Tottenham have undergone a number of changes in the last six years. But none have been as prevalent as the changes in management. Four different managers have all tried their hand at the ever risky task of managing Tottenham Hotspur in this time, and despite Harry Redknapp’s initial short term success, he was replaced by Andre Villas Boas who failed to emulate this success, as did his successor, Tim Sherwood. However, after all these years of stagnancy, it now seems Tottenham have the right man at the helm.
Pochettino arrived at Spurs from Southampton in the summer of 2014, after being one of the lower profile candidates for the job. A steady first season, with a blend of youth, determination and enthusiasm may have only left Spurs fifth in the league, but it gave Pochettino a promising platform to build on. And that he has. 30 Premier League games into his second season, and the exciting young squad find themselves second, only bettered by high-flying Leicester City. The Pochettino Effect seems to be in full flow, but how has he turned a stutteringly underwhelming Tottenham side into title contenders?
One of the major factors in his arrival at White Hart Lane, was his reputation for bringing through youth. With Levy handing him a five year contract (a rarity for Spurs bosses) it was clear that he wanted a young manager who was going to build for the future. Tottenham needed stability after a flurry of managers in the previous years, and Mauricio’s ability to integrate home grown youth players could quite possibly be the key to this. With 10 of the last 18 England debutants being nurtured by Pochettino, it’s clear that he has an unbelievable ability for bringing on young players, and taking them to that next step. Now, because of his philosophy, Tottenham now have the youngest squad in the Premier League, and they constantly outdo their more experienced opposition. Players like Alli, Mason, Carroll and Dier have all been part of a Tottenham midfield that has bossed the likes of Toure-Fernandinho, Coquelin-Cazorla and Kouyate-Noble.
Pochettino has made sure that each of these young players knows what’s expected of them, and the players are more than willing to give this every match. Everyone at the club seems to be on board with the same mentality, and this is reflected in the united performances that the team gives. One of the benefits of the young squad is that no player takes their place for granted, leading to players giving 100 percent for Tottenham every match. The young side also have the edge over opposition in the physical sense, with the squad being labelled the ‘fittest in the league’ due to them consistently outrunning their opposition in every fixture. Pochettino’s role in creating this young and energetic side cannot be understated. He has drastically reduced the average age of the squad in just two seasons, and with this has come a group of determined, hard working, energetic and enthusiastic young players, who are really going to put the saying ‘You can’t win anything with kids’ notion to the test.
Another reason for the success of Mauricio Pochettino’s side this season is the modernity of the tactics employed by the Argentinian. There is the subtle blend of a rigid, defensive solidity off the ball, and a free-flowing attacking fluidity when on it. One of key influences in the defensive side of Spurs’ game has been the decision to use the transfer market in order to build from the back. Spurs have signed five defenders since Pochettino’s arrival in 2014, and all, bar Fazio, have been a success. Ben Davies has had an outstanding impact in challenging Rose for that left back spot, seeing a tremendous rise in Rose’s form last season, and this season, almost rotating with Rose every other game in order to keep both full backs fresh. Trippier has had the same impact on Walker over on the right. He took a while to settle in, but has really pushed Walker for the right back spot with his attack minded full back performances. Alderweireld has had the biggest impact of any Tottenham signing in recent years, slotting straight into Pochettino’s back four, bringing an organised calmness to their defence. His strong presence, exceptional ability to read the game, and tremendous composure have made him the ideal centre back for Spurs’ style of play, and has formed a solid partnership with fellow Belgian, Jan Vertonghen.
Finally, arguably the biggest factor in Spurs’ new-found defensive solidity is Eric Dier. Dier’s first season found him acting as a stop-gap, filling in at either Right Back or Centre Back when called upon, but in his second season, Dier has, unexpectedly, made the Defensive Midfield position his own. He has a simple, yet effective style of breaking up play with his natural talent in tackling, supplying passes to the more creative players, and dropping into defence to allow the Centre Backs to push into midfield, and the wing backs to get forward and supply the width. He has the ability to drop into a back three when necessary, in order to see off the attacking threat of the opposition, whilst allowing Spurs’ Full Backs to create an attacking threat of their own. This is why I think the implementation of the ‘Dier Role’ has been a key factor in Spurs’ success, both defensively and attackingly.
