Like Andre Villas Boas (above) and other predecessors, Mauricio Pochettino is finding the mentality at Tottenham hard to turnaround. Illustration by Richard Swarbrick.
With his honeymoon period already a distant memory, Mauricio Pochettino is becoming familiar with the volatile, game-to-game existence of a Tottenham manager. Not that anyone thinks he's in danger of the dreaded tap on the shoulder from Daniel Levy. Yet. Apart from the foaming mouths on the margins of social media, everyone is still talking sagely about 'giving the manager time'. But his stock can rise and fall alarmingly in accordance with results. Following the capitulation against Newcastle last weekend he couldn't afford another home debacle against Brighton, a team from the nether regions of the Championship, in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday and in the end his team progressed through to the quarter finals easily enough.
But the pressure remains very much on ahead of Sunday's game at Aston Villa. Spurs have won just once in the league since August and are sliding down the table. In Villa, they face opponents on a similarly poor run of form. Since their own beleaguered manager Paul Lambert signed his new contract in early September, Villa have lost five straight League games without scoring a goal. Long suffering Spurs fans look at such stats not with relish but with dread. If a team's in a slump, it's often playing Tottenham that will get them out of it.
But Spurs have better players than Aston Villa so Pochettino needs to concentrate on hammering home his message about mental strength that he raised after the Newcastle game. Against Brighton, it took the introduction of the mercurial Erik Lamela at half time, in place of the injured Lennon, to turn territorial dominance into chances and goals. He scored one and made one but, if he hadn't, his night might have been remembered for his late arrival for the second half. Apparently he'd been delayed in the loo but Pochettino - who's team had been caught napping at the start of the second half against Newcastle to concede within six seconds of the restart - was furious when he finally emerged. 'How many times do I have to tell you?' he seemed to be saying like an exasperated nursery teacher with 20-odd unruly and insouciant toddlers to wrangle.
Pochettino has said that introducing new tactics, training methods and the like doesn't take long but that changing mentality is a much lengthier process. The measure of a good manager is whether he can make his a team add up to more than the sum of its parts. Tactics and physical preparation will go someway towards that, but solidarity, focus and uncompromising commitment to the cause are at least as important. The signs are that Pochettino is fully aware of this but, like his predecessors. he's finding that there is something in the water in N17 that makes it particularly hard to achieve. Gary Neville said on Sky's Monday night football that Tottenham have been regarded as a soft touch for years.
This week has already seen a story in the Telegraph quoting an unnamed insider claiming that the Spanish speakers - i.e the manager, his coaches and Lamela, Fazio and Soldado - have formed a clique and don't communicate in English at the training ground. The same anonymous malcontent said that certain players feel that the team is being selected on the basis of favouritism rather than form. It's not the first time that a player not being picked has whined 'it's not fair!', but it is early in the manager's reign for players to be briefing against him to the press.
If Pochettino is to turn the mentality of this lot around, the first thing he's going to need is unity. Almost as much as a good result, Spurs-watchers will be looking for indications of the team's psychological condition on Sunday.
Theo Delaney is a guest on this week's Spurs Show podcast