Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
It probably won’t happen often that my hero of the week will be someone who has just been sacked but such was the affection this man was held in, it feels like the right time to both mark his departure and appreciate his contribution to the fine north London cultural institute that is Tottenham Hotspur over the past five and a half years.
He’s an Argentinian from the splendidly named town of Murphy and prior to joining Southampton was probably most well-known to an English audience as the player who was nearest to Michael Owen’s penalty-winning dive in the 1998 World Cup game.
A brooding, long-haired defender he looked every bit the sexy Gaucho or possibly the bass player in Sepultura. He has managed just three clubs in his 10-year career in the dug out, Espanyol, Saints and Spurs. In that time he earned his reputation as a progressive, empathetic manager who can put together a team to play in a very specific, often thrilling, committed, high-pressing way, without spending the GDP of Belgium to do so. His departure this week left many heartbroken and feeling that they had ‘lost’ a friend, somehow.
That’ll be Mauricio Roberto Pochettino Trossero, then.
What have they done to deserve this then?
There seems to be a common feeling amongst Spurs supporters that his period in charge has been the finest, most entertaining football since the glory days of Bill Nicholson. That it was done on a relatively tight budget at a time of financial incontinence by all their competitors, whilst having a new stadium built and all the upheaval of having to play at Wembley has only added to the feeling that this was an absolutely remarkable period in the club’s history.
However, there is something more unusual about his tenure, something very much out of whack with the ruthless end of modern top flight football and that is the fact that he attracted so much love and affection as a person. It was how he went about being Spurs manager as much as the football his sides played that gained loyalty from fans and players too. He was a shining beacon of decency in the long dark night of the soul that is the Premier League.
And while he took Spurs into the Champions League places each season and to last season’s final in a run of games that were some of the most emotionally remarkable sporting moments any of us have witnessed, the jibe that he hadn’t won a trophy continued to be hurled at him. Football has too many observers who see the game as merely part of an acquisitive lifestyle to define worth or success.
Even now there are those who are puzzled as to why a manager can be hailed as a huge success without winning a trophy. This is a philosophical divide. Football remains hugely popular because we’re addicted to the journey and not the destination. Those who see only arriving as having true value, will never understand that it is the experience of the travelling where the soul of the game lies. Success is to be entertaining, to be transformative, to make your fans feel good. His replacement will perhaps win a League Cup but will likely never be held in the same regard or warmth. After all Juande Ramos won a cup but in no way is regarded as more successful than Mauricio. That’s because real success is measured in the heart and soul, not in the pocket or trophy cabinet.
His years at the club illustrated perfectly that football is not all about winning titles or trophies, it is about much more deep, more profound things such as community, understanding, empathy, love and passion. Who would trade the love in their heart for a pot of silver? No-one. And those that would are surely cold to the warmth that football brings to the people.
With his squirralish pouchy cheeks, thick hair and self-effacing charming grin, it is impossible not to like our man. He feels genuine and open. If you look at a few clips of his press conferences, we see a man who is very expressive, especially with his eyes and eyebrows. He can go from blank to twinkle, to a shrugging grin and an open-eyed delight all within the space of one answer. And as with many likeable people who have a natural charm, you find yourself wanting to look at him, just to see him going through this rainbow of emotions and expressions.
You can’t fake being likable because being liked isn’t something that is within your own gift. As this general election has so well proven already, no amount of PR, spin or fine words can make a narcissistic lying scumbag likeable. You can say anything you like but when people know you’re a shameless, moral-free liar, it all bounces off.
The tweet from Harry Kane seemed very heartfelt and reflected just how deep affection for him is.
Gaffer. I’ll be forever thankful to you for helping me achieve my dreams. We’ve had some amazing moments in the last 5 and a half years that I will never forget. You were my manager but my friend as well and I thank you for that relationship. Good luck with your next chapter! 💙 pic.twitter.com/u64RXV7wd4
— Harry Kane (@HKane) November 20, 2019
And this picture of the message he left for his former team was typically touching
“You will always be in our ❤️”
Mauricio Pochettino’s departing message to his Tottenham squad.
No, you’re crying 😢
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 21, 2019
This was surely every football journo’s wet dream. Not only the loss of a big name manager at a top club, but to be replaced by Him. So the amount of trees felled to cover the story was mighty and a lot of phone battery energy has been expended over the past few days. As I write this section on Thursday lunchtime, Google News produces over 70 stories published in the last five hours when you do a search for ‘Pochettino’.
The Athletic especially was absolutely stuffed with articles about Spurs, Poch, his replacement and even what it all had to do with Eddie Howe. After reading three pieces, unless you were a huge fan of Spurs with an unlimited appetite, it was all just too much. After a while, it felt like one of those encore jams when everyone gets to play a solo, including the drummer and everyone gets bored. It’s obviously a big issue but really, ever more isn’t ever better, it’s just more.
‘Tottenham appoint Mourinho after Pochettino ‘sulked his way to the sack’’ had three contributors, while ‘What is it really like to play for Jose Mourinho?’ had five in the byline. Perhaps this was in order to drum the pieces up as quickly as possible. Certainly no shortage of resources were thrown at it. So much so that after little more than 30 hours, it felt like every drop of juice had already been wrung out of the story. Isn’t that the modern way?
Michael Cox wrote a typically unique, excellent and thoroughly forensic piece “Why Mourinho’s arrival should excite Alli and Kane, but Winks’ future is a worry” and was probably the only piece you needed to read about the actual football implications.