The other, and more renowned side of Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy, is the fluidity of the attacking four. The four being made up of a striker, with three interchangeable attacking midfielders behind him. Kane’s rise to stardom has made him the unrivalled contender for that strikers spot, leaving a host of options available to play off of him, most notably, Lamela, Eriksen, Alli, Chadli and Son. The three attacking midfielders need a great deal of work ethic, creativity, guile and versatility in order to succeed in this formation, which is most probably why Andros Townsend’s direct ‘cut inside and shoot’ approach left him out of favour with Pochettino. The two wide attacking midfielders are not conventional wingers, picking up central positions throughout the match. This gives Spurs the ability to overrun teams in midfield, one of the main reasons that Tottenham consistently finish matches with more possession than their opposition. It also allows the fullbacks, Rose, Davies, Walker and Trippier, to bomb forward, creating space out wide, whilst outnumbering the opposition’s central defensive positions.
The interchangeable nature of these players means they are difficult for the opposition’s defence to pick up, with players like Eriksen and Lamela often finding themselves drifting centrally, or to the opposite flank from where they started. This allows them to find space between the lines, allowing them to operate as both playmakers, and supporting strikers for Kane. This approach has given Spurs’ attack a dynamic, organised approach, allowing them to gradually break down defences through their initial skill, or their persistence and fitness, which allows them to outlast their opposition both physically and mentally. The youthfulness of Spurs’ attack also plays a major part in their stamina and work rate.
Another factor of Pochettino’s characteristics that has possibly lead to Tottenham’s title challenge is his personality, both as a coach and person. Ever since his first interview, you could feel that Mauricio has a relaxed aura about him, in stark contrast to the rigidness of AVB, and the amateurish arrogance of Tim Sherwood. There is a cool calmness to the way Pochettino conducts himself in the press, coming across as a man who doesn’t let his emotions affect his rational thinking. Other managers can often be caught out with quotes that they made several months ago, whether it’s because they have been proven wrong, or because they now contradict these quotes with an opposing view to the one they had not so long ago, but this naivety doesn’t appear to be present. It appears that Pochettino is a man who likes to keep his cards close to his chest, and won’t be drawn into predictions, often stating that ‘anything can happen in football’.
This is a potentially wise stance for Pochettino to take in interviews, as it means he very rarely heaps unnecessary pressure onto his players, he very rarely upsets or makes enemies with opposing managers, and he will very rarely be bitten by some silly comments he made a year ago. This has also been evident with his views on the title race. After the 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium, Mauricio responded to title challenge talk by sensibly stating “I don’t like to speak about the future, it is more important for us to keep working hard.” Suggesting that he is taking every game as it comes, and not letting his players get distracted by the title race. Despite relaxed atmosphere off the pitch, there is a very different atmosphere on it. With double training sessions and an emphasis on hard work and physicality, Pochettino has beautifully blended these two contrasting qualities, to create a group of humble warriors, who are continuing to fight for the title whilst keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
Finally, a major part of Mauricio’s success is the fact that everyone at the club is on board with his distinctive ‘philosophy’. Big players such as Lloris, Vertonghen and Son Heung Min have spoken about how they share the same footballing view as Pochettino, with Hugo hinting that it is Mauricio alone that has kept him at the club. Even Adebayor referred to his relationship with him as ‘beautiful’. The board are willing to back Pochettino’s trust in youth, with an example being the fact that they paid £5m for 19 year old Dele Alli from MK Dons. In fact, signing young has been a major part of Tottenham’s transfer strategy, with the majority of their signings being in their early 20’s or younger, with the exception of Alderweireld and Michel Vorm. This has allowed Pochettino to implement the club’s philosophy on these players whilst they are still developing, meaning they’ll share the clubs mentality. Pochettino has likened the group of players as a ‘family’, showing how there is a close bond between players at the club, and how Pochettino feels it is his role to act as a father figure for the players, guiding them through the season. The feeling around the club can be summed up by the evident commitment from the players in every match. It is clearly noticeable that the current group of players care about the club, and Mauricio Pochettino’s role in this mustn’t be understated.
By Dan Grimes, TFN Columnist on 13/03/2016 at 19:54