In a small corner of the Johan Cruijff Arena, the Tottenham fans are blasting out their famous Mauricio Pochettino chant. Lucas Moura has just scored a 96th minute winner against Ajax to send them to a first-ever Champions League final, following one of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of the competition. It feels like a culmination of all the Argentinian’s hard work – he has transformed the club into realistic contenders.
Had someone told you that night that Jose Mourinho would become Tottenham manager by the end of the year, you would have laughed at them. But just 19 games later, with Spurs languishing in 14th position in the Premier League, that is exactly what has transpired.
Despite a horrific run of form which has left them closer to the relegation zone than the top four, Pochettino’s sacking still sent shockwaves through the football world.
He is undoubtedly one of the world’s top coaches and has already been linked with several high-profile jobs. Not many would argue against him finding a job at a club bigger than Spurs before the end of the season.
It is easy to forget that the club made the top four just twice in the Premier League era before Pochettino’s arrival. He has made Champions League football the norm at White Hart Lane, all whilst operating on a shoestring budget relative to many of their rivals.
He also built a special rapport with the fans, as scenes such as those following their dramatic win over Ajax demonstrate, when the Argentine cried tears of joy amid the celebrations.
But in football there is no room for sentiment; chairman Daniel Levy had to act on what he felt was best for the long-term future of the club.
In truth, Pochettino’s downfall began well before their historic Champions League run. Tottenham have not won away in the league since January – and even that came in injury time against relegated Fulham.
They have earned just 25 points from their last 24 games, and have won just three league games this season. They were also demolished 7-2 at home by Bayern Munich and knocked out of the Carabao Cup on penalties by Colchester.
There had been doubts for several months surrounding Pochettino’s long-term future, and a feeling that he would jump ship the moment a bigger job came his way. He has been growing increasingly frustrated with the club’s lack of willingness to spend big in the transfer market; they didn’t make a single signing last season.
“In Mourinho, Tottenham have a man who knows how to win”
Sacking arguably one of their greatest ever managers so early in the season may have seemed a rash decision by Levy had he not had a proven winner ready to take over.
In Mourinho, Tottenham have a man who knows how to win. Not just football matches, but trophies, something Pochettino was unable to deliver during his five years in charge.
The contrast between the two could not be greater. One actively seeks to bring through youth, looking to improve individuals rather than replace those who may be struggling, and build a team over a number of years.
The other is a winning machine, who will stop at nothing to achieve success, regularly looking to the transfer market to solve problems.
On the face of it, Mourinho does not seem the perfect fit for the North London club. One of the main reasons’ thing turned sour for him at Manchester United was over the hierarchy’s failure to deliver his transfer targets. Levy will need to dip his hand into his pocket far more often that he has previously in order to satisfy the Portuguese’s wishes.
Levy was not put off by his bitter Old Trafford exit, where he was sacked after a turbulent last six months at the helm. His second-place finish the previous season looks impressive now, and he managed to win two trophies during his tenure, but fell out with many during the process, most notably Paul Pogba.
There is hope that Mourinho will be able to convince several big names to remain at the club
Mourinho often feels like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode as happened in his third season at both Chelsea and United. However, he knows this is potentially his last chance in English football, so will surely come into it with a different, more measured approach.
The three-time Premier League winner is not known for undertaking rebuild jobs, but that’s exactly what he faces in North London. Three key players – Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen are all out of contract at the end of the season, while others such as Serge Aurier, Danny Rose and Victor Wanyama have been offered around Europe with little success.
It shows the mismanagement of the club that Eriksen, who was dead set on leaving following the defeat in Madrid, wasn’t sold and could instead leave the club for free next summer.
There is hope, though, that Mourinho will be able to convince several big names to remain. Surely at least one of the out-of-contract trio could be persuaded to sign a new deal, but even if this happens, there will still be a considerable rebuild needed.
Keeping Spurs talisman Harry Kane will be a priority for the new manager. His social media tribute to the departing Pochettino showed how strong the bond was between the two. But it is likely the future of his star man was on Levy’s mind when he decided to opt for Jose – if anyone can convince him to stay, he can.
Levy has made a tough decision, but the right decision. Mourinho is a gamble, but one worth taking. Expectations are far lower at Tottenham than any of his previous clubs. Jose has won 10 trophies since Spurs last lifted silverware – there are few people better placed to end their drought.
Featured image via www.youtube.com/watch?v=63apDKKx1o4