Tottenham Hotspur is currently looking for a new full-time coach. Former Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino is believed to be unhappy with his new life as manager of Paris Saint Germain in France. Will Spurs chairman Daniel Levy build a bridge between those two issues to bring Pochettino back to Spurs for a second time? That would have been unthinkable as recently as three months ago, but now we’re not so sure. There are rumours in England that it might happen – and we think there may be some fire to go with the smoke.
Daniel Levy is a very proud man. He’s never been shy of firing a manager if he believes someone else could do better, and he usually stands by his decisions. Recently, though, he’s changed his tune. He’s all-but-admitted that appointing Jose Mourinho – a coach whose time at the top has been and gone – was a mistake. He’s hinted at regretting parting ways with Pochettino, too. Of all the managers who’ve sat in the dugout for Spurs during Levy’s time as chairman, Pochettino is the one who’s brought them closest to glory. It was under the Argentinian’s tenure that Spurs reached their first Champions League final. He also achieved Champions League qualification through the league regularly – something no other Spurs coach has been able to do. Firing him for a bad start to the 2019-2020 season always looked like a hasty move, and time has proven that to be the case.
Pochettino might have cause for regret at the moment, too. After Spurs fired him, he spent several months out of the game passing on opportunities to take on new roles because he was waiting on the right one to become available. Most journalists believe that “the right one” from his point of view was Manchester United. Unfortunately for Pochettino, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned the ship around at Old Trafford and kept his job. With Manchester off the list of potential destinations, Pochettino accepted an offer from PSG because he enjoyed his time there as a player, and there was a chance to win the Champions League. Thanks to Manchester City, he wasn’t able to achieve that. To make matters worse, he also failed to win the French league after being pipped to the post by Lille on the final day of the season. Winning the league is the minimum that the board expects at PSG. Fans aren’t happy, and the board would be unlikely to try to talk him out of leaving after a disappointing season.
There’s another story running in the background here, and that’s the tale of talismanic striker Harry Kane. Kane is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best strikers in world football. He still managed to finish as top scorer in this season’s Premier League despite his team’s struggles on the pitch. While he hasn’t released a public statement, the whole world knows Kane wants to leave the club this summer. He’ll soon be 28 years old, and he knows that time is running out for him to win the trophies and medals he so desperately desires. His level of talent should allow him to do that, but being at Spurs is holding him back. In England, both Manchester City and Manchester United are thought to want him, as do Chelsea. If he were to leave England, he could probably take his pick of any of the top clubs on the continent. Kane has options, and right now, he probably doesn’t think that staying with Spurs is one of them. He had an excellent relationship with Pochettino, though, and so the return of his favourite coach could potentially persuade him to stay for at least another year.
The big question here is whether going back is ever a good idea. We saw Jose Mourinho return to Chelsea after years away from the club, and although he did well during his first season, his second spell in the dugout quickly became a disaster. To welcome a manager back to a club after firing them is effectively to suggest the factors that got them fired in the first place are no longer factors. It’s a commonly-held piece of advice that one should never return to a former partner after a relationship comes to an end. It’s probably fair to say the same is usually true in your professional life. Going back to an old job generally isn’t a good idea, whether that job is schoolteacher, insurance salesman, or football manager. Pochettino will be judged by the standards he set last time, and if he isn’t able to meet them, he risks looking like his powers are beginning to wane.
Pochettino should also remember that no matter how well he did last time around, Levy still fired him. That’s Daniel Levy’s modus operandi. It’s easy to imagine Levy as a player hawkishly watching the reels of a casino game, working out when to stick and when to spin again. In football terms, that means parting with one manager and hoping another one will bring you an instant reward. In online casinos, we’d refer to than instant reward as a jackpot. In footballing terms, a jackpot is Champions League qualification. The moment Levy thinks that qualification is starting to look unlikely, he’ll pull the plug. That’s the way he’s done business for the past five years, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll start to behave differently now.
We already know that caretaker manager Ryan Mason won’t remain in charge of Spurs for next season. He’s too young, and he still has a lot of learning to do. There has to be a new man at the helm, and it’s more important now than at any point in the past decade that they find the right man. If they don’t, and players like Kane and Son go on to leave, the club could begin to move backwards at speed. Going “back to the future” with Pochettino might make more business sense than taking the risk of stepping into the unknown. Let’s wait and see.