The players are receiving plenty of criticism for Tottenham’s poor start to the season as the Lilywhites lay in 12th place with five defeats already – including four at White Hart Lane.
But eleven Premier League fixtures on from his summer appointment, it could simply be a case of manager Mauricio Pochettino not being the right fit for the north London club.
After all, it’s impossible to deny that the Argentine inherited an ideal scenario at Southampton; a squad of players that had been together since their days in League One, containing several internationals that have since moved on for record-breaking fees, in addition to an academy that appears relentless in its ability to churn out talented home-grown players.
It’s clearly a well-run club too, without much backroom bickering or underlying problems, considering how expertly the Saints have handled their summer exodus, featuring six departing players that made 22 Premier League appearances or more last season – in addition to the alleged mastermind behind it all, Pochettino himself, and chairman Nicola Cortese quitting in January.
Furthermore, although the debate over the Spurs squad’s apparent on-pitch apathy continues, as Pochettino’s inherited rabble struggle to adapt to his distinctive industrious-yet-progressive philosophy, an old adage appears to have been completely forgotten; successful systems are designed around the best talents at a manager’s disposal, not the reverse.
Whether Pochettino is more at fault than he’s currently accredited however remains largely irrelevant; even if infamously trigger-happy chairman Daniel Levy is already getting cold feet , he can’t sack the Tottenham boss now – for it will surely lead to his downfall too.
There’s already a plethora of pejorative question marks circling Levy, in no small part due to him sacking nine different managers, including a couple of caretakers, since taking the job in 2001. That makes the average duration of a management tenure under Levy just one-and-a-half years – the level of dugout rotation more commonly witnessed at relegation-threatened clubs.
The decision to trade in Harry Redknapp for Andre Villas Boas in summer 2012 has proved a particularly poor one; the now-QPR boss got Tottenham into the top four twice in the space of four seasons, having originally taken the Lane hotseat in October 2008 as the Lilywhites laid at the bottom of the table with just two points from eight games.
His Portuguese successor however, and subsequent night-watchman Tim Sherwood, have since finished in fifth and sixth place respectively, whilst Tottenham’s chances of Champions League qualification under Pochettino, at least for the current season, have already evaporated in their entirety.
The common denominator in Spurs’ four management changes since summer 2012 isn’t a poor quality of coach – all have enjoyed relative success prior and since, with the exception of the unemployed Sherwood – it’s the hirer and firer, Daniel Levy.
In the transfer market too, the Spurs chairman was once considered to be the Premier League’s shrewdest operator, and over the years he’s certainly made some smart moves – the world-record £87million departure of Gareth Bale being the most obvious and recent example.
Yet, successful business – Spurs are one of the only Premier League clubs to turn a profit in the last two summers – appears to have come at the cost of Tottenham’s European ambitions, not to mention several managers.
To think, the Lilywhites’ starting Xi included Dimitar Berbatov, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Ledley King just six years ago, but now Pochettino feels compelled to depend on 21 year-old striker Harry Kane and 23 year-old Ryan Mason, who had failed to make a Premier League appearance in his prior six seasons at White Hart Lane, to compensate for the lack of quality, passion and devotion throughout the squad.
This can’t be blamed entirely on Levy; Sporting Director Franco Baldini, in my opinion, made a complete hash of the summer 2013 transfer window, at the cost of £110million, and reportedly came close to losing his job during the summer after failing to secure deals for Danny Welbeck and Jay Rodriguez on deadline day.
It’s also worth noting that Pochettino wanted Villarreal centre-back Mateo Musacchio and Southampton star Morgan Schneiderlin this summer, but was eventually handed Sevilla skipper Federico Fazio, who already looks a poor fit for the Argentine’s preferred high defensive line, and former Montpellier man Benjamin Stambouli, who hasn’t featured in the Premier League since his September debut.
But Tottenham’s sudden malaise has taken place under Levy’s watch, and the negative effects of his impatience with managers, in addition to transfer policy being slowly dragged away from their sphere of influence for the sake of long-term profit making, is clearly a significant factor.
Spurs supporters will be more than aware of this, but that’s precisely the point. If Pochettino is axed now, after just a handful of games and a summer window in which support for his philosophy was relatively limited compared to the amounts spent at Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and even Southampton, further questions will have to be asked of Levy – and in a considerably more serious tone than before.
The irony is that, in my opinion, Pochettino could be his weakest permanent appointment since Juande Ramos. But it’s all part of Levy’s business model – the unusual changes in management, the rapid turnover of players, the impatience shown towards poor runs of results – and if it fails yet again this season, he’ll have to face the music.