There is a commonly held misconception among Tottenham Hotspur supporters that Mauricio Pochettino would be foolish to walk away from the project he is four-and-a-half years into building. It is based on the view that, with a group of young, top-class talent preparing to move into a stunning new 61,000-seater stadium, the manager is on the verge of something big at Spurs and not even the lure of Manchester United or Real Madrid would be enough to tempt him away.
Pochettino and Spurs could well be on the brink of a golden era, but the manager would be forgiven for wondering if it will ever come as he surveys his squad in the wake of Sunday’s 1-0 defeat against United at Wembley.
Tottenham’s failure to add to their squad last summer has been well-documented, with Pochettino the only Premier League manager not to welcome a new signing to his club in a window since the He has repeatedly insisted that he is happy at Spurs and that the club is “doing what it needs to do,” but he also hinted at his frustrations with the lack of investment in the playing side last week.
“I saw a stat about how teams were spending money in the last 10 years and we were on the bottom in England and Europe,” Pochettino said. “If we want to be real contenders, we need to operate in a different way in the future.”
Pochettino’s remarks have become even more pertinent following the United defeat, which ended with Harry Kane struggling to walk off the pitch with an ankle injury sustained in the dying moments. Spurs are justifiably worried about the extent of Kane’s injury as the club are also without Son Heung-Min for the rest of January due to the forward’s departure to the United Arab Emirates for Asian Cup duty with South Korea.
Between them, Kane and Son have scored 22 goals for Spurs in the Premier League this season and their absence could undermine the club’s hopes of silverware — especially given they are still involved in all four competitions. Without Kane and Son, Spurs are going to have problems putting the ball into the back of the net and no team can prosper without a proven goal scorer.
Fernando Llorente, the only fit senior striker available to Pochettino, has not scored a league goal since January 2018 and has not even started a Premier League game this season. While Pochettino made it clear after the United game that Vincent Janssen, the Dutch forward who cost them £17m from AZ in 2016 and is languishing in the reserve team, does not figure in his plans.
Spurs are walking directly into a striker crisis, but they also have issues in midfield. Moussa Sissoko limped out of the United defeat before half-time with a muscle injury and, with Mousa Dembele close to finalising a move to Chinese club Beijing Gouan, Pochettino’s squad is thin and vulnerable.
Many would argue that chairman Daniel Levy has been too reluctant to spend on much-needed reinforcements, but Levy’s hands have been tied by the costs of the new stadium, which have reportedly almost trebled from the original estimate of £400m. Levy is being sensible by considering the long-term financial health of the club, with neighbours Arsenal still struggling to emerge from the constraints of their move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. But Pochettino is also culpable for the lack of new arrivals.
As the manager, and a man whose reputation as one of Europe’s most sought-after coaches ensures that he can wield some power with Levy, Pochettino should have pushed harder for new signings last summer because Spurs were already operating with a shallower squad than their top six rivals. That failure to do so has left the club in trouble.
At the turn of the year, Spurs were on the fringe of the title race, but they are now looking over their shoulder in third, fearful of being dragged back into the battle for a top four finish as Chelsea and Man United gather momentum.
Pochettino has done remarkably well to turn Spurs into regular challengers for the top four, but the cracks are beginning to show because the investment in the squad has not been there. Unless that changes, it is difficult to see how the Spurs project can retain its appeal for Pochettino.