Wednesday 17 January 2018

Aidan O'Hara: Pochettino’s new deal means as much as it did for Rodgers and Suarez

Summer transfers will be Tottenham's first test to avoid repeating mistakes of Liverpool in 2014

'The other obvious question is why Pochettino (p) or the club felt the need to extend a deal which already had three years left to run.' Photo: PA
'The other obvious question is why Pochettino (p) or the club felt the need to extend a deal which already had three years left to run.' Photo: PA
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

If contracts meant anything in football, Liverpool would probably have qualified for the Champions League for the last couple of seasons while planning an assault on next year's title with Luis Suarez still having two years left to run on his four-and-a-half-year deal.

"I am delighted to have agreed a new deal with Liverpool and have my future secured for the long term," he said in December 2013. "I believe I can achieve the ambitions of winning trophies and playing at the very highest level with Liverpool. My aim is to help get us there as quickly as possible. I love the city and the supporters."

Just over 200 days later, he signed for Barcelona.

For players, contracts are what guarantees them money no matter how badly they play; for clubs contracts are what gives them money if the player does well. There's a common word that links the two of them and, increasingly, it's the same equation with managers.

Even if a player bites an opponent on two separate occasions, is found guilty of racially abusing another and gives a middle finger salute to a rival crowd, it may not be enough for them to be sacked. Managers, in contrast, can lose five consecutive games and find themselves on the unemployment line.


Other than money going in one direction or another, contracts mean very little, which is why it was so surprising to see the significance given to Mauricio Pochettino's announcement last Friday that he had signed an extension to his deal.

"We create a good atmosphere on the training ground and I think we can achieve big things in the future," he said. "I am very happy. We have created a great group of players, have a very strong squad, young with potential to be top.

"The staff, the supporters were unbelievable. The potential was massive. I think that it is a good moment to communicate this to you and so that all people know my future is here. When you are happy and when you feel the love of the people and the potential of the club is massive, why change?"

Perhaps there is a template marked "new contract announcement" with a couple of variations emailed to all Premier League clubs. Suarez chose "template A" which mentions the city; Pochettino went with "template B" which makes reference to "potential".

The answer to the "why change?" part of Pochettino's statement is the same that Suarez, or any other player or manager, would give if an offer came along. It is that the opportunity may never come around again.

The other obvious question is why Pochettino or the club felt the need to extend a deal which already had three years left to run. On the face of it, it shows a long-lasting commitment on behalf of the manager. Just in case it's something else, it also means that another club will have to pay a larger amount of compensation if they are to prise Pochettino away.

In Suarez's statement two and a half years ago, he also mentioned the influence that manager Brendan Rodgers had in persuading him that his future was at Anfield.

Rodgers' stock had never been higher than it was in 2013/14 when a season which started with the quiet hopes of qualifying for the Champions League ended with Liverpool becoming the best team to watch in the league with a lethal combination of pressing, pace and desire that should really have won them the league. Tottenham have had similar characteristics this season but it wasn't enough for Liverpool or Rodgers, who signed a new long-term deal in May 2014 and was sacked in October 2015.

Pochettino has certainly moved the club away from being the butt of jokes such as Alex Ferguson's team-talk before a game at Old Trafford which was said to comprise three words: "Lads, it's Tottenham" or the scene in In Bruges about purgatory.

"Purgatory's kind of like the in-betweeny one," says Colin Farrell's character.

"You weren't really shit, but you weren't all that great either. Like Tottenham."

The first test of whether Pochettino and the club can avoid the hellish scenario that Liverpool went though in the 18 months after their near miss is likely to come this summer when other clubs start to sniff around their players and probably their manager.

Even though they could become champions tonight, Leicester aren't likely to have many enquiries about their players apart from Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante, given how so many of their team have already been released by so-called big clubs in their younger days.

Tottenham are different and it was indicative of how the players at the two clubs are rated by those within football that, even with Leicester winning the league, Graeme Souness only picked two of their players - Mahrez and Kante - in a combined Leicester/Tottenham XI.


Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane would all be on the wish-list of several clubs throughout both Europe and the Premier League, and if chairman Daniel Levy decides that a deal for any of those players makes financial sense in the coming months, it may be the first chink in what ought to be a well-oiled machine for several seasons to come.

At Southampton, Pochettino has already been though the process of selling his best players and while he managed the new arrivals superbly, it's not something that any manager in charge of a club with ambitions to win titles or play regularly in the Champions League should be faced with. Just ask Arsene Wenger.

With some justification, Arsenal have been criticised for missing a golden opportunity to win the Premier League but the same accusation could be levelled at half a dozen clubs who faltered while Leicester flourished.

Tottenham are the only team who have put up a genuine fight and performed above expectations, for which the players and manager both deserve enormous credit.

Pochettino's reputation, like several of his players, has never been higher but with several clubs likely to improve dramatically next season, this summer will be the first step in deciding whether this season, for Spurs and Pochettino, is the start of something great, or as good as it's going to get.

And the number of years on a contract won't have anything to do with it.

Irish Independent

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