In the fast paced world of modern football, it is becoming increasingly rare to see a manager being given time to build his own team. The bigger the club, the more pressure on the manager to provide immediate results. Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur has proved that a little patience can provide results, says Aakriti Mehrotra.
Patience and football don’t go together these days. The sport has become synonymous with short-termism and knee-jerk reactions. The mere fact that Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe now features in the second spot (with just under three years) in the Premier League for time served as manager can illustrate how difficult it is for any manager to dare to think long-term.
Why wouldn’t managers want to build something for the future and have a long term plan? Why not opt for that route? It is a glaring fact that it is very difficult for the owners of any club to allow their managers to bring success over a long, sustainable time. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked by Real Madrid despite getting the club its tenth Champions League trophy, after a barren season. Robert di Matteo received the same treatment at Chelsea. Demands of top clubs are very high. No wonder a section of Arsenal fans, lead by the famous Piers Morgan is extremely agitated that Arsene Wenger is still at helm at their club.
Despite modern day football depending on quick fixes, a need which has only become worse due to social media (ask Brendan Rodgers), Mauricio Pochettino has proved that a little patience can provide results.
The Argentinean took over the London club in the summer of 2014 and had a tough ask ahead of him. The previous season saw Spurs spend excessively on players who failed to perform or replace even the shadow of Gareth Bale.
Pochettino had the laborious business of knocking the house that Baldini —who has just left the club — and Andre Villas-Boas built, and not just renovating it but rebuilding it. He did well in his first season and his achievements in the first year at White Hart Lane went a little underappreciated. Not much was spoken about the fact that he took Spurs to the final of the Capital One Cup. Not to mention, the Lilywhites finished in 5th spot (above Liverpool), absolutely at par if not a little above it in terms of the quality of the team and competition from the top 6.
Despite not many talking about expectations from Spurs, their promising 2014/15 season meant that the London side was expected to put up a strong show this season as well. No doubt it is too early to talk about the predictions from the season — the league is only seven games old at the time of writing — but Tottenham have done extremely well so far.
It is interesting to note that the team that beat Manchester City 4-1 had just four players from the team that the former Saints boss inherited from Tim Sherwood- Lloris, Walker, Vertonghen and Eriksen. The fact that the average age of the team has also reduced by three (from 26 to 23) goes hand in hand with the fact that the side looks like one instilled with positivity and desire to get three points in every game. This is a young team that has “character”.
It would again be a knee-jerk reaction to suggest Spurs can finish in the top 4 and beat one of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea to it. But there is no reason as to why it can’t happen in the near future. Pochettino is still laying the foundation of a long term successful club, and he is absolutely on the right track.
The transfer business done by Tottenham this summer has been extremely shrewd. The club said goodbyes to the deadwood in Lewis Holtby, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Benjamin Stambouli, Vlad Chiriches, Aaron Lennon and a long overdue one to Emannuel Adebayor.
The summer arrivals have been equally smart. Toby Alderweireld, Son Heung Min and Dele Alli have directly strengthened the first team while Kevin Wimmer, Kieran Trippier and Clinton N’Jie have added strength and quality to the depth.
The big worry post the summer window was the failure to land a central/defensive midfielder. Tottenham sold not one, but three midfielders and while that was definitely a positive, the failure to replace them with one solid player was a major downside. However, Pochettino’s move to play Eric Dier in the midfield as a holding midfielder has proved to be a masterstroke so far. It took the former Sporting Lisbon player some time to get accustomed to the role and when Pochettino used him as a defensive midfielder in the summer, he wasn’t an immediate fit. Unsurprisingly, people raised eyebrows. Sadly, this has become a norm. Managers can’t try something different without worrying about the immense scrutiny that comes their way. Fortunately for Poch, the move paid off and with every game, Dier has gradually grown into the position and looked extremely solid and effective playing in front of the defence. He has provided the side with a stirring physical presence, and now comfortably controls the midfield. His performance against Manchester City is a wonderful example of how far he has come.
When things go right, more often than not, everything else comes together as well. For Spurs, this can be seen through Erik Lamela. The £30m record signing from Roma had been adjudged a flop and like Roberto Soldado, looked like he was headed out of White Hart Lane. In fact, he was very close to signing for Marseille on loan on deadline day. But the failure to land another attacker and doubts regarding Saido Berahino at the time meant Pochettino knew it was unwise to let go of the player. What a smart call from the manager, in hindsight! Lamela always possessed that raw talent and it was nothing but potential that made Baldini shell out that kind of sum for his services two years back. It is the player’s decision-making that has always been frustrating and is something that has held him back significantly. Fortunately for Spurs, Lamela too has been improving. After flashes of brilliance in his performances against Sunderland, Qarabag (where he also scored) and Crystal Palace, it all came together for Lamela against Manchester City. He got a standing ovation for his efforts which saw him score a goal, set up the second one and win the free-kick for the third. Lamela’s redemption continues as Tata Martino named him in his latest 26-man Argentina squad, filling the gap left by the recent injury of Lionel Messi. The poster boy for Spurs’ problems is now a wild-card talisman.
The form of Harry Kane has been one major concern for the club, but the England international also got himself on the scoresheet against City, albeit through an offside goal. For a striker, a goal is everything and Kane wouldn’t mind the manner in which it came. After going nearly 600 minutes without one, it might just be enough to restore his much needed confidence.
With Son, the side has a player of genuine, unadulterated quality, someone who could change a game single-handedly. The player has got going immediately and the lack of bedding-in time is a major advantage for the Lilywhites.
All in all, Spurs look like the real deal at the moment. Of course, it is too early to make any predictions as mentioned above and they have three competitions to deal with through the course of the season. But Mauricio Pochettino deserves massive credit for the work he has done at the club. If the club and manager continue on the same path, there is absolutely no reason as to why White Hart Lane will not witness Champions League nights they have craved for so long, soon enough.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra