No, argues Gerry Cox
Jose Mourinho was not the only one laughing all the way to the bank when Daniel Levy pulled the trigger on Mauricio Pochettino’s time at Spurs on Tuesday evening. The producers at Amazon Prime can hardly have believed their luck that the most ‘Hollywood’ name in football management was going to be centre stage in their showpiece documentary for the next six months at least.
There have been thousands of words written and uttered already about why it went so wrong so quickly for Pochettino, who had led out Tottenham in their first Champions League final less than 23 weeks ago.
But none of the explanations matter to Mourinho or the men from Silicon Valley, whose main focus now is on what the Special One can achieve in London N17.
Mourinho divides opinions sharply among fans, neutrals, pundits, and in the boardrooms of clubs and internet giants. But there is no denying he is box office gold, and possibly this is one of the reasons that persuaded Levy to act with undue haste, which is how the majority of Tottenham fans assess the situation.
Spurs are not in a great place, but they are not exactly in a crisis either. Although they are 14th in the Premier League, a 3-0 win at struggling West Ham on Saturday lunchtime would take them into fifth. Tottenham then face Group B’s whipping boys Olympiakos in the Champions League on Tuesday, knowing victory against the hapless Greek side will put them into the last 16 with a game to spare.
No wonder so many of the club’s supporters were doubly dismayed on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, with the news Pochettino had been sacked and then barely 10 hours later, the announcement that Mourinho was to be his successor.
For starters, the hasty appointment suggested Pochettino’s fate had been sealed for some time, and Mourinho had been approached — or had approached Tottenham — while the Argentinian was still the club’s manager. Some companies would call it good succession planning, but in football it is considered bad form, certainly to have effectively signed up a new manager before the incumbent has gone.
But Levy and Spurs have previous in terms of mishandling managers.
His first major act after his bosses at ENIC bought out Alan Sugar to take ownership of Tottenham in 2000 was to sack George Graham on the spurious excuse that he was disclosing sensitive financial information, when asked about possible transfers in press conferences.
Graham protested that it was nonsense, took them to an industrial tribunal and won a handsome payout. Glenn Hoddle was appointed to appease the fans, but he lasted barely two years and was succeeded by Jacques Santini, the former France coach who walked out after just 13 games.
Levy finally got lucky when Martin Jol stepped up from a coaching role to take over, and produced bright successful football for three years before he was unceremoniously sacked, with the news leaking out at half-time during a European match so that reporters knew before Jol did.
Juande Ramos won a trophy, the League Cup, in his less than impressive year in charge, before Harry Redknapp got Spurs into the Champions League. But he was sacked after another top four finish and it was not until Pochettino’s appointment in 2014, after two lost years under Andre Villas Boas and then Tim Sherwood, that Spurs started the path towards a team capable of challenging for the Premier League and Champions League.
Pochettino’s star had been rising relentlessly, finishing third twice, second, and fourth last season despite no investment in the squad for 18 months. League form in 2019 has been poor, but mitigated to some extent by the run to the Champions League final and the lack of new players. So the perception is of a manager enabling his side to punch above their weight while operating under tight financial constraints while Tottenham’s new stadium was being built.
Not only that, he championed youth, developing players such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, and Harry Winks into England internationals. It helped forge a bond with the fans, who overwhelmingly supported him to the end. Despite the clamour on social media and some phone-ins, the vast majority of true supporters who go to games were in favour of giving him time to turn around this dip in form.
Less than a third of those polled yesterday preferred to see Mourinho, who not only is indelibly linked with Tottenham’s bitter rivals Chelsea, but is starting to be seen as yesterday’s man.
Five years ago Mourinho was arguably the most successful coach in the world, having won the Champions League with Porto and Inter, as well as league titles with Porto, Chelsea, Inter, and Real Madrid. But since his third Premier League title with Chelsea in 2014, his return has been modest — the League Cup and Europa League during two ill-fated years at Manchester United, where his outlay on players in one 12-week period eclipsed the whole of Pochettino’s net spend over five seasons at Tottenham.
