Tottenham Hotspur had always been a club for the glamour - capable of attracting the games most talented youngsters and international superstars (albeit past their prime). Yet trophies were not a currency they were used to dealing with. Under Pochettino, whilst Tottenham did not win any trophies, they still achieved tangible outcomes and earnt the respect of the footballing world.
For three seasons in a row, they were the most consistent team in the league with the highest combined points tally. With a nominally low budget, Pochettino had suceeded in turning them into genuine contenders and successfully cemented their status as the club of choice in North London - no mean feat. The zenith would come in 2018, when Spurs reached the Champions League final beating favorites Manchester City and Ajax on the way. For Pochettino, it was the crowning moment of his reign... but it would prove to be the beginning of the end.
In an early morning on April 2019, news flashed across the world, Mauricio Pochettino's tenure as coach of Tottenham Hotspur had come to an end. The Argentine was relieved of his duties after a difficult start to the ongoing season. It was the end of an era. An era that can best be described by the rise of a team that in previous decades had somewhat flattered to deceive only to scale unfathomable new heights only to once again fall at the final hurdle.
In this article we will discuss what is the best club for Mauricio Pochettino to join and write the next chapter of his managerial journey. The club which will transform him from 'talent' to certified 'winner' and enable the Argentine to cement himself alongside the likes of Ancelotti, Mourinho, Klopp, SImeone and Guardiola in the hallowed hall of fame of great modern football managers. Before we do that... lets take a closer look at the transformation he made to Tottenham and dissect what makes him tick. This will help us decide which prospective club will prove the best fit.
A hall-mark of Pochettino's management philosophy is "paying attention to every detail", an attribute he honed under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa. Pochettino was a driving factor behind the new stadium at White Hart Lane,adamant that the club's style was being hindered by a tight space to work in. Tottenham's old stadium "The White Hart Lane" had the third smallest pitch in the Premier League at 100 metres by 67 metres, according to the official statistics, behind QPR (100 metres by 65.85 metres) and Stoke (100 metres by 66 metres).
Other aspects that were seized upon included the length of grass, one v one sport psychology, group sessions to build player confidence, video reviews for better performance and so much more. Gone was the lasses-faire approach so typical of Tottenham - Pochettino wanted to ensure his side were as well-prepared if not more so than any of their rivals. If they could not compete on budget, they would outperform them with their meticulous attention to detail on and off the pitch.
A famous example of this was his bespoke approach to dealing with Luke Shaw's dietary issues at Southampton. Pochettino took it upon himself to pick him up before training and make him healthy vegetable smoothies. "He called me his son, that’s how good our relationship was. I’ve had lots of downs, but when I was with Pochettino it was only ever up, up, up.” A testament also to his preference for working with young players... believing in their capacity to change. Like his mentor Bielsa, a certain level of 'mental freshness' is required to play for a man as intense as Pochettino.
Pochettino's favoured formation was a narrow 4-2-3-1, which tended to operate as a 4-2-2-2 with double pivots and double-playmakers, thus giving the side a very narrow feel and one which sought to dominate the game in central areas through the use of clever interchanges of passes and overwhelming opponents through sheer weight of numbers and unrelenting movement off the ball. The only width would come from either the full backs or the selection of one genuine wide man, in the form of Son, Lamela or later Moura.
Pochettino sides tend to have a very considered build-up phase. Spurs lacked the fluidity and verve of a Manchester City (who used a single pivot) and were more akin to a Klopp side (double pivot - pre Fabinho) though ultimately they all follow the same principles of varying the amount of players in the build-up according to the opponent - i.e. if the opposition presses with one forward, use two players in the first phase of build-up and if the opposition presses with two forwards, use three players in build-up. Numerical superiority when trying to play out from the back is considered to be critical.
