How Mauricio Pochettino was sacked reeks of the Tottenham we thought he'd changed

As it turns out, Tottenham Hotspur are still very much Spurs, the same old club whose potential is exceeded only by its gift for self-harm.  

On Tuesday, the club announced that it had fired Mauricio Pochettino after five and a half years as its manager in a press release with the strangely intimate headline “Mauricio leaves Club.”

He’d taken the club to its first European final of the Champions League era just last season and finished in the Premier League’s all-important top four in four straight years. The Argentine had, at long last, brought some measure of stability and consistency to a club that always felt like a sleeping giant with a terrible habit of self-destruction. With its gleaming new stadium finally open and its biggest players no longer in a hurry to leave, Spurs began to grow into its vast potential under Pochettino. 

His achievements in North London tower over that of his predecessors there, especially when you consider how badly his team was routinely outspent by its domestic and international rivals. Pochettino posted the highest winning percentage among Spurs bosses who have managed as many games as he did. 

Mauricio Pochettino helped lift Tottenham Hotspur out of the clockwork upheaval it regularly experienced. At least until Tuesday. (Reuters/Carl Recine)

Pochettino built a culture and a system. And in him, Spurs had a manager who married short-term results and a long-term vision for the first time in as long as anyone can remember. That’s what set him apart. Even Harry Redknapp, the last Spurs manager with an extended run of success at the club, took things day by day, worrying largely about the next game.

Now, just months after that historic run to the brink of a European crown, Pochettino’s been sacked.

Spurs made a disastrous start to the season with just three wins from 12 league matches, sinking to 14th place in the Premier League, compounded by a humiliating 7-2 home loss to Bayern Munich in the group stage of the Champions League. And, in truth, the end to its last domestic season was troubling as well, with, likewise, just three wins from the last 12 games. 

“We were extremely reluctant to make this change and it is not a decision the board has taken lightly, nor in haste,” club chairman Daniel Levy said in the statement. “Regrettably, domestic results at the end of last season and beginning of this season have been extremely disappointing.”

And that’s fair enough. In that context, the decision was understandable.

You might argue, in fact, that the run to the Champions League final was flattered. After all, Spurs made stunning comebacks in both the quarterfinal against Manchester City and the semifinal against Ajax, perhaps papering over issues that had festered for a long time. It was very apparent that things had grown stale, with the same old players evidently tiring of their manager’s demanding methods. A squad that had been reinforced over the summer was significantly worse than a year ago, often looking unbothered about making an effort and unconcerned with the bad results.

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Moving on from Pochettino, then, is perfectly defensible. What’s ironic and concerning, however, is the chaotic manner in which it seems to have been done. Never mind that Pochettino probably deserved better than a November sacking, this is exactly the kind of thing, the sort of self-inflicted wound, that Spurs seemed to have moved past at last during the Argentine’s era.

The time to do this would have been over the summer. Pochettino himself, in fact, has said publicly that if Spurs had won that final he would have resigned and signed somewhere else. But he didn’t. And the club hadn’t the foresight to force his hand, to gently but firmly escort him to the door, in such a way that honored his achievements and offered the dignity he deserved. 

For that matter, the club also failed to turn over its players, continuing to insist that the longest-tenured regulars, yearning for new challenges and the types of contracts Spurs wouldn’t give them, stick around regardless. In hindsight, it might have been inevitable that it all went sour.

The worst time to do this sort of thing is in the middle of the season. Worse still: when an international break is almost over. And even more calamitous: without a new manager apparently lined up. 

That was the sort of thing the old Spurs did, something ill-considered and poorly planned. The incarnation of Spurs that fired Glenn Hoddle midseason; that pushed out Jacques Santini midseason; that fired Martin Jol midseason; that fired Juande Ramos midseason; that fired Andre Villas-Boas midseason; that fired Tim Sherwood less than six months after making him the permanent manager.

At Spurs, the old methods are apparently the new ones again.

And so Spurs post-Pochettino might look a lot like the pre-Pochettino Tottenham.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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