One of the most common narratives in the media coverage of Tottenham Hotspur over the last five years or so is that the club ‘lacks ambition’.
It is a line used constantly as a pretext for the club’s star players being linked with moves to other sides, with football logic ostensibly suggesting that clubs that spend more money are inherently more ambitious than clubs that do not.
Even Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino appears to buy into this logic to a certain extent, having helped the club to three consecutive top-three finishes on a budget that can only be described as shoestring when compared to the rest of the Premier League‘s big six.
Following the end of the 2017/18 Premier League season, Pochettino appeared to imply quite strongly that Spurs needed to spend money and compete with their rivals in the transfer market this summer, urging the club to ‘be brave’ and ‘create the new project’ that would see the club go one step further next season and mount a genuine title challenge.
Pochettino’s comments came after weeks of speculation on the Argentine manager’s future, with the 46-year-old stating on more than one occasion that Spurs need more time to improve ‘with me or another’.
While Spurs were eventually able to tie their manager down to a new contract and secure his services for the immediate future, this saga revealed one thing: Pochettino is aware of his value to the club and his status in the footballing world, and is prepared to use this to his advantage.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. Pochettino is an excellent manager and will surely go on to become one of the best in the game, with the likes of Real Madrid already rumoured to be knocking on the former centre back’s door following an excellent four years at Spurs.
However, Pochettino would be wise to look past the wave of platitudes he has received in recent years and remember that although he is a very good manager, he is still learning and remains some way from being a true elite of the game.
Those who have watched Spurs closely in recent times will be able to see the shortcomings which continue to plague Pochettino as a manager. A lack of tactical flexibility cost Spurs dearly at times last season, when tweaking formation somewhat to adapt to the opponents of that day would have made a genuine difference.
Considering the way Spurs held Real Madrid to a draw at the Bernabeu after matching Zinedine Zidane’s midfield diamond, or the way their counter-attacking set-up utterly stymied the usual ruthlessness of Liverpool‘s attacking trident at Wembley, one would have thought that Pochettino had rectified this aspect of his game entirely.
Yet despite the tactical guile which Pochettino so clearly possesses, the end of the season brought some of Spurs’ most ploddingly amateur performances to date. Pochettino’s insistence on playing the same formation and lineup in almost every one of these matches, including the likes of Son Heung-min and Mousa Dembele who so clearly needed a rest to recover their form, was the main catalyst behind Spurs’ late dip towards the tail end of 2017/18.
In-game management also remains a weak point for the Argentine, and something he could almost certainly look to work on next season. Far too many times last season did Pochettino wait to make a substitution until it was too late to have any real impact, often not making his first change until after the 70 minute mark.
These are not criticisms made with the intention of understating Pochettino’s brilliance as a manager or diminishing his achievements with Spurs. There is no doubt that Tottenham are currently enjoying their best manager since the reign of Keith Burkinshaw in the 1980s and the Argentine has got the club playing their best football in years.
However, with all the talk of Spurs needing Pochettino to stay in order for their long-term plans to come to fruition, it is also worth considering the fact that maybe Pochettino needs Spurs too.
It is no secret that Real Madrid are admirers of Pochettino, but would they have the same patience as Spurs have shown in letting him develop as a manager? Joining the Spanish giants would be a giant career move for the former Southampton boss but if things didn’t go well from the get-go, how long would it be before the knives started coming out?
Pochettino and Spurs are a match made in footballing heaven. The manager and the side itself share some interesting parallels: both are young, enterprising and somewhat raw, having made remarkable progress over the past few years but with a need to improve further before they can be considered truly great.
Perhaps Real Madrid is Pochettino’s destiny, and perhaps it is only a matter of time before Spurs face the prospect of saying goodbye to their manager and improving the side with another. However, Pochettino would do well to think long and hard before giving up the relationship he has with Spurs for a club which will never offer him the same level of support.
Spurs may be serial under-spenders, and this may be something that frustrates Pochettino dearly; after all, it certainly frustrates the fans. But one cannot look at the project going on at Spurs and suggest the club lacks ambition.
To go from where they were to where they are now in a decade positively screams ambition, and the bravest thing Pochettino could do now would be to stay and realise his dreams of success with a club that has had to work its way to the top.