On 1 June Mauricio Pochettino had reached the high point of his managerial career and was ready to enjoy the culmination of five years of hard work.
He had transformed Tottenham from also-rans into Champions League finalists.
Today, just 123 days later, he was sacked. Poor results, 14 points from 12 games and a Premier League position of 14th were the given reasons.
In such a situation, it is tempting to look back upon Spurs’ 2-0 defeat by Liverpool in Madrid and wonder whether their current problems can be directly attributed to it. And yet, in reality, many preceded what was supposed to be the greatest night in the club’s recent history.
While they were busy knocking out Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City and Ajax in the Champions League, Spurs were also turning in the “extremely disappointing” results chairman Daniel Levy referred to in his statement. Twelve away league games without a win, senior players considering their futures and a manager outwardly showing signs of stress: Spurs haven’t been cooking up a recipe for success.
Pochettino’s demeanour has long suggested change, although difficult to make due to his impressive body of work and emotional connection to the fans, might have been what is needed. After all it is not customary for managers to openly discuss stepping away from the club and taking a sabbatical just weeks before a major final.
“I am open to everything,” said Pochettino on 10 May. “What I am not open to is starting a new chapter with no plan, with no clear idea, with not being transparent and being able to tell our fans what is our objective, to stop talking about perception, talk about reality – because if not, it is going to be difficult.
“We need to create a realistic plan to develop in the next year, five years, and to match people’s expectations because, if not, our destiny is to crash.”
Spurs have crashed and their manager has carried the can. When you consider Levy’s reputation as a tough negotiator, the fact that Pochettino was contracted until 2023 and that the club will have to pay a reported £12.5m in compensation to the Argentine, it is eminently believable that the Spurs board were indeed “extremely reluctant to make this change”.
Pochettino will go down as one of Tottenham’s most revered bosses, but if left alone did he have the capacity to turn things around and achieve the sort of results the club now expect?
We live in a modern era in which managers don’t tend to stick around long enough for it to become a problem, but could staleness have become a factor?
Despite the hole Spurs have dug for themselves, it is Levy, and not Pochettino, who will now to be seen as public enemy No1. The relationship between the two biggest figures at the club appears to have become strained and, should he desire it, Pochettino is likely to have his pick of Europe’s biggest clubs where a thrifty approach will no longer be a hindrance.
Judging by the social media replies to the club’s statement, which crashed their website last night, the decision is not a welcome one. Pochettino may be gone but his legacy and popularity will live on and could overshadow his successor.
Whoever takes over the reins will have a difficult task on their hands to right a sinking ship. Playing in front of an unhappy crowd, with a small squad which is low on confidence and contains players already looking towards the exit won’t appeal to everyone.
Finding an upgrade to Pochettino may not be possible in the short term, but a clean break could still prove to be the right call over time.
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