Friday 18 October 2019

Sam Wallace: 'Pochettino's power of brinkmanship on the wane at Tottenham'

Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Alex Morton/Getty Images
Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Alex Morton/Getty Images

Sam Wallace

When Mauricio Pochettino laid out his plans for Tottenham Hotspur's future in the aftermath of the 5-4 win over Leicester City on the final day of last season, he was making it clear that all options were on the table when it came to his future and that of his club.

As ever with Pochettino, there were caveats but this felt significant.

"It is the moment the club need to take risks," he said.

And if that was not possible then he urged the club "to tell the truth" about what was possible and what was not. Was that the moment Pochettino was at his strongest in his relationship with Daniel Levy?

The club would have known by then they were heading into a season of delays with their new stadium and there was to be no movement in the transfer window.

The two jobs, Manchester United and Real Madrid, that Pochettino would be closely linked to had not yet come available. But there was no question that Pochettino held all the cards.

He had proved himself again as one of the most able young coaches in Europe, conjuring up a third-place finish over much wealthier rivals, his total net spend of just over £27 million, showing up those who wasted so much more.

Not only that, but Harry Kane's future at the club was connected to that of his manager, too.

Eleven days later, Pochettino signed a new contract. Since then he has been steadfastly loyal to the club, accepting every delay to the opening of the stadium and taking the opportunity, on the occasions of major victories, to share the praise fulsomely with Levy.

When the club did not sign a new player last summer, Pochettino worked hard to frame it as a perfectly normal outcome. When January came around and Spurs did the same, he made it clear that he was fine with that.

What happened to all those questions that he posed at the end of last season?

"We cannot think we are the cleverest people in the world winning trophies on small money," he said on May 13.

Yet that is exactly what he and Spurs have attempted to do ever since signing the five-year contract on May 24 when, in doing so, he handed back the power over Levy.


Pochettino could have made life a lot more awkward for Spurs and their chairman. Whether or not he was ever truly interested in following Jose Mourinho at United, he had changed the dynamic in Levy's favour long before that Old Trafford regime crashed.

Pochettino's history tells us that he has always been conservative when it has come to change and Levy will have realised that.

Even after being sacked by Espanyol, Pochettino, having planned a break away from the game, was reluctant to move on to Southampton.

When the time came for his move to Spurs there was much hand-wringing but there was little doubt that it would progress his career.

In the end, the door has closed on the two options to leave Spurs, although, in reality, he made it much harder with his decision to extend his contract last May.

At a club who have driven to perform well above expectations, another summer of trading and persuading awaits. Christian Eriksen goes into the last year of his contract, Toby Alderweireld's £25m buy-out could well be triggered, while there are fringe players who will go and must be replaced.

But two windows out of the transfer market have left Spurs playing catch-up.

Perhaps at the end of the season, Pochettino will launch another speech about how Spurs need to take risks if they are to challenge.

Although this time, with four years on his deal it will be harder to take seriously. He does not hold that over Levy any longer, and Spurs' challenges to remain competitive in their new stadium are chiefly Pochettino's challenges.

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