May 1, 2015

Pochettino’s five-year project

Football is obsessed with an immediate return on investment. New signings are expected to hit the ground running. Managers (or Head Coaches) who don’t bring about an instantaneous ‘bounce’ are viewed suspiciously. Changes in tactics are seen as failed experiments if they don’t positively impact results straight away.

In 2014, sports scientists at Sheffield Hallam University published a study titled ‘You don’t know what you’re doing! The impact of managerial change on club performance in the English Premier League’. In their study, the researchers looked at data from the 2003/2004 season to the 2012/2013 season, covering 36 Premier League clubs. Lead author, Dr Stuart Flint, summarised their findings:

The main findings of this study were that managerial changes led to an increase in points per match but did not necessarily lead to an improvement in final league position.

Further analysis revealed that when considering final league position, clubs in the bottom half of the table improved their final league position, while clubs in the top half did not.

The findings of the present study suggest that previous managerial change for clubs in the top half of the league in the past 10 years of the English Premier League was an ill-informed decision if the objective was to improve league position.

Source: Telegraph

That this study was even conducted illustrates that there are questions to be asked of constant churn. That its results (albeit using limited data) showed that changes rarely had a positive impact is, at least, food for thought and, at best, evidence that top-half clubs could benefit from periods of stability.

As Tottenham Hotspur fans, we have become quite used to Daniel Levy’s impatience leading to frequent changes of manager or Head Coach and we have – at times – been guilty, as a fanbase, of getting swept along in that and demanding such changes ourselves. In defence of Levy there have been some mitigating circumstances – Harry Redknapp was a gobshite, for example, and he was most likely removed for non-football reasons.

With the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino came the feeling of something different; for a start, he was given a five-year contract. When compared to André Villas-Boas’ three years this seemed significant, especially given Levy’s reluctance to give Tim Sherwood more than eighteen-months for fear of having to pay him off. But it was the subsequent appointments – of Paul Mitchell as ‘Head of Recruitment and Analysis’ and Rob Mackenzie as ‘Head of Player Identification’ that signified a very definite change of approach.

Spurs had been heading down the separate departments route for some time, with a collection ‘Directors of Football’ or ‘Sporting Directors’ with varying responsibilities coming and going since 1998, when David Pleat was the first to hold the role at Spurs. But, with the new set-up, it feels like the elements of running the ‘football’ parts of the club have been finally divided up formally. And it’ll take time for these component parts to become – in modern business parlance – joined-up.

Mauricio Pochettino has frustrated, irritated and angered fans (depending on your starting point) for various reasons this season. Some of those reasons have been legitimate, for example:

– his reluctance to rotate the squad during the second half of the season.
– his reliance on a system which has rarely ‘worked’ without trying to tinker.
– his sidelining of potentially useful players (most notably Dembélé and Stambouli).

But that these have led to doubts being raised about his long-term suitability is fairly ludicrous. Firstly, because we don’t know the ins and outs of what happens at Hotspur Way – there could be clear reasons as to why, for example, Dembélé has (mostly) been out of the picture. And secondly because nearly all of us recognised this as a ‘transition’ season at the beginning of the campaign – so why the sudden moving of the goal-posts?

Much has been made of the Bentaleb and Mason double-pivot not working, and I have been calling for a switch to 4-3-3 since November. Yet it is plausible that Pochettino sees these two as a long-term combination (be that in a two or in a three) who need to better know the central-midfield role, to learn the requirements. Whether you think that his trust is misguided or not, Pochettino could believe that playing them over and over is giving them the experience that he hopes will benefit them in the long-term.

Either way, we will know a lot more after a summer when Mitchell, Mackenzie and Pochettino – as heads of their various departments – will have been able to work together to try to find solutions for the problems that this season has identified. The hope is that, with a more suitable squad, there will be greater sign of on-pitch progression, and we will see some flowing football and a coherent philosophy. But even if this doesn’t happen from the start of next season, let’s not panic or demand change.

We all know that there’s a lot of work to be done this summer. There are feasibly ten players to shift, and at least half of them will require replacing. That is significant change. And whilst Southampton have shown that new players *can* hit the ground running, it’s certainly not the norm, and nor should we expect that to happen.

