Equal Time: Pochettino needs trophies to advance his Tottenham career
Background photo: Forthevline, CC-BY-SA 3.0
It becomes clearer by the day that Mauricio Pochettino ranks among the finest managers in the game. His tremendous work at Tottenham links him with the two biggest jobs in European club football, Real Madrid and Manchester United. He has positioned himself as the manager who can get results with limited resources and bring out the best in young players. In five seasons on the job, he's done everything asked except win a trophy. He must do so soon, before both his current boss and potential employers become disinterested in his services.
With Spurs just a win away from the Carabao Cup final and still in the FA Cup, Pochettino must take the cup competitions seriously. They represent his most realistic chance to win a title with Spurs. The Argentine always emphasises the need to challenge for the Premier League. That priority reveals itself in how he sets up his squad for other competitions. While it's not a bad thing to challenge for the league every season, winning even a minor trophy might boost the squad's confidence, providing the confidence to chase the more elusive goal.
Elusive is the word. Spurs have inched towards the title but never seem quite close enough to grasp it. Fifth position on 64 points to third with 70 in his first two seasons was a massive improvement. Many felt they had their chance to catch Leicester in 2015/16 but faltered towards the season's end, switching off in games against Chelsea and Newcastle. Lack of experience was the consensus suspect. Poch made another incremental improvement in 2016/17 finishing second behind Chelsea on 86 points. Again, they faded late. Last term was the first regression in the Pochettino regime. Spurs finished third with 77 points. Spurs have become contenders under their Argentine manager but are yet to prove themselves winners.
Worse for Pochettino, the club's financial structure works against winning the league. Tottenham stress self-sufficiency like Arsene Wenger's Arsenal did. Reluctance to invest hurts them late in campaigns, however. The squad tires when new blood might have kept them fresh. This season follows a World Cup. Tottenham didn't even buy in the summer, much less in January. They look comfortable in third at the moment, but the loss to Manchester United could be the first sign that fatigue is setting in. As long as Tottenham refuse to match their rivals' spending, the cup competitions remain their best opportunity to claim silverware.
The last time Tottenham won a trophy, the 2008 League Cup, Harry Kane was still playing U16 youth games. Pochettino was managing relegation-threatened Espanyol at the time. Things changed immensely. That squad included Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Gareth Bale, Jermaine Jenas and Steed Malbranque rather than Kane, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier. Even the never-used reserve keeper Tommy Forecast couldn't have predicted the club's path.
Despite the trophy won, the stars moved on, Keane to Liverpool, Berbatov to Manchester United, Bale to Real Madrid, Jenas to the SkySports studio. Tommy Forecast transferred to Southampton who loaned him out to no fewer than seven Football and Non-League clubs. He really should have seen that coming.
The serious point, though, is that the club and manager should not take their opportunities lightly. Despite the stability Pochettino provides, there are no guarantees for the future. He must take what he can know and hope for the best afterwards.