3 November 2023
Pochettino returns to the stadium he helped build
Managers have become such central figures in recent times, with the Premier League attracting the best in the world, and the spotlight will be firmly on the two men in the dugout when Tottenham host Chelsea (live on Showmax Pro, courtesy of Showmax Pro), which also acts as a type of home-coming for Mauricio Pochettino.
But the modern Tottenham Hotspur Stadium might not quite be considered “home” for Pochettino. When he left Spurs, the club had only been using that ground for six months. He was far more familiar overseeing his team at the old White Hart Lane, even Wembley when the club were in-between homes.
He might not have managed many games in the new stadium, but he certainly helped build it by all the funds generated by consistently qualifying for the UEFA Champions League under his watch.
This particular London derby will bring back bitter memories for the Argentinean. Chelsea were the opponents on that famous Monday night in 2016 where Tottenham’s failure to win officially confirmed Leicester City as the fairytale champions of England.
It would be the closest Tottenham would ever get to the Premier League title.
That Monday will be seen as a dark day for him, but it’s also the era that’s looked on with the most fondness for Tottenham. Those were the days that they were always in the Champions League. Those were the days that they were consistently finishing above Arsenal.
However, he couldn’t end that ever-growing trophy drought at the club. A cold, quick look at the bare cabinet would make people say he wasn’t a success. Fans know they can’t be that cold when taking into account how much he improved the team.
The other measurement of Pochettino’s positive influence at the club would be how results have gotten worse since he left. Jose Mourinho was his successor, who, after some promising results, ended up bringing more bluster than success.
Antonio Conte followed as a supposed guarantee to bring trophies. There were a few passionate touchline celebrations, but it all ended in an extraordinary exit where he publicly highlighted the perceived toxicity at the club. At the time, it seemed like the equivalent of quitting your job, pouring petrol over your desk and lighting a match as you leave.
Never mind the top four. Tottenham ended up dropping out of Europe completely before the club decided on a different approach and a bold reset. Enter Ange Postecoglou.
Ten games in, Spurs are top of the table. Happiness at the club is all around. There seems to be a clear plan to improve. Even though it’s only a quarter of the way through the season, it’s hard not to already classify Postecoglou’s Premier League debut campaign as a success.
Which brings an ultimate irony to Totttenham’s post-Pochettino approach to hiring managers. They went with a clear “no more Mr Nice Guy” theory as a way to change the culture and bring in success. As it turns out, one of the nicest managers in the Premier League’s history seems to have a better chance of bringing success.
It’s impossible not to like Postecoglou. That amiable Australian accent. The friendly way he says “mate” in press conferences. The way he’s able to make these millionaire footballers seem relatable to the public when talking about issues like mental health. The way he talks about his immigrant father’s love for the game and how he treated the sport as a gateway to get close to him.
In the tainted, ethically dubious world of modern football, here comes this voice making the game seem so human and pure.
More importantly, when it comes to matters where he will actually be judged, he’s backing it up with results at the moment. Spurs are flying, which is the opposite of Chelsea who are lurking in the bottom half.
This Chelsea team and squad that Pochettino have inherited is the complete opposite to what he built at Tottenham. That Spurs team was settled and were able to build on combinations while understanding their clear tactical identity.
This Chelsea team has been totally fractured. An insane number of ins and outs in the transfer market. Various managers. Insecurity after the forced end to Roman Abramovich’s ownership. Confused chaos in Todd Boehly’s “speculate to accumulate” approach.
The Blues have looked neither here nor there last season. Enter Pochettino, and while it all still seems too haphazard at the moment, you do get a sense that something is building slowly. That process might need to quicken up for him to stay in the job for a while. That’s just the reality of modern football.
Maybe that process can be kickstarted with a good result at his old club. His welcome from the home fans will probably be mixed. For some, the respect of the great results he brought will always be looked on fondly. For others, choosing a rival club for his return to the Premier League leaves an unforgivable sour taste.
Postecoglou has stated that he thinks Pochettino deserves a warm welcome, and he will no doubt give him one in his new home that Pochettino helped build.
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