Never get back with the ex is the advice shared and taken by many but the trouble when using this analogy with football clubs is that staying single instead isn’t an option.
Tottenham Hotspur are in a crisis after their worst season in 12 years which has left them without a manager, an unsettled squad likely soon to be without its world class striker, and a furious fan base who are watching the decline unfold helplessly.
On the surface it’s been downhill ever since Mauricio Pochettino was sacked in November 2019 and replaced by Jose Mourinho, who never was able to get his feet under the desk before he too was jettisoned in April just days before the Carabao Cup final.
Mauricio Pochettino has spoken to Tottenham Hotspur in regards to making a sensational return to the club he guided to the Champions League final (above)
Pochettino spent five years from 2014 as Spurs manager, becoming popular among fans
But for supporters still angry over Pochettino’s departure, and Mourinho’s tenure, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel – the prospect of a reunion with the Argentine.
The possibility is there too, at least more likely so than the club ending their 13-year trophy drought any time soon, with Pochettino keen on a return to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
It may even bring back the old times again for Tottenham… yet this is why Spurs should be approaching this avenue with caution.
Pochettino’s sacking did not come out of the blue. Spurs were in total disarray when he left. So deep-rooted were the club’s problems Mourinho was never given a fair chance to actually address them from a stale squad, disgruntled players and a poor recruitment process.
But poor form saw him dismissed in November 2019 to be replaced by Jose Mourinho (right)
Pochettino’s final 24 games in charge were worse than Mourinho’s. Graphic from SofaScore
On the pitch they were even worse than the position Mourinho left them in. After a lifeless 1-1 draw at home to Sheffield United in Pochettino’s final game, Spurs were 14th in the Premier League having taken just 14 points from their opening 12 games of the 2019-20 season.
A hangover from the previous May’s Champions League final defeat by Liverpool? Not at all, Spurs’ crazy European run to end the 2018-19 season by reaching the final for the first time in their history was not so much as papering over the cracks but more, as Bart Simpson might have put it, a load bearing poster to stop a house collapsing.
Tottenham’s final 24 league games under Pochettino, well over half-a-season’s worth of matches, saw them hit form which in some years would have been poor enough to get them relegated extrapolated for a full campaign.
They took just 25 points during that period, bearing in mind that they took 33 points under Mourinho’s last 24 matches.
The case against Mourinho comparing these periods is that Spurs all too often in his tenure were rudderless, couldn’t hold onto leads, barely attacked and the mediocre points return as a result was not worth the pragmatism.
Spurs’s Champions League run to the final in 2019 only clouded over very poor domestic form
Yet, Pochettino’s Spurs were just as bad if not worse in his final 10 months in charge as they persisted with a diamond formation that was not working – especially away from home where during this time they failed to win in the league.
The pressing game which had been so key to Argentine’s early success at the club had all but disappeared and players were becoming despondent under a manager who had started to distance himself from training sessions.
Even in the cups, Pochettino was not immune to criticism in the end. In a few short weeks late in 2019, Spurs were dumped out the Carabao Cup by Colchester United of League Two, suffered their biggest ever European home defeat when Bayern Munich hammered them 7-2 in the Champions League, and followed it up by being humiliated with a 3-0 loss at Brighton.
With a charge sheet as bad as that you may wonder why sections of Spurs fans are so excited at the idea of being reunited with a manger who has contributed towards five of their 13-years without silverware.
Pochettino’s final few months saw his side humiliated by Colchester United in the Carabao Cup
It’s because at the peak of his powers, Pochettino was giving many supporters the best days of their Spurs lives. He took over the club in 2014 in a similar situation to the one they find themselves today.
After treading water in his first year a step short of the Champions League spots, Spurs kicked on in 2015-16 and found themselves in an unlikely title race before losing out to Leicester. Third place was a bitter disappointment but it was Tottenham’s highest ever Premier League finish at the time.
He bettered it the next season with a run to second place and an unbeaten home record which helped Spurs to 86 points and a plus-60 goal difference – a record enough to have beaten Manchester City to the title this season.
Pochettino was getting the maximum out of his squad that was largely made up of players who were already at the club when he arrived such as Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Christian Eriksen, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Hugo Lloris and of course Harry Kane. Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min soon followed and almost overnight Spurs’ expectations from fans and pundits went from top four hopefuls to realistic title contenders – and it was all done on the budget of a team more likely to battle for a top six spot.
With key striker Harry Kane (left), Pochettino did help build Tottenham’s best ever Premier League side with a runners-up finish and he could convince the striker to stay at the club
Pochettino is often argued to have blown a big chance to win the title with these players but that is unfair given how high he had taken them in the first place.
The real moment cracks started to appear was in the summer of 2018 after another excellent season of over-achieving when despite having to play at Wembley while the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was being constructed he still secured third in the Premier League.
By now his close-knit squad needed an injection of new faces – what he got back from the transfer window was nothing, literally. Spurs became the first team in the Premier League to go a whole summer transfer window without signing anyone… that then turned into the whole season.
Despite a good start to 2018-19 where they were just about keeping on the coattails of front runners Manchester City and Liverpool, Spurs’s form gradually declined and then nosedived shortly after entering the new year.
The Argentine is unhappy at PSG, having narrowly missed out on the French title to Lille
Following the end of the season resulting in the Champions League final loss, Pochettino called for a ‘painful rebuild’ but investment from the club while big was poor – as none of the summer signings in Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso or Ryan Sessegnon at well over £100m together made any serious impact before Pochettino’s departure.
Pochettino’s days looked numbered long before November though, his demeanour on the touchline and in press conferences cut of a man in need of a break.
Not happy with the current set-up in his role at Paris Saint-Germain after losing the French league title to Lille, a refuelled Pochettino could bring Spurs to life again and his positive influence on Kane may convince the striker to give it one more season in north London with a manger he knows very well can take Spurs to great heights if backed sufficiently.
That brings us to the boardroom. Spurs don’t have too many options to turn to following Mourinho’s departure. An unhappy team, a limited budget and a European Conference League isn’t a great sell. Their popularity with supporters is at its lowest ebb following one trophy in their 20 years in control at the club, along with rapid on-pitch decline and the debacle with the Super League – they need a vote winner.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy (right) could now bring back Pochettino in a move which could lift the partial gloom that has descended on the club this season
In that sense, a Pochettino return to Tottenham appears to be the best fit all-round, but it could only work if he gets the painful rebuild he wanted two years ago – and not the ill-fitting pieces he got in return shortly after. It’s the rebuild Mourinho would have wanted too, and it’s tough to see Pochettino agreeing to a return without this being agreed to.
He wasn’t fautless in his final months but the club’s awful transfer recruitment in the last five years has resulted in failing to sign a single permanent first-team player who has gone on to become a star. It has got no better than sensible purchases of Sergio Reguilon and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg who were simply filling vacancies at left-back and defensive midfield respectively.
A Pochettino reunion appears to benefit the Argentine, who has unfinished business in north London, as well many fans who never wanted him to leave in the first place, players who shone under him before and a board desperate to arrest a decline and win back supporters in time for next season.
It looks like the safest and best bet, but there are not many cases of happy endings when it comes to returning to the ex.