Frustrating though it is that we feel constantly in transition, it’s the clubs’ own doing. I have been guilty myself of jumping to conclusions, of projecting short-term downturns and assuming the worst. But we need to give this new set-up time and a healthy amount of backing. We might as well – for once – give this five-year project five years.

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  • ihe says:

    Actually it’s not ludicrous. Look at his decision making regarding captainc and vice captain (including Kane). Look at whats happened to our results since Bentaleb returned from AfCon and went straight back into the side.

    In what way is Fazio an upgrade on Dawson, or Mason an upgrade on Holtby (not to talk of the other midfielders who are still in the squad).

    Who wouldn’t rather have Huddlestone back instead of Bentaleb.

    That many players can’t be bad. If a manager can’t work with the resources given he has to go. This situation should never have been allowed to happen. It should have been made clear before his appointment that a wholesale clearout to implement his philosophy was not on the cards and if that wasn’t acceptable we should have hired someone else.

    • Anonymous says:

      You sir are an idiot, comparing Bentaleb to huddlestone, give over

    • a can of soup says:

      read as far as “who wouldn’t rather have Huddlestone instead of Bentaleb” and put my hand up so hard I fell off my chair and gave myself whiplash.

      lawyer up, ihe

    • WindyCOYS says:

      The captaincy decision can be explained by trying to include some leadership/experience in an otherwise young team/squad.

      Re: Bentaleb – we had a great period when he first came back in?

      I agree Dawson and Fazio are overally similar, Mason is a homegrown player so has obvious benefits over Holtby.

      Bentaleb’s a much better player than Huddlestone already and has a much, much higher ceiling.

      • Alex G says:

        A far better player; utterly ridiculous to even think otherwise, let alone state that thought on a public forum. Jeez!

    • Chew says:

      Bentaleb is wayyyy much better than Huddlestone. I am sure you are joking when you wrote that
      “Who wouldn’t rather have Huddlestone back instead of Bentaleb”
      Oh … I rate Mason higher than Huddlestone. Some might not agree with me but for an overall contribution from midfield, Mason is better than Huddlestone.

  • john says:

    a lot of rubbish we are going no where we had to bring in a manager like FDB who has dun it and can do it for us we will have a new ground and second rat team .ALL TO SAVE MONEY

    • Alex G says:

      Done what, exactly? The last guy we brought in who had “dun it” was a fella named Juande. That went well, didn’t it?

      • Happy Juande says:

        Won a cup despite being at the club less than a year.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Happy Juande says:
        May 1, 2015 at 13:39

        Won a cup despite being at the club less than a year.”

        The team Martin Jol built won a cup, he was just no longer the manager. It was then dismantled and replaced, only to fail completely and half of them be bought back by Rednapp. Undeserved glory for Ramos if ever i saw it

    • WindyCOYS says:

      I think you’ll find Pochettino would not be on any less money than FDB might have been,

  • bazza says:

    Well it’s not as if we haven’t seen changes before, Levy has changed back and fourth between DoF and Head of Scouting, transfer commitee,
    The worry is that Pochettino is very inexperienced (as is Mitchell) and Poch has appeared tactically limited and dogmatic in his shape and style. Allowing the number of midfield options we have that could make a three I reject the idea that he thinks working Bentalab and Mason to ultimately add a third, why? if you want players to play in a three man midfield it’s illogical to play them just as a two, even more illogical in a team with little defensive nous or quality
    I only think the five year contract is relevant because Levy must now be finding it hard to bring anyone in without the benefit of a long contract to allow them a pay off and no doubt Levy has worked in some lack of achievement out.
    Obviously with the right manager then managerial and team continuity is great but equally the wrong one is not going to benefit us no matter how long he stays
    Sadly Poch looks a very inexperienced and limited coach and I can see him suffering the same fate as his predecessors

    • Anonymous says:

      I disagree, Bazza. Given the circumstances since his arrival, in particular being deluged with underachieving, overpriced purchases, he has done a pretty good job. A cup final, a reasonable early performance in Europe and a potential fifth place finish, in a year when our best player is 21 and did not regularly start till November, should not be sniffed at. Especially in what was deemed a transitional year. Some of the home games have been turgid and disappointing, but mainly because teams are happy to camp in their own half when coming to WHL, and we needed more guile. If Lamela, Townsend, Chadli, Lennon or Soldado had contributed more then I believe there would have been more home victories, regardless of what formation he chose. You also forget the average age of the teams he’s fielded have been by far the youngest. To get them to perform at the level you’ve seen is an achievement in itself.

