It has been a thrilling six years at Tottenham but it is degrading running so hard to stand still and now might be the time for Mauricio Pochettino to say goodbye

Remember the Nigel Adkins riots? I was there when it all went down. Although to be fair, this is probably stretching the definition of going down. It seems strange now how febrile the atmosphere was around Mauricio Pochettinos first game in English football at Southampton back in January 2013, an evening kick-off against Everton set against an entirely overblown sense of lurking civil disorder.

Pochettinos arrival was just a part of this. The real issue was the defenestration of Adkins, a popular and successful incumbent with an agreeable, slightly careworn manner, less elite level football manager, more browbeaten provincial scoutmaster who keeps terrapins.

Before kick-off St Marys was in a state of high alert. Any traces of Adkins imagery had been expunged, Stalin-style, from the club programme. In the streets club officials shut down radio crews looking for Adkins vox pops, as though simply whispering those incendiary words might spark spasms of rage among the Adkins razor gangs roaming the backstreets, or the highly organised Adkins ultras massing at their motorway meet points.

Except, it didnt quite work out like that. The home crowd was orderly and polite. A chorus of Jason Puncheon hes gone for a piss as Puncheon emerged late for the second half was as close as we got to rabble-rousing. Otherwise there was a general sense of curiosity and respectful applause for the new man, this bear-like, oddly stirring figure on the touchline.

Pochettino would later describe that first night at Southampton as the most difficult moment of my life. You couldnt tell. Instead he looked assured, striding about with that familiar Poch charisma, a kind of chest-pumping gaucho manliness that makes you want to cuff him on the shoulders, clap his cheeks, arm-wrestle him, drink in his bristly eau de homme as he whispers inspiring words in your ear about struggle and suffering, before telling you to get up off your knees, wipe away the tears, get out of his office and in future make an appointment.

Fast forward almost seven years and Pochettino is now in his own state of retrenchment, perhaps even an Adkins-style turnaround. Tottenham have won seven of 26 games since February. That fearless pressing game has retreated. And Pochettino himself seems to have reached the end of something. Hes fretful with his players. He talks a lot about budgetary restrictions and his own yawn-worthy struggle with the media (who adore him). He has, in effect, become just another football manager. And football managers are dispensable.

Mauricio Pochettino watches Tottenham lose on penalties to League Two Colchester in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday. Photograph: Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Poch must go: this unlikely notion is increasingly being floated around the place. It is a strange, sudden kind of collapse. Strange because the feeling is still there that hes just getting started. But look up and the years have flown. If Pochettino stays to the end of the season he will be Spurs joint-second longest-serving manager since the first world war. Is it really time? Unexpectedly, the answer might just be yes.

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Not that theres anything wrong with that. This is something new in elite football. For so long it seemed there was too much flux. Suddenly we have a problem with people leaving, a sense of resistance, of profitable congealment. Manchester United, a possible Poch destination, have spent six years basically hiring and firing the same structurally doomed manager different face, same macro-problems while continuing to exist in a state of profitable stasis.

Pochettino isnt in it for the money. But he has been affected by that loss of human scale, an era when the old measure of success, jumping up and down on a podium, has become blurred by other ambitions. There is no obvious closure here. How do we know when its over?

Judging his Tottenham team, his era will remain a matter of context; and beyond that, of moments. The best ones have been breathtaking, beginning with the 5-3 scragging of Chelsea on New Years Day 2015, when a Spurs team with five Bale-money hang-overs in the squad ran the champions-in-waiting into the ground. The high-energy Pochettino style seemed uplifting and punkish in those early days, flaky old Spurs taking arms against the giants of the modern club game. Even the 2-2 draw at Chelsea in May 2016 when Spurs still might have won the league, when nine players were booked and a two-goal lead lost, still felt like evidence of energy, life, hunger.

To live is to suffer, that relentless physicality seemed to say. To survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. But what did it mean? The achievement here is always contextual. For all its emotional power, it remains a feat of hair-shirt economics. Spend less, finish higher.

Spurs got rid of 20 players in the two windows after that Chelsea game. From the end of August 2017 to the start of July 2019 only Lucas Moura came in. And it is degrading in the end, running so hard to stand still. Harry Kane had four brilliant years during which he basically flogged his body into the ground, martyred to the cause of stadium, cash flow, fully sustainable economic growth.

There is also a kind of beauty in this, the era that isnt quite an era, where everything seemed to change but only some things changed. Modern football is increasingly meaningless, or at least meaningless judged against the old metrics. This is the lesson of Pochettinos own strange, vibrant, trophy-less career, a place where the parameters of what can be achieved are pressed thin by larger forces.

It has been a thrilling six-year span at Tottenham. Probably Pochettino should make his own move now when the time seems right: a very modern kind of manager, who has given us a very modern kind of success; but who seems, right now, to have reached a natural end point.

Spurs’ seasons under Pochettino: 5th, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 4th.



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