Authors note: This piece was originally titled “why is Mauricio Pochettino still unemployed?” It was titled that way because I started writing it in February but life happened and it sat in the drafts for a few months until I was able to complete it. I’m sending it out because I think the premise still stands.

I’m one of those people whose brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour. Just one tweet can be enough for me to get lost on a tangent of different takes or ideas. Some are fleeting while some would be good ideas to explore in their own posts that deep down unfortunately I know will never get written.

This happens pretty often and thus there’s always plenty of random thoughts going through my head. But over the past few months so many of these different ideas have lead me back to the same thought. No matter what the topic was, I kept coming back to this one thought: why was Mauricio Pochettino unemployed for so long?

This season has seen a record

14 Premier League managers get sacked during the season. Through all that turmoil, by my count only one club, Aston Villa, seemed to reach out to Pochettino about taking over before he was hired for next season by Chelsea in May. For someone who is held in such high regard, that’s a little weird isn’t it?

In January, I wrote a newsletter wondering why are we so obsessed with coaches? Every time a new study is done trying to measure the impact of coaches they come to the same conclusion. At the top level, coaches don’t matter all that much.

That’s not to say they don’t matter at all. A professional team with a coach will do better than one without a coach, but as long as you have a professional coach, the difference is pretty negligible.

Basically, if you’re looking for a coach for your football club, you can’t really go wrong by just picking through the pool of established coaches. Survivorship bias pretty much ensures you’ll be ok here because coaches that aren’t good are found out right away. The trick is getting into that pool.

While writing that article, there was one particular area that I was going to get into but after a conversation with The Busby Babe’s Suwaid Fazal, I ultimately decided it was so important it needed it’s own post. One of the biggest factors in determining whether someone makes it into that pool of established coaches or not is simply luck - or more specifically timing.


People who can’t coach are going to be found out right away

, but there’s also a group of people who can coach but take the wrong job at the wrong time. They take over a poor - but often overrated - squad that’s usually beyond saving, naturally fail to turn it around, and get labelled as a failure. It’s not that they can’t coach, it’s that they had terrible timing.

In that last post we talked about Jurgen Klopp and his impeccable timing

The one thing all top managers have in common is they had impeccable timing early on in their careers. It can’t be understated how important the when is for when you join a club. What situation are your rivals in when you join? But more importantly, what kind of squad are you inheriting.

Managers do their best before they start wasting spending tons of money in the transfer market. We know most transfers fail and most money spent in the market is completely wasted. According to Liverpool’s former director of research Ian Graham, there are six ways a deal can go bad

. Therefore even if a club is 90 percent sure about all six factors, that means a transfer still only has about a 53 percent chance of working out.

Last week Ryan O’Hanlon dug into the numbers for this season. Last summer there were 15 transfers for fees of at least €50 million. Those 15 players have combined to play just 57 percent of the available domestic minutes this season. Of the 15 players only Erling Haaland has played more than 80 percent of the domestic minutes. Only two others are above 70 percent. These numbers are right in line with previous seasons.

In other words, most of the minutes are being played by players who were at the club the previous season. If you’re the manager in your first season at the club, those are the players that are going to make or break you. The biggest x-factor in what makes or breaks a coach isn’t likely to be a new signing, it’s most likely going to be, is there a generational player about to break through from the academy?

That brings us to Pochettino who was perhaps the king of good timing


Pochettino arrived in England midway through the 2012-13 season when he took over a very well run Southampton club who were slightly underachieving. That team was filled with some gems.

Rickie Lambert had found himself scoring 10 goals in the 22 games before Pochettino arrived. He’d move to Liverpool two years later. Among the other players in the squad were Nathanial Clyne and Adam Lallana who would also move to Liverpool and Morgan Schneiderlin who would move to Manchester United

. At left back was 17 year old academy product Luke Shaw, who would eventually go on to become one of the best left backs in Europe.

A year later Southampton finished eighth. The squad was relatively unchanged but with three modestly priced additions. Dejan Lovern (£8.5m) signed from Lyon, Victor Wanyama (£12.5m) came from Celtic and Dani Osvaldo (£15m) arrived from Roma.

