Should Spurs have kept Mauricio Pochettino as manager?

14th September 2021

Mauricio Pochettino was replaced as Tottenham boss by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy with Jose Mourinho

It had been clear for weeks that Daniel Levy had a big decision to make regarding Mauricio Pochettino.

Tottenham Hotspur’s poor start to the season had led to questions over the manager’s future. From the outside, at least, certain members of the squad appeared to have lost faith in the Argentinian’s ability to lead Spurs out of their slump.

In a choice between replacing the manager and replacing the players, Levy chose the former. That is often the way. It is invariably cheaper to pay off a coach than overhaul a squad.

Pochettino received £12,500,000 following his dismissal in November, but that is just a fraction of the sum that Spurs paid for Tanguy Ndombele last summer, for example.

Even when you add in the salary of Jose Mourinho, appointed to replace Pochettino on a mammoth pay packet of £15,000,000 per year, it was more economical to make one change in the dugout than several in the dressing room.

However, the last few months have shown there will be no quick fix to the problems that have continued to dog Spurs since Pochettino’s exit.

It is also beginning to look like Levy may have made the wrong decision. Before the Premier League season was put on hold last month, Tottenham sat eighth in the table.

As things stand they are seven points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and four adrift of Manchester United in fifth spot, which could bring with it Champions League qualification if UEFA upholds Manchester City’s two-season ban from continental competition.

A four-point deficit is far from insurmountable. But Spurs are also just two points ahead of Crystal Palace in 11th place.

Mourinho find it hard to build on Pochettino legacy

They could easily sink lower in the standings rather than rise higher when the campaign resumes. Their form before the pause was not cause for encouragement.

Tottenham failed to win any of their last six encounters, including home and away defeats by RB Leipzig in the Champions League and an FA Cup loss to Norwich City on penalties.

Mourinho would, with some justification, defend himself by reminding the public that he has been in the job for less than five months and not yet had the chance to make use of a summer transfer window.

But that is part of the point. If Pochettino’s successor says he can only be judged once he has made major changes to the Spurs squad, would it not have been sensible to stick with the former Southampton boss and allow him to oversee the evolution he had long been crying out for?

Indeed, Pochettino spent much of the last couple of years of his Tottenham tenure pleading for squad renewal.

Lucas Moura, Son Heung-min and Harry Winks all played key roles as the north London outfit reached the Champions League final last term, but the spine of the team was much the same as it had been in Pochettino’s second campaign at the helm in 2015-16.

Hugo Lloris, Kieran Trippier, Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and Eric Dier all played in the 2-0 defeat by Liverpool last June and throughout the aforementioned season, which ended with Spurs finishing third having spent much of the spring battling Leicester City for the title.

Stadium switch needs squad investment to match

Pochettino knew when he took charge of Tottenham in 2014 that he was not arriving at a European super-club with billions of pounds in the bank.

He continued to toe the party line even after Spurs became the first team in Premier League history to go through an entire summer transfer window without making a signing in 2018, even after urging the club to “take risks” at the end of the previous season.

In the final 12 months of his tenure, however, he began to put more pressure on Levy and the board.

“I saw a stat the other day about how teams were spending money in the last 10 years and we were on the bottom in England and Europe,” Pochettino said in January 2019.

“We’re doing a fantastic job but if we want to be real contenders, we need to operate in a different way in the future.

“I am happy and proud to finish a chapter this season, competing the way we compete, helping the club, the fans, the players to be better.”

That was Pochettino’s message last April, before he went on to reference the move to a new 62,000 seater stadium which many have praised as the best in Europe.

“We are not in Chigwell any more, we are not at White Hart Lane with 36,000,” he continued.

“The magnitude of the club has grown ten times, 100 times, we are in another dimension. We cannot operate in the same way as five years ago.”

Break up of Pochettino team

Levy did loosen the purse strings last summer, allowing Pochettino to bring in Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, but Spurs once again left much of their business until late on in the window.

After just three wins from their first 12 games, Pochettino was dismissed in November.

Tottenham enjoyed a new-manager bounce in the early weeks of Mourinho’s tenure, but events since then have demonstrated that reinforcements are still needed.

Denmark playmaker Eriksen departed in January and Vertonghen looks set to follow in the summer. The squad built by Pochettino a few years ago is beginning to break up.

Spurs supporters are praying that star striker Kane will not also seek pastures new despite his recent non-committal comments on Instagram.

Mourinho, as is his wont, will demand investment in the squad, much as Pochettino did before him. Yet unlike his predecessor, the Portuguese is no longer one of Europe’s best managers.

There have already been rumblings of discontent within the squad. Although he is not as tactically inflexible as his critics often paint him, Mourinho is increasingly out of step with the methods employed by today’s foremost coaches.

Levy took the established route in choosing to replace the manager rather than the players last November. It has now become clear that he made the wrong decision.

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