Upon his introduction to English football with Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino was scarcely a household name, though as a player he was fondly remembered by Three Lions fans for conceding the decisive penalty that gave England victory over Argentina in the group-stage of the 2002 World Cup.
His dedication to learning the language endeared him to Saints fans, but not nearly as much as the brand of football they produced. Predictably after achieving Southampton’s highest Premier League points total in his debut campaign, he was snapped up by Tottenham, their tenth manager in twelve seasons. Since his 2014 introduction to White Hart Lane, Pochettino can be credited with rejuvenating a Spurs side that had lost their way after the departure of Gareth Bale. The Argentine has formulated an identity on the pitch, whilst maintaining a subtle calming influence off it.Embed from Getty Images
Although silverware may have eluded him thus far, the progress Tottenham have made in that time frame relative to their budget has been simply remarkable. Their style of play prior to Pochettino’s arrival is unrecognisable when compared to the tactically astute side they have transitioned to. A high pressing game has become synonymous with the Argentine’s managerial reign, but recently Pochettino has developed a more direct alternative should the original game play go awry.
This is aided by the recent acquisition of Fernando Llorente. The Spaniard is prolific in the air, while Spurs also brought in wingers such as Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura who provide darting runs in wide areas, where Spurs had formerly lacked pace. Becoming a side with multiple dimensions has made them notoriously difficult to beat, as all the attacking play stems from arguably the league’s most reliable defence, when fully fit.
Over the last four years, a wonderful balance has been implemented to this Tottenham side and as they have featured more regularly in the Champions League, squad depth increasing annually, typified by their ability to rotate some of the country’s most impressive wing backs. This has primarily occurred through the development of young talent and Pochettino has become the master of guiding players through the transition from promising to PFA Young Player of the Year, courtesy of both Dele Alli and Harry Kane’s recent triumphs.
Progression has become a trademark of the Spurs manager, and while Kane’s rise has been phenomenal and well documented, few if any first team regulars have stagnated during Pochettino’s tenure – most are now significantly more versatile and adept in many roles. For example, Moussa Dembele may not grab headlines for goals or assists, yet his consistently assured performances at the beating heart of midfield have won him plaudits from former Premier League greats and cemented his place as a regular starter in this Tottenham team.
All of this has been achieved at a fraction of the price that the established order have been shelling out recently, and if any personnel were to leave, the profit margin would be astronomical – an example being the £45 million Spurs received for the sale of Kyle Walker to Manchester City.
Despite suffering setbacks along the way, Tottenham have shown a resolute mentality to continually improve each season under Pochettino. After capitulating late on in the 2015-16 league campaign to end up third, they dropped the “Spursy” tag a year later by finishing above Arsenal for the first time in the Premier League era. Underwhelming Champions League displays took the gloss off an excellent Premier League performance that term, yet this season they rectified the European situation with an imperious group stage and were unfortunate to have drawn Juventus in the last 16.Embed from Getty Images
Over the course of 180 minutes Spurs were the better side, however experience told and the wily Old Lady produced two goals in three minutes to silence Wembley after the home side appeared to be in control of the tie. Massimiliano Allegri masterminded a near perfect tactical performance in London – perhaps exposing some of Tottenham’s weaknesses – as Georgio Chiellini organised an incredibly narrow defence, in turn suffocating Kane of any space.
On the hour mark, the substitutions of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah at full back provided width, capitalising on a tiring Spurs side by stretching them defensively and minutes later the momentum of the game had swung in Juventus’s favour. As disappointing as this may seem, Tottenham going toe to toe with a herculean European force and only narrowly coming out second best is a testament to the direction this side is heading in.
After that bitter blow, it’s important the squad focuses retaining their Champions League status for next season, their five point lead over Chelsea in fifth should provide an adequate cushion. Many have indicated Pochettino should perhaps concentrate on the FA Cup as it provides a realistic prospect of silverware, given both the semi-final against Manchester United and final would effectively be home games. The experience gained from lifting their first trophy since 2008 would surely prove invaluable in future European encounters and Premier League title races.Embed from Getty Images
Yet all the exposure gained by the Argentinian this season may leave him with quite a predicament in the summer. It’s not certain, but both PSG and Real Madrid may be in the hunt for a new manager before the next campaign and rumours have circulated that Pochettino is a prime candidate. If so, he would face a dilemma. Continue at Tottenham as he maintains the backing of the players, or seize a once in a career opportunity to take charge of the elite.
Spurs’ momentum is undeniable, but turning down a lucrative offer from Paris or Madrid would be borderline unthinkable. This must be the most worrying prospect for fans of the London club as both sides boast the financial firepower to snatch prized assets who may wish to continue working under the Argentines stewardship, such as Kane, Alli or Christian Eriksen.
Regardless of whether Pochettino stays in London long enough to win the trophy he probably deserves, fans should be grateful as he will leave them in a significantly better position than he found them in, and quite frankly there’s little more a manger can do.
Written by Harvey Sayer.