Quiet Spurs still have big expectations
When it eventually happened in May, the coupling of Tottenham Hotspur and Mauricio Pochettino came as little surprise.
In the final throes of Andre Villas-Boas' regime, Southampton's then-manager led the replacement list among informed sources. Once chairman Nicola Cortese took leave of St Mary's, Pochettino was not long for the south coast.
After Spurs chairman Daniel Levy stopped picking up the phone to Tim Sherwood, it was clear that, for all his self-publicising and an 18-month contract, Villas-Boas' replacement could only consider himself an interim appointment.
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Sherwood spent his final days performing comedy, kissing off with a knowing quip about the mouthy fan he had invited to sit in his dugout seat and wear his gillet. "No, he's English," he replied when asked whether his new friend might have a chance of landing the Spurs job.
The latest incumbent presides over a club that a year ago gave a new phrase to the footballing lexicon. To "do a Spurs": sell Gareth Bale for 100 million euros and spend the lot on players who fail to augment the team. This summer will not see a repeat of that once-in-a-generation "Brewster's Millions" splash.
Instead, Spurs, somewhat uncharacteristically, have been one of the quieter operators in the transfer market. Has sense descended? Or is it a case of the Argentinian first having to clear the mess that was left for him?
Pochettino will perform another plunder of his former club if he lands one or both of Jay Rodriguez or Morgan Schneiderlin, but even those deals would be understated compared to the spree that director of football Franco Baldini set off on following his arrival at the club just over a year ago.
The Italian, a constant chain-smoking presence in the White Hart Lane car park during half-time breaks, took a serious jolt to his previously high reputation. Tottenham's early-season trip to Arsenal fans saw fans sing Baldini's name. Such a chorus seems wholly unlikely these days. Of eight players signed, only Christian Eriksen looked a bargain.
Levy's ambitions remain with the Champions League, a competition that his club have reached just once under his stewardship. There have been nine "permanent" managers in the 13 years since he took over, and only Harry Redknapp managed to finish in the top four; he did it twice, but Spurs' participation in the 2012-13 renewal was denied by Chelsea's qualification as champions.
The new manager's arduous brief is to stop Tottenham remaining a club of such misses. Unlike previous flights of foreign fancy Juande Ramos and Jacques Santini, Pochettino has Premier League experience -- 18 months in which he took Southampton from relegation contenders to eighth.
A continuing stripping of Saints' assets by England's elite does much to suggest Pochettino's coaching improves players. Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers were all at Southampton when he arrived, while Dejan Lovren's value almost tripled after a single season.
Levy, never afraid to sell at a good price, would no doubt approve if such a trend continued in North London. Spurs' squad contains many a player who has devalued since arriving at the club. Indeed, only Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen are probably in the value bracket of those south coast departures.
However, Pochettino will need both those players if Spurs' season is to show more promise than that which got both Villas-Boas and Sherwood sacked. The two players signed so far, Ben Davies and Michel Vorm, offer contrasting pointers to the future.
Landing a proper left-back means Vertonghen will get to play in his proper position of centre-back now that Michael Dawson will be allowed to leave, while Vorm's arrival means a successor is already in place should Lloris be cashed in. Sherwood was forced to answer several questions on the Frenchman's future last season, though a recent new contract signals shared commitment for the next season, at least.
Pochettino's greater problems lie with getting the best out of the likes of Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and, should he not be sold, Erik Lamela, who has become more myth than man since he became Spurs' 30 million-pound record signing. There are holes to fill. Gylfi Sigurdsson's move to Swansea as part of the Davies/Vorm deal leaves zero players comfortable on the left of midfield.
Meanwhile, central midfield is a morass of options, none which combined consistently for either of last season's managers. Sherwood's initial burst of results saw him abandon an anchorman altogether, when Baldini had lavished fortunes on Paulinho and Etienne Capoue to augment the likes of Mousa Dembele, Sandro and Nabil Bentaleb, the youngster whom Sherwood most favoured.
With the enigmatic Emmanuel Adebayor to solve, too, Pochettino has plenty to sift through. Talent abounds, but the new manager's task is to turn an imbalanced squad into a team. As ever at Spurs, meeting high-banded expectations is key, while managing upwards leads his priorities, or else he becomes the latest victim. Meanwhile, increased patience will be required from Levy, though having waited to get his man, perhaps this time it might be forthcoming.