Congratulations to Mauricio Pochettino, who has been nominated for a top Fifa award. The 47-year-old is on the shortlist for the best men’s coach alongside Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Brazil’s Tite. It is a great accolade, the coaching version of the Ballon d’Or, but after what Pochettino has been saying this week he may yet have to be excused on a technicality.
Following the pre-season victory against Real Madrid on Tuesday Pochettino used his press conference to remind everyone he is not in fact Tottenham’s coach but their manager. Although at that moment he did not feel like it.
“Today I feel like I am the coach,” Pochettino said. “I am not in charge and I know nothing about the situation of my players. I am only coaching them and trying to get the best from them. Sell, buy players, sign contract, not sign contract – I think it is not in my hands, it’s in the club’s hands and [chairman] Daniel Levy. The club need to change my title and description.”
Unlike many other managers, coaches, whatever, Pochettino enjoys a good press conference. He uses them to create entertaining content (see his metaphors about trainspotting cows or the odd spot of gushing about his dog). More often he treats them as a channel for conducting negotiations, usually with Levy. It is what he did before signing a new contract last summer – “We need to work harder than the previous season to be competitive again” – and again this year before the club broke their transfer record to bring in the midfielder Tanguy Ndombele – “It is essential that this year the team is reinforced”. The likelihood is that he is at it again.
Since bringing on board Ndombele and the Leeds youngster Jack Clarke, it has been all quiet on the transfer front at Hotspur Way. After going 18 months without signing a player of any sort this might be galling for the coach (sorry, manager). But still it seems that his current frustration is less about his perceived importance at the club than at the slow pace of deals.
The prime example is that of Giovani Lo Celso. Like Ndombele, the Real Betis midfielder fits the profile of a future star, technically gifted with an eye for goal. By all accounts he wants to come to Tottenham and has been linked with a move all summer. Yet with eight days of the transfer window remaining he is still in Andalucía.
Reports in the Spanish media suggest that Spurs made an offer of €40m for the player at the start of the summer. Betis wanted €75m (excuse the Euros, but with exchange rates being what they are, converting into pounds is a waste of everyone’s time). The intervening weeks have reportedly seen Spurs up their offer by a whole €10m.
Pochettino does have a say in the club’s transfers and contracts. He is part of a four-man committee alongside Levy, the chief scout Steve Hitchen and the head of coaching and player development, John McDermott. Hitchen is charged with providing a list of targets, Pochettino can add to that and no player is recruited without his assent. The manager does not, however, decide the price the club is willing to pay.
That would be Levy. Spurs’ chief negotiator is famous for his brinkmanship, albeit often in deals going in the other direction. His reluctance to budge on a valuation eked out big fees for Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and – biggest of all – Gareth Bale. That practice has a habit of slowing down deals, though, and even stopping them altogether. Spurs missed out on Jack Grealish last year by delaying a £30m offer for so long that Aston Villa underwent a change of ownership and no longer needed the money.
The truth is that Pochettino and Levy have a close relationship. They trust each other and only three days ago Pochettino was talking of how “we are not going to misunderstand between us” this summer. His latest remarks could suggest that something has changed in the intervening hours. But it is more likely that the Argentinian has just decided it is time to give his boss another nudge in the ribs.
When Pochettino joined Tottenham five years ago it was as head coach, under a technical director, Franco Baldini. Two years later, and after Baldini’s departure, the club changed his title to manager. “The title, the club nominates, but in the end it’s the same job,” Pochettino said at the time. Such is the esteem in which he is held at the club that, if anything, his authority has only grown since then. And that includes the right to set off the occasional flare at a press conference.