End times for Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs?
Background photo: Paddy Briggs CC-BY-SA 3.0
Mauricio Pochettino is the longest-serving Premier League top-six manager. Among all 20 gaffers, only Burnley’s Sean Dyche and Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe claim seniority. But the 2019/20 campaign's early days are riddled with uncertainty for the Argentine. Trepidation hangs in the air and it's not concern that the new stadium will be named Preparation H Park. The question must be asked. Has the end come for Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur?
Managers in the English top-flight begin their tenure knowing there’s always a trapdoor under their feet, a coal furnace stoking under their chair and a full supply of burlap sacks in the custodian's closet. Expectations are through the roof and if the club remains grounded, it's time to call your agent. The merry-go-round never ends.
It’s somewhat bewildering that Pochettino has lasted this long in North London. Five years and four months with only fleeting moments of joy.
Lack of titles
Dyche and Howe haven't won silverware either but expectations are more tempered at Turf Moor and Dean Court.
Despite his futility, Poch has crafted an intriguing project in North London. The Lillywhites have grown formidable under his tutelage. It’s no coincidence they’ve consistently qualified for the Champions League in the last four seasons. As well as last year's final in Madrid, the former Southampton boss took his team to the 2015 League Cup final and a runners-up finish behind Chelsea in the 2016/17 Premier League season.
Whether it's Arsenal or Tottenham, North London isn't a retirement haven for shiny metal objects. Arsene Wenger went nine years between trophies unless you agree with him that making the top-four should count as a trophy-winning campaign. Juande Ramos was the last Spurs boss to earn the club any honours, taking the League Cup home from Wembley in 2008, four permanent managers ago. Like Wenger, Pochettino plays down the value of cup competitions, making this weeks exit at the hands of Colchester United somewhat less surprising.
It's admirable that the 47-year-old wants to land the big fish. Problem is, Spurs lack the muscle to reel in a monster. Nor has luck been a lady to them, as evidenced by their futility in finals. It's not just the club, though. Poch hasn't won a title in his 11 seasons managing Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham. Last year, Jurgen Klopp won his first with Liverpool but it's not the same thing considering he has two Bundesliga crowns in his closet.
How soon before 'coming so close' transforms into 'as far as he is going to go'?
It's like an ancient Chinese puzzle. Pochettino has the skills to win trophies. He's too good for the club to sack. But chairman Daniel Levy is too thrifty to back him to the hilt as Manchester City do Pep Guardiola. The answer might be that he finally grows tired with the situation and leaves of his own accord. He's certainly made noise of that nature in the past year although the club has been quick to lock him into a longer commitment.
Spurs already fear Pochettino is losing focus at White Hart Lane and might resign before the season concludes. There is a big name with a similar mentality who isn't with a club at the moment. The difference between Pochettino and former Milan and Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri should pique Spurs' interest as well. The Italian knows how to win titles.
Pochettino started the season on the back of a new £8.5-million-per-year contract. That's a neighbourhood Allegri can live in. But other clubs know he's out there too. Manchester United committed their immediate future to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but Chelsea's struggle to defend might make Frank Lampard an earlier casualty than anticipated. New Roma manager, Paulo Fonseca is already seven points off the pace in Serie A. Simone Inzaghi and Lazio are eight adrift. If neither can gather any momentum, there could be a new sheriff in the Eternal City.
Whether Pochettino makes the choice or Spurs make it for him, he may not be around for the holidays.