You can hardly blame Mauricio Pochettino for strong, decisive management, nor be surprised when he displays it. His Tottenham’s revolution has been achieved through the insistence that no individual is more important than the collective, for that is the only way in which a team can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Cue the 1,000th person pointing out that Pochettino has not yet won a trophy, as if that is the only way in which progress can be judged. There is no doubt that the Argentinean would not consider his journey complete without silverware, but that does not mean we should avoid pouring praise on the Premier League’s most consistent manager over the last two years.
If Pochettino’s demands of dedication to the greater good have long been evident on the pitch, Kyle Walker is the first to find out just how committed his manager is to that principle. Pochettino’s strategy to rotate right wing-backs to keep Walker and Kieran Trippier fresh in the absence of Danny Rose has annoyed the former; Walker has seemingly had his head turned by interest from Manchester City.
Having crossed Pochettino, Walker could not be allowed to win the power battle. The full-back will be bitterly disappointed not to have started against Manchester United in the final ever game at White Hart Lane, and some may consider it a harsh punishment on a player who just wants to start matches. It will do little to thaw a now frosty relationship.
Yet this is how it has to be at Tottenham. This is a club who pay lower wages than their title-challening peers, where Pochettino promises a positive working environment between like-minded young players. This is Tottenham, where the project and not the paychecks are given the hard sell. The moment Pochettino cedes to player power, the mask slips. If the strategy was flawed, the timing – as Tottenham were embarking on a title tilt – was worse. Pochettino and supporters will insist that the grass in Manchester is not necessarily greener than in north London.
What is interesting is just how emphatic the support for Pochettino has been from Tottenham’s support. The manager is wilfully casting adrift one of the team’s key players and most valuable assets, yet the majority response is to praise his resolve and strength of character. Having Trippier as an effective fill-in plays a part in that reaction, but so too does the trust placed in Pochettino’s methods.
It might sound ludicrous to describe any player likely to double his money this summer as a loser, but Walker is certainly about to endure a different type of pressure to the one at Tottenham. He will be replacing a club legend, and given the responsibility to ignite a successful second season for Pep Guardiola. Sometimes it is easier being the underdog.
There is nothing wrong with a player showing ambition to be first-choice at a club who will be a shorter price than Spurs for Premier League and Champions League trophies next season, yet if Walker or his agent thought that they could dictate to Tottenham, they were mistaken. Everyone at this club is reading from the Book of Pochettino; there is little value in keeping people who aren’t reading from the same page.