Tottenham needed to see this coming

HULL, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on prior to the Premier League match between Hull City and Tottenham Hotspur at the KC Stadium on May 21, 2017 in Hull, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
HULL, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on prior to the Premier League match between Hull City and Tottenham Hotspur at the KC Stadium on May 21, 2017 in Hull, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images) /

Among the more remarkable stories to unfold over the last few seasons of the Premier League is Tottenham’s ascent from also-rans to contenders.

After perennially underachieving under a revolving door of managers since the beginning of the century, Tottenham finally appeared to stabilize under Mauricio Pochettino’s leadership.

The former Southampton man arrived at the club in the summer of 2014 with fresh promises that chairman Daniel Levy would be more patient with him than he had with the men who had come before.

The Kremlinologists of Spurs’ fanbase suspected this appointment represented a sea change in how Levy operated the club. Pochettino didn’t necessarily guarantee success, at least not in the same way that Louis Van Gaal — the other manager linked to the club after Tim Sherwood’s sacking — would have.

Rather, Pochettino represented a project, one that would keep Tottenham competitive while simultaneously building for a brighter future. An emphasis on sustainability was key, particularly when it came to the transfer market.

Deadweight or unneeded players would be sold and their proceeds re-invested in new, savvier signings. More faith would be placed in the promise of Tottenham’s youngsters. It was telling too that among the first major investments made in the Pochettino era was the construction of a new training and development facility at Enfield.

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Levy’s sudden patience was a matter of necessity rather than any newfound beneficence. The club had long coveted an upgrade to White Hart Lane, and by 2014 it was clear that they would not acquire the Olympic Stadium. A new ground would need to be designed, financed and built — a long, expensive project during which Tottenham needed to maintain some modicum of respectability if they wanted to fill seats upon the stadium’s completion.

So when Pochettino failed in his first season to crack into the Champions League places — the definition of a successful Spurs season since Harry Redknapp managed to qualify for the competition in 2010 — he proceeded on unpunished. Levy was content to let Pochettino build the team his way, however long that took.

Whether Pochettino would have kept his job had Spurs finished, say, 10th instead of fifth is impossible to know. What is clear though is that Levy was prepared for a long-haul with Pochettino, vesting the manager with more power and authority than any manager before him.

One got the impression that Levy would suffer another half decade of the Europa League if it meant one day filling a new stadium with fans come to watch a team slowly and deliberately nurtured to compete at the highest levels.

But then something strange happened: Spurs began to progress faster than anyone anticipated. As their rivals faltered or were stuck in ending cycles of rebuilding, they surged up the table, finishing third in 2015/16 and second in 2016/17. Pochettino was rightfully hailed as one of the best managers in England, and his players received honor after honor for their accomplishments against some of the most stacked, monied teams in football.

All of which came way ahead of schedule. Levy and Pochettino’s philosophy ideally only worked in the long term. It was to be a slow simmer that would only come to a boil when Tottenham were once again unburdened by the cost of a brand new, state of the art stadium.

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As it stands at this moment, Tottenham are a title contending team without the means to hold on to their best players. They cannot afford the salaries promised to them by the Manchester clubs or Chelsea. They can’t even prove their ambition by participating in this summer’s transfer window feeding frenzy.

Were it just Kyle Walker to leave for greener pastures, perhaps this could be written off. Recent comments by Danny Rose though suggest that there is some seed of doubt in the back of minds of even Spurs’ most loyal players. These are young, immensely talented players who clearly love the club and Pochettino — but they do so at vast expense.

With few exceptions, no one in Pochettino’s preferred starting XI is getting paid their market rate. Fans cannot reasonably expect each and every one of them to be irrationally loyal servants to the club, not when the average footballer’s career is short even under the best case scenarios. They deserve to be paid fairly for the services they render.

This exact outcome should have been baked in to Pochettino and Levy’s plans immediately after the 2015/16 season. They needed to anticipate the limits of a wage cap and begin actively recruiting young, cheap talent to reinvigorate a squad that would inevitably experience some churn.

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Instead, £30 million was spent on Moussa Sissoko. A chance to sign precocious Fulham striker Moussa Dembélé was squandered. Promising young homegrown talent like Josh Onomah was loaned out to presumably make room for another dud in the form of Ross Barkley. 

It’s too early to call Rose’s comments the first sign of a mutiny within Spurs’ ranks. If it does happen though, the club cannot make any claim that it was impossible to foresee.