Premier League: Mauricio Pochettino ushers Tottenham to London's best but must unlock team's full potential

It finished like it had in the past two seasons, with a glut of goals. This was no 1-5 collapse at Newcastle, nor was it a 7-1 thrashing of Hull City. Instead, the 5-4 win over Leicester City was an amalgamation of the two. It had the sense that some of the Spurs players were on holiday or had let their mind wander towards the forthcoming World Cup. But Mauricio Pochettino’s iron grip ensures that ‘Spursy’ is a thing of the past – there are no self-demolitions anymore.

Mauricio Pochettino wants Tottenham Hotspur to match his ambitions. Reuters

Mauricio Pochettino wants Tottenham Hotspur to match his ambitions. Reuters

But if everyone thought that Spurs could go into the summer relatively pleased with themselves while preparing for a return to the refurbished White Hart Lane, there was a spanner in the works. Never before had Pochettino discussed the ambitions he has for the club in detail. But now he believes that the transition has gone on for too long. It is time for a step up to the next level.

“I have very clear ideas of what we need to do. I don’t know if the club will agree with me or not. We are going to talk next week to create the new project. It is a little bit up to Daniel (Levy) and the club to agree with us. If we want to be real contenders for big trophies, we need to review a little bit. We need to create dreams that will be possible to achieve. Maybe we are a bit disappointed and frustrated because now we are close (to trophies).”

Close to trophies, a narrative which has seemingly begun to affect the club insiders now. It is no longer enough that Spurs have become Champions League regulars while spending peanuts. More, more, more – This is the refrain by fans and pundits. Material ambitions are seemingly the only ones which matter. A place in the top four used to be a trophy. Now you must win actual silverware.

But the danger remains that, in seeking more, Pochettino may risk the project in hand. After all, what has worked for Spurs under him is a commitment to continuity. Players have been brought through the academy while the odd signing has complemented the squad. But if Spurs was to seek a number of signings in the summer, would it not cause disruption? Even as the club dreams bigger, it must not lose sight of the gains which have been achieved.

It is true that a net spend of approximately £40 million on transfers in Pochettino’s time at the club is miles behind its competitors. This is, of course, a factor of the still escalating costs for the renovated stadium which will allow Spurs a greater revenue going forward. But the FA Cup and Champions League failures this season seems to have affected the mood. The semi-final loss to Manchester United last month was certainly a missed opportunity. Spurs had the unique chance of playing both the FA Cup semi and the final at their temporary home. But big-match nerves seemed to have an undue impact on the players.

Pochettino would have liked his side to be braver but the courage, he believes, has to flow from the club’s administration. “I think Daniel (Levy) is going to listen to me, of course. You need to be brave. Being brave is the most important thing and take risks. I think it’s a moment that the club needs to take risks and tries to work, if possible, harder than the previous season to be competitive again, because every season will be more difficult. It’s not only the big clubs. The clubs in behind us like Everton, West Ham or Leicester – they are working so hard to be close to the top six.”

In the current scenario, that threat seems to be more imagined than real. Any objective review of Everton, West Ham or Leicester’s season will reveal that all of those clubs are nowhere close to Spurs at the moment. The Toffees performed the best among them and still finished nearly 30 points behind Tottenham. That is a huge difference to make up even over two seasons.

But the more important question remains whether trophies are a reliable barometer to judge Pochettino’s success at Spurs? It may seem to be a diminution of ambition for the club to find contentment in merely topping its Champions League group ahead of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, while also finishing above Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal in the league. But these achievements are no less worthy.

Particularly, in light of Spurs shifting its home stadium to Wembley for the season. Although an unbeaten campaign like the previous one at White Hart Lane did not materialise, 43 points at home was a respectable return. Furthermore, on their league travels, Spurs performed worse than only the champion Manchester City.

There were other positives as well. Harry Kane scored 30 league goals for the first time in his career, despite a slide in form towards the end of the season. The absence of Toby Alderweireld, who is arguably the best defender at Pochettino’s disposal, did not hurt the team as Jan Vertonghen (the club’s player of the season) and Davinson Sanchez were exceptional throughout. Long-term injuries to Danny Rose and Harry Winks were negotiated well too, even though Spurs does not possess a deep squad. Not to mention, Christian Eriksen and Heung-min Son were reliable performers all season. The Dane was a gleaming presence as he finished the league with 10 goals and as many assists.

However, Spurs’ drop from 86 (2016-17) to 77 points has certainly worried Pochettino. He fears that things can get worse if the squad is not reinvigorated in the summer. Spurs possessed the best attack and defence in the 2016-17 league. It is apparent that the football has not touched those highs this season, even though it has been pretty good.

With transfer speculation surrounding Alderweireld, Rose, and Mousa Dembele, Pochettino has demanded a heavy transfer war chest from chairman Levy. His response to the manager will define the club’s future. Pochettino is the jewel at the centre of Spurs’ rise. The team can ill-afford to lose him. To keep the manager, though, Levy will have to loosen his purse strings.

However, the club chairman’s parsimonious ways are well-documented. He is never the one to blink first when it comes to financial dealings. But will he accede to the demands of a man whose departure may spark a crisis at Spurs? It is difficult to see how the club can move ahead without its leader.

Perhaps, there is a case to be made that Spurs have not unlocked their full potential. But it remains imperative to not throw away what has been earned so well. In that context, it becomes imperative that Pochettino is the man entrusted to preserve the gains even as Spurs dream of greener pastures. The manager certainly believes that, and surely, so should Levy.

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Updated Date: May 15, 2018 08:49:17 IST

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