“He is enthusiastic and has strong opinions,” said Harry Redknapp this week about himself. Sorry, Tim Sherwood. In Redknapp’s enthusiastic and strong opinion, that makes Sherwood a potentially great manager. Redknapp probably thinks rather less of Mauricio Pochettino, who never knowingly says anything of any interest whatsoever. He is not quite at Manuel Pellegrini levels of anodyne, but it’s difficult to gauge what he may possibly feel strongly about, except that his teams should be focused and work hard – a recurring theme that does not lend itself to click-bait headlines.
Pochettino is the quiet man of Premier League management, working quietly for a side that is quietly doing rather well. While our eyes were bleeding at the ‘entertainment’ at Old Trafford, Tottenham were quietly dismantling Bournemouth. Last week, while all attention was on Liverpool’s gegenpressing, Tottenham were quietly just plain pressing in the usual fashion and registering another clean sheet. They are quietly the Premier League’s youngest side, quietly matching the three title favourites defensively and quietly the top flight’s most voracious tacklers.
If this was a Tottenham side playing under Redknapp or Sherwood, there would be loud backslapping about the youth of a squad that is the product of five years of transfer business conducted at a profit; Spurs are the only Premier League club who can make that claim. Instead of Pochettino urging Roy Hodgson not to pick the raw Dele Alli, there would have been boasts that Alli was the new Steven Gerrard and the theoretical price would be set at £40m – a guaranteed headline. Instead of Pochettino generously crediting Eric Dier with the intelligence to play in central midfield, there would have been self-congratulatory noises about the tactical genius in the room; they might have just stopped short of literally pointing to themselves.
Pochettino, on the other hand, is so unassuming that we have to rely on his players to get an insight into the man.
“He’s one of those managers whose door is always open,” said the rapidly maturing Kyle Walker this week. “I know a lot of managers say that, but his really is.”
The inference is clear: Pochettino talks quietly in private while other managers are loud when the media are in earshot.
“If you’ve got a problem in football, or even outside of it, you can always go and talk to him. Those man-management skills are vital for young players like we have. It’s critical to develop the squad, but we also need to develop as individuals.”
This youthful, ego-light squad is exactly suited to the strengths of the bluster-free Pochettino, who seemingly gets his team to run further and faster without resorting to the bully-boy tactics of old school managers forcing their charges to run up sand dunes. Like all the most effective teachers, the Argentine demands discipline while remaining approachable. It’s easy to see why Emmanuel Adebayor ceased to figure in his plans.
“The more experienced players probably couldn’t handle what we do, so it’s lucky we haven’t got too many old heads,” says Walker. While Arsene Wenger talks about a ‘golden age’ of footballers between 27 and 32, his near neighbours boast a squad with only two players in that bracket. It’s not a demographic that would suit everybody – Sherwood panicked at Villa and turned to Alan Hutton and Kieran Richardson – but it clearly suits Pochettino at Tottenham just as it suited him at Southampton.
It seems unlikely that the youngest Premier League squad would win the Premier League title but for Tottenham’s current ambitions – curtailed by a stadium-enforced period of austerity – of maintaining a top-six position while developing players to be sold on for profit, it is perfect. It is no coincidence that the only three sides across Europe with a younger average age than Tottenham this season (Valencia, Nice and Bayer Leverkusen) are clubs with very similar ambitions.
They say that he who shouts loudest, gets heard. But maybe not by the people that actually matter.