Jamie Carragher: 'Tottenham must match Pochettino's ambitions or risk losing him'
Spurs have to back their greatest asset if they are to keep Real and United at bay
There will come a time, most likely in the near future, when Mauricio Pochettino faces the biggest dilemma of his management career.
Should he remain committed to the long-term plan he signed up to at Tottenham, working under the model of progressive growth that has worked so well for Daniel Levy?
Or is the moment close when Pochettino listens to those reminding him he is one of the most sought-after coaches, guaranteed to be on the shortlist whenever the next big job in European football comes along?
He must be attracted to those clubs where the evolution process is quickened with more transfer market statements of intent.
Plenty suspect Pochettino has already had to consider his options given how often the Real Madrid post has become available. It is likely he has already had a chance to explore the possibility of a move to the Bernabeu or Paris Saint-Germain.
His commitment to Spurs is not currently in doubt. As with any relationship between a manager and board it can never be unconditional.
There comes a point when an in-demand manager, just like a top player, will ask if their career is moving forward at the pace they want and need.
For that reason, this season feels like a pivotal one for Pochettino at Spurs - a campaign where the club has to start satisfying the ambitions of it most valuable assets. It was never going to happen at Spurs at the same pace as wealthier rivals like Chelsea and Manchester City, but given where those occupying the four positions were three years ago, Pochettino is entitled to ask privately if Spurs have really done everything within their means to give themselves the best chance of success.
Plenty will argue 'yes', especially as they have the financial consideration of a new stadium, which some estimates price at £1 billion.
The club made its best start to a Premier League campaign - and enjoyed that fine early season win at Manchester United. They have retained their best players like Harry Kane, secured Dele Alli on a new contract and have kept their hopes of qualifying from the Champions League group stages alive.
On the flipside, defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City offer evidence this will not be a year when Tottenham challenge for the title.
Chelsea's trip to Tottenham this evening will give us another hint as to what is realistically achievable - whether they can stay with the leaders or focus on retaining their Champions League status. This week's meeting with Inter Milan feels huge, too.
This era is in danger of becoming one of missed opportunity given the chance Spurs had to stride on when they ran Leicester City close two years ago and finished runners-up to Chelsea in 2017.
Look at the squad that pushed the title winners in those seasons and pick the best Spurs XI. Aside from Kyle Walker joining Manchester City (replaced by the excellent Kieran Trippier) and the addition of Lucas Moura, is it any different now?
They have signed good players to improve the squad, but there have been no deals to make their rivals think 'wow'. Certainly not when you compare what Liverpool did when they recruited Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson.
Players they could have signed by spending more - like Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, Harry Maguire and Jack Grealish - did not arrive. This was not because they were overpriced or Spurs could not afford them. Levy relishes his reputation as the Premier League's toughest negotiator, which is sometimes enhanced by pulling out of deals as much as completing them.
Spurs have consistently finished above Liverpool for the last ten years. They should be frustrated it is Jurgen Klopp - not Pochettino - who came into this season recognised as the most likely to challenge Pep Guardiola.
That is solely down to the transfer activity of their respective clubs.
Since Pochettino took over, Spurs' squad investment is massively behind top six rivals. They have a net spend of £29 million. Chelsea invested £200m (net) over the same period.
The fundamental difference is Chelsea took decisive transfer-market action to win two titles in four years, their team is unrecognisable to the one which ended Spurs' title hopes in 2016/17.
Levy is undoubtedly one of English football's finest administrators. The way he runs the club has worked for Tottenham to get them to this point. Securing Champions League football while delivering a new stadium is worthy of congratulation.
Spurs are no longer perceived as they were 10 years ago and Levy takes a lot of credit for that. This Spurs team is their best in the Premier League era, but you need to refuel every summer to catch the moving vehicles ahead of you. That is the area where the club has fallen short. How and when will they take the next step?
The real catalyst for change in how we now think about Spurs is Pochettino. There was a huge improvement under Harry Redknapp but consider this: of the 166 away matches Spurs have won in their Premier League history, Pochettino has won 44. That's 25 per cent of all away victories since 1992.
This is why my Sky Sports colleague Gary Neville argued the club previously had a reputation for being spineless. He was spot on. I, and many others, have been saying that for years. The away results throughout the 1990s and up until recently speak for themselves.
Even Spurs' managers acknowledged this.
"When I was at Portsmouth we used to batter them," Redknapp said in 2009 after completing one of his first key deals - for a defensive midfielder - Wilson Palacios.
"Teams would get into Tottenham's faces. Now, we are getting stronger."
The club has moved on considerably. The question is not only how much further are they equipped to go, but how soon do they expect to get there? Will it be soon enough for their manager? Has the board become too comfortable with the undoubted success of being in the top four? If so, they are making themselves victims of it.
Spurs will not catch City, especially, unless they change tack when targeting the same players as their top four rivals.
They cannot outbid City, Manchester United or Chelsea for players, but will lose ground to Liverpool if they are not prepared to match the financial terms demanded by the most coveted stars.
Most seriously of all, they will surely try the patience of their manager if board members give the impression they are satisfied with their current standing, regularly securing Champions League qualification during their stadium transition.
The Real Madrid job may come around every season for Pochettino's consideration, but there is another position - one of the most coveted in world football - which is rarely available and will demand greater thought.
If Manchester United do not finish in the top four this season there is every chance Jose Mourinho's tenure will end.
If so, Pochettino must be top of the wanted list. Many believe he was admired by those with influence at Old Trafford before Mourinho was appointed in 2016.
The timing was wrong.
When a vacancy next arises, what happens at Spurs between now and then will determine if the timing feels right.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)