      • ofosh says:

        FFS IT WAS NOT A TRANSITONAL YEAR!!! Why should it be??? I don’t pay my hard earned to accept defeat before a ball is kicked… stop saying it was a transitional year… Levy never said that and Poch has not said it… he has failed to improve us and my question to you is why was AVB not given the time to work with the variety of rubbish Baldini purchased… and why not Sherwood… why should Poch be given more time when his results are no better than the previous manager!!! Jesus… I love a bit optimism but you are binded by our Spurs tinted glasses if you think Poch is going to take us forward!!!

    • Pipe 71 says:

      Agreed think it’s nonsense to give someone 5 yrs jus to provide stability,if it ain’t working or the coach looks limited get him out! it’s not the firing that’s the problem it’s the constant POOR appointments so it’s falls on one man,LEVY,Poch was never my choice has no CV,but he was cheap n basically won’t pressure levy for big money signings,the club is sleepwalking into mediocrity again n until levy n enic r GONE we’re GOIN NOWHERE

      • Happy Juande says:

        Exactly, it’s possible to win things and change managers. A poor appointment is a poor appointment. You don’t keep inviting a plumber round to do work despite the fact he floods the bathroom every time on the because it offers stability.

      • WindyCOYS says:

        So who do we get in instead?

      • ofosh says:

        Frank De Boer… we should have made him our top choice last season… I don’t see why so many of our fans accepted a season of mediocrity before a ball was kicked… I expected us to challenge for the top four because one of the usual suspect usually messes up allowing an outsider to step in… we didn’t even have to be that good… the fact we bought rubbish in the summer angers me more than the poor quality of football on display… I wouldn’t give Poch another season… he is out of his depth and no black box is going to make any difference!!!!

    • WindyCOYS says:

      What were your expectations pre-season, Bazza?

  • Dan Mac says:

    Am I looking at this too simplistically. If you are in the top half you have further to fall than to climb, with the reverse being true of teams in the bottom half. If a team comes second, sacks their manager then wins the league that would be considered hige success but the position is improved by only 1 place. Realistically, the rate of improvement, with managers sacked or kept, for top half teams will always be lower, a team rarely finishes 10th then 4th but it is certainly comprehensible that a team would finish 17th then 11th. This study has not taken any of this into account (it seems) and has therefore madfe assumptions based on the data… this is not proof of anything. In fact, if you think about this logically, you would expect results like this.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      I don’t really understand your point. Take 1-10 and 11-20 as two separate divisions, and think of them as identical ‘mini-leagues’.

  • DannyMackay says:

    Agree whole-heartedly with the article.

    MP obviously didn’t realise the extent to which some of our players are just not up for it and just not capable of playing in a style he wants us playing.

    This summer that is much less of a problem. He has seen a season of how those players don’t cope and can now plan for a season with newcomers who fit his criteria to supplement those players who have enthusiastically stepped up to the plate.

    Of course he could have not bothered setting up a system at all – so as to get the best from what he had available. But as a long term plan that’s hardly a good one.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Cheers Danny.

      Agree with your comments – in hindsight Sherwood was quite right in the assessment of the characters of some of our players!

  • Pipe 71 says:

    ok the bentaleb/huddlestone comparison is a poor but the fact remains I don’t get the hype surrounding bentaleb what does he offer??? He and mason in midfield AINT THE ANSWER they lack quality n midfield upgrades r needed n anyone who can’t see that well I can’t help u!

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Bentaleb has so much potential – he could, at some point, play for one of the elite clubs in my opinion, he’s immensely talented for a 20-year old.

      • ofosh says:

        Windy – come on… Bentaleb will never play for a bigger club than Spurs… he is not a goalscoring midfielder, he isn’t paticular good defensive midfielder and unless it’s a 5 yard pass sideways he hasn’t got defence splitting pass in him… what does he offer? We have the poorest centre midfield pairing in the top half of the Premier League. If Bentaleb was any good he would be at a decent club with Champions League aspirations now… remember this is a guy Birmingham rejected when they were struggling in the Championship. That tells you all you need to know!!!!

