I’m old enough to know that football business is brutal and heartless, but I’m genuinely shocked at the callous way Pochettino was disposed of. Tuesday night, I turned twitter on at about 8.10 to join the reaction to the leaders’ debate, to find that Poch had been sacked. Wednesday morning, I woke at 6.30 am and Mourinho had been appointed. And they say there are no surprises in football these days.
Another piece with a hundred introductions in the trash folder. What’s on my mind now does not correspond with how this would have looked if I had had the time to write yesterday, the day before yesterday or five minutes ago. If I had expressed my feelings on Tuesday night, the degree of fury would have been therapeutic. In hindsight, and these days in football as well as UK politics a couple of days counts as hindsight, the real surprise is not the dismissal but the way it was kept secret, because the board have clearly been planning this for a while. Mourinho’s contract signed, sealed and delivered and he’s had time to come up with gags about wearing his Spurs pyjamas as the press chuckle along. Always good copy is Jose. Let’s hope he keeps them laughing for a while longer.
So this is what I’m left with. Poch had had enough. I suspect he didn’t put up much of a fight, because his energy had dissipated to the point where the bowl of energising lemons on his desk could do the trick no longer. Not even the unfailing support of his team, his real team, Jesus, Mig and Toni, could lift him. Key members of his squad, in whom he has invested so much and who, frankly, owe him, remained unresponsive, while his patience with his chairman was exhausted.
I won’t pick over the bones of his demise for too much longer, the last few pieces on Tottenham On My Mind went over that ground. Suffice to repeat the saying that for every complicated, complex problem, there’s a simple, straightforward answer, that’s completely wrong.
In the here and now, the old cliché about losing the dressing room applies. In previous pieces, I’ve said Poch should have been given the time and resources to make it right, but this week shows I was sadly over-optimistic and plain wrong because things were too far gone. Pochettino’s plan was holed below the waterline the summer before last, when essential rebuilding did not take place.
On the surface, Spurs were moving onwards and upwards with the enticing prospect that the best was still to come. In reality, that summer was the last opportunity to rectify the problems caused by a lack of activity in the transfer market and thereby sustain the momentum Pochettino had generated. Rebuilding is a process, not a one-off event. From then on, lost impetus was impossible to regain. Pochettino knew – he told us. It began to translate into results around January onwards. It just took a while for the ship to sink.
This summer, Pochettino got what were said to be his top three choices in N’dombele, Sessegnon and Le Celso. These grounds for optimism were undermined, however, because the board could not move Dier, Aurier, Eriksen and Rose, which I assume was also part of Pochettino’s plans and, presumably, promised by the chairman. I strongly suspect also that Poch was expecting replacements.
His patience ran out, he found he could not motivate a squad where half of them knew they were either unwanted or had no long-term future at the club because their contracts were due to expire. He makes that clear, Levy then gets hacked off and the downward spiral descends into freefall. None of which excuses the below par performances of some players, who could and should have done better, or Pochettino’s tactical set-ups this season, where the diamond leaves the back four bereft of protection.
In the past, Levy should have acted to support his man in the market. In the present, he had to act. This truth sits alongside the harm he has caused over the years by not investing enough in the squad. Pochettino brought a record of playing good football and developing players but the suspicion lingered that Levy chose him not because he had finally learned the lessons of a succession of ill-thought out managerial appointments but because he knew the Argentinian would not be as demanding a manager as others. Someone like Jose Mourinho, for instance, to pluck a name at random.
Which begs the question, Pochettino, Sherwood, AVB, Mourinho, they all come and go but Levy’s still there. He holds the plan, the future. I’ve never met him and I’m never likely to. I know people who have, and the one thing they all say about him is that he is passionate about the club. The problem is, Levy in my view understands what is required to make Spurs a sustained force in English football but I remain unconvinced that he can choose a leader to put this into practice or that he is prepared to commit the required resources. Building and rebuilding is a process, not a one-off event. You would think he’d know this as a successful businessman, but I wonder if the majority of his work with investments and property development removes him to some extent from the process of building and rebuilding an organisation where people are the key resource.
