So the axe has swung at White Hart Lane, then, and for those amongst us who support Tottenham Hotspur, as much as we can do is to hope amongst hopes that it swung as part of a greater plan to refresh the club from top to bottom. There is no supporting evidence that this is the case. It looks like an act of self-harm. It has already been reported that to fire Mauricio Pochettino would cost the club £12.5m, and that sounds about right, considering the time that he had left on his contract, for which the club is ultimately liable. And Tottenham Hotspur now need a top four (or at the lowest a top six) finish. That stadium cost a lot of money. As Manchester United’s published accounts have shown this week, falling away can be an expensive business.
The team had been going on through an extremely rocky phase, and should also be mentioned that the run to the final of last season’s Champions League masked the team tailing off in the league earlier than the start of this season. Spurs have been in decline for a year, now. But the club is reaping a whirlwind of its own inertia in the transfer market, running the team until it was threadbare, and even when they finally got around to it only bringing in a small number of replacements. Some of the players clearly no longer want to be at the club, whilst others aren’t quite the players they were. This is hardly surprising.
Had a large number of young players or interesting signings from across Europe recently arrived at the club, with rumours circulating that one of the planet’s best managers was ready to mix them in with the best of what they still have, then there’d be grounds to think that there was a long-term plan. Erik ten Hag would be the dream ticket for Spurs, but he recently confirmed that he didn’t want to go anywhere this season in pushing away interest from Bayern Munich, so may be out of their league. He would form a part of the ideal plan, because the ideal plan would be utilising his experience in bringing through young players in the way that he has with his fabulous Ajax team.
Investment, however, would still be required in the current team. Any sabbatical whilst rebuilding work is carried out needs to be swift, and decisive. Spurs cannot afford to slide from at least regular contention for a Champions League place any more. The club refinanced its huge debt in September, which keeps immediate financial concerns at bay, but if there’s anything in the idea that there will be a European Super League in the next few years, Spurs would need to be there or thereabouts. Any such competition would likely diminish the value of Premier League television rights. There are no guarantees that the Premier League will be the most lucrative league in the world in fifteen years time, when the bonds into which £525m start to mature. And who knows, if it happens, perhaps Spurs already have an invite, regardless. But that’s a whole other kettle of ethics.
There has always been a certain type of sloppiness about Tottenham Hotspur, and its current manifestation is that, as things stand, they could lose Jan Vertongen, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld for nothing, come the end of this season. Elsewhere, everything has felt disjointed. Maybe Danny Rose and Serge Aurier have done their time at Tottenham Hotspur – all things must pass – but does a soap opera have to be made of it? In recent years, Spurs had become a relatively serene place, free of the hysteria that has so often seemed to be gripping the supporters of other clubs. It’s unlikely that this will be the case for a while now, though.
Pochettino can leave with his head held high. His management created the best Tottenham Hotspur team of my lifetime. Those Champions League matches against Manchester City and Ajax last season are the sort of occasions that never leave you, as a supporter. They were a joy to watch. It was a team to be proud of, even if it couldn’t quite get to a trophy. “No silverware” feels like a bit of an empty criticism at a club that has won a grand total of an FA Cup and two League Cups in the last thirty-five years, two of which were won in the last century.
Perhaps his biggest flaw was not prioritising the domestic cups. A club seriously challenging for a Champions League place should be able to sustain proper tilts at the FA Cup and the League Cup. That should have been within his grasp, but Pochettino never quite gave the impression that he understood that a trophy, any trophy, would go a long way for a support that has seen just one in the last two decades. But he did turn Spurs into a regular Champions League participant, holding their own and even getting to the final. He got them to the runners-up spot in the Premier League. At their best, they played pressing, exhilirating football, full of fluidity and intelligence. They were a joy to support and often a joy to watch.
But it was all worn too thin by the end. It was wearing thin this time last year, on a threadbare Wembley pitch with NFL markings still printed upon it, and the club’s response, in terms of moving towards the refresh that the team needed and the ongoing away-from-homeness of Wembley, was insufficient. And it consequently feels as though they’re going about things in completely the wrong order. The stadium is done. Now, give the manager the resources to refresh that team. Then, if things aren’t working out, if it feels as though the manager may have been a flash in the pan, start to think about replacing them.
Jose Mourinho is the even money favourite to replace him at the moment.
Lord preserve us.
I’m not sure that this is going to get the response that the club presumably hopes it would.