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Who is Mauricio Pochettino if he won’t suspend Hugo Lloris?

A reevaluation of Pochettino’s public persona following Lloris’s arrest.

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

In some ways, Hugo Lloris’s inclusion in the Tottenham Hotspur lineup against Manchester United on Monday, days after being arrested for driving drunk, did not come as a surprise. Sports teams are not exactly known for correct judgment calls when it comes to off-the-field issues such as these, and watching athletes working with a more preferential set of standards is even less shocking. What does immediately stand out in the hours and days after Lloris and his teammates beat their opponents 3-0 is his boss Mauricio Pochettino’s reaction to all of it.

At this point in his coaching career, both in England and outside of it, it is common information that Pochettino is a uniquely strict manager. His stylistically identifiable team is the result of specific instructions from Pochettino, and he is, in some ways, similar with the conduct of his players outside of work. The man has somewhat famously exiled a few of his players in his four years at Tottenham and, per his own account of the 2016-17 season in Guillem Balague’s Brave New World, gives players the silent treatment when he is disappointed with them. He has clearly demonstrated that he, like many, does not respond well to players breaking his rules, and is perhaps unwilling to meet them halfway.

Right after the news broke, it seemed obvious that Pochettino would discipline Lloris, and would do so publicly. Yet, on Monday, he was enjoying one of Tottenham’s more memorable recent victories from his usual place in goal. To cap off a nice day for Lloris, he received backing from his manager — and a positive character assessment from teammate Harry Kane. “I think it was a good lesson for everyone, a massive lesson,” Pochettino concluded.

As Pochettino and Tottenham began, to use Kane’s wording, putting Lloris’s situation to bed, something else came up. Lessons for the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose, two players who also started on Monday, involved being frozen out for months for different, and arguably smaller, disagreements. The punishments seem inconsistent, according to Pochettino’s own description of his philosophy, which begs the question: What type of offense is a dealbreaker with Pochettino?

The exiles of Alderweireld and Rose were for reasons that are not similar to Lloris’s drink driving charge. In injury plagued seasons, the players got into separate disputes last year, Rose’s coming after criticizing the club’s transfer policy in an interview with The Sun and Alderweireld’s coming after disagreeing with Pochettino over fitness and the club over a new contract. Before them, Kyle Walker received similar treatment from Pochettino after he had his own disagreement over fitness over a shorter period of time, one that ended with a transfer to Manchester City. All of it is obviously less offensive than Lloris driving drunk, and yet the public punishment was more severe for Alderweireld and Rose.

Of course, this comes with the natural caveat that whatever is happening behind the scenes at Tottenham is unknown to most of us, and that many of these details may never be public information. The internal discussions and actions related to a drunk driving incident might involve sensitive information, and with that comes no need to make a lot of it public information. Yet, the opportunity to hand Lloris a short suspension, fine him, and enroll him in an alcohol education course or some equivalent seems like a no-brainer of a strategy to tell the public, and a strong message to send on the topic. That did not happen, either, likely because the decision rested in Pochettino’s hands.

The larger situation ultimately seems like Pochettino, a man who emphasizes his set of values frequently, dramatically misreads off-the-pitch situations. There are reasonable explanations to have some sort of anger with the players he’s exiled; in his own words, he described Walker’s transfer request with a month and change left in the season as “an alarming lack of respect for his teammates.” He might feel similarly about the others’ situations, and should probably feel this way about Lloris. Yet, there is something that stands out about the offenses of Walker, Alderweireld, and Rose that does not appear in Lloris’s case: they all challenged Pochettino in a specific way.

One could argue that Lloris’s error does go against Pochettino’s guidelines. In Brave New World, the manager said, “[I]f I don’t trust you to take responsibility and make decisions off the pitch, how can I expect you to do so on it? So, fine, we treat you like adults. But for that to continue, you have to behave like adults.” Lloris has clearly broken this rule, and while he may be paying for it privately, he has somehow not angered Pochettino to the point of exile. However, until things are cleared publicly, Pochettino’s response to the situation makes him look not only soft to drunk driving, but self-centered in possibly the worst way and perhaps irresponsible when it comes to situations outside of the sport. Serge Aurier may not have been a realistic target following his public use of a homophobic slur, something that was promptly swept under the rug instead of properly rectified upon his signing.

One could argue that Pochettino has recently become a more forgiving person, as the reversing of his Alderweireld and Rose exiles may prove. However, it does not excuse the lack of public punishment for Lloris’s very public crimes, nor would it do enough to rectify this dismal reading of the available facts of Pochettino’s relationships with certain players. Naturally, a path to redemption does exist for Pochettino and for others in similar boats, but it requires understanding his errors, both privately and publicly.