  • joe says:

    Windycoys:Our saviour if only he would join Pochettino!’s staff. Has the knowledge to even become manager. Aways has the answer , plan A to be plan B Only if plan A fails etc.

  • crg_yeah says:

    Superb piece — absolutely hits the nail on the head.

    I remember at the start of the season there was a lot of talk about patience and transition among fans. But now, at the fag-end of a mixed campaign, that patience has worn a bit thin. I think the criticism of Poch has missed the crucial point that he lacks decent options to rotate and change tactics. Next season we’ll know more about him, but I can’t believe Spurs are anything but stronger in the long term for his efforts this season in giving the young guns more time on the field.

  • NS says:

    A really good piece and I agree – we have to back Poch with the players he needs to suit his playing philosophy. In fact, it’s all we can do. We can’t out spend Man C, Man U or Chelsea and whilst the younger players are encouraging we can’t solely rely on them either. Our current model of chopping and changing the playing staff and managers clearly isn’t working either. So back the guy, get the exact profile of players he needs for his system and give it some time to gel. Dortmund, Southampton even Bournemouth are good examples of teams punching above their weight by recruiting with precision in terms of the type of players they need for their manager’s style. THFC can do the same with this new set-up, and maybe we can nudge above that lot down the road.

  • Mike says:

    I’d like to see a game between Poch’s team and those players he has frozen out….Ade, Capoue, Dembele, Stambouli, Lennon etc.

    With hindsight Sherwood was right about a lot of things. Maybe we should have promoted him along with his young players.

  • AT says:

    Great article, Chris. One thing I would question is why the club did no business in January when, by that point Poch would have known he couldn’t rely on half the squad. Failing to do that has potentially resulted in burnout for our key players (eg. Eriksen)

  • ofosh says:

    Why does everyone think Paul Mitchell is some sort of footballing miracle… the guy has never even played the game… he is the inventor of an ‘app’ which tells you if Player A is a good fit for your system… I think Poch has been a disaster… his football is the same as AVB’s who we hounded out after one bad result… Poch managed 3 bad results and performances in 8 days effectively ending our season and we are rejoicing the man… a man who gave us Vorm, Davies, Yedlin, Fazio, Stambouli and Dier and you want to give him more money to spend!!!! Jokers the lot of you!!!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Pretty sure Mitchell was a professional footballer, albeit in the lower leagues but a pro footballer still.

      As for Poch, I dont think he’s done badly considering he was left with a largely fragmented & under-committed squad.

      • ofosh says:

        a dozen games in 8 years with bottom tier clubs… hardly a professional background…

  • Sweetsman says:

    Very good and well-argued piece. I think MP is very astute in a manner that Sherwood wasn’t. This may explain the captaincy choices, which were baffling to begin with. However, two of the players have had negative influences under previous managers and MP basically neutralised them. He’s kept most of them on board until the end of the season almost. Sherwood’s assessments of players were not wrong, but voicing them in public was. It’s something John Carver does, but Mourinho and Wenger would never do. I also have wondered why he persists with Mason, but this may be that he feels many of Mason’s issues that hold him back are in his head. Pochettino probably feels he has rough diamonds that need careful polishing. The person who suggested that Huddlestone was better than Bentaleb is an oaf. The same goes for saying that Dawson is better than Fazio, whereas Fazio is in his first season in an unsettled defence. I saw enough yesterday to feel very confident. My only concern is MP’s diehard Bielsaism, but he has also had the team sit back on occasions.
    BTW, I think you’ll find Sherwood is as much a gobshite as Redknapp and while e has got the attacking play right at Villa, defence appears to be a blindspot.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Hello again!
      He could be justified in picking Mason for two reasons: 1. he feels he has no other option. 2. he feels Mason would be better for it.
      Re: Dawson vs Fazio, Fazio’s clearly a better player with the ball at his feet, but Dawson’s leadership more than makes up for it IMO. I’d rather have Dawson in the squad.
      Sherwood’s a gobshite too, definitely.

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