Osvaldo, the highest profile of the arrivals, was a bust. The lower regarded Lovern and Wanyama were both on the bench in the 2019 Champions League final.

Pochettino parlayed this success into a move to Tottenham. His timing could not have been better.

A year earlier Tottenham had sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £86m. To replace him they took that Bale money and spent it on Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Saldado, Etienne Capoue, Christian Eriksen, and Erik Lamela. Some of those guys were a complete waste of money - which is going to happen when you sign six players. None of them hit the ground running, which makes sense considering it often takes players a year to settle in at their new clubs, but the talent was there.

They joined a team that also had Hugo Lloris, - who would be one of the top goalkeepers of the decade and play in consecutive World Cup finals - Kyle Walker, - who would make a £50m move to Manchester City and be a cornerstone of the England team for the next decade - Jan Vertonghen - who formed half of one of the best center back partnerships in that era of the Premier League - among others.

The pieces were there, they just needed to be molded into a cohesive unit and a superstar to play around. Oh yea, Spurs had that too. Right when Pochettino arrived was when Harry Kane was ready to come through.

There were doubts over Kane as there always will be before a player plays his first season as the number one but Kane was far from an unknown quantity. The previous season he scored three goals in Tottenham’s final six games. He was one of the most selected players in FPL at the start of the season.

Poch took it slow with Kane at first but by November he was the clubs starting striker and was scoring goals left and right. Tottenham made some good, low budget additions over the coming years, but this was the Harry Kane show.

For Pochettino, the timing couldn’t have been better. He arrived at Spurs right when their superstar was breaking through, during a period where the rest of the league kinda stunk

. He took advantage of that period, culminating in a run to the Champions League final

, but Spurs began to fade once Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp arrived and began building up their teams. Furthermore as players began to leave Poch’s “magic” began to wear off, or he was just stuck working with inferior players. None of that mattered though, Poch had established himself in the “elite” tier of managers, capable of getting any job he wanted.

That job didn’t come right away. In the summer of 2019 he was passed over by Manchester United in favor of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Poch was sacked by Spurs that fall and stayed unemployed until a year later when he was hired midseason by PSG.

Poch didn’t have much of an impact at PSG, their goal scoring dropped ever so slightly from what they were doing under Thomas Tuchel and they conceded a third of a goal per game more. Their points per match increased by 0.18, which is just under seven points in a season, but they were still unable to overtake a young Lille team and became the only PSG team in the last six years not to win Ligue 1.

The following paragraph should be read with the caveat that PSG are a complete mess and should never be used as a barometer to truly judge a manager.

Poch never really moved the needle at PSG. He won Ligue 1 the following year but it was pretty clear all season long he was a lame duck. The signing of Lionel Messi put him in a very difficult place, he wasn’t a fit for either the coach or the team, but it was far from as self destructive a signing as Cristiano Ronaldo going to Manchester United. Poch failed to get anything out of Messi, which at the time looked like it could because of a number of factors, but Messi has settled much better this season under Christophe Galtier.

It was at PSG where Poch filled in the one missing thing from his resume, winning trophies. With that box ticked off you would think teams would come calling, yet it took a whole season before one did

. Is that not weird at all?

As I alluded to before, Pochettino is an excellent case study in the impact of coaches and timing.

If a coach truly makes a huge impact, and Pochettino is truly an elite level coach that would make the biggest impact, then surely Southampton would have suffered once he left.

But they didn’t suffer, they improved. Southampton replaced Pochettino with Ronald Koeman. After losing five first team players they brought in players like Toby Alderweireld and Sadio Mane - a player who would go on to score 111 Premier League goals. When Alderweireld left, in came Virgil Van Dyke, who would quickly make a £75m move to Liverpool and become one of the best center backs in the world.

Southampton followed up their eighth place finish under Pochettino with seventh and sixth place finishes under Koeman. Perhaps it was a simple as Southampton had simply replaced the great Pochettino with the next Pochettino in Ronald Koeman?

