Mauricio Pochettino is high maintenance. The next club that employs him will have to understand that component of his personality. “If he’s not happy about something, everyone knows about it,” a former colleague said. He has been unhappy at Tottenham Hotspur for some time.
Pochettino likes positive reinforcement – not only from his bosses. Even if his ego is a little bruised at the moment, he will be pleased by the praise, shock and sympathy that has greeted his departure from White Hart Lane. Reaching the Champions League final usually guarantees a manager a second honeymoon period.
The Argentinian keeps a keen eye on what is being said about him in the media. While he was at Southampton, Nicola Cortese, the chairman at St Mary’s at the time, spoke at a conference and talked about how a manager should be considered a department head rather than a kingpin at a club. It was an attempt to convey the multifaceted work needed to create a successful team but Pochettino read the reports and thought it was an attempt to undermine his status. He became so emotional about the perceived slight that he took training in dark glasses, much to the bemusement of his players.
The 47-year-old is a complex mixture of the tough and tender. For someone who thrives on approval from his employers, Pochettino takes a different approach to his own man-management. One of the hallmarks of his career has been his tendency to freeze out members of the squad who do not meet his expectations or buy in to his tactical philosophies.
At Espanyol, he fell out with a number of senior professionals. During his time at St Mary’s, he trusted a core group of players and those on the margins were largely ignored. A similar process has occurred at Spurs. One of the reasons that his time at Tottenham stuttered to an end is that alienated players needed to be replaced. To work to his maximum effect, Pochettino needs regular injections of new blood in his team.
He was the perfect man to turn the youngsters at Spurs into contenders but to propel the side forward he needed fresh ears in the dressing room. A clutch of experienced players at White Hart Lane stopped listening to him. A clearout was necessary. Tottenham’s failures in the transfer market and the manager’s personality made the parting of the ways almost inevitable.
Working with a new group of players will give Pochettino the chance to improve his reputation. He is a fine organiser, does not miss a trick in training and is always open to suggestions. He notes even the smallest of details and has the courage to do something new.
He needed that bravery. Playing at Wembley while the new stadium was being built was not ideal for the team. The consequent lack of funds for transfers also held the manager back, as did Daniel Levy’s eccentric methods of player trading.
Pochettino's five-and-a-half-year reign has come to an end (Getty)
There has always been a sense that Pochettino saw north London as part of a journey rather than a destination. His ambitions are to manage one of Europe’s elite clubs – Spurs were always in the second rank – with Real Madrid top of the list. He wants to be considered in the same bracket as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.
He needed to leave north London to make the leap into such exalted company. Spurs were stagnating and there was a danger that he was developing a habit of missing opportunities. A window was open for Tottenham to win silverware over the past three years but it shut with a clang last season. The Champions League trophy was within touching distance in Madrid but Tottenham were too meek against a Liverpool side that was far from their best. The Real job appeared the obvious next move in the summer but that moment passed.
White Hart Lane looked like it had become the wrong place at the wrong time and Pochettino’s exit offers him a freedom to grow and develop. North London was increasingly looking like a prison.
He leaves behind him a squad that is still capable of reclaiming a top-four place, despite being 11 points adrift of the Champions League qualifying spots with nearly a third of the season gone. If Levy can find a manager – even a short-term appointment – who can rebuild team spirit and morale, Tottenham can get back on track.
The decision to part ways could work out positively for both sides but both need to adjust their approach. Spurs need to invest in the transfer market in a more sensible manner.
Pochettino’s next employer’s biggest investment will be in the manager himself. He may require a little more love than most but it should pay off - at least in the short term. With more support he may even prove that his management is sustainable over a longer period. There was no chance of that happening at Tottenham.