Four years into Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham project – the lack of silverware is beginning to cast a looming shadow over the club and its players.
The Founding Fathers of the USA made sure to decree in the American Constitution that a President’s term shall only last a maximum of four years before the people decided again on who should lead the nation. The logic was that four years was enough time to decide if the President’s work was beneficial and also stopped any dictatorships being formed.
The Premier League, a torch-bearer of the capitalist ideology that America floated around the world, has an even more ruthless attitude to leaders, with most managers counting themselves lucky to last more than two seasons. Tottenham Hotspur have been fortunate to have a leader in Mauricio Pochettino who, in a few months, will have served a term of four years. Despite no silverware to boast and a questionable foreign policy in the Champions League, fans of Spurs are more than happy with Pochettino’s ‘’ project’’, with progress continually being made, yet will the revered leader wish to serve a second term?
As the final whistle blew on a surprisingly warm Wednesday Wembley evening, the wave of expletives and anger that had taken control of the home crowd quietly, and humbly faded. A steady applause broke out. The light of the bigger picture shone across the giant arches of Wembley; Spurs, perennial underachievers; often a laughing stock for most of the population, *should* have eliminated ‘’The Old Lady’’, one of the biggest and successful sides in the world, from the Champions League. Fans, lost in the emotional moment of the game, began to realise that as soon as the final whistle blew, that despite the loss, they were in a golden age for Spurs. The sheer disappointment felt at losing to Juventus has, in turn, become the greatest compliment one could pay to the Mauricio Pochettino project, which began in 2014.
Yet there is also a feeling that this could be a transformative year for the project. The tie vs Juventus showed players the difference between big, experienced clubs and teams still trying to navigate Europe. Of the 180 riveting minutes that took place between both legs, it can honestly be argued that Spurs dominated for at least 150 of those minutes. Yet Juventus, like a wily old boxer, bided their time and made the most of their resources to hit the knockout blows when it mattered. Pochettino also alluded to off-the-ball ‘’dark arts’’ from Juventus, mainly the pressure they put on the referee at half-time over what they felt were questionable decisions. Whether the youthful, and somewhat naive, Spurs side will ever turn to the ‘’dark arts’’ is another matter, but it also felt like pure frustration for Pochettino; dominant in footballing terms yet still losing; Spurs have played an unbelievably consistent and high-level style of football for the past three seasons yet, aside from Champions League qualification, have nothing else to show for it. Frustration could lead to change.
Harry Kane, the Premier League’s most prolific striker for the past few seasons, is now reaching the peak of his career, with goals at the Bernabeu and Allianz Stadium this season further highlighting his sheer quality. Yet he has never won a trophy. Alan Shearer was equally as prolific yet stayed at Newcastle out of loyalty; also never winning a trophy for his toils; but there was one difference, he won the league with Blackburn early in his career, there was no burden for him to carry in that sense. Kane will want, he will need, trophies to reflect his talent, and questions will now be in his mind about whether this can be done at Spurs.
Spurs have traditionally been a selling club. Berbatov. Bale. Modric. Walker. Just a few who have left after successful spells at the club for greener pastures. And better wages. Chairman Daniel Levy is famously prudent with finances, and this extends to the wage structure at the club, which has a ceiling. This means that players stay at the club for loyalty and faith in the project; most of the first XI know they, like Kyle Walker, could double their wages at the drop of a hat by pushing for a transfer. Raul has said Real Madrid would love a striker like Kane. Danny Rose, blighted by injuries over the past year, has spoken out to the media about his unhappiness at the club’s lack of silverware ‘’Time is running out and I do want to win trophies. I don’t want to play football for 15 years and not have one trophy or one medal’’ he would say at the beginning of this season.
Toby Alderweireld seems nowhere near to agreeing to a new contract deal and recent rumours suggest major clubs are eyeing up Moussa Dembele, Spurs’ most valuable player this season. This summer, therefore, is critical for the club; before moving into their new stadium they need to ensure the core of the squad is motivated enough to stay and the best way to do this would be by not only securing a Top 4 finish but also winning the FA Cup, an opportunity that has somewhat opened up with the exits of Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool. Perhaps the first taste of silverware for players at the club will be the factor that determines whether they stay. In many ways, Man City are the template for the ongoing project at Spurs; it took the FA Cup win over Stoke in 2011 to really kick-start an era of success for the Mancunians.
Yet ultimately the board at Spurs need to ensure that Mauricio Pochettino himself is satisfied to serve a ‘’second term’’ at the club. Young, hungry and talented, his exploits have not gone unnoticed across Europe, and you wonder if he feels he has taken the project as far as he can.
Transfers have been somewhat of a let-down this season, with Spurs inability to sign an effective backup striker proving costly; against Juventus, Llorente was invisible, he did not provide the impetus expected of his role, and for too many seasons, the team has relied on Kane as the sole striker and solution maker. Eriksen and Son have proved they can score when needed to, but this summer the board need to ensure that enough funds and help are afforded to improving the team, which in turn will provide a boost to existing players.
Presidents are often defined by one event or action. George W Bush will forever be remembered for the Iraq War, similarly, Obama’s legacy will centre on Obamacare, while Bill Clinton is forever known for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. For Pochettino, his legacy at Spurs is that of a man who reinvigorated the side and nearly took them to the title. That feeling of being nearly men is something that taunts the Spurs faithful, themselves having been cast in the shadows of Arsenal since the era of Wenger, and only now starting to emerge from the dark depths of that inferiority. The ridiculous 5-1 loss to Newcastle on the last day of 2015/16 which meant that Spurs once again finished below Arsenal was a class example of how the complex played on the mind of the side; so to finally finish above the Gooners last season was the breaking of a very big mental barrier for the side; it is up to Pochettino to now push further and win silverware. Any silverware. Something to prove tangible for the project. Something to show for the hard work of Pochettino and his team’s first term. Further down the line, the Spurs faithful are ultimately hoping Mauricio Pochettino seeks another term in order to build a legacy as the man who actually won Spurs the title.