Tottenham’s progression under Mauricio Pochettino has been quite remarkable.
Still, for all the manager’s successes with Spurs, there’s an escalating sense that Pochettino is outgrowing the club he’s helped transform. With the former tough-tackling Espanyol favorite presumably one of a select few at the top of Florentino Perez’s summer wishlist at Real Madrid, it would serve Pochettino well to take a determined step up to a club rich with resources and whose championship ambitions match his own.
Tottenham welcome Chelsea to Wembley for the weekend’s marquee matchup, and even if Pochettino’s lot snatch a result to vault their London foes for third place, it’s unlikely that the manager can achieve much more with what he has at his disposal.
Pochettino can hardly be blamed for wanting more.
Before the Argentinian took over ahead of the 2014-15 campaign, Spurs’ average Premier League finish was a shade short of eighth, and their best league standing was fourth – something that was achieved twice. A median point haul of 55 prior to Pochettino’s appointment is in stark contrast to an average of 74 points under the gaffer’s tutelage, and a second-place finish in 2016-17 on 86 points was the club’s best top-flight standing since 1962-63. Pochettino and Co. were unlucky not to win the league that year considering their final point total exceeded the average registered by Premier League winners since the division opted for a 38-match season in 1995.
With the former Argentinian international on the touchline, Spurs have qualified for the Champions League three years on the spin, registered European victories over continental juggernauts, and ended an embarrassing stretch of 22 years of finishing behind local rivals Arsenal. It’s been quite a change in fortune for Tottenham.
When Pochettino swapped an overachieving spell at Southampton for Tottenham, Spurs were impaired by a lack of identity following Gareth Bale’s then-record £91-million move to the Spanish capital. Harry Kane was the third-choice striker behind Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado following loan spells at Leicester City and Norwich City. Dele Alli played for MK Dons and Younes Kaboul sported the captain’s armband. Under the ex-Albiceleste standout, Danny Rose went from a liability under Tim Sherwood to a reliable full-back, while the likes of Kane and Eric Dier enjoyed massive spurts in quality.
That’s not to say there weren’t hiccups. Pochettino’s first season in charge was justifiably met with patience from a fanbase that had become accustomed to disappointment. Four points out of six against Arsenal, and putting a five-piece on Chelsea, were contrasted with home defeats to Sherwood’s Aston Villa and a late-season thumping at the hands of lowly Stoke City. Tottenham finished fifth and registered five fewer points than the previous year when they landed sixth under their former manager.
The returns on Pochettino’s efforts would soon become apparent as Tottenham rifled off three successive top-three finishes while transforming from an also-ran to a side getting results in the Champions League. The 2017-18 season may have been the zenith. Spurs topped a group that featured Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, collecting a historic win against the latter at Wembley. They garnered praise despite a knockout stage defeat to Juventus; dazzling displays from Kane and Christian Eriksen, two players who have become top-tier talents on the manager’s watch, helped push the Italian side right to the brink. They would finish the season in third place, 23 points adrift of an indomitable Manchester City, the same side that bounced them in the FA Cup semifinal.
Spurs started this season in brilliant form, winning three on the bounce, including a captivating 3-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Then it all went pear-shaped with a string of three consecutive defeats to Watford, Liverpool, and Inter. Just months after making a mark on the continent, a near-certain dismissal at the group stage of the Champions League was only belied by a mathematical miracle.
Chairman Daniel Levy’s notoriously miserly ways have coupled with an increasingly opulent stadium construction to leave Tottenham’s finances in a state of temporary concern. They’ve taken out £400 million in loans repayable over a five-year period, and according to the Guardian, the cost of constructing the new White Hart Lane has skyrocketed from £400 million to an amount that verges on £1 billion. Unwilling to match the valuation of targets like Jack Grealish – Aston Villa were asking for £32 million – Spurs became the first side in Premier League history not to make a summer signing, highlighting a dearth of cash. Since Pochettino’s appointment, Tottenham have a net spend on transfers of £50 million, lower than what former top-flight sides Stoke City and West Brom have splashed over the same stretch. It’s an almost laughable expenditure.
Tottenham will not win the league this season; the 11-year wait for silverware will continue, and for all the improvements under Pochettino, they’re not close. For the time being, a club on the cusp of the pedestal of England’s best is forced to wait. It’s a shame because Pochettino’s growth as a manager has mirrored that of Spurs. Until now.