The rumours had reached a critical mass and, on Tuesday night, Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino parted. It's an unusual situation for Spurs. It’s rare for one of their head coaches to leave under anything other than a great hail of acrimony. Under Daniel Levy, it’s actually unprecedented.
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But there’s no mercy in that. Now, infused with a great sadness, there is only terrible uncertainty over what comes next.
That unease is instructed by a distrust of Levy. Not his business acumen, which remains ruthlessly sharp, but the quality of his footballing strategy and the glaring flaws in his appointment record.
The fear, quite understandably, is that Pochettino leaving might default Tottenham back to what they were before his arrival. Not just reducing them to a club languishing in the Europa League wasteland, but one which bounces between technical philosophies every 18 months, lurching temporarily up, before sagging listlessly back down.
At the moment, this parting of ways is just deeply regrettable. If there is a consolation, though, it’s in knowing that Pochettino leaves wonderful memories and, crucially, a blueprint for the future. But this is Tottenham and life can never be quite that sensible. What might yet turn this into a catastrophe, is if, having presided over an unprecedented modern revival, Levy fails to recognise what this era’s tenets were.
And, on the basis of the kind of names being connected with Spurs now, there’s a very real risk of that happening. Of common-sense giving way to vanity, of precedents being ignored in favour of quick-fix lunges.
It’s concerning, for instance, that Jose Mourinho evidently feels confident of his chances of succeeding Pochettino. What a disaster in waiting that is. Mourinho would see Tottenham as a prop to use for his own rehabilitation, reasoning that a good season or two could then be parlayed into a better job by Jorge Mendes.
One with a grander transfer budget, which promised more celebrity, and came with a bigger office in which Mourinho could hang many more pictures of himself.
It’s an extreme example, but it demonstrates what Levy needs to avoid. He must recognise, for instance, that what worked between Spurs and Pochettino was that, in the beginning and for much of the duration, they needed each other. They enjoyed a highly profitable co-dependency, the ratios of which only shifted very recently.
He must also understand and take ownership of the mistakes he has made in the past. The difficulties that result in employer and employee having very different ideas about recruitment (Villas-Boas, Redknapp), for instance, or the problems that result from making a hiring decision on the basis of a superficial reputation (Ramos).
In the present day, there seem to be two kinds of managerial appointment at the top of the game. The first, in which a club figuratively hitches its wagons to a name or personality and then spends a fortune enacting his vision. And the second, which is more modest, depends less on the transfer market and aims for a cultural identity first and hopes that tangible achievement naturally follows.
Tottenham need to deal in the latter category and, as such, their search criteria is very clear: they need someone young, aspirational and energetic, but also with the kind of magnetic personality that footballers respond to. Most importantly, they require a new head coach with his future ahead of him. Someone with the appetite to challenge the game’s hierarchy, armed with fresh ideas about how the game should be played.
Without that synthesis, there will only be regression now. That’s Pochettino’s legacy: this roadmap for future progress, which lights the path for clubs who can’t just dominate via ludicrous financial primacy.
He believed in what Tottenham could be. He had true faith in what the union could produce and, in addition to his many technical and personal virtues, that was the basis for the club’s most successful period of the modern era.
Daniel Levy is the great beneficiary of Pochettino’s work. He must not squander that gift.
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Seb Stafford-Bloor is a football writer at Tifo Football and member of the Football Writers' Association. He was formerly a regularly columnist for the FourFourTwo website, covering all aspects of the game, including tactical analysis, reaction pieces, longer-term trends and critiquing the increasingly shady business of football's financial side and authorities' decision-making.
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