As a Bielsa disciple, Pochettino is a big believer in verticality and thus when Tottenham struggled to build out the back due to the opponent’s pressure, he was not averse to instructing his defenders to target the channels with precise long balls down the flank. This brought into play the likes of Kane and Delli Alli and forced their opponents to drop back and give Spurs the breathing space to play their football. Thus Pochettino requires forwards who are rugged and versatile...not your micro-midget Pep type forwards who need it to feet.
One of the biggest flaws of Pochettino was that he was almost too much of a control-freak and thus Spurs could look overly predictable and mechanical in their build up... note how Liverpool became a far superior and slicker side when Fabinho was signed and they adopted a single pivot instead (a more riskier way to bring ball out of defence but reaps rewards once you break through the first wave of pressure). The decision to play Dier alongside a defensively disciplined ball-playing midfielder such as Dembele/Winks, highlights his fetish for work rate and tactical stability.
Pochettino’s teams have always stood out for the intensity of their pressing. Spurs deployed the most aggressive press in the league in the 2015/16 season with an unbelievable average of just 6.56 PPDA (Passes Per Defensive Actions). They would retain their top spot the following season. Spurs sought to cut short passing lanes in the middle of the pitch, pushing their opponents into a trap on the flanks where they would then seek to force the opponent into playing a long ball, rather than going all out to recover the ball in the final third - in sharp contrast to the 'gengenpress' of Liverpool.
Rather like his mentor, in order for Pochettino to produce such an intoxicating brand of football - his players needed to be supremely fit, not just physically but mentally. Double training sessions were the norm and it eventually took its toll. Having squeezed everything he could out of his group of players, in the 5th year of his tenure, Spurs collapsed and suffered mental disintegration.
The players ability to press with the same intensity had been on downwards trend for a while and after losing the Champions League final, the squad simply had nothing more to give. Having said that, he had managed the same group of players for nearly 5 years - unheard of in the modern era, so he should not be judged to harshly in this regard as he was not really given the chance to revamp the side and create a 'second' side. Anyway without further ado... let us run through his choices for the future.
For all these years, fans of Manchester United have looked at Pochettino as the man that would bring back the glory days. Strange when you consider he won nothing of note at Tottenham, whilst they continued to win silverware albeit none of the major ones under the tenures of Van Gaal and Mourinho respectively. Perhaps the United fanbase could appreciate there was something special about Pochettino's Project which had captured the imagination of the Spurs fanbase.
Their current squad looks suited to Pochettino's management style too. They have got young talented players, all very much in need of moulding and in the likes of Rashford and Fernandes, you have players who thrive in narrow set ups, are renowned for their work rate and would demonstrate commitment to the cause. Others like Martial would be on the way out. He would need to upgrade them in defensive, striker and midfield areas but Pochettino would be able to count on a transfer kitty significant enough to bring in his favoured players.
The main issue? United fans have incredibly high standards - they require both trophies and entertaining football. Paradoxically they are incredibly patient and can put up even with the most dour of football but as a fanbase they are most happy when their team is playing free-flowing attacking football, with individual flair, plenty of width and a never-say-die attitude. Pochettino's meticulous, considered and narrow approach may not sit well with the fans in the long-term. Oh and Ole does not want to let go any time soon.
If there was one club that was "heavily" linked with the Argentine, it was Real Madrid. Los Blancos have recently overcome their blip and seem to be picking up form under Zidane but rumor has it Florentino Perez approached Pochettino not once but twice when he was coaching Tottenham.
The fans would love Pochettino since he has links with Español and that makes him public enemy number one to their bitter rivals Barcelona. He brings with him a unique football philosophy that would test the Barcelona style and hurt them at their own game (remember how Spurs played against them in the Champions league or when Pochettino's Español beat Pep's all conquering Catalans?).
Tactically, the club is a good fit... the great Madrid sides of the past were very fluid in terms of shape, generally starting off narrow and with width tending to come from flying full backs. Wingers were deemed not a necessity though are not prohibited either. Entertainment is appreciated but the fans were prepared to accept Mourinho and they have embraced Zidane's pragmatism - thus the standard of aesthetics demanded is not as great as it would be at a Barcelona.
