Tim Sherwood never stood a chance at Tottenham.
From the moment he took over from Andre Villas-Boas, the former Spurs player was regarded with suspicion from many in the support-base, who, thanks to his persona, saw him as nothing more than a younger version of Harry Redknapp.
The results were good at first, but his tactical naivety was soon viciously exploited by teams within the top four. Not only did results start to sour, but his straight-talking, brash, just-one-of-the-lads-at-the-pub attitude came across as untrustworthy and even embarrassing instead of honest and dependable.
However, Sherwood was never likely to be anything more than a stop-gap at Tottenham. The important question is, for who?
Louis Van Gaal had been the favourite for months, but the Dutchman is now seen as the likely successor to David Moyes at Manchester United. With his superstar hire now likely out of the picture, chairman Daniel Levy is forced to look elsewhere for the man who will lead Tottenham back into the Champions League.
He could find his answer on the south coast, in the Argentine Mauricio Pochettino.
Pochettino was born in the small town of Murphy, not far from Rosario, where he would begin his playing career at Newell’s Old Boys under the management of none other than Marcelo Bielsa.
The bohemian nature of Rosario saw football as more than just a game. It was a subject for philosophical debate, for in-depth discussion on how it should be played and what it should represent, and this is the culture Pochettino was brought up in from an early age.
Pochettino played under Bielsa not only for Newell’s Old Boys but for the Argentina national team, so it should not be surprising that his teams at Espanyol and Southampton were both built upon some of the basic Bielsa principles, such as high-pressing, possession and aggressiveness.
Pochettino has the pedigree of a top manager, but is he the right man for Tottenham?
In my opinion, the answer is yes, and it is down to three main reasons:
1. Style of Play
“There are teams that wait for you and teams that look for you: Espanyol look for you. I feel very close to their style of football”, were the words of Pep Guardiola, full of praise for Pochettino and the style he had instilled in his Espanyol team. It is the same style he has instilled at Southampton, and the same style he would bring to White Hart Lane.
Pochettino’s preferred formation is a hard-pressing, possession-based 4-2-3-1 that seeks to play the game in the opposition’s half. Southampton enjoy the largest amount of possession in the Premier League at 58.7 % (stat via WhoScored) but Pochettino’s style is not built around methodical build-up play or meaningless possession.
One of the concepts Pochettino has taken from Bielsa is the “verticalidad” concept of always moving the ball towards goal, not holding onto it just for the sake of keeping possession. This puts the defence under constant pressure both mentally and physically and is the basis of his attacking-oriented system.
Although Pochettino wants his teams to attack, they are built upon a solid base in defence, something which Spurs have desperately lacked this season. Part of this success has to do with his commitment to pressing teams high up the pitch in their own half, not allowing them to build up any sort of momentum in attack. It is a very proactive way of defending, and it can make his teams very difficult to play against.
2. Focus on Youth
First at Espanyol, and now at Southampton, Pochettino has put an emphasis on developing young talent and bringing them into the first-team squad.
In both instances, this devotion to developing players from the youth ranks had to do with the economic reality of both clubs, but it is also a fundamental aspect of who he is as a manager. Unsurprisingly, he finds his tactics and techniques more easily accepted by the younger players who are often more aggressive and hungry to prove their worth, but it also has to do with the simple fact that younger players are more malleable.
At Tottenham, there is a large group of young, talented players such as Eriksen, Lamela, Bentaleb, Townsend, Kane, Carroll and Holtby that would thrive under his management and system. One of the major issues with Tottenham this season has been an inability to develop and mould the individual abilities of the players into a coherent system and team, an area which Pochettino has shown to be exceptional.
Creating an Identity
Spurs supporters will proudly tell you about the “Tottenham way”, but aside from a notion that the team should play attacking football, no one truly has an exact idea of what it is. It is not a specific philosophy or system such as at Ajax or Barcelona, and considering the vastly different styles of Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood at senior and youth team levels, it is clear the club is not sure of what it is either.
At Espanyol, not only did Pochettino change the style of the senior squad, but he made sure the entire system from the lowest youth ranks to the top were in constant communication and discussion over development and style of play. Because of this, players from the youth ranks are more easily assimilated into the senior-team, and all levels within the club can feel comfortable and confident within their system.
Pochettino doesn’t just bring style, he brings a very discernible identity which Tottenham has been desperately crying out for, and it is something that supporters would be able to proudly call the “Tottenham way”.
Of course, there is no guarantee of success with Pochettino, but then again, there is never a guarantee of success with any manager. The fact he has been able to instill a system and style of play that would be unfamiliar and unknown into his Southampton team so quickly shows his ability to communicate and instill his ideas clearly and quickly.
After such a tumultuous season, Tottenham require a manager who is going to give the team and the club an identity that the supporters can admire and be proud of once again. He may be young, he may not be vastly experienced, and he may not even speak the language perfectly, but he is Tottenham’s best choice.
One thing is for certain, his style of football requires no translation.