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Spurs could have a Real Pochettino problem

In an article published in the Telegraph on the 16th Jan, 2014, Mauricio Pochettino claimed that “I will not leave Southampton”, yet fast-forward to 27th May, 2014, and the headline “Pochettino quits Southampton to join Tottenham Hotspur” was brazened across the English press as the Argentinian maestro departed the South Coast for North London.

Apparently, a lot can change in 131 days.

Examples of successful managers who are willing to satisfy fans’ demand for loyalty in the face of a better offer are becoming increasingly rare. Those suggesting that Mauricio Pochettino’s recent promises to bring a “legacy” to Spurs over the long-term ought to be taken with a pinch of salt, and perhaps considered wishful.

Pochettino‘s career viewed from above follows a well-paced journeyman narrative to the letter. Espanyol, Southampton, Spurs. Wherever he’s been he sufficiently outgrows his environment, justifying and accepting new opportunities; and it’s naive to believe he won’t continue this trajectory as he continues to over-perform. The gun feels cocked and loaded when the topic of big clash press conferences often pivots toward an underdog narrative:

“Do I see a point where Tottenham are at the same level as Real? In the future — of course” 

This should not be seen as a rallying cry for hopeful Spurs fans who think Pochettino is ‘in it for the long run’, but rather an admission of the gulf in history and resources between the clubs. Links with Manchester United just won’t go away, and it’s perhaps due to a keener local interest that this particular rumour currently dominates the headlines. But these comments seem to relate more closely to a feeder club mentality that has directed Spurs’ dealings with Real over the past six years. 

The ‘special relationship’ between the two clubs could have the potential to extend beyond them plucking Spurs’ star players, but now also the man steering the ship. For these kinds of inter-club alliances to be mutually successful, there needs to be a roughly equal benefit for both parties.

The closest thing to an opportunity the current arrangement seems to have brought the club might be that Daniel Levy has been able to extract a couple of extra million quid from the eventual departure of key players.

If Spurs have it, and it’s world class, it seems it can be hoisted to the Bernabéu for the right fee. Why should we expect differently in this instance? We have seen a lot of traffic on the road from North London to Madrid, and it would not be a huge surprise to see the manager make the same eventual move. As whispers of a United bid become stronger and quite possibly, come the end of the season, culminate in an offer, all of a sudden losing Pochettino to Real Madrid becomes quite an attractive proposition for Daniel Levy. Same huge pay off, not selling to a domestic rival. See Bale and Modric. If Pochettino ever signals an intention to leave, expect Levy to be happier driving him to the airport rather than up the M6 to Manchester. 

In a press conference last week, Pochettino’s references to Tottenham’s transfer policy concluded in an appraisal of his homegrown successes – namely Kane, Alli and (tenuously) Dier. He made the case for building cheaply from within, referring to an economic squeeze resulting from the stadium construction. Even with Ronaldo’s huge departure in the summer, Real’s expenses outweighed their incomings by 40 million euros.

In this window, where the club’s hierarchy were criticised for failing to sign a marquee replacement, Real Madrid still spent £160m. In the last three years at Tottenham, Pochettino has spent £179m. Even a badly under-resourced Newcastle United managed to spend £145m. Spurs were the only team not to do a single piece of business in the summer window, and followed this up by not making a single signing in the January window too; the first club in Premier League history to do so. The Argentine has guided the club to consistent Champions League football with mid-table resources; it is not a surprise that Europe’s elite are starting to wonder what he might be able to do with greater quality at his disposal.

Real have been recruiting a brand of player Pochettino has historically thrived at moulding into superstars: hungry, talented and young. Brahim Diaz, the Manchester City graduate, and Vinicius Junior, who has shown he is, at least in bursts, capable of being an excellent footballer, could benefit from the Mauricio effect. Pochettino has an excellent track record of moulding and improving exciting prospects. He did it at Southampton, as evidenced by Liverpool’s ransacking of the squad in the wake of his departure. He’s done it even better at Spurs. He will, given the right opportunity, do it more elsewhere. 

There’s nothing to say that the marquee manager would come cheap. As both Real and United know, Levy drives a hard bargain, and the fee would probably be unprecedented for a manager. Nevertheless, Pochettino has slowly been letting Spurs fans know that he is aware that the resources at the disposal of these clubs are of a totally different nature to those his present employers can afford him.

In an article published in the Telegraph on the 8th Jan, 2019, Pochettino stated that “I hope, or I wish to be here 20 years and decide to leave or to finish my career here”.

25 days ago, the Argentine was making all the right noises about being with Spurs for the long-term.

He will be bucking a career trend if he can extend that loyalty beyond the next 106.

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