I am not a football chairman. I have no friends who are football chairmen. I’ve never hung out with football chairmen; never made drunken, misogynistic comments with them to help them impress an undercover journalist in an unconvincing ‘Middle Eastern billionaire’ costume. I’ve never spoken to a football chairman; never tried desperately to convince them not to blow their club’s revenue on superfluous items like decorative boardroom goldfish, platinum statues of their pop star mates, or Stewart Downing. I’ve never experienced any kind of intimate moment with a football chairman that may have given me some insight into the way they think; never snuggled up on a tanning bed alongside blonde bombshell Simon Jordan, or sat on the knee of kindly grandpa-type John W. Henry while he stuffed me full of Werther’s Originals and reminded me that, when he were a lad, this were all just baseball fields.
No, I’m definitely not a football chairman. Nor, dear reader, unless you are John W. Henry and this has been passed on by a libel lawyer, are you. As such, this strange breed of individual remains a mystery to both you and I. None more so than in the case of our own Dear Leader, Daniel Levy. Consequently, trying to predict a football chairman’s intentions and actions can be a thankless task. But, if I were averse to thankless tasks, I wouldn’t be a Spurs fan, now would I? So, here goes…
When ENIC strolled into N17 on a tidal wave of goodwill that formed largely due to them not being Alan Sugar (back when he was plain old Venables-firing git Alan Sugar, rather than hair-gelled-anthropomorphisations-of-management-speak-firing national treasure Sir Lord Archduke Sugar) the year was 2001.
To put that in context, their involvement in the club stretches back to an era where accessing Internet smut involved minutes of frustrated clicking to actually get a picture link to start loading, then heading off to make a cuppa while the modem whirred and spluttered into life; all the while hoping that a family member didn’t walk in to discover a heavily pixelated, half-loaded nipple.
And talking of boobs, since that day, ENIC, whose ‘5-year plan’ is now in its 13th year, have appointed then subsequently ditched 7 managers, assuming you don’t count the 19 times David Pleat has caretaken. It is a familiar crossroads we find ourselves at right now. This time, though, perhaps more so than any other, there is no obvious direction that takes us ‘forward’. Even Daniel Levy’s usual tactic – going for the polar opposite of the last guy, such that Martin ‘one of the lads’ Jol begat Juande ‘take away the lads’ ketchup’ Ramos begat Harry ‘run around a bit’ Redknapp begat André ‘run around a bit in this specific rhombic pattern, I’ve drawn you 17 diagrams to make it clearer’ Villas-Boas – doesn’t point to any single contender.
At the time of writing, it would seem the two most likely people to be collecting their P45 from Levy’s office in December 2015 are Frank De Boer and Mauricio Pochettino. Beyond them, there are outside bets like Rafa Benitez, Roberto Mancini. And then, for those that mostly spend their days sat rocking back and forth in a darkened room with their underwear perched atop their heads, there is the possibility of luring triple Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti.
Despite, as I have pointed out, having no working knowledge of how the mind of a football chairman works, and despite not being a ‘proper football man’ who ‘understands the game’, I believe, from the aforementioned candidates, Daniel Levy is going to choose Mauricio Pochettino. Furthermore, I believe we should all be excited at this prospect.
I’ll lay my cards on the table – I instinctively like Pochettino. His Southampton side were, alongside Liverpool, the team I most enjoyed watching last season; playing high-tempo attacking football within a clearly well-defined system. More importantly, I like him because his appearance resembles a hard-ass Detective in an 80s cop show; streetwise and prepared to play outside the rules, but carrying the weary demeanour of a man constantly battling to get results without the DA busting his balls.
I realise that opinions I have observed with my own head will not be enough to convince some of you, and these days what matters to what Jamie Redknapp would probably call ‘laptop fans’ is the football vernacular’s very own Esperanto: the stat. So, for those of you who aren’t prepared to commit to an opinion until someone has produced a figure for how it will affect James Milner’s blood-sugar level, here are a couple of juicy titbits of empirical nonsense…
During the 2013/14 Premier League season, the team with the highest average possession was Pochettino’s Southampton at 58.6%, and defensively only Man City conceded fewer shots per game (9.6) than them. What this suggests, aside from nothing, is a well drilled team both on and off the ball, and that kind of organisation would be a welcome change for a Spurs team that last season saw Andros Townsend coming on as a sub and then having to ask the coaching staff where he was supposed to be playing.
STYLE OF PLAY
Picture an alternate reality, where, for example, Harry Redknapp is a wheeler-dealer not a fackin’ football manager, and Kyle Naughton has a left foot. Spurs are linked with some fancy-dan, Carlos Coach-a-ball overseas manager who is a disciple of the high priest of pressing, Marcelo Bielsa, playing a fast, technical, attacking brand of football, with a super-fit team energetically closing down opponents for 90 minutes. A manager who has proven he can implement his ideas at modest teams, which have then gone on to overachieve as a consequence of his work. I guarantee EVERY Spurs fan would be taking to the virtual streets to shout loudly that Levy would be an idiot not to ask this manager to name his price. Unfortunately for Pochettino, in THIS reality he finds himself coming from the slightly less exotic locale of Southampton. While, on paper, supporters would normally be drooling over this kind of young manager, familiarity breeds indifference, a prophet is never recognised in his own land, and other clichés.
The fact is, though, that Pochettino’s style of play is exactly in keeping with many of the tenets of the mythical ‘Tottenham Way’. Many fans have spent the past couple of years decrying our ‘slow build up play’ and lack of tempo. Well, teams don’t get much higher tempo than Poch’s, and his commitment to an attacking game, even against clubs much bigger than his own, should be clear to anyone who has watched his Southampton side beat the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea over the past season and half.
