The 27th May 2014 might not, at the time, have seemed a day that would prove all that consequential. Spurs were getting through managers like flies, hadn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2010, and the squad lacked that ‘special something’.
Step forward the newly appointed head coach, Mauricio Pochettino, a man with less than two seasons of experience of English football. In his third season at White Hart Lane, Pochettino has qualified for the Champions League, seen his side feature in a cup final, and challenged for the Premier League title. So what has changed?
In short, Pochettino has revolutionised the club. It’s as simple as that; his recruitment team have got Spurs fantastic value for money. The backbone of the side in Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama and Dele Alli were purchased for a total of under £40m, while mercenaries were quickly shown the door. The eccentric Emmanuel Adebayor was released, captain Younes Kaboul sold, and players who weren’t up to standard told to leave, including Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, and Andros Townsend.
Even the names of those players remind fans of ‘Old Spurs’ – before the Pochettino era – a time where Spurs’ soft underbelly was exposed too frequently. Where flowing, attacking football was either non-existent or – under Tim Sherwood – there in abundance, but there was no method to the madness. Instead, Spurs now have a clear ethos – a club where young players thrive, where a solid defence provides the basis for exuberant attacking play, and where now one defeat does not spark meltdown amongst the fanbase.
But perhaps more importantly, Pochettino has found formations, systems and training techniques that make players better – one criticism often levied at the likes of Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood. For example, Danny Rose has been transformed into the best left-back in the league under Pochettino’s guidance, while Jan Vertonghen looks equally assured at centre-back next to Toby Alderweireld – a compliment not often given when Vertonghen partnered Kaboul, Chiriches or Fazio.
Eric Dier has come in and proven to be a rare breed of English midfielder – a defensive one – though with technical ability and a passing range to match this prowess, though only after some shaky performances in the centre of defence. Meanwhile, perhaps Erik Lamela is the pinnacle of Pochettino’s achievements; a technically gifted winger from Serie A has transformed into a physical attacker with a real hunger for the game.
All this, and not at the expense of Christian Eriksen’s creative skill, which remains untarnished throughout his time at the club, despite having played for three managers since he arrived.
Pochettino’s proven his worth at Spurs, and the fans sing his name after, and normally during, each game. The stability he has achieved at the club is something no manager in recent time has achieved; the manager and the chairman, Daniel Levy, clearly enjoy a good relationship. It’s something that no other manager in the league has done; to take Spurs from what they were to what they are now is perhaps his most significant achievement of all.
Arsene Wenger might have built a dynasty, Jose Mourinho might have won everything there is to win, and Pep Guardiola might have coached at the best clubs in European football, but all three relied, albeit to differing extents, on what was already there. The Argentine arrived with nothing.
Pochettino is one of the new breed of managers, tactically flexible and inventive, but off the pitch he’s done more than modernise the Spurs team – he’s transformed Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
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