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.
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.