, had never conceded 7 goals in a home match before the 7-2 mauling at the hands of Bayern Munich.
Several players have been grumbling openly now. Pochettino was backed in the summer by Levy. He was, last year, also given a gigantic pay rise, making him one of the world’s highest paid coaches.
One of two things need to happen:
We shift out every player who is either not good enough or no longer wants to play for the club. Then Levy gives Pochettino a huge warchest to get in exactly who he wants or needs.
Pochettino leaves & a new manager comes in, freshens things up and is equally backed by Levy to shape the club in their own image.
If Pochettino has the heart, will & stomach for the fight, then I will back him to the hilt. If he can turn it around, I will worship him openly as a God. If he does not, his memory to fans will sour like a trophyless version of Arsène Wenger. Like a heavyweight boxer who doesn’t know when he is so punchy, he must retire.
My inkling is that, for now, Mauricio Pochettino has taken the club as far as he can. Things that were once appealing, like his loyalty to players, are now looking flawed and tired.
A refresh button hit is needed at Spurs. As the hoary-sounding modern cliché goes, it is easier to get rid of one manager than a squad of players.
It will be painful, it might take a few goes at getting in the right appointment.
But something must now give and quickly, otherwise our season will go into freefall, Pochettino will lose his job anyway and we’ll wonder why action wasn’t taken sooner. Levy, a man not generally known for his patience with managers, seems to be biding his time on this one.
Max Allegri is free. Perhaps time to bring in an old master before United come calling for him.
Or maybe, just maybe, Mauricio Pochettino has one last trick up his sleeve. Like The Great Danton in The Prestige, he might pull it out of the bag.
And then, he will be the greatest magician of them all.
Words by J.S. Leatherbarrow. Artwork by FATC staff. All rights reserved.