Spurs’ sacking of Mauricio Pochettino; subsequent appointment of José Mourinho could prove to be a turning point in the club’s history
The football world was stunned on Tuesday evening. Mauricio Pochettino was sacked by the club’s board, leaving behind a half-decade of gradual improvement and lifelong memories for Tottenham supporters in his wake. Within hours, one name dominated rumours as to who would be his replacement. Early Wednesday morning, it was confirmed. José Mourinho is heading back to London and to the Premier League for one last tilt at trophy-winning glory that would be as magnificent for the club as it would be important in salvaging the Portuguese’s career.
Pochettino spearheaded an enthralling period of transformation in his Spurs reign, as they went from perennial underachievers in the shadow of their north London neighbours to consistent top-four achievers and European contenders in just five-and-a-half years. Despite what was often considered overachievement, an extended recent slump meant that even those who have worked with Levy were taken aback by the extraordinary news that echoed around the football world as it developed.
As recently as last month, after humiliating losses to Bayern Munich and Brighton in the Champions League respectively, former-Spurs boss Tim Sherwood claimed that “He [Pochettino] has got so much credit in the bank with that football club. There is no way he [Levy] will sack Mauricio Pochettino – not in a million years.” Yet, it subsequently transpired that this, as an extension of the club’s loss in the Champions League final to Liverpool in June and a disappointing start to this campaign, was the beginning of the end for the much-loved Argentine.
Despite the pair’s relationship apparently having broken down, in his full statement, Levy was keen to stress the difficulties and reasoning behind the club’s decision:
“We were extremely reluctant to make this change and it is not a decision the Board has taken lightly, nor in haste,” Levy said.
“It falls to the Board to make the difficult decisions – this one made more so given the many memorable moments we have had with Mauricio and his coaching staff – but we do so in the Club’s best interests.”
Without doubt, in making this decision, Levy took a high-stakes gamble. The chairman’s choice of Pochettino’s successor seems hasty, as well as borderline controversial. To be frank, Mourinho doesn’t fit the Spurs managerial mould — which it could be fairly argued is not currently a winning one — and his style of play and persona both provide stark contrast to his predecessor. Upon the club’s announcement regarding Pochettino, Levy indicated in his statement that one of the main reasons they were pushed to make such a decision was to “re-energise and look to deliver a positive season for our supporters.”
If a jolt of energy for an exciting team dependent on attacking talent is what’s needed, Mourinho’s troubles towards the end of his time at United prove that he is the wrong choice. Yet, the Spurs board (as well as the supporters when they come to accept the club’s decision), will hope that a different Mourinho will return for a second stint at management in the capital.
Upon the announcement of Mourinho as Head Coach on a contract running until the end of the 2022/23, Levy said of the inevitable appointment:
“In Jose we have one of the most successful managers in world football. He has a wealth of experience, can inspire teams and is a great tactician. He has won honours at every club he has coached. We believe he will bring energy and belief to the dressing room.”
The ex-Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss has re-entered the spotlight in recent times, keeping a publicly keen eye on the next big job becoming available. Mourinho has made popular performances as a pundit on Sky Sports characterised by witty humour, a sharp analytical eye and an obvious urge to get back into the management game. With many questioning if “the special one” has lost his touch, he will hope to assert himself as the “re-energised one” and prove fans wrong that may have doubted his waning powers during his absence.
Mourinho brings baggage and previous tension with his new employers to the position, which will have to be left firmly in the past for the two parties to move on harmoniously in pursuit of long-awaited glory. What’s more, out of the ashes of Pochettino’s reign came a startling reminder of just how much can change in football.
Less than 12 months ago, before his sacking by Manchester United last December, Mourinho was the man at risk of losing his job – to Pochettino. Who would have foreseen how it eventually played out — with Pochettino missing out on the Manchester United job, overseeing a retched run of form (Champions League run aside) and Mourinho swooping in less than 24 hours later to take his job in North London?
It has been reported that Levy didn’t warn his players prior to the board’s public announcement. Spurs’ chairman took a risk which we are yet to see whether it will pay off or not, removing the man of whose downfall supporters are suspicious of the players’ involvement in. Senior figures such as Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose have all been guilty of suggesting they may run down their contracts, inviting suggestions from supporters that they lacked motivation and desire to move forward. What cannot be argued is that the decision was brave and may well be the right one in taking Spurs to the next level which fans have been so desperate to see.
There are those, of course, who will question why Pochettino was not given further chance to do so, but it seems this was the end of the road of an increasingly worn relationship between chairman and manager in the past 18 months or so.
Mourinho’s cold, hands-off management style is different to that of Pochettino; despite his demise at United he is largely still considered an elite manager. But this time there will be no excuses. Ultimately Mourinho must deliver success – in the form of trophies and consistency on multiple fronts – and will no doubt be backed financially to do so. Whereas Levy’s willingness to financially back his managers has been questioned in the past (often a point of disagreement between the Spurs chairman and Pochettino during their time together), he must surely now give Mourinho the backing he will likely demand in order to prove this decision was the correct one – whether it be in January or in the summer window with an eye to next season.
If they get it right, Levy and Mourinho could elevate Spurs into an entirely different stratosphere and take the final step which was missing during the emotional Pochettino era. If so, (almost) all may be forgiven. That, somehow, seems unlikely, and the immediate shock of it all will take some time to recover from…