Well, who would want to be Mauricio Pochettino right now?
After being knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur conspired to do the double – not the good old “league and cup” kind – and lose to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. Andros Townsend’s penalty would have been a dagger to the heart, and in terms of season-defining weeks, this must be one of the worst ones.
In recent years, never has a team been brought under the intense, scrutinizing microscope as much as Tottenham.
Such is the spotlight that comes with constant development and progress of the modern-day football team. When you threaten to topple the old guard, as Tottenham have under Pochettino, you’ll more often than not attract the eye of the critical public, and aren’t the Premier League just a watchful bunch?
Pochettino has been celebrated as a leading figure in the Premier League’s hierarchy of top-class managers – the way he thinks about how football should be played, the improvement of his players, their consistent run of top four finishes.
And why not? Tottenham have become a relevant figure of late, it’s difficult to criticize a manager who has been consistently good. Daniel Levy would sign him on for eternity if he could.
It’s all pretty and shiny hanging on the wall – Pochettino’s ability to take a team and make it a successful outfit under strict financial guidelines – but at what point do we begin to question, to hassle and harry a man who should, by now, have something more to show for all of his obvious qualities?
It’s interesting to note Pochettino’s words after the disappointment at Selhurst Park, stating that all winning trophies does is “build your ego”, and that his team’s progress should be measured by top four consistency and participation in the Champions League.
Success of late has become difficult to quantify. What is successful in the modern era? Would you take 38 1-0 wins to clinch the title, or play champagne football and come fourth?
Aren’t managers at the bigger clubs there to clinch some silverware? Such aspirations, for managers and players alike, seem more obvious than crazy, fantasy thinking.
This is where Pochettino could be lost in translation, because the natural progression of things should lead Tottenham to an eventual trophy. This, one feels, should have happened by now.
The situation Tottenham now find themselves in, however, may make any hopes of winning trophies ultimately fictional. This has felt like a ticking time bomb ever since Tottenham decided that the best way to tackle the season was to not invest in any significant signings in the summer.
When Harry Kane fell, Dele Alli soon joined him. Son Heung-min added to the woes by joining South Korea at the Asia Cup.
Other players have also been missing at some point in the season – Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Sissoko, Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama, to name a few.
And for Pochettino, this season is beginning to unravel before his very eyes as the weight of having no one come in starts to take its toll on this side.
Such has been the intensity and sheer consistency of selection that minor tweaks are starting to be felt, players succumbing to the workload that their bodies were supposedly accustomed to.
And for all of Pochettino’s trust in what he’s got at his disposal – to rather invest in who he has, rather than spend on any Tom, Dick or Harry – it may have been worthwhile to take a chance on somebody. Anybody.
This is where Pochettino may be seen to have a weakness. The narrative, of course, will revolve around the move to the new stadium and the lack of transfer funds that comes with such an investment. As Arsenal realized with their move to the Emirates Stadium, the transfer kitty becomes pennies and dimes, the big bucks unavailable for the big names.
But in Tottenham’s case, do they really need stellar names to take them to the next level? With Pochettino, they have at the helm a man who can eek out the very best from a selection of players who, a few years ago, were nowhere near being good enough to be taken seriously.
But for all of the talk about progression, moving forward towards that much-needed crowning moment, it may have been better to bring in some fresh faces to make those steps easier to do.