Tactician, game-day conductor, and club talisman: managers carry the load of a team’s success squarely on the shoulders of their training kits and tailored suits. As Tottenham Hotspur prepares to visit Manchester City on Saturday, Mauricio Pochettino has achieved a bit more comfort through Spurs’ performances than City has seen since the arrival of Pep Guardiola.
“Pep” and “Poch” have run alongside each other throughout their respective careers, but January 2017 finds Guardiola embroiled in the gyroscopic results his team has produced while Pochettino orchestrates foundational improvements in Tottenham’s form.
Mark Ogden declares that Pep has “given his opponents a glimpse of his weaknesses and those of his team. And they have capitalised.”
Mauricio Pochettino, says Ogden, has “gone with youth and devised an approach that has transformed the team, making them one of the most exciting in the Premier League.”
The narrative of both managers' progress in England will be accentuated by the results of Saturday’s fixture. Guardiola will be looking to end the “LaLa Land” storyline that some have applied to his first season at City. Pochettino will be eager to see his “naughty killers” squelch Sky Blue hopes.
In the bigger picture, Manchester City’s “project” with Pep has turned out to be a more typical script of a manager’s arrival to the league. Poch has had to pave his own way to Tottenham’s current glimpses of glory. It can’t be forgotten that City’s crop of youthful energy that will reignite their lofty dreams is waiting in the wings for chances with the first team.
Pep and Poch’s first meeting in 2009 saw Pochettino’s bottom of the table Espanyol beat Guardiola’s Barcelona supermen with a risky blueprint of pressing and leaving men up for counter attacks. The underdogs won with “courage and supreme fitness” that Pochettino has since cultivated at White Hart Lane.
Whether or not other managers utilized Espanyol’s specific blueprint, Guardiola is looking for solutions to City’s inability to break through teams who play with such tenacity. While they have also been worn down by teams who pull back to absorb and frustrate, opponents who have brought Pochettino-esque tactics have given City their most embarrassing results.
However, in the build-up to Saturday’s match, Tottenham’s manager said, “It’s normal in English football over the last few years that the level has increased a lot and it’s always difficult to arrive in a new club, change the philosophy and set out your principles.”
Pochettino has been at Tottenham for two and a half years after a stint at Southampton and has built a foundation that could keep the Spurs in contention for titles and European births with the Argentine at the helm for the foreseeable future.
How much will Guardiola’s image change after a few seasons with his current charges and a mix of transfer dealings? His despondency during Everton’s routing of City has been outweighed by a number of players’ sentiments that he is the best coach in the world.
Even if it takes longer than most pundits and impatient football supporters would like, it is still highly probable that Guardiola’s Manchester City will achieve the dreams that the organization desires.
Pochettino’s time in England has demonstrated that genuine progress takes time but the football world moves quickly. One way or another, these two managers' narratives will bear a new fold when the referee blows the final whistle on Saturday.