If Mauricio Pochettino’s comments after Tottenham’s exit from the semi-finals of the FA Cup created ambiguity over where the Argentine truly sees his future, the Spurs boss made his feelings abundantly clear on Sunday following a final day thriller with Leicester at Wembley. Either the north London club allow him the same financial resources as every other top six manager in the Premier League, or there will be an inevitable parting of company.
That’s pretty much what Pochettino alluded to after the defeat to United as well, suggesting Tottenham would need a different manager – perhaps one more talented than himself – to take them to silverware under the current circumstances, namely a comparatively modest transfer budget and a wage structure that has steadily pushed the club’s most senior players towards the exit door knowing they would receive better pay elsewhere.
In many ways though, Pochettino has created the situation that will require himself or Daniel Levy to reconsider their stance to avoid the Argentine staging an abrupt exit in the coming weeks, simply because he’s so good at his job. Working under those restrictions, he’s transformed Tottenham from the club stuck in the shadow of the rest of the top six to one that has finished in the top three for three consecutive seasons, that has staged two Premier League title bids and beat reigning European champions Real Madrid.
“If we want to be real contenders for big, big trophies, we need to review a little. First of all, I need to speak with Daniel, then we will know what we are going to do. I think it’s a moment the club needs to take risks and if possible work harder than the previous season to be competitive again. I think I have a very clear idea what we need to do; I don’t know if the club will be agreeing with me or not.
“But we are going to talk, next week, to create the new project, or what I think what we need to do, together again, to try to improve. That is a little bit up to Daniel of course, to the club, to be happy with us, because after four years I think we need to assess that period.”
So why would Levy loosen the purse strings when Pochettino has proved Tottenham can be a competitive club without big names, big transfer fees and big pay packets? From a business perspective it simply doesn’t make sense, and there are footballing reasons to maintain the current model too; the embracement of young, hungry players who feel they owe something back to the club has been crucial in redefining Tottenham’s identity and making this team such a cohesive unit. Bringing in high-profile talents could quickly disrupt the balance of that by creating a clash of egos.
It’s made South American’s time at the club something of a paradox when reflecting on it to decide what path the Lilywhites take next. On the one hand, Pochettino would argue he deserves greater backing because of what he’s achieved in such a short space of time. On the other, the last four seasons are the ultimate justification for Tottenham stick to their principles and not spend big, even if it means surrendering the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose to divisional rivals this summer.
And yet, there is another paradox on top of that too, because losing Pochettino could quickly put the club back at square one. He’s the beating heart of this Tottenham project, one that has turned Harry Kane and Dele Alli into superstars and put the Lilywhites back on the European map, and to lose him would be arguably a bigger blow than one of the England pair or any other Spurs star moving onto pastures new.
Spurs would find it incredibly difficult to replace Pochettino and his departure could well signal the dissolution of this team; his enigmatic personality and ability to continually improve the team has often felt like the most important, and perhaps only, motivation for players to overlook how comparatively modest their salaries are.
That difficulty too, is only amplified by the fact a lack of financial backing will be the prevailing cause of Pochettino’s departure. The Lilywhites certainly won’t be able to attract a top-class manager like Carlo Ancelotti or Max Allegri while working with their current budgets, and improving them to lure a gaffer of such credentials to White Hart Lane would only open up the question of why the board didn’t do that in the first place to appease Pochettino.
The only alternative is placing hope in another young and promising manager – Pochettino was far from being a managerial superstar when Spurs poached him from Southampton – but that obviously represents a huge risk. Not even the most gifted chairman in the world will be able to pick out a manager as gifted as the Argentine every time of asking, and for every Pochettino we’ve seen in the Premier League there has been a Manuel Pellegrino or Frank de Boer.
For a team that often appears to have the world at it’s feet, and for a club that has elevated itself so timely ahead of their return to a renovated stadium, allowing Pochettino to leave would be a massive, monumental gamble almost certain to result in at least a short-term regression. But when that manager has proved huge fortunes aren’t needed to improve a team, even one at the top end of the Premier League, his paymasters will inevitably be reluctant to change.
A victim of his own success and the beneficiaries of their own frugality, Tottenham and Pochettino find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, something has to give – either Levy buckles to Pochettino’s demands and the culture that has so hugely improved the club starts to change, or the Spurs chairman stands firm and homes another young manager can go some way to replacing Pochettino’s void.
Either way, the Spurs we’ve all come to know during the last four years will never quite be the same again.