As an Arsenal supporter, lets just say I have a little experience with the topic of what happens when the most successful manager in club history outstays his welcome and the situation is left to fester. In keeping with the ever-increasing pace of modern life, Spurs managed to condense their version of the Wenger Years from the 20 it took the storied French manager down to five seasons and change. Granted, they did it without all of the pesky trophies that Arsenal had to figure out how to transport from their old home to their new one but the other hallmarks of Wenger's era were present:
- Champions League Final...check
- Regular Top Four finishes...check
- Substitution of top four for trophies in post-season summaries...check
- Most talented generation of players at the club...check
- Sparkling new home promising financial rewards well into the future...check
Unfortunately, the end came in essentially the same way as well. A glass ceiling in on-field performance and off-field financial rewards was reached. A number of players and the manager had their head turned by offers that didn't come with those same restrictions. Whether they voluntarily agreed to stay on for one more year in an attempt to put an exclamation mark on the project or Daniel Levy just used their contracts to bully them into staying, hearts just weren't in it at the level necessary to implement Pochettino's demanding system.
This is the danger of the modern game and having an old school executive like Daniel Levy, who, I can't say I disagree with when it comes to his stance as a tough negotiator. His job isn't to be a good guy, it is to get the most for assets that the club has decided to sell and pay the least for the assets it is acquiring or already has and is intent on keeping. What seems to have been miscalculated by Levy and others is the impact of his approach in the era of player (and manager) power. Treating players like commodities may be "by-the-letter" smart business but it causes them to behave like commodities and eventually, they will do what so many Spurs players seem to be doing and running out their contracts and making themselves into the most valuable commodity they can be for themselves, a free agent.
The man that you have assigned to be in-between a management group intent on driving a hard bargain and a group of players who were apparently fed up with that approach was not well-suited to that job. Pochettino has shown over the years by sitting high priced arrivals like Erik Lamela early in his Spurs tenure that he wants things done a certain way or there will be consequences. Christen Eriksen's playing time this season will update the reference. If you're not going to give 110% for the team then Pochettino doesn't have time for you. Once you get past the fact that Daniel Levy left Pochettino without any outside backs that he trusted, you get to the spine of the side in Alderweireld, Vertonghen, and Eriksen who already had at least one eye, if not both, on the exit door. Not ideal under any circumstances but certainly not something likely to work given Pochettino's need for player commitment.
So, you end up with what we had today. The best manager in Spurs history, or at least their modern history (I can't claim to be a Spurs historian) is out. His side are in disarray sitting in 14th place with top four talent. The smart move is to put someone in charge who can put their arms around the players and convince them, even the ones who are assuredly leaving at the end of the season, to work together for their mutual benefit. A player coming off of a collapse, even if they were only a small part of it, isn't going to be as valuable on the free agent market as one who has helped rescue a toxic situation. My ideal candidate would be one who could sell Christen Eriksen on immediate success being his ticket to the contract he wants at Real Madrid or Bayern Munich or wherever, not the one who is going to try to bully him into staying.
None of this is to demean Mauricio Pochettino. He was put in a near impossible situation. Most likely he ends up at Real Madrid or Manchester United or Bayern at least one of which might turn out pretty well for him, probably two. If you really want to see your favorite Spurs supporter go apoplectic, suggest to him that Zidane seems to be back on stable footing at Real (or as close to such a thing as exists) and Pochettino has already said he wouldn't go to Barcelona. Given that Manchester United is something of a dumpster fire right now from a leadership point-of-view and wise men with choices would probably stay away that might leave Arsenal as the best job available. I'm going to pause and imagine Arsenal having a manager well-known for getting the most out of ascending academy talent just as Arsenal seem to have a bumper crop rising through the ranks.
I'm not suggesting that's going to happen but it's fun to think about my Spurs-supporting friends (looking at you Nik, Chuck, and Steve) reading this and thinking for even a second that it could happen.
Trolling aside, I think this is the right move for Spurs and one that supporters, fantasy managers, and gamblers should be on board with. I don't expect Spurs to catch any of the top four sides but fifth is certainly well within reach and getting themselves clear of an environment that had obviously gone bad is the right first step. The next step after that will be creating the next compelling story in Spurs history because the risk will be that the one player that isn't already out the door that can't fairly easily be replaced, Harry Kane, is watching and at a point in his career where he will decide to be a Spurs lifer and legend or start to look around for a place where he can win a title or three. Losing Pochettino and Eriksen are serious setbacks, losing Kane would be a game-changer no matter how much money came back in return. The next move is to Daniel Levy to get things back on the right track and learn from the mistakes that led the Champions League finalists of six months ago to crumble this quickly.