I wish Mourinho the very best in the job. I hope he comes to understand what the club means to so many people. I don’t like him. I respected Mourinho but never liked the way he goes about his work, although in private he’s said to be warm, generous and loyal. No shrinking violet ever succeeded as a manager but does it matter that an arrogant, moaning, self-absorbed whinger is now in charge? Who took a fortune from United and left them in a right state? Who looked bored out of his wits in his last year there? Who bullied a young full-back? Where nothing that goes wrong is his fault? Who spends money like water working with Dan Levy? Remember, when he whinges on in the media about how hard done by he is, it’s our club and our fans he’s talking about.
JM doesn’t fit the Spurs culture. We don’t like preening self-publicists. We want someone who is close to the fans and who doesn’t put himself before the club. He is synonymous with the success of one of our greatest rivals and enemies. Terry Neill and George Graham came the closest to this appointment – that didn’t work out well. Spurs play expansive, attacking football – JM’s teams don’t. Also, there are practicalities. Never mind his character, at United his tactical approach looked outdated and his judgement in the transfer market was seriously flawed. United didn’t have a director of football to help the manager with transfers, and, worryingly, neither do we.
But as I say, does it matter? It begs the question of whether clubs having a culture is true. I would say damn right it is, and Martin Cloake and I wrote a book about it. Julie Welch in her lovely Spurs Biography firmly believes this, pointing out that all our achievements have come through playing and behaving in the Spurs Way. Or is this an invention to bring comfort to supporters, that in reality we are like everyone else and will accept anything to climb the greasy pole to the top?
So tomorrow, a new era begins. We move on. All the very best to Jose Mourinho, sincerely, get behind the team and up the Spurs. I love the shirt and hope he can inspire the players. In the short-term, he’ll focus on defending, which is no bad thing, and sprinkle around some bloody-mindedness, also needed.
He’s inherited the players to get the ball forward, so on the field there are grounds for optimism. He seems refreshed after his break and is saying the right things about the new challenge. The players need that too at the moment. Longer term, well, let’s see if he sticks around if Levy doesn’t allow him to spend big money. A word to the wise, Jose, don’t bang on about how Spurs were always close to your heart or some such, no supporter believes you. Just get on with it and show us what you can do.
Forgive me if I’m mourning the loss of the old era, that I’m not quite ready to move on yet. I admired Pochettino hugely. I miss him, even though I know his faults all too well and the ending was unbefitting of what had gone before. I cared about him, because he cared about the club. I wish there was some way of telling him, a site or something to gather messages. He’s just gone without saying goodbye.
The most read piece in a decade of Tottenham On My Mind was written just before the Champions League final. At the time it served as an expression of gratitude, anticipation and wonder at what Spurs had achieved and Pochettino’s pivotal role. For a long time, it felt like he could be the one, a builder of dynasties, someone who understood the club, understood us. A Nicholson for the 21st century. Where dreams became real.
Looking at it now, it reads as the Argentinian’s elegy and a lament for what might have been. What I feel about Pochettino and his team, I can’t express any better here. He understood Spurs’ and the club’s heritage, then gave it his own interpretation. Glorious football, miraculous European nights under lights, the best team since Burkinshaw’s in the eighties, arguably since Nicholson in the late sixties. In today’s jaded, cynical materialistic football universe, he bestowed magic and wonder.
More than just understanding our heritage, he reflected it back to us. He understood the supporters. He reminded us just how much this club means, which tells us something about ourselves, deep down, and what being a Spurs fan means to who we are. he reminded us that, “without football, life is nothing.”
Team and fans have never been as close. He reminded us of the delight and wonder we felt as children when heroes in navy blue and white left us spellbound. He stayed with us as White Hart Lane crumbled under the wrecking ball. As well as a season unbeaten at home, he kept us at the top when we played nearly two seasons away. He gave us daft dad-dancing at Ajax, mirroring the uncoordinated explosions of joy in the stands and in living rooms around the globe. When we didn’t know we could be that happy or what to do, he was one of us.
Good luck, goodbye, Mauricio Pochettino. Never forgotten.