The roster is an issue however. Whilst there is youth sprinkled throughout the squad, the old guard is creaking and on its last legs. As has been proven in recent weeks, it is when they perform that Madrid pick up results. This suggests that the youngsters are not really of the standard required to take over as mainstays in the spine of Real Madrid. Thus a major rebuild is needed to compete at the highest level i.e. the Champions League. This should suit Pochettino who likes to create 'projects' and build his own squad, but he has never built a squad which has actually won anything and the pressure at the most 'winningest' club of them all could prove intolerable.
Whilst Fiorenino Perez is a fan of Pochettino and more than willing to find the funds to support the manager - he is famed for his impatience. Not to mention when he deviates from the tried and tested route and tries to experiment - it seldom works (Julen Lopetegui being his latest victim). And as much talent as you might have at Real Madrid, you are never really in control of matters - especially with regards to transfer strategy. The club is also a media circus of the highest order. That could go against the Argentine. Nevertheless they do have the talent and if it did work, it could be phenomenal.
Having recently sacked their manager Lucien Favre, Dortmund are looking for a replacement. Their Sporting Director has time and again mentioned the heights their club is capable of achieving. They have the talent and while Favre's side did play some of the best football and competed against serial winners Bayern Munchen, they ultimately came short.
Watzke and the top management believe that the time for change has come. Rumor has it, they are looking for a coach that could bring back the glory days of Jurgen Klopp's Heavy Metal football. Well that's an open secret. With Eric Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Julian Brandt, Axel Witsel, Muhammad Dahoud, they have some the most exciting talents in world football.Whilst the abundance of young attacking talent would be a luxury for any attack minded coach - there would need to be upgrades to the defensive roster and an adjustment to the underlying philosophy of the club if Dortmund was to fully adhere to the tactical principles of Pochettino. It is a very flamboyant club and it would need to reign it in to be a Poch side.
Nevertheless judging by the way the hierarchy and top management has handled the German club, this is no doubt the kind of working environment Pochettino would thrive in. This could really work. The only drawbacks are that Pochettino does not speak German and it is not really a 'Giant' Club. That could hurt the ego of the Argentine who probably feels his body of work so far has earned him the right to manage a galactico club.
After the sacking of Maurizio Sarri and indeed before the hiring of club legend Andrea Pirlo, club officials did approach Pochettino for the top job (albeit unofficially). The old lady has been trying to find a coach that could bring some attacking philosophy after the success of the pragmatic Maximilliano Allegri. The board of directors that include Andrea Agnelli himself believed that the club needed to take that next step forward both in the league and in Europe.
Hence, the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Maurizio Sarri. The reason Sarri was let go was because he was not able to instill his footballing philosophy which made him so famous at Napoli. There were reports of their approach to Pep Guardiola on more than one occasion. But Mauricio Pochettino would be an interesting choice given the history of the club and its reputation for tactical brilliance.
The great Juventus sides of the past tended to deploy 3 at the back and be built around the playmaking brilliance of the likes of Platini, Zidane and wide forward/second strikers such as Boniek and Del Piero. They have also struck a beautiful balance between hard-nosed Italian defending, devastating counter-attacking and precise possessional dominance. All hall-marks of Pochettino's signature tactical.style.
On paper, whilst the squad looks strong - Juventus has a mix of young talent with experienced veterans. One simply cannot imagine the likes of Ronaldo pressing with the vigour expected of a Pochettino forward. Furthermore Juve are not blessed with the ability to make rumbles in the transfer market (especially after the financial crisis following the pandemic from COVID 19), thus this probably not the best fit right now.
Not too long ago, Pochettino hinted at a desire to work with a club with a healthy budget. This came in an interview where the Argentine was asked how it was like working with a chief executive of a club that couldn't afford high profile signings. It was clear that Pochettino’s time a Spurs was tough. And he did mention the difficulties of not having the freedom and luxury of using your finances to the maximum in order to get the best out your squad.