Anyone grumpy about it?
It is not an exaggeration to say that many Spurs supporters are not just grumpy but absolutely heartbroken at his departure. He had become a surrogate family member to many. While there is acknowledgement that perhaps he was losing his mojo a little and that maybe the dressing room wasn’t responding as positively to him as it once did, he had become part of so many people’s lives that the thought of him not being there was too much for many.
The appointment of his replacement only compounded the terrible shock for some. To say it felt like going from glory to heartache wouldn’t be too strong. It all seemed to end so quickly.
Philippe Auclair called it ‘an act of vandalism’ and that feels right on the money.
What the people say
Plenty had plenty to say about our man. When someone is genuinely liked, loved even, that feeling of having lost something, of the light in your life being a little dimmed is understandable. We start as ever with a 4_4_haiku.
More energy, more hunger
Spent less, went higher
— 4_4_haiku (@4_4_haiku) November 21, 2019
– The Poch love is very high and there were plenty prepared to publicly confess their affection for the man.
– Proof – as if needed – that football is about so much more than winning trophies.
A genuinely lovely man who made me fall back in love with Spurs. After years of bilge,he gave us a team to be proud of and at its best, one to be feared. Love ya Poch
— Nick Pearce (@P_Nicky) November 21, 2019
– He always comes across as a genuinely nice guy who is humble and affable and seems somewhat immune to the corrosive effects that the omnipotent football industry can have on some people. There’s very few people who don’t like him which is a big achievement in this day and age.
– Clearly a very competent manager, its shame Levy didn’t realise this and back him properly. They could have built something really astonishing between them had he been backed like his peers. At a club with proper ambition, watch the silverware role in.
– Aw man, it’s still too raw! I haven’t ever felt such a connection with a manager, which by extension made me more connected with the team than ever.
– The black trousers, black shirt & black tie combo is his legacy. The suavest man to step foot inside a technical area. Not a bad coach either.
– Oozes class, doesn’t he? As a Chelsea fan he actually reminds me of 2005/06 Mourinho – intelligent, tactically astute, affable. Wouldn’t be out of place at any top club. Which is why it’s strange to see Spurs move for the stale, bitter and outdated 2019 Jose.
– He’s good, but he’s no Nigel Adkins…
– He always seemed like a Gentleman… wanting impart his wisdom and philosophy as well as his football onto a new generation. Outside of the top three, he will be welcome at any club. That says more than anything else.
Having grown up watching Tottenham getting tonked at home to the likes of Coventry from a young age and then falling into the mighty shadow of our neighbours at Highbury, Mo made us a team that not only was consistently good but believed we could beat anyone. Thank you.
— Office Painter (@OfficePainter) November 21, 2019
– It breaks my heart to think he’s not part of our football club any more. The last 5 years have been amazing. Love him to bits.
– Just ask Rickie Lambert about what a great manager he was for #saintsfc. Other than the indiscretion of signing Dani Osvaldo, he is pretty much fondly remembered by myself…….
– I’m a Man City fan in Australia so we get the 25 minute highlights and I’d always watch his teams as you knew you’d get a good game of football.
– I’m definitely picturing him as the smooth and silent killer in a spaghetti western. But that’s probably racist. You can’t say anything these days, Jeff.
– An intelligent, articulate and a superb manager. Deserved a chance to try and right things. And the fact that he didn’t get to say goodbye to the players and fans shows why there is little grace left in the game. He made the new spurs and the new Spurs made him.
– I know it’s a cliche, but he made me proud to be a Tottenham fan for the first time in years. I’m gutted he’s gone, but accept that sadly it was probably the right choice – I don’t think he was going to turn it around, and I’d rather he leave a legend than overstay his welcome.
– Affable but steely, he shook a rotting club to the core with no bluster and a great deal of charm. He transformed the careers of many players, and the beliefs of many fans. We dared again because of him, and we so very nearly did. ‘Spursy’ meant something else because of him.
– He made me feel something for my football club that I’ve not felt for a long, long time. The highs felt so much higher with him. He will be missed.
– Great manager, I’m sad to see him go. Gave the fans a team to be proud of. Levy needs his head checked in sacking him.
What does the future hold?
His stock is incredibly high. Just staying at one club for over five years is such a rare quality in itself and speaks to his passion for development of a whole squad and not just trying to buy some success off the shelf. That being said, he’ll likely want to work with someone with looser purse strings than Daniel Levy in future. He could probably do with a bit of a break, but if Manchester United don’t manage to sustain a good run of form, it is hard not to imagine Ed Woodward getting moist around the gills at the thought of throwing a lot of money at him. Whether Mo will want that job over and above any other is open to debate, but he will surely have his pick of suitors. There’s talk of Bayern, but given how that club is structured, would it really be a good fit? The other big names are also in the hat, as well as, remarkably, Arsenal. This is really just the start for him.
He has a legacy at Spurs which will be looked back upon fondly by a lot of people for a great many years. The joy he has brought to that club is quite remarkable and be in no doubt, it will go down in the history books as a very important period. They had employed Tim Sherwood before he arrived, but now, given their elevated position, there is not a chance they would make such a choice again.
He’ll certainly never have to buy a drink in north London for the rest of his life. I’m sure many wish him every success in the future and I’m sure we will continue to see much of him over the coming couple of decades.