Premier League 2018-19 preview: Tottenham

Football: Life at Spurs a constant balancing act for Pochettino

For all the team spirit Mauricio Pochettino has created at Tottenham, he remains hampered by the club's lack of financial muscle. With a tight budget and strict wage structure, it is a struggle to attract the best players while keeping their stars ha
For all the team spirit Mauricio Pochettino has created at Tottenham, he remains hampered by the club's lack of financial muscle. With a tight budget and strict wage structure, it is a struggle to attract the best players while keeping their stars happy in north London.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The sixth part of the build-up to the season starting tomorrow Club have made great strides under Argentinian but still trophy-less since 2008

LONDON • Mauricio Pochettino knows clearly the direction he wants to steer Tottenham in in the long run, and that was why he was happy to sign a new five-year deal which will see him stay on as manager until at least 2023.

But, sometimes, it feels as though the Argentinian's career at Spurs has been a constant battle with the club's essential nature - with the immediate need to end the curse of not winning a major trophy since the League Cup in 2007-08, while working on a tight budget.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his reign is that every time he has been set a problem, he has responded.

Tottenham could not finish above north London rivals Arsenal? They have accomplished that the past two seasons.

Tottenham could not prosper in the Champions League? Last campaign they beat Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund and should have beaten Juventus.

Tottenham could not play at Wembley? They lost only twice all of last season at their temporary home ground.

  • Talking points

  • The sixth part of the build-up to the season starting tomorrow

    1 . HOME IMPROVEMENT PART 2

    When Tottenham moved to Wembley last year, they did so with aplomb and lost just two of their 19 Premier League "home" games.

    The results were better than expected for Mauricio Pochettino and his men, considering the team's previous poor record at England's national stadium.

    Now, Spurs have to negotiate another transition - they play in their new White Hart Lane home from mid-September, with a match against Liverpool. Pochettino will be hoping for his team to adapt quickly again and put in another run of consistent and positive results.

    2 . MISSING SON

    With no new signings so far, Pochettino knows he can depend only on the players at his disposal.

    Forward Son Heung-min, one of the stars of last season, however, could miss up to three games after the opening league match because of his Asian Games commitments.

    With a relatively thin squad competing on all four fronts, that would surely be a blow to Tottenham's hopes of making a fast start.

    How the team will work around Son's absence in attack, coupled with the theory of how "Harry Kane does not score in August", remains to be seen.

    3 . WORLD CUP FATIGUE

    Tottenham are the team most affected by the World Cup, with their players racking up 4,813 minutes in Russia, according to Fifa.

    Comparatively, Manchester City's players accounted for 4,588 minutes, Chelsea's4,042 and Manchester United's 3,959.

    Pochettino needs to find a way to balance his starting XI, especially at the start of the season, to ensure they stay fresh for the long campaign ahead.

That leads to other, deeper-rooted questions. Does Pochettino need to win a trophy to prove that he is the right man for the job?

Trophies are the point of sport, at least at a professional level, and it would be sad if silverware became less significant than league position, if the battle were transferred entirely from the pitch to the balance sheet.

But, at the same time, there is something absurd about those who decry the progress made under Pochettino just because it has not yet been adorned with a trophy.

Nobody, surely, thinks the last Spurs manager to lift silverware, Juande Ramos, did a better job than Pochettino is doing.

Or take a look at the recent managers to have won the FA Cup: Arsene Wenger, Louis van Gaal, Roberto Martinez, Roberto di Matteo, Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink, Harry Redknapp, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. Other than serial winner Wenger, only Mancini lasted more than a year after winning the trophy - which suggests the demand for silverware is a red herring.

Consistent progress for the club is key for Pochettino, as well as patience on his part. He has expressed the belief on several occasions, that when Tottenham move into their 62,062-seat stadium this season, the club will enter a new era of financial power.

The theory has been that the stadium's increased revenue will help the club to attract and keep the A-list players.

The view has, however, sat uncomfortably with the cost of construction. It seems a long time ago that £400 million (S$703 million) was the ballpark figure. Then, it became £750 million and £850 million and, now, nobody would be surprised if it reached a billion.

Crucially, some have claimed that the high costs have killed Pochettino's transfer budget, with the club yet to sign any player this summer (at press time).

Tottenham executive director Donna-Maria Cullen has, however, insisted that the costs will not affect their wage bill or transfer kitty.

Pochettino's stance had changed since, with yet another challenge posed to him - to seemingly make do with the current players at his disposal - and to win a trophy.

"The move to the new stadium is not suddenly going to change everything and millions of pounds will rain from the sky," the manager said afterwards.

"You have to manage and know exactly the expectations. It will be important to review and set the principles again; how it will be with the team once we move."

He has seen the future at Tottenham with clarity. He always has a plan and the new stadium will change little for him.

Meanwhile the Manchester clubs, in particular, will carry on splurging. At what point does that get to Pochettino - a manager whose stated ambition is to win the Premier League title?

  • TOTTENHAM 'S TRANSFER BALANCE

  • +£2m

    NO KEY PLAYERS IN

    KEY PLAYER OUT

     • Keanan Bennetts, midfielder (Borussia Monchengladbach, £2m)

Spurs remain in a curiously hemmed-in position with regard to strengthening the squad.

Last summer, they sold Kyle Walker to Manchester City for an initial £50 million to fund purchases that would make the collective stronger and, this time, they are expected to do something similar.

However, the incoming signings would have to fit into chairman Daniel Levy's wage structure, which is capped at a basic £100,000 a week.

It will be difficult to find too many players who would improve Pochettino's best XI and be happy to sign for, say, £60,000 to £70,000 a week, which is the threshold for many of his starters.

Will Levy raise the wage ceiling? Probably, although not to market rates. In other words, the club's stars could get more elsewhere.

  • KEY GAMES 

  • AUG 27 Man United (away) 

    SEPT 15 Liverpool (home) 

    OCT 28 Man City (h) 

    NOV 24 Chelsea (h) 

    DEC 1 Arsenal (a) 

    JAN 12 Man United (h) 

    FEB 27 Chelsea (a) 

    MARCH 2 Arsenal (h) 

    MARCH 30 Liverpool (a) 

    APRIL 20 Man City (a)

One thing can be said for certain and it is that players have noted with interest how Walker has trebled his salary at City and also won the Premier League title.

Could they do one or both at Tottenham? For Pochettino, the balancing act does not get any easier.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2018, with the headline 'Life at Spurs a constant balancing act for Poch'. Print Edition | Subscribe