Tactically City play in a much more aesthetic style than a Pochettino outfit and they play with genuine width. Furthermore it is a squad whose premier players are getting on in age and arguably lacking in motivation. In particular someone like De Bruyne - who would have been the ideal man for the Argentine to build his side around but unlikely to maintain this level for another 3 years. Thus it would be dangerous to take over what seems to be a jaded squad and subject them to the high intensity sessions Pochettino is famed for and expect them to yield.
The Citizens have been admirers of the Argentine's work but Pep Guardiola has signed a new contract and he will be staying for another 3 years. If he manages to see his contract through is anyone's guess but if they want someone to come in and wipe the slate clean and embark upon a new cycle, with a new group of players, Pochettino would be an excellent choice.
In many ways, one can look at PSG’s run in Europe’s Champions League as the peak performance everyone expected from them. And with the season starting too soon, the club from Paris are suffering just like all the other big clubs around Europe. A lack of preseason has seen them start matches on a much slower tempo than usual. They have lost a significant number of matches as well.
What has been even more alarming (and worrying) is Tuchel’s relationship with the Technical Director Leonardo. Tuchel has complained about the lack of activity in the transfer market as well as the facilities not being provided as part of the support system he’s owed by the board of directors. Leonardo on the other hand, believes the teams should be performing better than they have. Tuchel has maintained his stance. And while PSG have qualified for the second round in the Champions League, performances will need to improve and fast.
Both Pochettino and Allegri have been linked to the managerial position. Pochettino in particular looks to be the favored choice having played (and captained) the Parisian club. For Nasser al Khelaifi, this could be win win situation especially with PSG’s focus on the profits delivering merchandise. Pochettino is a popular figure and can give the club a much needed celebrity image on the bench.
Tactically, PSG would be an intriguing choice for the Argentine. On one hand he has the issue of playing with two superstar forwards who may not acquisce to his request to train twice in one day and chase the ball from the front and on the other hand last season’s Champions League semi-finals had no less than 6 players graduating from the PSG youth academy. So there is an element of 'freshness' to be extracted if hard decisions are made on the current roster.
Much of this depends on Barcelona’s performance in Europe which under Ronald Koeman has not been too bad. They are still in search for the perfect formula and Koeman will have time on his side. They do face PSG though and with both clubs going through a host of issues behind the scenes, the outcome of this match might have a bearing on the decisions by the board of directors.
There were rumors of an approach by the Catalan club for Pochettino when Quique Setien was shown the door. But nothing concrete as yet. Pochettino does have his allegiance with their City rivals Espanol and that could make his time at the club a touch more difficult. Nevertheless, Pochettino can be a decent addition to some great footballing minds that have already coached the Catalan club. A list that in recent times has included Pep Guardiola, Gerardo Martino, Tito Vilanova and Luis Enrique. While belonging to a similar school of football, Pochettino's football is not as silky smooth as that seen in their glory years and one has to question whethee Los Cules will forgive him in that regard even if he does bring in trophies.
For that to happen however, the club will need to sing from Pochettino's hymn sheet, not to the tune of Lionel Messi. There is no room for a forward to be wandering around just waiting for the ball in his system. He will need mentally fresh players, hungry players and that means all of the old guard needs to go and substantial funds provided for a new phase of the club to begin. One of the benefits of Pochettino is his ability to identify talent within the youth team and where better for him to do that at La Masia.
Pochettino's preference would be to stay in England and preferably in the south. He says his family is settled in London, where his older son, Sebastiano, has a steady girlfriend. His younger son, Maurizio, who turned 19 in March, is a winger at the Spurs academy. Therefore it seems incredibly convenient that on his doorstep there are other elite football clubs, one is Arsenal which we can almost certainly rule out and the other is Chelsea.
At first glance, Chelsea seems a sideways step from Spurs. A club which has not competed for the title since the 2016/17 title and does not really look capable of winning the title under the stewardship of Frank Lampard when you compare them to the likes of Liverpool. Having said that, Roman Abramovich sanctioned some big money spending this summer and it seems as if his heart and soul bleeds blue once again. This makes the West London club a very attractive prospect for an ambitious manager and they have a proven track record of winning the biggest trophies in the game.
