On Tuesday evening, Tottenham Hotspur announced that head coach Mauricio Pochettino had left the club after five years, with Spurs currently sitting 14th in the Premier League.
In the club’s official statement, chairman Daniel Levy said the decision was made due to “domestic results at the end of last season and beginning of this season [which] have been extremely disappointing.”
Christian Eriksen’s contract expires at the end of the season and has been linked with Manchester United and Real Madrid. Eriksen, Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen have all been dropped on occasion this season. This may have contributed in part to Spurs’ abysmal form up to this point, not forgetting a 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage.
Eleven hours later, José Mourinho was confirmed as the man to take Spurs forward. The Portuguese has one of the most glittering CVs in modern football, having secured 25 trophies including Champions League triumphs with FC Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010. Mourinho has also delivered three Premier League titles in two spells at Chelsea.
Levy appraised Mourinho as “one of the most successful managers in football… [who] has won honours at every club he has coached. We believe he will bring energy and belief to the dressing room.”
Mourinho himself has said to have been attracted to the position by “the quality in the squad and the academy”.
The outgoing Pochettino and Mourinho have had vastly contrasting tastes of success. Mourinho has won 25 trophies, while in Pochettino’s ten-year managerial career he has finished as League Cup runner-up and Champions League runner-up with Spurs in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
It would be remiss of me to dismiss Pochettino’s impact at both Southampton and Spurs, however. In his 2013/14 season on the south coast, he helped deliver the club’s highest Premier League finish since 2003 (8th), and their highest points total since the Premier League began.
The Saints reached 56 points in 38 games under Pochettino, bettering their previous best of 54 points after 42 league games in 1994/95 (1.47 points per game as against 1.28 in 1995). They reached 66 in the 2014/15 term. The 13/14 season saw the emergence of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Jay Rodriguez as first-team stars. Lallana and Dejan Lovren moved to Liverpool in 2014 and Shaw joined Manchester United as Southampton began to sell their best players.
Pochettino joined Tottenham Hotspur in summer 2014 and secured a fifth-place finish in the Premier League while giving game time to young players such as Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Harry Kane, who has since developed into one of the most formidable forwards in world football. Spurs mounted a title challenge in the 15/16 season but drew at Chelsea and lost the final game of the season to hand the title and second place to Leicester City and Arsenal respectively.
The 16/17 season saw Spurs finish second to Chelsea on 86 points, their highest ranking since the 1962/63 season under Bill Nicholson and their highest points tally since the Premier League began. In fact, 86 points would have been enough to secure the Premier League title on eight previous occasions.
Stylistically, Pochettino and Mourinho could barely be more opposed. The Argentine has generally favoured an all-energy, high-pressing, attacking 4-2-3-1 whereas Mourinho has been criticised at times for his “anti-football” philosophy. The late Johan Cruyff commented in 2011 that Mourinho was “a negative coach [who] only cares about the result and doesn’t care much for good football.”
Mourinho famously defeated his future employers Manchester United with Chelsea in April 2015 with Kurt Zouma in central midfield and with 29% possession, and 283 passes completed to United’s 664.
Pochettino spent five years at Spurs, while Mourinho has only reached a fourth season with a club once, only to leave Chelsea before Christmas on that occasion. His ‘three-season syndrome’ is no secret. Prior to this season, Spurs have been on an upward spiral which I feel needs stability to get back on track.
Mourinho has delivered trophies on a mass scale: since his first Primeira Liga triumph with Porto in 2003, he has averaged 1.56 trophies a season, a total most Tottenham fans would likely snap up if they were offered it now. However, boardroom politics, PR and Mourinho’s style of football are significant question marks which may stand to cloud his legacy.
If the club is to continue its promising progress and finally deliver their first silverware since the 2007/08 League Cup, Mourinho will have to arrest the slump and get everyone at the club pulling in the same direction after a shocking start to the season. This appointment could be as defining for him as it is for Spurs, only time will tell.