And that is the most bizarre aspect of this episode. Daniel Levy is a notoriously parsimonious owner, prepared to let world-class players slip away than pay what he thinks is too much. It is a trait that has driven most of his managers to distraction over almost two decades at Spurs.
Yet Mourinho has always wanted big names and big budgets on which to build his success.
Even if he gets his way, and Levy suddenly loosens his purse strings in order to bring in world class players, the tight wage structure at Tottenham will be blown wide open.
And unless they can make up the gulf in class and more importantly points between them and the top clubs, they will be back in Europe’s second tier next year, and no better off than they were under Pochettino.
Then, what? We all know the pattern under Jose: first season rebuild, second season trophies, third season rows, vindictiveness, and walk-outs.
With Mourinho, it usually ends in tears, and not the ones of joy Pochettino and his men shed on a memorable night in Amsterdam last May when they reached the Champions League final. The only question is when.
Yes, says Michael Hayes
Who better to take the reins at a club desperate for tangible success than a man who unashamedly celebrates winning the Community Shield?
One of the enduring memories of Jose Mourinho’s time at Old Trafford was his three-fingered salute after winning the Europa League, completing a ‘treble’ in his first season at the club.
The enduring criticism of Spurs over the last number of years is their failure to furnish those new trophy cabinets with any actual trophies. Is Mourinho the man to change all that?
Of course, the real winners of the appointment of Mourinho are undoubtedly the Amazon Prime directors and cameramen currently scurrying around North London for the money shot of Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement.
The losers include those in the Sky Sports studio who up until now were those benefitting from Mourinho’s undoubted box office draw.
Whether Daniel Levy’s gamble pays off on the pitch remains to be seen, but the club’s recent record — as well as Pochettino’s public grumblings — meant a change was coming.
Just 25 points from their last 26 league games speaks for itself, although the appointment of Mourinho has certainly raised eyebrows.
Much of which may emanate more from Mourinho fatigue than anything else.
This is a man whose reputation precedes him, and for whom that is no longer necessarily a good thing. His two and a half years at Manchester United ended in recrimination and rancour, and Spurs fans will rightly fear the same fate, even as Pochettino’s time at the club seemed to be heading in the same direction anyway.
As Daniel Storey notes elsewhere on these pages, the differences between Pochettino and his replacement are stark, but maybe that is the point. The Argentinian’s Klopp-esque arm around the shoulder approach is at odds with Mourinho’s unique brand of man-management. But what is missing from most appraisals of Klopp is his tactical nous.
Much of the good work done by Klopp at Liverpool has been overlooked in favour of pop psychology, but while the gregarious German’s personality hasn’t changed, his tactical innovations have seen him leapfrog Pep Guardiola this season.
Pochettino, for better or worse, has stuck rigidly to a gameplan that has gone stale. While he deserves the greatest respect for getting the most from his squad during his tenure, that he wasn’t for changing when things started going south forced the hand of the Spurs hierarchy.
Mourinho may well revert to a park the bus and counter approach, not what those in the good seats at Spurs’ new stadium thought they were paying for, but a closer look at his squad suggests such pragmatism could bring a change in fortunes.
The likes of Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura, and Harry Kane should all be able to fill traditional Mourinho roles, while a backline featuring the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen will be more comfortable playing a deeper defensive line.
Daniel Levy’s move for Mourinho may also spell an end to the austerity years at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a situation that has led to too many first-team players approach the end of their contracts.
Pochettino’s situation was akin to a chef in a Michelin-star kitchen with bare cupboards.
The Argentinian waited until he was in a position of strength before antagonising the decision-makers in the stands; if Mourinho’s time at Old Trafford tells us anything, it’s that he won’t be as diplomatic in instigating change.
Ultimately, the decision to dispose of Pochettino and replace him with Mourinho represents the biggest gamble of Daniel Levy’s time at Spurs. It is also the decision that will define Levy’s own tenure at the club. Spurs fans can only hope that their chairman is aware of what to expect from Mourinho, and is prepared to back him accordingly.