Emmanuel Adebayor, said to be among the bad apples at White Hart Lane. Illustration by Richard Swarbrick.
Where did it all go right? That is the unlikely question Spurs fans are asking themselves after a seven game unbeaten run that has left them nicely positioned in all four major competitions. How does a team that was pitiful in losing at home to Stoke City on 9 November became one capable of sticking five goals past leaders Chelsea on New Year's Day? Perhaps a glance at the Tottenham line ups for those two games provides a clue. Among the starters against Stoke that day were Younes Kaboul, Etienne Capoue and Emmanuel Adebayor; since then not one of them has started a league game. Aaron Lennon started the next one at home - the win over Everton - but after being substituted in the following away game at Chelsea, he too has been out of the picture.
This wouldn't be so remarkable if these players weren't such senior pros. Indeed, Kaboul, Capoue and Adebayor formed the spine of the team at the start of the season and Kaboul was made club captain after the departure of Michael Dawson. But rumour had it after the Stoke debacle that there was a confrontation with Pochettino. These three - let's call them the Kaboul cabal - were said to have challenged the manager's authority and complained about training and tactics. A power struggle ensued and Lennon, it is said, aligned himself with the rebels. The stakes were enormously high for Pochettino whose results had been patchy up to that point. By standing up to these influential members of the squad and dropping them he risked jeopardising his own position if results continued to go badly. But the opposite happened. With these four banished, the team has discovered winning ways that were previously elusive.
Now a much happier team faces a hugely busy match schedule thanks to its progress on all fronts. This is the time in any succesful team's season that the depth of the squad is tested. Other than the brilliant Harry Kane and the continually underwhelming Roberto Soldado, Adebayor is the only senior forward at the club and Capoue and Kaboul could provide useful cover in the battlegrounds of central midfield and defence. But is Pochettino prepared to use them if the need arises? Would it involve some kind of climb down? Would their presence threaten to disrupt the new found equilibrium?
Or can he hope to move them on while the transfer window is open? Might he be able to ship out Kaboul and bring in, say, Winston Reid from West Ham? Could he lure Fabian Delph from Aston Villa and despatch Capoue back to France and perhaps offload Adebayor - even on loan - and buy the prolific Saido Berahino from West Bromwich Albion? This would surely be the preferable course of action. After all, bad apples aren't prone to recomposing themselves for the good of the barrel. But to pull off three such deals would require extraordinary luck as well as the kind of net spend that Daniel Levy has been unwilling to contemplate recently.
Assuming continued progress in the cups, Spurs will play two games a week for most of the rest of the season. Pochettino spent the first half of the campaign wresting control of the squad from malign influences. If he can now tighten his grip and either rehabilitate or replace them, the second half of the campaign looks unexpectedly promising.