Is Mourinho better than Pochettino? Can pigs fly?
Trust me, I am saving you a world of pain, fellow Tottenham Hotspur fans. So painful was watching a listless Spurs struggling against an injury-ravaged and out-of-form Sheffield United, and conceding three schoolboy goals that I fixed an appointment with my dentist today for a root canal, as it’s a less painful experience than the match.
WATCH: Mourinho reacts to Spurs' loss to Sheffield United
But as a large section of Spurs fans descend into a Hulk-like rage, out comes the other section of Jose Mourinho defenders saying, hey big guy, the sun’s getting real low.
He’s tightened our defence, they say. Give him time, they say. He has improved us a lot since taking over, they say.
These arguments largely stem from these two rationales - Mourinho is a proven trophy winner and is better than Mauricio Pochettino, or, Pochettino is gone, let’s not cry over spilt milk.
Well, I’m not entirely convinced that the milk is so spilt that we cannot drink it anymore. Given that Poch has said he’s open to coming back to Spurs and finishing his job, I take it as our spilt milk is still within the 10-second rule.
As for Mourinho being better than Pochettino? Let’s not get into the General Elections frenzy and start spreading 10 million fake news, but instead, look at the facts.
Let’s start with the part where this argument does hold true. Looking at ONLY league results and not cup games, Mourinho has amassed an average of 1.55 points per game in his 20 league games in charge. This is a vast improvement over Pochettino’s first 12 games of the season where he only managed to get 1.17 points per game. In fact, if you go back to the end of last season and take Poch’s last 20 league games, the evidence is even more damning. During that period, Pochettino only managed 1.05 points per game.
In terms of goals for and against, Mourinho managed 33 scored and 27 conceded in 20 league games - hardly vintage for a man so proud of his defence. Still, that’s 1.65 goals scored per game and 1.35 conceded. Poch’s first 12 games of the season saw 1.5 scored and 1.42 conceded. Back to his last 20 games in charge, it’s even worse for goals scored, averaging at 1.3 per game. However, over 20 games, the defence was better, with an average of 1.2 conceded per game.
WATCH: Mourinho praises Spurs' defence
On that evidence, you could argue Mourinho has improved the team offensively since taking charge, but defensively, it still remains to be seen. If the Premier League started when Mourinho took over, Spurs would now be sixth, 21 points behind Liverpool and 10 behind Man City. Most significantly, they would be five points off a Champions League finish.
Of course, Poch left us in 14th and 11 points off fourth, so once again, you could make an argument that Mourinho has improved the team.
So let’s agree to this, today’s Mourinho is better than Pochettino at his worst. Yes, that is correct, we are comparing him to the worst spell Pochettino has gone through in his managerial career.
That’s like saying Brett Ratner is a better director than Bryan Singer because Rush Hour was better than X-Men Apocalypse. Instead, what we should be saying is that Brett Ratner took a very good X-Men franchise that Bryan Singer built and gave us the terrible X3: The Last Stand.
Let’s look at Pochettino’s time at Spurs, minus this season. His very worst was the first season where he averaged 1.68 points per game. At his peak, the season where Spurs finished second, Spurs averaged 2.26 points per game. Over five seasons, his points per game average was 1.94. That is significantly better than Mourinho’s Spurs tenure so far.
But okay, that’s also not a fair comparison, because Mourinho hasn’t had the time to get the same number of games under his belt for an apple to apple comparison.
So let’s look at Pochettino’s first 20 games in charge.
He recorded 1.7 points per game, 29 goals scored, 27 goals conceded. One could argue that Mourinho’s start is on par. But statistics, just like biased Spurs columnists, don’t always tell the full story.
WATCH: Mourinho thanks Pochettino for his work at Spurs
You need to take into consideration that when Pochettino took over Spurs, his first choice striking option was Roberto Soldado, and it wasn’t until the 11th league game that he started Harry Kane. At the back, he achieved the same defensive record as Mourinho with Jan Vertonghen partnering either Younes Kaboul or Federico Fazio. Safe to say, Pochettino did not have the striking or defensive options that Mourinho had when he took over Spurs.
You would also remember that at that point in Spurs’ evolution, Daniel Levy wasn’t into big name signings, especially after the failure to wisely reinvest the Gareth Bale money. Hence, Pochettino did not have the luxury of big-name signings like Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, but was instead doing his best with the likes of Benjamin Stambouli and Fazio, while picking up young cheap deals like Dele Alli and Eric Dier.
WATCH: Spurs' top five June signings
Once you take all that into consideration, you cannot argue against the fact that Pochettino had a better start to his Spurs career than Mourinho. With a weaker team, Pochettino managed 34 points compared to Mourinho’s 31 after 20 games, and had a comparable goal difference.
The fact of the matter is this, Pochettino had taken Spurs to the next level with a team that consistently punched above their own weight. Many remember last season’s Champions League Final as the peak of Poch’s Spurs career, but that is romanticism talking. The truth, which he himself said, was that it was a Spurs team in decline. The peak was the season where Spurs got second. Instead of building on that success, however, Spurs sold England’s best right back Kyle Walker to title rivals Manchester City and replaced him with Serge Aurier, which is like replacing Picasso with that artist who draws a portrait of you down the street for 10 quid.
The problem wasn’t Pochettino - he knew that the issue was with a team that had run out of steam, whose gap with the top clubs were growing bigger. He wanted to close that gap with ambitious signings like Paulo Dybala and Bruno Fernandes. Daniel Levy, on the other hand, wanted to live up to his reputation as the EPL’s toughest negotiator.
WATCH: Dybala's goals from the 2019-2020 season
The season could have taken a very different turn had Levy listened to Pochettino and brought in enough class and fresh players that, even with the likes of Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld agitating to leave, wouldn’t have created a situation of unrest among the players.
Instead, denying Poch his transfer targets, sacking him and asking Mourinho to come in and fix the problem is like asking that Dutch Boy to stick his finger into the dike to stop the leak, when in fact, one should be repairing the leak.
As a Spurs fan, I hope that Mourinho does stop the leak. He will win my respect if he really does manage to close the gap to Liverpool and Man City (and most likely Chelsea next season). Despite that, I will forever say it was a mistake to have fired the man who told the town chief that the dike was leaking and needed repairs.