I was taken by surprise by the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs this last week, though mostly due to the timing rather than assuming his job was safe.
After what was yet another underwhelming display in the league during a home match in which Spurs were slightly fortunate to take a point against newly-promoted Sheffield United, I expected that if it was considered the right time to make a managerial change, then it would occur much earlier in the international break than was the case.
As is true of many dismissals involving managers who have enjoyed a long spell in charge of a club and been popular amongst the supporters, there would have been plenty of Spurs fans disappointed to see the departure of a man who led the club to the brink of Champions League glory, and delivered four consecutive top four finishes in the league.
But after beginning 2019 ahead of Man City in the table and considered at the time to be serious title contenders, Spurs ended the season 27 points adrift of the champions, with their dramatic collapse during the second half of the season almost costing the club a place in this year’s Champions League.
And with the current campaign having continued in a similar fashion, Spurs are already in a position in which their chances of qualifying for Europe’s top competition for a fifth year running realistically hinge on them lifting the trophy in Istanbul next May.
Whilst disappointing from a footballing point of view, it would be disastrous for the club’s finances, especially after the huge cost of a new stadium. Missing out on Champions League football would also make it more difficult to compete for top players, and lead to an increased risk of players such as Harry Kane seeking a move away.
Those scenarios were surely taken into account with the appointment of Jose Mourinho, a manager with a record of success at every club he’s managed, and who remains a man who could not only attract big name players to any club he is at but also help retain the services of existing star players who may otherwise be considering their futures.
Mourinho’s Premier League objective will be to get as close to the top four as possible, even if Spurs do miss out on Champions League qualification, as appears a reasonable likelihood due to the points gap that needs to be bridged, as well as considering the form of the teams already occupying the top four. But a clear sign of progress between now and May will at least allow the club to go into next season more confident of being able to compete with the likes of Liverpool and Man City.
Spurs have not become a mediocre team overnight, and rather than pinning too much of the blame on the former manager for a poor league record throughout 2019, it may simply be a case of the club needing a change – as was also evident at Arsenal and even in Jurgen Klopp’s final year at Borussia Dortmund.
Rather than persist with a situation that had the potential to become even more damaging, the board acted decisively in what was likely to have been a difficult decision when taking into account the job which Pochettino did at the club during his time in charge.
But there remains a lot of potential at the Spurs, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a continuation of the good start made by Mourinho in his first week in charge, or for his new side to be in contention for silverware within the next year or two.