The first part of dealing with a problem is identifying that you have one. That’s something Tottenham now need to do.
That is a natural and comfortable reaction to make after an eight-day period in which they’ve been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by a League Two side and capitulated against Leicester City and Olympiacos.
But something has been eating away at Spurs for some time, and it’s evident something isn’t right. Identifying what that is, is an altogether more difficult task.
On the face of it they should have little to complain about. They’re in rude financial health, have a world-class stadium, a manager that most of the elite clubs around Europe would love on the touchline and a squad brimming with talent.
They’re also regular top four finishers in the Premier League and under four months ago were in the Champions League final. Where exactly is the problem? There’s plenty of clubs who would bite your hand off for one of those ‘problems’.
It’s clear and has been for some time, that everything is not quite right at Tottenham. Identifying the issue is not easy, but at this moment, it seems to be Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine has cut a frustrated figure for several months, mainly as he didn’t get his way during the transfer window. Yes, he got some of the players he wanted and yes, there was something of a rebuild, but not to the extent he wanted.
He’s butting heads with Daniel Levy, and despite a declaration of happiness between the two, it’s hard to believe that’s the case behind the scenes. It’s similarly difficult to argue that Pochettino’s attitude isn’t affecting the squad either.
The Tottenham manager has been openly touting himself for bigger jobs for months. Back in May, he was talking about Real Madrid’s ‘astonishing soul’ to El Chiringuito, before discussing his ‘dream job’ of managing Argentina to TYC earlier this week.
It was back to Real Madrid a day later when during an appearance at The Best FIFA Awards, he made it pretty clear he would like to manage the club one day. It’s not the first time he’s batted his eyelids at the La Liga champions and such statements feel like him trying to revive their former interest in him.
Then there’s his discussion of Spurs’ problems. Before the Champions League final, he was referring to the lack of transfer activity not being ‘the only problem’ before later telling ESPN Brazil about how much of a ‘challenge’ this next period at Tottenham would be.
It’s hardly inspiring for the players. Not only is the manager telling everybody that life is going to be hard, but he’s also flirting with Real Madrid. Yet, he won’t be happy at others – Christian Eriksen – for doing the latter. It’s not hard to see why players like the Dane aren’t interested.
Pochettino’s whole ethos, which helped get Spurs to where they are, was everyone pulling in the same direction. Indeed, he spent several years getting rid of those who didn’t buy into it.
That’s a hard product to sell to players when you’re taking any opportunity you can to promote yourself for a bigger job and walking around like a man who very much regrets not taking those opportunities when they were available last season.
There’s also an element of staleness to the relationship. This is Pochettino’s sixth season at the club, and he’s yet to change things up. It’s the same style, the same methods with the same players and that’s likely to get dull.
You need to evolve in football continually, and so far, Pochettino has failed to do that. This year was supposed to be the one he did it in, refreshing the project to take advantage of Tottenham’s new status to become serious challengers, rather than also-rans. That’s yet to happen, and at the moment Spurs look happy to finish in the top four again.
Yes, Pochettino will argue he wasn’t backed in the transfer window, and there is an element of truth to it, but he still needs to show more. He’s still got the third-best squad in the Premier League at his disposal.
Of course, Pochettino is not solely to blame. Daniel Levy must take some portion of it. It was he who didn’t provide Pochettino with the funds, which led to the squad stagnate. He too also failed when allowing the current situation of having key players like Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld in the final years of their contracts to develop.
The players should also be held accountable. They are top-level athletes who have benefitted from Pochettino’s influence, and they are not performing as well as they should be. There has to be some inner reflection on their part, particularly when captain Harry Kane is standing in front of the media and saying there are no excuses.
But like his players, Pochettino must look in the mirror. Have his actions in recent months been entirely conducive to helping Tottenham? No. Is his sullen attitude helping the cause? No. Has his consistent stream of public statements disrupted the dressing room? Maybe.
Only when he stops and admits he’s been a problem can he start to fix those plaguing his team.