Why Tottenham snubbed Mauricio Pochettino return in gut-punch to fans
Tottenham fans have experienced some bleak moments this season but, for many, nothing will compare to the gut-punch of Mauricio Pochettino joining Chelsea.
It would be galling enough if Pochettino, who was previously one of Spurs’s favourite sons, was joining a bitter rival while the club was flourishing, but they are currently without a permanent manager of their own and the Argentine was open to an emotional return.
Daniel Levy, though, decided against a push to rehire the club’s most celebrated boss of the Premier League era. According to one source, the Spurs chairman went as far as to “put out feelers” around the possibility of bringing Pochettino back but never contacted the 51-year-old, although the pair have stayed in touch since his sacking in 2019.
Levy and Pochettino flirted with a reunion in 2021, but the latter was under contract at Paris Saint-Germain and still hoping for a shot at Real Madrid. It came to nothing and Spurs ended up with Nuno Espirito Santo.
Pochettino was a good fit for Spurs then and, on paper at least, he is a good fit now: a name with big-club experience and a reputation for playing attractive football, equally at home managing stars and developing young players.
But Levy is looking for a new coach in the mould of Pochettino in 2014 — young, hungry, up-and-coming — and sources close to the chairman say the 2023 version does not fit the profile. He is nearly a decade older now, more experienced but undeniably a different coach. Perhaps more relevantly, however, and for all Pochettino’s obvious qualities, Levy can reason that going back rarely works in football.
Sources say Levy does not want to be unduly influenced by emotion, and there are concerns at the club about Pochettino’s final year in charge, when results went south and the atmosphere deteriorated.
The obvious rebuttal is that Spurs still reached an historic Champions League final in his final 12 months, and the mood and football went downhill largely because of the club’s decisions and precisely the problems the manager had predicted: specifically a failure to refresh the squad.
Even if Levy might have been persuaded, the Spurs hierarchy was divided over the merits of Pochettino coming back, and the former Espanyol, Southampton and PSG coach was not on the list of candidates drawn up by former managing director Fabio Paratici.
Levy is in the process of hiring a new director of football who, like Paratici, will have their own ideas on the identity of the new coach. Ultimately, only Levy and his inner circle know the full reasons for overlooking Pochettino, but it is clearly a big gamble.
Rehiring Pochettino would not only have had sound logic in football terms, it would have been a unifying move, immediately alleviating the fractured connection between fans and club. It would also have been a zero-sum move, denying Chelsea a boss who appears tailor-made for their squad.
Whoever Levy now appoints will face constant comparisons with Pochettino, and if the Argentine does well at Stamford Bridge, Spurs fans will have to live with the permanent reminder of what they once had and could have had again.