Tottenham’s successful campaign ended on a concerning note as Mauricio Pochettino, making his final public appearance before disappearing for the summer, raised question marks about his future. Having stated just a few days previously that there should be more of a sense of celebration, given the club’s achievements, his comments did little to encourage an end-of-season party.
Making it clear that he intended to hold important talks with chairman Daniel Levy, he called on the club (or rather, his boss) to “be brave and take risks.”
The worry was that Pochettino was becoming frustrated. And at the start of a summer in which the team may well sell Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Danny Rose, the prospect of also losing the manager who has overseen so much progress was a truly apocalyptic vision. The mood has quickly been transformed, however, after Thursday’s announcement that Pochettino and his staff have signed new, five-year contracts.
Back in December, Pochettino expressed his desire to make key signings early this summer, and Levy has certainly worked quickly to draw up the most vital contract of all. Pochettino is the most important person at the club, the visionary manager who turned Tottenham into title contenders, secured three successive top-three finishes and led the North Londoners to the last 16 of the Champions League.
It is hard to overestimate the significance and value of the statement he has now made. Where there seemed to be doubt just 11 days ago, there is now certainty and belief.
Rightly or wrongly, Spurs’ manager has repeatedly stated that the club’s ambition should be to win the Premier League and Champions League — “the two real trophies” — rather than the domestic cups. Those are lofty goals indeed, but by signing this new long-term deal, Pochettino has shown he believes that they are possible, and that he will be given the necessary tools and resources. He will now hope his senior players will follow suit and show their faith in that dream as he draws up his five-year plan.
Such stability will be important because a multitude of challenges lie ahead between now and 2023, with many of them coming in the next few months.
Having lost Kyle Walker 12 months ago, Tottenham could now lose three more of the players who challenged first Leicester and then Chelsea for the title in 2015-16 and 2016-17, respectively. Spurs may need to bring in effective replacements for Alderweireld, Rose and Dembele just to stand still.
The return to N17, while understandably being trumpeted as a triumphant occasion, will also involve an indeterminate period of adaptation, and it remains unclear when they will even be able to move in and start that process.
Financially, Tottenham will continue to be outgunned. Already, they are facing the prospect of battling Manchester City for Ajax centre-back Matthijs de Ligt. Yet they are used to that and have steadily progressed anyway, thanks to Pochettino, a group of talented players who have largely grown together and some shrewd signings (alongside some disappointing ones).
Given that Spurs are unable to outspend their top-six rivals, it has become more important than ever to keep the core of their side together — especially players such as Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, who are already bona fide global stars and are still in their mid-20s. Pochettino’s immediate priority will be to ensure his key men join him in the next stage of his project.
When it comes to the art of persuasion, actions often speak louder than words. Pochettino has already affirmed his own commitment, but he will need backing from Levy — preferably via a succession of new contracts — and has surely received assurances that he will get it. The aim then will be to ensure that the best departing players are adequately replaced and that those who have underperformed are upgraded, giving Spurs a more competitive squad next term. Again, Levy will be a key figure here in delivering Pochettino’s desired targets, and quickly.
In August, Pochettino and his players must target a rapid start, despite any complications regarding their new stadium, and ensure they keep up with the pacesetters in the opening months. The goal next season will be another top-four finish, a much smaller gap to the champions and progress again in the Champions League — a quarterfinal berth, at least — along with that ever-elusive piece of silverware.
Beyond that, Pochettino will urge Levy to ensure that his top players continue to receive the pay rises that reflect their standing in the Premier League and that high-calibre recruits continue to replace those who are unable to keep up with a steadily improving standard, taking Spurs closer and closer to the most coveted prizes in England and Europe.
This is all easier said than done, of course. But given what Pochettino has achieved in the past four years, few would bet against him taking Spurs to another level over the next five.
Ben is ESPN FC’s Tottenham blogger. Follow on Twitter: @BenPearceSpurs.