When I played gridiron football in college, Harold “Tubby” Raymond was my coach, a legend bound for the Hall of Fame. He began at my school the year before I was born. He would tell us things like “I’ll be here long after you’re gone” and “your mommy gave you life but your butt belongs to me.”
For English football I don’t know if that would ever have worked, but it certainly wouldn’t fly in 2017. Managers today need to adapt and learn, to be a buddy to the players when they have to, and to crack the whip to satisfy the supporters and chairman when they need to. It used to be that you did what the gaffer said or you were gone. Now the player makes ten times the salary of the manager. If he’s slumping he still has his name recognition and Adidas endorsements to keep the lights on. A chairman can’t fire 20 players, but he can fire one manager. When the supporters have a walkout, nobody’s there to buy shirts, beer and scarves. Kicking one backside gets more attention than a week of hard practices before the next fixture.
It’s a hard job to master, and even the greats sometimes fail. Sir Alex Ferguson was the only manager who never failed. Manchester United is still trying to find his successor.
Spurs especially in the 21st Century is known as a place where managerial careers go to die. Since George Graham left in 2001, Pleat, Hoddle, Pleat again, Santini, Jol, Allen/Inglethorpe, Ramos, Allen/Inglethorpe again, Redknapp, Villas-Boas, Sherwood, and the current occupant Pochettino, have held the job. At 2 1/2 seasons Pochettino has outlasted most of that list and is showing no signs of losing the confidence of our notoriously business-minded chairman, Mr. Levy, or the attention of the squad. How has he managed this?
Understand All The Expectations
Every working person has goals and objectives laid out for them by their manager. In your day job they’re communicated to you clearly. For a football manager, it’s not so simplistic.
- Teach such a dull style of football that everyone stays home, you make the Champions League and the team loses money.
- Heal a fractious dressing room, but in all your ice cream and cake parties, you forget to win football games.
- Play a wild, exciting brand of football but have to be such a martinet to make your players go at your desired tempo that the whole squad as one demand transfers to “anywhere else.”
- The dressing room is singing and holding hands, your team is winning, the coffers are flush, but you’re on the front page of the Sun with a naked Kylie Minogue in one hand and a half-empty bottle of Old Overcoat in the other.
So you could meet your formal expectations, but you’re going to get the sack anyway because you didn’t fully understand the job.
Pochettino has needed some time to understand the full scope of the expectations upon him. His public behavior has always been exemplary and beyond reproach. That part of the job he clearly mastered from day one. He is described as a “league manager” who will put aside almost every other competition to focus on the Premier League. Spurs nevertheless made a Cup final appearance at Wembley under his watch but bowed out early in other tournaments. Last season amid a title race and match congestion on the calendar, the Europa League effort was scuttled to conserve manpower in favor of challenging Leicester.
With Wycombe running riot through the Spurs scrub team, Pochettino finally realized that he had to take these competitions seriously. The supporters pay top dollar for tickets regardless if it’s FC Barcelona or Wrexham. They expect to see their side win, or at least put forth the best effort they can. They were not happy and let Pochettino know about it. Mr. Levy’s facial expression actually changed during the game today, so disappointed was he in the product his corporation had offered. And afterwards in his remarks Pochettino revealed he had experienced a managerial epiphany: there was more to managing in England than just the Premier League.
The biggest criticism of Spurs this season and most of last is that for a talented young squad, they don’t seem to have that killer instinct. That ability to put away games they should win quickly and decisively isn’t there. It is as if they need to learn how to win. Too many missed opportunities yield too many draws. There was a lack of consistency in individual performances. Sometimes there were squad selections that were downright insulting to the opposition, such as today against Wycombe. “Boys,” Wycombe’s manager probably said, “this is the biggest game of your life, and those fools think Cameron Carter Vickers is your better. Now take that ball and cram it down his throat.” Mission accomplished there, and Pochettino noticed. Granted, he had Dele on the bench to save the day if needed, and sure enough, he was.
The idea of Spurs as the Cardiac Kids is exciting, waiting for someone to put the game away in stoppage time, but it can’t happen every match. Spurs lately have enjoyed early success and seen out comfortable wins against the likes of Watford. Too often they’ve needed a miracle in the 97th minute, such as today, to put away a win. Champions don’t skate on thin ice. Spurs need to learn that even if you can fight your way back from the edge, it’s better if you never get close to the edge in the first place.
What Did You Do In School Today, Mauricio?
The lesson Pochettino took away from this is to never put his squad in that position in the first place. Games like this are how young teams learn how to win. You can’t rely on Superman coming off the bench to save them. Pochettino needs his team to understand: every match, every time, requires full and total team effort. Games like this are an ideal opportunity to put the Kanes and the Llorises and the Eriksens out there. Make them remember how to scrap and scrape and fight, just as Wycombe was doing. Giving them the day off so fringe players such as the regressing Onomah could risk injury in their place benefits nobody.
The biggest lesson for Pochettino was the disastrous fold at the end of the 2015-16 season. The team lost its mind in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Leicester seized the title, and Spurs went on an epic slide. St Totteringham’s Day 2016 proceeded as scheduled. And the capitulation at season’s end to relegated Newcastle United could have (and any other manager would have) got Pochettino the sack.
Falling behind the hated Gooners was bad enough, but for many supporters Pochettino’s remarks on the subject were tone-deaf at best, dismissing the importance of finishing ahead of Arsenal. He had to retract and clarify those remarks and it’s a good bet they won’t be repeated.
It appeared to shape his early season thinking for 2016-17. By focusing on Premier League matches, Pochettino perhaps hopes to atone for the end of last season, even at the expense of Champions League glory or EFL/FA silverware. He can’t have it both ways, and there’s the rub. He will have to learn to play all competitions to win. Surrendering one to prop up another will not satisfy the fan base or fill the new Lane. Soon Spurs will have a stadium and revenue stream to rival Arsenal’s or Chelsea’s. These must bear fruit.
In Case Of Emergency…
Pochettino brought in Trippier to rest Rose. Spurs got behind in the game. The fans got angry. He substituted out the fringe players to bring in the stars and bail out his poor selections. Then Trippier was hurt. The squad played at 10 men for half an hour. With first team choices in the side today, that doesn’t happen. Dele is there all along, or Eriksen, Dembele, Kane, or Wanyama. Rest one or two players at a time. Don’t rest nine. It’s not going to end well. This is an easy trap to avoid and in hindsight Pochettino, at his post game press conferences, admitted as much.
Pochettino told today’s selections that they were playing for their long term futures at Spurs. Many of them played poorly anyway. Pochettino handpicked some of them to provide depth and skill for the team. Either the players were just too comfortable going into the game taking Wycombe lightly; or they just simply didn’t care what the manager said. Pochettino in the past has made players walk the plank for disobedience (Andros Townsend). Perhaps the situation calls for another ceremonial sacrifice. There is certainly no shortage of candidates after today’s match.
Pochettino demands commitment from his players, and that makes them all successful together. When some players either can’t or won’t meet their expectations, everyone fails. Players can’t meet their expectations if the manager can’t understand his own. Pochettino is still perfecting his craft in the Premier League. Though the best is yet to come, Spurs supporters are wishing it would come a little quicker.
A manager at any level must never stop learning, adapting, and growing. Players change and each successive group requires a new approach to reach them. More money is asked of the supporters, which means they have to be satisfied. And your chairman and club owner is more likely now to be someone who has no interest in anything but titles. Whether Pochettino is capable of keeping up with the demands of his job will determine how far this rising Spurs squad can go.
Have something to tell us about this article?