Tactically the club is a brilliant fit for Pochettino. Historically it is a club which has reached its success through utilising pragmatic means and is not reknowned for its dazzling wingplay (Duff and Robben aside). Even its current roster seems tailor made for a narrow set up with width coming from their full backs. Reece James and Ben Chilwell are the perfect Pochettino full backs. Furthermore the likes of Mount, Pulisic and Havertz all seem like the number 10/8 hybrids that the Argentine craves in central areas and arguably the only thing missing is a top 9 who can tie it all up together. Most importantly the fans are not fussed about entertainment and sing when they are winning.
The only potential drawback is that Roman Abramovic has always wanted to win in style and Mourinho's approach always felt at odds with what his dreams for the club were. Having said that, Pochettino's football is not as dour as Jose's and he does play in a front foot style with his team instructed to dominate the ball and construct chances, rather than rely on errors by the opposition. Therefore I do not foresee this as a major issue.
The past couple of seasons have been phenomenal to say the least. The club have come a long way and now look set to stay in the English Premier league for good thanks to Andre Radrizzani, Victor Orta and of course Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine great has not signed a contract for next season "yet" and the club have been slowly getting to grips of the possibility that El Loco might leave one day.
Recently the club was rumored to have lined up Julen Lopetegui as his potential replacement while Bielsa himself nominated Juan Osorio as his heir apparent (a season back). Looking at the squad and the players and the way Bielsa has played them so far, the team looks ideal for Pochettino. The heirearchy with the directors has done the best work any club has ever seen and there are positive signs that they will be continuing their good work for years to come.
Football wise the Disciple will not be much different than The Grand Master himself. Pochettino has called Bielsa his footballing father and most of his footballing philosophy comes from El Loco's institution. There is that famous footage of Bielsa's Chile side coming to train in Spain for a friendly match when both Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery visited the training ground. Both coaches sat at an arm's length watching closely and taking notes while Bielsa lectured them on tactics and training methods.
Needless to say the club and fans look perfectly suited and welcoming to Pochettino's style and it could well be the kind of long term project the Argentine might be looking for but truth be told it would be years before they can genuinely compete at the highest level and a man of his stature and in the prime of his career would be better off looking for a much bigger club and getting some trophies under his belt.
In conclusion, the best long term tactical fit for Pochettino would be a team like Juventus or Real Madrid but their current rosters are a problem and he would need the time to rebuild their respective sides in his image. Environments such as Dortmund and Leeds would fit like a glove for him but they are sideways and backwards steps in his career... he has earned the right to manage a genuine titan of the game.
Budget wise, United and City present the opportunity to build his dream team and allow him to remain in English football. However both these teams have certain expectations in terms of aesthetics, as do the likes of Barcelona and that would mean that Pochettino has to evolve his style of football and become more expansive. At the moment his football falls in between the pragmatism and sterility of a Jose Mourinho team and the modern day pyrotechnics of a City or Liverpool. Does he have it in him to adapt and integrate new principles?
A club like PSG would guarantee him silverware but as we have seen in their recent encounters with United, it is a club that lacks the dynamism of yesteryear. There is a stale air around the club and the way they press and move the ball does not catch the eye like it used to. Thus they are destined to fail in Europe and they are incompatible with a perfectionist like Pochettino.
If Lampard fails to deliver any silverware to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea would be a brilliant fit for the Argentine. He would get to stay in London and the roster is young and laden with talent, ready to be moulded. Lampard has laid down decent foundations and his side do play in a similar style to Pochettino sides so there would not be much work to do in order to get them playing in his image. He would also receive significant financial backing should he require it. In an ideal world, this would be the best fit in my opinion. Otherwise, Poch is probably best off at looking at the Manchester giants... and hoping he gets the freedom and time to evolve and take his next step as a manager - to become a winner.