One of the defining characteristics of Levy’s tenure has been too many cooks spoiling the broth. We have a metric fuckload of technical directors, directors of football, technical coordinators, development directors, technical development coordinators, directors of coordination, coordination directors and Les Ferdinand. Whilst there is possibly nothing wrong with that in principle, it becomes substantially more problematic when all of the above have differing philosophies, and are happy to play each other off in the corridors of power leading to Levy’s office, as has been the case in the past decade, stretching back as far as Hoddle and Pleat.
Here, Pochettino has the advantage of being a coach that is focused down the chain, as it were. He is considered to be a manager who is primarily concerned with developing young players; taking an interest in their progress long before they hit the first team squad. He has shown less intent to dabble in goings-on further up the hierarchy, which is just as well given the, at times, complex boardroom situation at Southampton. That said, he did leave Espanyol due to players being sold out from under him. Fortunately, there’s no evidence of that sort of thing ever happening at Spurs ever, at all… no chance. So, it’ll be fine. Erm, moving swiftly on…
A notoriously media-shy character, whose distrust of journalists means he rarely communicates directly to fans, preferring his words to be delivered via a trusted third party. But enough on Daniel Levy, what about Pochettino?
Yes, it’s easy to see why Levy would feel kinship with a manager who, despite clearly holding strong opinions, has a somewhat pathological distrust of the media. Our esteemed Dear Leader rarely makes his feelings public, save for the notorious ‘open letters’ that appear on the official website, typically within hours of us ballsing something up.
Contrary to the impression you may have gotten from Pochettino insisting that his interpreter holds his hand through interviews, the Argentine speaks good English. As evidenced by his (possibly ‘merry’) appearance at Southampton’s end of season awards dinner in 2013.
A year on from this, his English has improved, as anyone who has encountered him away from the cameras will tell you, and he even accidentally slipped into his adopted tongue during a Match Of The Day interview a few weeks ago.
Pochettino’s insistence on not speaking directly to the media, despite clearly being articulate enough to do so, is evidence of an astute understanding of an English press pack that is often hostile to foreign coaches, particularly those that replace popular English managers like Nigel Adkins. It’s fair to say that the last two incumbents at Spurs both contributed to their own downfall through their interactions with the press (though for almost polar opposite reasons), and personally, I would actually welcome a manager like Pochettino who has little interest in engaging with the media, and prefers to let his work speak for itself. That said, I’d imagine Levy would insist on Pochettino communicating in English to avoid another Juande Ramos-esque PR own goal. Speaking directly to fans would also help him win over the doubters amongst us, and perhaps a compromise would be for him to adopt the policy of our Dear Leader, and speak English only via in-house channels.
DEALING WITH PLAYERS
The Southampton players love Pochettino. That much is clear from the way they’ve been queuing up to sing his praises ever since rumours of his departure first surfaced. There has also been some suggestion that it was the players who canvassed for Pochettino to be given more time when Southampton were on a bad run during the first half of last season. It’s hard to imagine the Spurs players ever doing something like that. More likely we’d see the untimely appearance of their agents in the media, whinging about how their client needed to be playing Champions League football and that they would review their options at the end of the season. It’s impossible to predict how our dressing room, so regularly described as having been ‘lost’ by managers, would react to a guy like Pochettino, who would come with a good reputation, but few medals to slap on the table.
Personally, I tend think footballers respond, as most human beings do, principally to their boss’ human qualities (to borrow a phrase). If they are of immense dimensions, it doesn’t really matter how many winner’s medals are hanging around a coach’s neck. As first priority, most of us want competence and fair treatment from those in positions of authority above us. Pochettino replaced a popular manager at Southampton, yet almost overnight transformed their style of play. Regardless of the size of the egos involved (and you’d have to assume egos would be bigger inside the Spurs dressing room than Southampton’s), a manager cannot do that if he doesn’t have some flair for man-management and speaking to players in a way that is both motivational and instructive.
Given the positive characteristics that he brings to the table, some of which are mentioned above, I’m somewhat surprised at the level of indifference or hostility that has greeted the prospect of Mauricio Pochettino being the next Spurs manager. The only way I can rationalise it is by making this analogy…
You are an adolescent boy, desperate to find love. Mauricio Pochettino is the girl-next-door – familiar to the point where you tend to overlook quite how attractive she is. OK, at a glance her face may look a bit plain, but her bone structure is good, everything is where it should be, and to be fair she hasn’t really had any top level make-up to work with yet.
Carlo Ancelotti is the supermodel whose poster you have on your bedroom wall – completely unattainable, yet you still hold fantasies about somehow, someday being with her, to the point where you are prepared to turn your nose up at real opportunities for love with real girls. As if that alone didn’t make saving yourself for her unrealistic enough, she’s also currently dating a movie star who has just won his 10th Oscar.
Frank De Boer is the lass with a bit of a ‘reputation’ who hangs around behind the bike sheds – never shy of talking herself up, she’s pretty much a sure thing, but there’s this nagging feeling that it wouldn’t be long term: she’d quickly move on once she’d had her way with you, or you’d decide it wasn’t really fulfilling and end things by mutual consent with a legally-binding non-disclosure agreement and a £3million pay off.
Then there’s Rafa Benitez, your hot cousin. If she wasn’t tainted by being so closely associated with another family not a million miles from your own, you probably wouldn’t say no. But, as it stands, it would surely feel wrong, and you’d be worried about what people would say. Also, the genetics are a bit risky, so your kids may end up looking like Dirk Kuyt.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of teen movies can see that your best bet is the girl next door. She’ll end up scrubbing up well for the prom, and when the school uber-jock muscles in to dance with her, you’ll suddenly realise that you loved her all along. The sooner we Spurs fans accept and embrace that Pochettino is ‘the one’, the sooner we can stroll off into the sunset and live happily ever after. For 18 months.