There is never a dull day as the Tottenham Hotspur manager crisis rages on. The rat race appears to have moved on from Antonio Conte.
But there are still also rumours about Mauricio Pochettino returning, driven by a big dose of rose-tinted nostalgia, financial incentives and Parisian discord.
Tottenham Hotspur Manager Crisis: The Dilemmas Facing the Next Manager
Appointing Conte Would Repeat Mourinho Mistake
Levy appears to be positioning himself to order some humble pie. He has talked about “los[ing] sight of key priorities.” Never mind that the Pochettino-Mourinho swap took place sometime before Covid-19 – mistakes admitted to are to be welcomed.
But if he chooses a manager like Antonio Conte as the next Spurs manager, it would only be a repeat of the ‘win at all costs’ mentality that had Mourinho appointed.
If he decides to reappoint Pochettino in a vainglorious attempt to reproduce Champions League final appearances and an attractive brand of football, that may not work out as intentioned. The Gareth Bale loan demonstrates the pitfalls of trying to recreate former glories. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry – especially in second-tier European competitions.
Blinkered by the halcyon lights of Amsterdam, there’s a risk of forgetting why Pochettino and Tottenham parted ways in the first place. For all the 2019 final marks of the peak of recent years, that Champions League run masked a lot of underlying problems that were subsequently exposed.
Player Turnover – or Lack Thereof
Such a high-intensity style of play requires buy-in and full commitment, sidelining those players who don’t accept the project. This goes for Pochettino’s years, and would equally apply to the non-stop demands of Antonio Conte. These players need adequate replacement and transferred upgrades in order to progress.
But Tottenham failed to make a single signing over three transfer windows. The defence has needed an upgrade for a long time, whilst the departure of Christian Eriksen (ironically to Conte’s Inter Milan) has left a creative void that has yet to be filled. With Levy keen to talk up the effects of lockdowns and restrictions on the club’s finances, would the club change ways for either Pochettino or Conte?
Ultimately, Pochettino did not have free reign over transfers. He often analogised his position to that of a ‘head coach’, with very little ability to influence incoming (or indeed outgoing) transfers. It was left to those ‘higher up’ the chain of command to identify targets, often imposing the wrong type of player (be it in playing style or mentality on the squad).
Even during Mourinho’s reign, the transfer of Bale was not sought out by the Portuguese – it may have disjointed and further unbalanced the defensive-offensive make-up of the squad. The only reason that the Italian is available is that he fell out with the Inter higher-ups over their insistence on transfer policy.
At a prompt, one could engage in an internecine debate as to where the fault originated for Tottenham’s poor start to the 2019-2020 season. But immaterial of where the blame lies, the underlying friction that caused Pochettino’s departure would still be there on his hypothetical return.
The rumour mill continues to pump out gossip and whispers about the next Spurs manager but there still remains to some extent a moot point; a new manager would need powers to make his own transfer policy. He would require the ability to sign and sell (within a fixed, predetermined budget) without higher interference. He would also need time to oversee such a large rebuilding job.
It’s still worth contextualising that either Pochettino or Conte would be an upgrade on Mourinho and Mason. It’s not that such a move couldn’t succeed. But it would require fundamental changes in all parties, recognition of where things went wrong in the past, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Maybe it can’t succeed.