Tottenham throw weight behind Pochettino with plans to overhaul squad & staff
Chairman Daniel Levy is backing his manager as the club prepare to make major changes, starting with the arrival of Paul Mitchell as head of recruitment
By Greg Stobart
Six months after he appointed his eighth Tottenham manager, Daniel Levy is ready to change again. But this time it is his own approach under review, with the chairman willing to back his man and support Mauricio Pochettino in making significant changes to the structure, squad and culture at White Hart Lane.
The Spurs chairman is well aware that the club’s supporters are turning on the board following a poor start to the season that has brought just 14 points from 11 matches and included home defeats to Liverpool, West Brom, Newcastle United and Stoke City.
Levy has a reputation for being trigger happy, always on the look-out for a better option, but he accepts now that responsibility for the club’s malaise over the last 12 months does not ultimately lie with any of the three men – Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood and Pochettino – who have sat in the dugout.
Pochettino was handed a massive five-year contract in May and the club are eager to finally instil a sense of security around the man in charge, with the Argentine under no immediate pressure despite dreadful performances in the early part of the campaign.
The root of the problem lies with a squad bloated with mediocrity and Tottenham’s total failure to adequately reinvest the money from Gareth Bale’s €100 million world record sale to Real Madrid in 2013.
While technical director Franco Baldini somehow clings on to his job despite two dreadful summer transfers windows in which the club has spent €169m, changes are being made behind the scenes to create the environment that Levy and Pochettino want at White Hart Lane.
The arrival of Paul Mitchell is the first step, with the talent spotter set to join Spurs having quit his role as head of recruitment at Southampton. The south coast club lie second in the table having recruited the likes of Graziano Pelle, Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane over the summer following the departure of several key players.
Mitchell will head a team that uses data and video analysis to comprehensively examine both the current first-team squad and potential transfer targets as Tottenham look to lower the level of risk in their dealings.
An interview with former sporting director Damien Comolli last week in which he described Tottenham’s scouting network as a joke would have struck a nerve with Levy in its accuracy.
The appointment of Mitchell is recognition that the club have relied too much on the word of Baldini, scout Ian Broomfield and a handful of influential agents when making key transfer decisions.
It will also add a familiar face to the mix for Pochettino as he pushes the club to sign players that suit his system and philosophy.
Both Villas-Boas and Sherwood often found themselves ignored or facing strong resistance from the hierarchy when they pushed hard to sign certain players, but Pochettino is likely to receive more backing, albeit most probably too late to salvage anything from the current season.
Tottenham are, for example, already planning renewed moves to sign Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez from Southampton, two players who understand Pochettino’s ideas and have the attributes that fit his style of play.
Neither deal, however, is likely to go through in January, not least with the Saints flying high and given the bad blood between the clubs. Southampton tried to sign Andros Townsend during the summer and he could be included in any negotiations, but fan favourite Harry Kane is not for sale.
While Kane will stay in north London, several players are now on the market and Levy will have to be prepared to take a significant financial hit to clean up the squad and rebuild. Sherwood said last season that the players were playing for their future – and the conclusion reached now is that the list of players Spurs want to sell is as long as that of the ones they want to keep.
When Sherwood decided a month after taking charge last December that he did not have the players to play a high tempo style, Levy put it down to poor coaching on the training ground.
The expectation was that Pochettino would bring the best out of a highly talented but underperforming group of players that finished sixth last season.
Now Pochettino has cited the same issues, with Spurs playing in a manner barely recognisable to anyone who watched Southampton’s high intensity pressing and slick passing game last season. There is an acceptance of just what a mess has been made in the transfer market.
After two years of hoarding average players, it should be little surprise that Tottenham have ended up with a distinctly average squad that sits 12th in the Premier League, already 15 points behind leaders Chelsea.
Of the seven arrivals in 2013, only Nacer Chadli has made any real impact this season, scoring six league goals.
But Paulinho and Vlad Chiriches regularly fail to make the matchday squad, Erik Lamela has joined €30m dud Roberto Soldado as a substitute in the last two league fixtures while Cristian Eriksen flits in and out of games showing only glimpses of his quality.
Etienne Capoue has been a regular starter in midfield but Pochettino wants an upgrade, with the lack of clarity in transfer strategy laid bare by the fact that €6.3m summer signing Benjamin Stambouli has made just one Premier League appearance as a substitute.
Of the other signings from this summer, Federico Fazio has made two league starts – he was sent-off in one – while neither Ben Davies nor Michel Vorm have started a Premier League match.
“I do not blame him. I trust the coaching staff and the current head coach,” said goalkeeper Hugo Lloris last week as he defended Pochettino.
“When it’s the third coach in a year and there are problems, the coach is not necessarily the problem. Nevertheless, we are working and trying to find answers.”
Not too long ago, Tottenham boasted a squad that included the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, now Champions League winners with Real Madrid. Several missed opportunities later, Lloris is the only top quality player in the squad and will surely be seeking a transfer of his own sooner rather than later.
Big changes are afoot at Tottenham to try to create a team that can once again compete for Champions League football. But for once the manager can feel safe among the madness.