Mauricio Pochettino Is a Major Gamble for Tottenham

Matt CloughFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2014

FILE - In this Sunday, May 11, 2014, file photo, Southampton's manager Mauricio Pochettino watches his team play against Manchester United during their English Premier League soccer match at St Mary's stadium, Southampton, England.  Tottenham has hired Mauricio Pochettino as the club's new manager on a five-year contract, with the former Argentina defender making the move from fellow Premier League side Southampton. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)
Sang Tan/Associated Press

Tottenham Hotspur's appointment of Mauricio Pochettino has been greeted with almost unanimous praise from the Spurs faithful, and in many ways, it’s not hard to see why.

A tumultuous and frankly bizarre spell under Tim Sherwood did little to calm the discontent that enveloped White Hart Lane following the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas and the failure of several high-profile signings in the summer.

Pochettino has just guided Southampton to an eighth-place finish in the league with a team made up of exciting young talent—and done so while utilising an expansive and vivacious playing style. It seems like a match made in heaven.

However, Spurs fans shouldn’t be jumping for joy just yet. While the omens are ostensibly good for the Argentine, a closer examination suggests he may not quite be the manager that Tottenham seem to think he is.

Firstly, there’s the pressing matter of the transfer market. With last summer’s big-money flops still a sore subject for the club, many have overlooked Pochettino's transfer dealings (he signed only three players in his season and a half at St Mary's) in favour of his utilisation of the youthful English core of players who were already there prior to his arrival.

However, if Spurs are expecting more savvy dealings in the market, they may well have another think coming.

Pochettino's three signings at Southampton can be neatly categorised as the good, the bad and the very, very ugly.

Dejan Lovren arrived for £8.5m and hit the ground running at centre-back to the extent where he is now being courted by Liverpool. Victor Wanyama, a £12.5m signing from Celtic, seemed to be adapting well to the league before a broken leg curtailed his season, although he is still to justify his hefty fee.

It was, however, the £15m club record signing of Pablo Osvaldo that caused the biggest stir on the South coast this season.

The Italian target man managed just three goals in 13 league appearances for Saints before he was suspended and then loaned out to Juventus after he started a fight in training with teammate Jose Fonte.

His poor form continued at Juve, with just one goal to show for 11 appearances in Serie A, and he has not been selected for Italy's World Cup squad.

While admittedly this is very little data to base a judgement of Pochettino's abilities in the transfer market on, Spurs fans should be wary about what happened last summer—with chairman Daniel Levy allegedly making transfers with little input from Villas-Boas, a root cause of his inability to gel the team—happening again under the guise of Pochettino's inexperience.

Levy should have learned his lesson after last summer, but with his notoriously tight hold on the purse strings, it remains to be seen whether he will have.

Then there is the question of experience. While Harry Redknapp's reign as Spurs boss deserves close scrutiny—particularly for the spectacular manner in which it fell apart when speculation linking the former West Ham and Portsmouth boss with the England job reached fever pitch—there's no getting away from the fact that his experience was invaluable.

Both of his successors have lacked it—Villas-Boas' history of never having played in England and only having one limited managerial tenure under his belt before taking the Spurs job echoes Pochettino's own career—and both have ultimately failed.

Of course, this isn't a steadfast rule—just look at the contrasting fortunes of the experienced David Moyes and the relatively fresh Roberto Martinez at Manchester United and Everton, respectively—but the Spurs job is one that requires a good deal of understanding of the managerial profession.

There is no new "project" to begin, no clean slate to start from—the Tottenham squad is packed to the rafters with highly paid talent, and it's up to Pochettino to get them working as a team, all while dealing with expectations vastly greater than those he faced while in charge at Southampton.

The idea of expectations raises one final point about Pochettino. With such a young squad—albeit a supremely talented one, thanks to arguably the best youth academy in the country—and with a style pleasing on the eye, many have overstated just how good Southampton were last season.

While a top-half finish for any of the clubs outside of the elite is undoubtedly an achievement, it appears that style has triumphed over substance in the minds of many.

For while Pochettino and his players' achievements have resulted in high praise and vast coverage in the media, the likes of Mark Hughes and Stoke City—who finished just one place behind Saints but did so by playing a much more functional brand of football—barely got a look in, despite spending just £3m in the offseason compared to Southampton’s £36m.

The fact is that last season four teams survived relatively comfortably despite achieving less than the traditional 40-point benchmark for safety; essentially, the teams at the bottom of the table were much poorer compared to those at the top than they normally are, and this inflated the achievements and points totals of those above them.

The major transfer interest in many of Southampton's players demonstrates the quality of their squad and makes it hard to suggest that Pochettino overachieved with the resources at his disposal.

While no doubt a promising young manager, Spurs fans would be wise to view his appointment with cautious optimism rather than wholesale celebration.