Kevin Palmer: 'If Mauricio Pochettino takes a break from the game now, the job he wants could soon come his way'
It was not just the pain of losing a Champions League final that cut deep for Tottenham in Madrid on Saturday, as the threat of what comes next was suddenly thrust to the forefront of their minds.
Misguided cynics will argue that Mauricio Pochettino's reign as Tottenham manager cannot be considered a success until he adds trophies to his side's undoubted progress, yet that view is only expressed by those who fail to appreciate the magnitude of his achievements.
Over the last five years, Tottenham's net spend in the transfer market is a mere £28.25m and when that is compared to Manchester City's £563m outlay and Manchester United's £488.6m splurge, Pochettino is right to suggest it is unrealistic for him to compete for the top trophies in the English game.
The statistical argument in Pochettino's favour does not end there as since 2014, Arsenal have invested £260m in the transfer market, Everton have a net spend of £224m and Chelsea's outlay is around £205m.
Those numbers highlight a financial chasm between Tottenham and their domestic rivals, with the inflated wages on offer at other clubs confirming the remarkable level of over-achievement Pochettino has engineered in his time at the club.
As he has confirmed time and again in recent months, this summer will dictate whether the miracle run to the Champions League final was a one-off glimpse at glory or a platform for Tottenham to become one of Europe's elite clubs and now the future of the club is thrust back into the hands of chairman Daniel Levy.
1 - Since his debut Premier League season in 2013-14, Christian Eriksen ranks first in the competition for chances created (547), assists (60), goals from outside the box (22) and direct free-kick goals (7). Summit. pic.twitter.com/DyTYamVveW— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 5, 2019
With Pochettino expressing doubts over his own future and his playmaker-in-chief Christian Eriksen confirming he 'wants to try something different' in his career amid links with a move to Real Madrid, the worst fears expressed by Spurs fans are threatening to become reality just a few days after their Champions League final heartbreak against Liverpool.
Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld will leave the club this summer as his departure fee will drop to just £25m for potential suitors due to a clause in his contract and he will be joined by Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier and Victor Wanyama in what could be an extended list of star names heading through the Tottenham exit door.
It is a narrative that will confirm Pochettino's that he cannot continue to keep Tottenham in the Champions League and compete for trophies on his current budget, as he ponders whether he is willing to stay and oversee an overhaul of a squad that has so often touched glory and then shied away from snatching it.
Pochettino would be letting Tottenham down if he walks away from the one year into a five-year contract he signed last summer, but this may be a moment to consider his own career ahead of the club he has put on an improbable pedestal since his arrived from Southampton in the summer of 2013.
"I am not open to start a new chapter with no plan, with no clear idea, with not being transparent," he said last month. "If you want to expect the same from Liverpool, from Manchester City or Manchester United and Chelsea, and you put the same expectation on Tottenham, give me different tools to work.
"If not and I see the people working in the same way, in the future I'm going to be this guy. I am the most stupid person to work in that circumstance."
This was Pochettino's attempt to push Levy towards a bold new future and after Tottenham generated more than £200m in revenue from their top four finish in the Premier League and their European heroics, Pochettino has a right to expect Levy to offer him a re-branded financial structure that offers him a more realistic path to success.
He may only be a year into a five-year contract with Tottenham, but Pochettino's managerial stock will never be higher than it is right now, with Juventus among the European giants rumoured to be keen to recruit him, while the Manchester United job that has always been a fantasy for him could be vacated again in the next 12 months.
Pochettino has friends among the hierarchy at Manchester City and would be a strong favourite to succeed Pep Guardiola if the City manager follow his familiar career path and walks away from the club next summer, so the offers of employment will not be slow in coming for a manager who would be top of any wanted list.
Eriksen's hint that he could be persuaded to stay with Spurs if the club matched his ambitions should give Levy all the ammunition he needs to tempt the Dane to sign a new contract that may be enough to persuade Pochettino to stay, but the father figure of Tottenham's rise is demanding more than just stability as Levy needs to offer conclusive proof that their ambition matches that of their manager.
The Spurs chairman is a notoriously tough negotiator and any club wanting to sign Pochettino this summer would doubtless be rebuffed in double quick time, but Levy would have a different problem to solve if his coveted manager made the decision to walk away.
Even though Manchester United and Real Madrid may have appointed new managers in recent months, there is no guarantee that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will succeed at Old Trafford or that Zinedine Zidane can rebuild a desperately broken Real Madrid.
So if Pochettino takes a break from the game now, the job he wants could soon come his way.
While that may be viewed as a career gamble for this humble over-achiever, it is an option he must be tempted to take.