Po­chet­tino may find it hard to walk away

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Ken Early:

Spurs have a bet­ter away record than any other Pre­mier League team in 2018, and last night they pretty much emp­tied out Good­i­son Park with half an hour to go. When Harry Kane tried to make it seven with a Marco van Bas­ten-style vol­ley in in­jury time, there was hardly any­one left to see it.

The match will be re­mem­bered as a disas­ter for Ever­ton, whose coach, Marco Silva, de­cided to play man for man against Spurs with­out hav­ing the qual­ity in his team to pull it off. The re­sult was a ter­ri­ble night for sev­eral Ever­ton play­ers, none more so than Sea­mus Cole­man, some of whose touches caused au­di­ble frus­tra­tion in the crowd.

Cole­man has been one of Ever­ton’s most pop­u­lar play­ers since he es­tab­lished him­self in the team there in 2010, but poor re­cent form has put him well into “What have you done for me lately?” ter­ri­tory with a lot of Ever­ton fans.

This is the dou­ble cru­elty of suf­fer­ing a bad in­jury. Not only do you get put out of the game for a year and have to work your way back to fit­ness through end­less hours of mind-numb­ing physio and gym work, but when you do come back, you find you can never just have a bad day: in­stead ev­ery­one says you’ve lost it since the in­jury and the time has come to bin you off.

Yet for all that Ever­ton were bad, it was also a match to make you won­der: could Tot­ten­ham ac­tu­ally win the league? They have some­how got to within six points of Liver­pool and two of Manch­ester City.

Bad luck

It has been Tot­ten­ham’s bad luck that the rise of their best side since the 1960s has co­in­cided with other teams pro­duc­ing out­stand­ing per­for­mances: Chelsea’s record 2017 sea­son and City’s record 2018 have now been fol­lowed by Liver­pool’s best-ever start to a league cam­paign. But Liver­pool and City play each other next week and with Spurs’ next three matches all against beat­able mid-ta­ble op­po­nents, there is the chance for them to force their way into the reck­on­ing by mid-Jan­uary. And right now all of the pres­sure is on the two es­tab­lished con­tenders.

It will be in­ter­est­ing, how­ever, to see how Spurs deal with the spec­u­la­tion that seems likely to sur­round Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino and per­haps one or two of their key play­ers now that Manch­ester United have let it be known that Po­chet­tino is their pre­ferred can­di­date to take over at Old Traf­ford from sum­mer 2019.

The ques­tion can be dodged as long as Spurs keep win­ning, but as with Cole­man’s leg in­jury, it will resur­face when­ever they suf­fer a set­back: is the uncer­tainty over the man­ager’s fu­ture af­fect­ing the play­ers’ per­for­mance?

Last week Po­chet­tino talked about the need for peo­ple to start think­ing more pos­i­tively about the pos­si­bil­i­ties for Tot­ten­ham as a club, and spoke specif­i­cally about Danny Rose’s prob­lem­atic habit of think­ing too much. “Danny is a thinker. I al­ways say to him, ‘Danny you are think­ing too much. You need to stop, and work. You need to de­liver the job that we want – don’t think.’ ”

Po­chet­tino’s point was that Rose needed to save his en­ergy for what was re­ally im­por­tant. But if this sit­u­a­tion where Po­chet­tino is seen as the United man­ager-in-wait­ing con­tin­ues to rum­ble on, it will soon be hard for any­one at Spurs to think about any­thing else.

Their hope will be that Daniel Levy can per­suade Po­chet­tino that Spurs are at a his­toric in­flec­tion point, and that walk­ing away from them now, just as they are poised to move into the new sta­dium and per­haps be­come one of the most pow­er­ful clubs in Europe, would be to risk look­ing like the big­gest fool in football.

It’s ob­vi­ous why Po­chet­tino might be in­ter­ested in mov­ing. United’s turnover is nearly twice that of Tot­ten­ham’s, and the av­er­age first team player at United earns £6.5 mil­lion a year, com­pared with £3.5 mil­lion at Spurs.

Re­mark­able

That is why his achieve­ment in reg­u­larly fin­ish­ing ahead of United has been so re­mark­able. It also ex­plains why Tot­ten­ham to Manch­ester United has been a nor­mal ca­reer move for play­ers, with Teddy Sher­ing­ham, Michael Car­rick and Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov all mak­ing that switch.

But man­agers are dif­fer­ent from play­ers. It’s not very com­mon for a man­ager at a team that is do­ing very well to move to a club fur­ther down the ta­ble. Gen­er­ally, man­agers of teams at Cham­pi­ons League level tend to stay where they are un­til things go wrong and they get sacked. Po­chet­tino has spent the past few years per­suad­ing his play­ers to ig­nore the prom­ise of more money else­where in re­turn for the op­por­tu­nity to be in­volved with some­thing at Tot­ten­ham that means more. Wouldn’t it be awk­ward to turn his back on them at the first chance of a “big­ger” job?

It might come down to the ques­tion of whether Po­chet­tino still trusts Levy. Last May, his am­bi­tions of win­ning the first tro­phy of his man­age­rial ca­reer hav­ing been dashed by de­feat to United in the FA Cup semi-fi­nal, Po­chet­tino said that the time had come for Spurs to “take risks and be brave” in the trans­fer mar­ket. But Spurs signed no­body.

Liver­pool, mean­while, out­spent ev­ery­one else in the league and cur­rently lead it. They look likely to fin­ish ahead of Spurs for the first time since Po­chet­tino has been at White Hart Lane, and the rea­son is that Jür­gen Klopp has been al­lowed to sign play­ers such as Alis­son and Vir­gil van Dijk, while Po­chet­tino has been asked to do more with less.

Re­sources will not be a prob­lem at Manch­ester United. And yet it is hard to imag­ine Po­chet­tino walk­ing away from what he has at Tot­ten­ham with much of a spring in his step.

If this sit­u­a­tion where Po­chet­tino is seen as the United man­ager-in-wait­ing con­tin­ues to rum­ble on, it will soon be hard for any­one at Spurs to think about any­thing else

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