Only Mauricio Pochettino Can Save Tottenham Hotspur Now

Why Spurs must turn back to their greatest modern coach
17:00, 27 Mar 2023

If Ghostface was to serial killing what Antonio Conte is to serial winning, they probably wouldn’t have got as far as making Scream VI. The departing Tottenham Hotspur manager hacked up his Spurs squad like a slasher villain on the way out of the club, leaving morale in tatters. The situation is far from unsalvageable, with assistant Cristian Stellini stepping into an acting head coach role with the team in fourth place. But the small matter of who will coach Spurs next season is understandably at the forefront of people’s minds.

Julian Nagelsmann is an attractive option. While he has just lost his job with Bayern Munich, at the age of 35 he offers fresh fire. He also has experience in lifting major silverware, even if the Bundesliga he won at the Allianz last season was arguably a prerequisite. Former Spain manager Luis Enrique has no shortage of admirers in North London, while there remains a real appetite to see more of Marcelo Bielsa in the Premier League.


But the perfect candidate to take Spurs forward is out there and available. Someone uniquely attuned to what it takes to manage this club. What Tottenham need is someone to reestablish their identity. Who better to do that than the man who established it in the first place? What Spurs need is Mauricio Pochettino.

There is a solid argument to be made that the Argentine is out of their reach now, with the years-long saga of Pochettino’s possible move to Real Madrid finally nearing a conclusion. But Spurs chairman Daniel Levy would be well-served to throw everything he can at bringing back his former manager. Tottenham have struggled without an identity in the years since he left. Only Pochettino can restore it.

A quick look over Spurs’ recent managerial history shows a club struggling for direction. Pochettino’s holistic approach was replaced by the win-at-all-costs ballast of Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese was still smarting from a divisive tenure at Manchester United and his only enduring legacy at Spurs is a documentary clip of him delivering some home truths to Dele Alli.

Next came Nuno Espirito Santo, via a brief caretaker stint for ex-Tottenham midfielder Ryan Mason. Undermined by a drawn out recruitment process that underlined his status as the club’s fifth choice, Santo was unable to galvanise Tottenham in the way he had with Wolverhampton Wanderers. The dressing room never warmed to the Portuguese and neither did the fans. He lasted just 17 games, losing seven and drawing two of them.


One of the managers who was publicly known to be ahead of Santo in the pecking order was Antonio Conte. A Premier League winner with Chelsea and coming off a Serie A triumph at Inter Milan, the Italian had hoped to walk into the Manchester United job. When the Glazers left it too long to pull the trigger on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, then opted for an interim appointment in Ralf Rangnick, Conte became more open-minded to a Spurs job he had rebuffed once. 

After a promising first half-season where he steered the club to a top four finish and Champions League qualification, Conte’s vision has become blurred. A disconnect with the players and the board was exacerbated by a failure to commit long-term. Conte’s dalliance with Spurs always felt ethereal and temporary. Now it has proven to be so.

Going from Mourinho to Santo to Conte shows no real pattern. There is no unifying football idea behind those appointments. Levy himself would struggle to tell you what the hiring of those three coaches says about Spurs as an entity. Mourinho and Conte are both lazily referred to as “serial winners” but each achieved those wins in different ways. Santo was out of his depth, an attempt at a progressive hire with one eye on the future that was undermined by the fact his crown had started to slip when he left Wolves.

Tottenham’s identity when they were at their recent best was clear. The high-intensity, high-pressing football of Pochettino was lauded even by rivals. Overnight, Tottenham went from Europa League also-rans to Champions League mainstays. The trophies never came but they nearly did. There was the brush with a title battle, when Leicester City outlasted them. A Champions League final defeat to Liverpool in 2019. Reaching that showpiece occasion would have been unthinkable before Pochettino.

While returning to a former club doesn’t always work out, this feels different. While he can’t boast their trophies, Pochettino feels as vital to Spurs’ identity as Arsene Wenger was to Arsenal or Brian Clough was to Nottingham Forest. Circumstances have not changed so drastically at the club that he would be lost. Levy is still the polarising presence in charge of the purse strings. The likes of Kane and Heung-min Son are still beating heart of the team. There are also talents like Richarlison, Djed Spence and Destiny Udogie to work with. All three were signed over the summer, with two now out on loan and the third falling out of favour with Conte. All three feel like they could be Pochettino players.

The pull of Los Blancos may yet be too much to resist for Pochettino. He has been considered the heir apparent at the Bernabeu ever since his Spurs days. Finally, with manager Carlos Ancelotti reportedly in the frame for the Brazil, the coast appears to be clear. But surely Pochettino, that great footballing romantic, sees the attraction in returning home to Spurs? After they have floundered under vastly different managers, the unifying qualities and experience in the role he brings are vital. Real Madrid want you, Mauricio. But Tottenham need you.

spurs to finish in the top four: 2/1*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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