While it was only a single Harry Kane goal that separated Tottenham from Arsenal at Wembley, the gap should have been much more than how much it was. Despite that, Mauricio Pochettino seemed overjoyed with yet another North London derby win. He was relishing it just as much as he has relished the past ones. It wasn’t though, another one of those wins against their fierce rivals. It was another signal of Pochettino’s abilities as a manager, as Spurs climbed up to third in the table. The win would’ve been enough for many at the Santiago Bernabeu to cast jealous glances at a project that is thriving under the man from Santa Fe.
The project is a unique one. A one that Tottenham haven’t seen since quite a while. It has inspired many in the Premier League, apart from having raised the eyebrows of many. It involves a side that is filled to the brim with youthful exuberance and plays a brand of football that can sometimes be as attractive as Manchester City themselves. It has become a model that many would want to replicate as a football club, be it a big club or a small one. And when a manager as young as Pochettino does as well as he is, he is certain to attract interest from the proper powerhouses. It is very difficult to turn down Real Madrid if they do come calling, but Mauricio Pochettino could end up being stuck in a David Moyes-like situation if he does leave Tottenham for Real Madrid. It may not be as worse as how things were for the former Toffees boss, but Pochettino’s career can go down the barrel if he leaves Tottenham at this point.
It isn’t as if he is not one of the best managers in the world, but it would be fair to say that both will be a mismatch for one another. A match that wouldn’t go hand in hand, bar the stature and prominence.
Imagine yourself walking into a dressing room full of world renowned names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos. These are players who have won multiple Champions League crowns, multiple La Liga crowns. They are players who boast of a massive reputation. When a manager like Mauricio Pochettino will walk into a dressing room as decorated as this, he would feel overawed not just by the prominence of the players in the side but because of what they’ve won. The accolades that they’ve won in their gilded careers would only make them seem as more towering figures in front of a manager who hasn’t won a single trophy as a manager. He has come close, but words like being ‘close’ and ‘nearly’ come nowhere really. They hardly matter. There’s no grey area in it. Either you win trophies or you don’t. And Pochettino clearly hasn’t. Tottenham have, under Pochettino, been a nearly side. While many see them as the best team in England for what they’ve done in the last three seasons, they’ve got nothing to show for it. And that has let them and Pochettino down big time. They’ve got a bunch of top players in the side and also a few of them who can be deemed to be of world class value, but the pressure of handling a dressing room as colossal as that of Real Madrid is gargantuan and thoroughly increases when the manager has never won a trophy in his managerial career.
Figures like Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti have managed the club in the past and they had enough authority to tame the players and bring them under their control, no matter how lofty the characters were. They imposed their authority in a trademark, impressive fashion and that was made easy by the prestige they brought to the plate. And that prestige rose out of what all they had won prior to joining the Los Blancos. The case of Zinedine Zidane is a different one though. The Frenchman is a prominent figure among anyone even remotely associated with football and few would question the authority he would boast of.
With Pochettino though, there is a big question mark about whether he can handle so many awe-inspiring characters in the same dressing room. And while Pochettino’s Tottenham side boasts of playing an attractive brand of football, all the managers that Real have had in recent times have never been that. If there is one thing that is common between Mourinho, Benitez, Ancelotti and Zidane, then it’s their pragmatic approach to winning games. Their ability to manage games and grind out results in the knockout games separates them from a lot of other managers in the world. And that played a vital role in taking the club far in the UEFA Champions League games.
Pochettino’s side may play arguably the best football in the league and are tough to stop when in full swing, but does he have the pragmatic streak in him to help the club win the Champions League titles that they aspire to win? One can’t be too sure. His Spurs side has played in the Champions League only for two seasons. They got knocked out in the group stages last season and now face the task of overcoming Juventus. And while Pochettino wouldn’t face any difficulty in acclimatizing to the culture having managed at Espanyol before he came to Southampton, he is known to be a big projector and promoter of youngsters. It was against Real Madrid in both the fixtures that his tendency to immensely favor youth that came out in the open. Despite having a fit Eric Dier in the side, the Argentine placed trust in young Harry Winks to play as the sole holding midfielder up against Benzema, Ronaldo and Isco. And the outcome was just as impressive as Winks’ performance. The midfielder came up with man of the match showings in both the games. And while this quality of his is rare to find in football these days, Real aren’t a club which thrives on it. Florentino Perez has never been a person who would want his side to be built in that way.
He is the lurer of superstars. Someone who would rather sign a multimillion pound attacking midfielder than play a Marco Asensio there. He wants quick fixes to get rid of problems and hardly likes to rely on long-term solutions. That roots from his desire to win trophies every season and project the club as being a towering global brand. And projecting the club in that way would need a manager to boast of incredible success before he joins. No disrespect to Pochettino, but he doesn’t have it.
His Tottenham side is probably everyone’s second favorite, as things stand. And leaving this flourishing and ever-improving project for a Real Madrid side that is probably in its worst situation over the past ten years would hardly make sense. And if things go even a bit wrong, Perez would unleash his ruthlessness in trademark fashion to axe him before he realises it. That would be the moment when the aforementioned comparisons with David Moyes would make sense. All because he left a flourishing project to manage a side that is a mismatch for his qualities. And with Tottenham’s new stadium coming up, things are looking brighter than ever.
By: Kaustubh Pandey