Tottenham Hotspur’s season is over, and with the club now having secured third place thanks to its 5-4 win over Leicester on Sunday, attention is now turning to what comes next. Mauricio Pochettino was unusually loquacious in his post-match press conference, which is probably to be expected. His command of English is improving with each year, which makes it easier for him to convey nuanced thoughts in his second language.
Still, it was very interesting to read Pochettino’s lengthy comments, specifically concerning Tottenham’s future plans. Here’s what he said when asked directly what Spurs need to do in order to improve going forward.
“I think that point is very good to talk a little bit now, but we need to talk a lot between us and the club. I think I have very clear ideas of what we need to do. I don’t know if the club will agree with me or not, but we are going to talk next week to create the new project or what I think that we need to do together again to try to improve.
“That is a little bit up to Daniel [Levy] of course and the club to agree with us. I think after four years I think we need to assess that period and try to, if we want to play and be really contenders for big, big trophies, I think we need to review a little bit the thing. I think it’s fantastic today, all that we achieved but it will be so important to create again, assess all that happened and create a different, not project, but add different ideas to help the club to move on and be closer to win titles in the next few years.
“First of all I need to speak to Daniel and the club. Then sure you are going to know what we are going to do. Until today it was so difficult to talk about the future. Of course from now we need to decide the way of how we are going to operate in the future.”
Pochettino has talked frequently about “the project” at Tottenham Hotspur, and it has been suggested that Spurs’ development in the project has moved a lot faster than anyone anticipated. The original goal was to work to achieve Champions League football by the time the new stadium was built. Tottenham did that three years ago, and with the accelerated timeline comes accelerated expectations.
Some are interpreting Pochettino’s comments to mean that he might be getting frustrated with the Spurs project and its perceived lack of real tangible success — success in the way of Premier League titles, trophies, silverware. I think it’s more nuanced than that.
Instead, I think that Pochettino has realized that with the current squad at his proposal he has reached the limit of what he can do without significant investment in the squad. Manchester City looks like it will be a juggernaut for at least the next few seasons and possibly the foreseeable future, and much has already been written about Tottenham’s financial constraints, both in the transfer market and in paying competitive wages. He’s not going to come out and say it directly, so this is more of a back-alley way of talking to Daniel Levy through the media, something echoed by a couple of journalists close to the Spurs circle.
#thfc Poch came fairly close to issuing Levy with an ultimatum postmatch. "We need to talk a lot They have a clear idea of what we need to do & I don’t know if the club will agree with me or not but we need to talk next week to create the new project. That’s a bit up to Daniel."— Dan Kilpatrick (@Dan_KP) May 13, 2018
Wasn’t in the press conference. But would say this about Pochettino: you don’t usually say those things if you’re confident you’ll get what you want.— Tom Collomosse (@TomCStandard) May 13, 2018
That investment could come in the form of some exciting and significant new players, or it could mean dramatic changes to the wage structure to keep players like Toby Alderweireld in Spurs colors and happy.
But on the other hand, it’s maybe not that simple, because Poch has been going on all year about how Spurs cannot and should not be held to the same standards as their top four rivals because of the difference between their resources. He even contradicted himself somewhat later on in that same press conference:
“You cannot create dreams, thinking that we are not going to achieve them. We need to create dreams that will be possible to achieve. Of course the ambition of the club will be to win. Now maybe we are a little bit disappointed and frustrated because now we are close. But that is the first step, to be close, challenge the big sides, the sides that invest more than us and we need to try to find a way.
“We cannot think that we are the most clever people in the world because we are going to win trophies, spend money. We need to think that our reality is different and our fans need to think and be happy and support us because we are not this type of club that is going to invest crazy money. And all together we need to feel that we are a special club. If we are able to create that feeling that anything is possible in football.”
So which is it? My guess is it’s both. Poch has realized that with the current wage structure and resources for transfers available, he may have taken this particular Spurs team as far as it can go. But he does say that he has ideas, and that those ideas may not necessarily fit in with the way the club has been run the past few years.
No, this doesn’t feel like an ultimatum, but rather a call to parley: Hi, Daniel, this project is over, it’s time for a new project, let’s talk.
“I think Daniel is going to listen to me of course. You know me, maybe sometimes I have crazy ideas. You need to be brave. In these types of situations, with a club with our unbelievable fans, being brave is the most important thing and take risks. I think it’s a moment that the club needs to take risks and try to work if possible harder than the previous season to be competitive again because every season will be worse and will be more difficult.
“Today the Premier League is the toughest competition. Not only the big clubs, if not the clubs in behind us like Everton, West Ham or Leicester today, they are working so hard to be close to the top six clubs. No for sure Daniel is going to listen to me and we can create together to help the team move on.”
One thing is for sure: Pochettino does not mean for Spurs to run on a treadmill. He has ambitions, and he wants Spurs to match those ambitions, perhaps on a timetable that is accelerated from the current plan. Poch’s statement that the club needs to take risks is an admission that as good as things are, nobody will be happy for Spurs to simply hold serve. Spurs have achieved their goal of becoming one of the four best clubs in England. Now it’s time to push forward to try to be the best.
Those kind of risks are, well, risky and could fail. They also invariably cost money. The rewards, however, are massive. Pochettino clearly thinks it’s worth it. Audere est facere.