Levy's got Pochettino sacking 'way upside down'
Don't be surprised by Mauricio Pochettino's sudden departure from Tottenham Hotspur. The timing may have caught the football world on the hop, coming towards the end of an international break and the return of Premier League action just four days away, but the fault line between the club and the Argentine has been growing for months.
Pochettino's side-door exit from Madrid's Estadio Metropolitano, within an hour of Tottenham's Champions League final defeat against Liverpool in June, when he and his coaching staff walked through the media centre, past bemused journalists and straight for a flight to Barcelona, was a clear hint that all was not well at the London club. While the Spurs players gathered their thoughts and headed home the following day, Pochettino was already somewhere else. In the minds of many at the club, he'd checked out long before that 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the Spanish capital.
The 47-year-old had done little to dampen speculation linking him to vacancies at Manchester United and Real Madrid during the middle part of last season. While that was viewed within Spurs as both the nature of the game and a ploy that any leading coach would adopt, Pochettino's sustained refusal to rule out leaving the club at the end of last season was a cause for alarm and displeasure, both in the dressing room and among the hierarchy.
Spurs went into the Champions League final -- the first in the club's history -- with Pochettino repeatedly being evasive when asked if he'd still be in charge at the start of this season, with the former Southampton and Espanyol coach even admitting he would be "open to anything" when asked if he would considering leaving the club. When he confirmed, during Tottenham's preseason tour of Singapore in July, that he would probably have left his job had Spurs won the Champions League, the guessing game that was a distraction among the club's players, supporters and senior figures finally had its answer.
The seeds of disaffection that were sown in the weeks before Madrid began to emerge at the start of this season, too. Spurs have made a dismal start, winning just three of their 12 Premier League games so far this term as well as suffering a humiliating 7-2 defeat at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stages.
Pochettino had made it clear that he was no longer fully focused on his job at Spurs, so how could he be surprised that Christian Eriksen would not sign a new long-term contract or that the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose have since questioned their own futures at the club? Sources have told ESPN FC that Pochettino's methods began to grate with senior players, with one claiming privately that his demands on the training pitch would not be accepted by players at a "super club" like Real Madrid, Manchester United or Barcelona, because they were methods that would only be accepted by young players making their way in the game.
Perhaps there is an element of truth in that suggestion. Pochettino's undoubted success at Spurs was rooted in his ability to identify and nurture youthful talent in the shape of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Eriksen, Heung-Min Son, Harry Winks and many others. Once those youngsters became experienced players, the message needed to changed and finessed, but Pochettino chose to stick with what he knew best and in the end, Spurs have decided to change the messenger rather than wait for him to change the message.
Pochettino's refusal to stop looking at other possible jobs and his unhappiness at a lack of funds to take the club to the next level contributed to his eventual demise at Tottenham.
Pochettino's time in charge has been transformative for Spurs, however, and history will judge him positively, as Spurs legend Gary Lineker suggested on Twitter in the moments following confirmation of the manager's dismissal. "Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked by @SpursOfficial. He helped the club to punch massively above their weight for years. Good luck with finding a better replacement... ain't gonna happen."
- Harry Kane wants to conquer Premier League... and then NFL
Spurs may not have won a trophy under Pochettino, but they have re-established themselves as a major Premier League force, become Champions League regulars and emerged from the long shadow of neighbours Arsenal in North London. All of that is down to Pochettino and his five years in charge -- 293 games in all competitions -- will be remembered for his exciting football, the Champions League final, four successive top four finishes and his ability to keep the team competitive while the club spent 18 months playing at Wembley while White Hart Lane was rebuilt.
Ultimately, he wanted what Spurs chairman Daniel Levy could not, or would not, deliver: funds to take the team to the next level. The rebuilding that Pochettino wanted to undertake this summer was only partially done and that's a big reason why the team now lies in the bottom half of the Premier League ahead of Saturday's trip to West Ham. But the rift had already begun to widen long before the start of this season. What has happened now is merely the inevitable conclusion.
Spurs will look to hire a proven manager, with the out-of-work Jose Mourinho available to start immediately and Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers an option in the summer, if Levy chooses to make an interim appointment in order to wait for the former Celtic and Liverpool manager. As for Pochettino, Real and United remain his likeliest next destination, with both Zinedine Zidane and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggling to live up to expectations at the Santiagio Bernabeu and Old Trafford respectively.
The only thing we know is that today has been coming. Pochettino had said and done too much for a parting of the ways not to happen.