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Has Poch leaving made Southampton better and Spurs worse?

In 1992 I swapped a 2-kilo bag of factory-reject liquorice allsorts for a Papa Shango wrestling figure.

by Andrew Boulton | April 22, 2015

Not wishing to dwell on a difficult time in my life, I shall simply say that a massive bag of delicious, though bowel-shredding, sweets is a poor trade for a plastic doll that smelt distinctly like it had spent time in a dead tramp’s pants.

The lesson of this aimless ramble is simply this: be careful what you swap for.

Take the case of root-vegetable faced Argentinean Mauricio Pochettino. This summer, he exchanged the Southampton side he had guided to an entirely respectable 8th place for a Spurs side that had just gnawed through their Gareth Bale lottery win like a hungry otter through a crab’s face.

The departure of ‘The Poch’ caused Southampton’s player pool to spring a nasty leak, and soon Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Calum Chambers had all been slurped away to bigger, wealthier teams in various shades of red. It was only a last minute plunging of their board’s chubby thumb that stopped an unimpressed Morgan Schneiderlin from being guzzled up in a similar direction.

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Southampton were, according to every sensible account (and Danny Mills) f*cked.

Spurs, meanwhile had finally appointed a manager who had vision, purpose and – the most turd-splattered term to drop from the pink and mottled bottom of football buzz-words – a ‘philosophy’. Goodbye to the days of Andre Villas Boas’ flat performances and cryptic excuses. Cheerio to Tim Sherwood tearing the arms off all his coats in a fog of cockney fury. This was, at last, a step forward for Tottenham.

But was it? Point your tiny mackerel eyes at the Premier League table and we learn that Spurs sit in 6th position, a meaty 7 points off the top four. Last season, under the combined bumbling of A.V.B. and T.I.M. they still found a way to win 21 times, four more than they have managed this season with only 5 games left to play. What’s more, last season’s Spurs finished a healthy 13 points ahead of Pochettino’s Southampton. This year, they have both won precisely the same number of games.

Meanwhile, notorious Platt-hoofer Ronald Koeman weebled into St Mary’s with a patchy managerial record and a rapidly disintegrating squad. Like we all said, f*cked. Except that, with the kind of Netherlandic genius that inspires the Dutch to produce cheeses that are bigger than most canoes,  Koeman has taken Southampton to 7th in the table, comfortably matching their points total from last year with 15 points still up for grabs.

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Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he has created a defence that can handle a Premier League attack the way Raheem Sterling handles a balloon filled with superglue and meow-meow. The Saints have shipped just 24 goals all season, compared to 46 last term under Pochettino. Spurs, meanwhile, have the worst defensive record in the top 12.

But, before we throw heavily sucked Polo-mints at Pochettino’s achievements, there are a few mitigating circumstances that even habitual Spurs-bashers should consider. For example, expert mathematicians suggest Spurs have played well over a billion games this season (although the more sensible ones claim it’s actually around 52). It’s an equation of hard pressing football, plus a not entirely reliable extended squad, plus lots and lots of games, that equals feeling a little bit sleepy.

Also, there have been moments that at least smell a little bit like improvement. A League Cup Final. Harry Kane proving he’s better than a football robot built by Stephen Hawkings, Mr T and Jesus. Daniel Levy not sh*tting tens of millions of pounds into a skip. That kind of thing.

Just compare Spurs record against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. Last season they lost 7 of the 8 games, scoring 2 and conceding (a hilarious) 27. This season, though not amazing, they have at least picked up 7 points from those particular ‘big lads’.

Harry Kane

But this Saturday’s lunchtime scrummage between the two teams won’t particularly settle the question. Both teams are in the kind of slow-pedalling form that would almost suggest they’d sooner have Gregg Wallace lick marzipan foam from their eyelids than qualify for the Europa League.

So the verdict seems to be that Spurs and Southampton could both be a bit better with and without Pochettino respectively. Which, as a conclusion, is probably about as satisfying as the 45 minutes I spent trying to glue Papa Shango’s voodoo hat back on before lobbing him in the bin. Worst swap ever.

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