The firing of David Moyes is, presumably, imminent and rumors all seem to point to Louis van Gaal being the next manager in charge at Old Trafford. This is, obviously, diappointing to Tottenham Hotspur fans who have, for the last few months, pined for the appointment of the Dutch tactician as manager of their club. With the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich man now seemingly out of the race, Spurs fans seem to have turned their focus to Mauricio Pochettino.
So, the case for hiring him. First, he has Premier League experience, something which even van Gaal lacks. The value of this experience shouldn't be understated, but it's not the be-all-end-all. It does, however, give Pochettino a leg up. Second, Pochettino is young and could lead the team forward for a number of years. This is obviously the opposite side of the "van Gaal has great experience" coin. I'm not sure which is more important, but it is true the Pochettino is young. I'm willing to concede that these two arguments are true. However, I don't think they should be determinative of who we hire.
There are also arguments in favor of hiring him related to his performance on the job at Southampton. Namely, that he has his team playing the sort of high-pressure attacking football that fans want to see Tottenham playing. Now, I'm willing to acknowledge that Southampton do play high-pressure attacking football when at their best. They even have the highest possession percentage of any team in the league. However, his team also play the second most long-balls per game, behind only Aston Villa. His teams also play very few through balls on average, a type of pass that stats seem to indicate leads frequently to goals. (Ed. Note: Soton complete the 5th most throughballs in the league at 2 per game. The same number as Norwich and Manchester United. Newcastle complete the second most (4) and Liverpool lead with 5. Two isn't a high number, but in context this is clearly wrong.)
What Pochettino has done at Southampton is take a team of pretty good players and make them play pretty well. In his first season he took a team that was 15th when he was hired and willed them to a 14th place finish. Impressive, no? This season, despite a hot start to the season that had them near the top four, Soton have fallen off and currently find themselves in 8th, eight points behind 7th place Manchester United (who also have a game in hand). In fact, Pochettino's team are closer to the relegation zone than they are to the top four (gaps of 19 and 21 points respectively).
Pochettino's record against the Premier League's biggest teams isn't very good either. In 12 matches against the top seven this season, Southampton have claimed six points, with their only win coming against Liverpool. In those 12 matches, Pochettino's team have scored 13 goals and conceded 27. Where his team have soared, however, is against teams at the bottom of the table. Twenty-seven of Soton's 49 points have come from their 14 matches against the bottom seven clubs in the league and in those games, the Saints have scored 24 goals while allowing only 11.
Pochettino beats teams he should beat and doesn't beat the teams ahead of him. It's hardly a damning assessment of his skill as a manager, but plenty of lesser managers with lesser teams have faired better. In fact, several of the bottom seven clubs in the league have done better. Sunderland have already earned 10 points against the top seven this season (having played one more match against them than Southampton) and West Brom have earned 11 points (assuming they continue losing to Manchester City today). Aston Villa have managed three victories over the top seven teams (and 10 total points) and they too have two matches against the top sides left. Even struggling Norwich City have already earned five points against the top seven this season and their final three matches are against the top teams giving them opportunities to increase that tally.
Pochettino's struggles against top teams could simply be a product of the open football he likes to play and the fact that some key defensive players have been injured this year. The problem remains, however, that Tottenham need a manager with a demonstrated ability to beat teams at the top of the league. Manchester United hired Moyes, a manager who often struggled to beat the sides above him and as a result United fell in the table. Andre Villas-Boas, for all his faults, brought Spurs some memorable results against the big teams (and, in the interest of balance, some disappointing ones against the smaller ones), but those might be a thing of the past with Pochettino in charge.
Many will cite Pochettino's development of the young talent at Southampton as an indicator of his quality. The emergence of Adam Lallana and Jay Rodgriguez, two young-ish attackers with Championship pedigrees, into quality Premier League players and England internationals is seen as a big deal. But it's not that uncommon for Championship players to come up and play well in the Premier League. Grant Holt did so in his first Premier League season, prompting calls by many for him to be called into the England squad. If developing players who were already quite good at the Championship is the bar for being a good developer of talent, then let's hand Sherwood the job for good. Look at how well Harry Kane has done in the last few matches.
Honestly, the best thing about Pochettino is that he has shown a willingness to play the likes of Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse. Those two youngsters have incredibly bright futures and Pochettino hasn't been hesitant to insert them into the lineup. This sort of attitude could see Tom Carroll playing more for Spurs and we all want that. However, I see the willingness to play youth players as a product of a team's ambitions and position. Southampton don't have Champions League ambitions, but if Shaw and Ward-Prowse become stars, they could. Thus, it's in their best interest to develop them. As a mid-table-ish club they're not totally hurt by playing youngsters and letting them go through their growing pains. People have been incredibly frustrated by Sherwood allowing Nabil Bentaleb to play consistent minutes with other better players in the team. So, is the development of youth players really something that seems that important to the fanbase at large?
Finally, the most damning critique I have for Pochettino is that he hasn't won anything. His lone managerial honor is the Premier League Manager of the Month award for October 2013. In 218 career matches in charge, Pochettino has won 74, drawn 55, and lost 89. That's good for a 33.9% win percentage for his career. He's been in difficult situations with his two clubs, but shouldn't we expect some level of success from our new manager? I'm personally not going to be satisfied with a manager with zero pedigree of success. Even Harry Redknapp had won an FA Cup and an Intertoto Cup before he joined. Many of the other candidates heavily linked with the Tottenham job have many honors on their managerial CV. For example, Frank de Boer has won three straight league titles and is about to lock up a fourth.
Pochettino isn't the worst choice for Tottenham Hotspur. At the very least he's going to be better than Tim Sherwood and maybe even better than Andre Villas-Boas. Tottenham, however, need an unmitigated success with this hire, and I don't see how that's possible if Pochettino is the choice.