Monday 23 September 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Spurs must open wallet or lose Pochettino to Old Trafford'

Talking point

Earning Spurs: Mauricio Pochettino guided Tottenham to a superb victory at Everton yesterday. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Earning Spurs: Mauricio Pochettino guided Tottenham to a superb victory at Everton yesterday. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Why would Mauricio Pochettino want to manage Manchester United? Look what he's built at Spurs. When Arsenal outclassed Spurs three weeks ago excitable Gunners fans suggested the balance of power in North London might be swinging back in their direction. Tottenham's response could hardly have been better.

In the space of just 19 days they've drawn in Barcelona to secure an unlikely place in the Champions League knock-out stages, revenged that derby defeat with a League Cup quarter-final victory in Arsenal's backyard and won four straight league games, the latest of which may be the most impressive away performance of the season, scoring six goals at a ground where Everton had lost just one of nine league games.

The visitors have won nine out of their 11 away matches and it's that power on the road which leaves them just two points behind second-placed City. If Liverpool increasingly look heirs apparent to City, Spurs are not out of the title race. They certainly seem on course for a fourth successive top three finish.

Yet it is a truth universally acknowledged that Pochettino is probably on his way to Old Trafford. Since Jose Mourinho's departure the Argentinian has resembled a costume drama heiress pursued by a horde of suitors. His interviews have been so coy and non-committal he might have been fluttering his eyelids behind a lace fan.

The United job seems his for the taking. But that doesn't mean he should take it. United will require rebuilding no matter who takes charge. The manner in which David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho failed and the pressure they came under makes Old Trafford a less enticing destination than would once have been the case.

Pochettino may not yet be lost to Spurs but the ball has been placed firmly in the court of chairman Daniel Levy. In the era of the war chest and the exorbitant fee Levy's parsimony seems anomalous.

Tottenham's Son Heung-min. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Tottenham's Son Heung-min. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

Relations between chairman and manager are apparently good but Pochettino surely chafes against the constraints under which he operates. Unable to buy a single new player in the close season he works with a squad whose strength in depth is absurdly limited compared to City's or Liverpool's. To exacerbate matters the move to a new home stadium has been delayed.

Pochettino must wish life were easier. But perhaps the best outcome for him would be if United's interest functioned as a bargaining chip with which to prise more money from Levy.

The club owes Pochettino one. He must be fed up of hearing that he has yet to win a trophy with Spurs when what he has achieved with relatively limited resources borders on the miraculous.

Do Spurs have sufficient ambition to keep their manager? Perhaps. The problem is what we might call Levy's Paradox. The chairman could point out that the prophets of doom were proved wrong again this season and that his financially cautious approach has not prevented the club from remaining competitive at the top level.

Chairman Daniel Levy has his work cut out to keep the manager at White Hart Lane. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Chairman Daniel Levy has his work cut out to keep the manager at White Hart Lane. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

The lack of transfer market activity in the summer has not been entirely disadvantageous. Goodison Park witnessed a powerhouse midfield performance from Moussa Sissoko, who would surely have been moved on had Spurs added to their squad. Man of the match Son Heung-Min is a player who might be down the pecking order at a more spendthrift club, but he's been electrifying this season.

Less than a year ago Jurgen Klopp seemed in a similar position to Pochettino when he sold Philippe Coutinho, a move seen at the time as indicating that Liverpool lacked the financial clout to challenge Manchester's big two. But since then Liverpool have spent big on Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Fabinho and Naby Keita with results that are becoming increasingly clear.

Pochettino could make a similar leap forward if the purse strings are loosened. United's troubles in recent seasons show that money doesn't guarantee success. Yet with the right man at the helm it's a big help.

Of the 50 most expensive players of all-time, nine have been signed by City, five by United, four by Chelsea and three each by Arsenal and Liverpool. Monaco, Everton and Chinese sides Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning are also represented on that list. Spurs are not. You can argue that Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are now worth as much as almost any of those big-money signings but such stars would benefit from world-class company.

The players obviously want Pochettino to stay. You wondered before the match if Spurs might be affected by the speculation over their manager's future. When, after dominating the first 20 minutes against Everton, they fell behind to a Theo Walcott sucker punch it was the kind of moment designed to expose self-doubt.

Cohesive

Yet Tottenham's belief never wavered. Like no other Premier League team they seem an entirely cohesive unit. That quality was evident in their sixth goal, begun by a long, sweeping pass from Toby Aldeweireld and carried on with a first-time pass down the wing from Ben Davies and an instant cross from Son before Kane finished with a touch combining power and delicacy. It was one of those goals which makes football seem an art form. There was something fittingly festive about it.

The future might hold many such moments for Spurs. Yet the continued presence of Pochettino is vital. Let him go and that long-predicted return to the chasing pack may finally happen. He has constructed a team of enormous potential with nine of those involved yesterday aged 26 or under. This is a club on the verge of great things. All they need is a bit of bravery at the top.

Show him the money.

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