Koeman parlayed his success at Southampton into a job at Everton coming off an 11th place finish. In his first season Koeman guided Everton to a seventh place finish, thanks in part to a 25 goal season from Romelu Lukaku. But that’s where Koeman and Pochettino’s trajectories start to diverge.

That summer Lukaku left Everton for Manchester United. Everton replaced him with a wide assortment of crap with the only number 9 being a pretty much washed up Wayne Rooney. Working with a much less talented squad Everton stunk and Koeman was shown the door in October.

In the following years Koeman managed a Netherlands side to pretty much what their expectations were. He was then considered a very underwhelming appointment for Barcelona, seen mostly as a fall guy while the club navigated their financial issues.

When you hear people talking about the best managers in the world, you won’t hear them say Ronald Koeman’s name.

The margins are that slim. Koeman had more success than Pochettino at Southampton, the biggest difference between the two was Poch moved to a club with a young up and coming squad that had a homegrown superstar ready to break out. Koeman moved to a team whose homegrown core was much older, were about to lose their superstar, and didn’t really have any plan for how to replace them.

As for Southampton were they good because of generational coaches? It turns out they just had really good players, which the market quickly corrected when those players were snatched up by bigger teams. What they were really good at was replacing those good players with other really good players (the year after Koeman left they once again finished eighth), until the law of averages caught up to them and they stopped finding generational talents every summer. It’s just not possible to operate like that forever


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The thing about Koeman and Pochettino is, they both made it. There’s another man linked closely with Pochettino who shows just how small those margins are.

In his book From Guernica to Guardiola: How the Spanish Conquered English Football , Adam Crafton wrote about the story of Pepe Mel.

With Pochettino thriving at Southampton, a struggling West Brom wanted to get in on this new progressive style of play, so they hired Pepe Mel who had just lead Real Betis to a seventh place finish in La Liga.

The two coaches had a very similar playing style as Pochettino had been schooled in Spain by Mel himself and both struggled with not speaking much English when they arrived in England. The difference was where they ended up.

West Brom had finished eighth the previous season but were now near the relegation zone. What changed? It certainly wasn’t the defense. The Baggies conceded 59 goals in 2013-14, just two more than the previous year. The difference, the prior season they got 17 goals from a striker on loan from Chelsea named Romelu Lukaku. Without his goals, they couldn’t score!

Pochettino arrived at a club made up of young talented players who were not only open to new ideas but capable of seeing them out. Mel arrived at a West Brom side made up of much older and less talented players. They were stuck in their ways but more importantly, they just didn’t have the ability to play a more open style.

After going winless in Mel’s first eight Premier League matches West Brom midfielder Joey Barton tweeted “Remember, for every Mauricio Pochettino, there’s a Pep Mel.”

Barton’s right but not in the way he thought. It’s not that Mel was a terrible coach, it’s that the timing of his big opportunity was terrible. He landed in a terrible situation. A terrible match of style with the talent level of the inherited players never gave him a chance to succeed, but he’s labelled a failure anyway.

For every Pochettino there’s a Pepe Mel in that there’s someone who has great timing and lands in the right situation and someone who ends up in the completely wrong situation.

Timing really is everything.

Why did it take so long for someone to hire Pochettino? Aston Villa reached out to him and Pochettino turned them down - likely because he views himself as someone that should be managing Champions League clubs. That’s certainly was his reputation commanded but the reality was those teams weren’t calling. Had his stock fallen within football more than those of us outside the game knew?

It was odd that Spurs didn’t even call him though I don’t think that would have been a happy reunion. The timing (for any manager) is poor. This Spurs team is older and worse than it was when Pochettino first arrived and there’s no young Harry Kane about to burst through.

It was only after working through several other managers that Chelsea landed on Pochettino. Taking this job is a massive risk for him. For the first time in his English managerial career Pochettino’s timing is terrible. This Chelsea team is a complete mess. They’ve got to ax several players that are going to be very difficult to move. It’s a very unbalanced squad. If Poch has any “magic” in him, he’s going to have to use it.

I don’t think he’s going to be successful next season but I don’t think any manager would. However, if Poch fails, it really shines a different light onto his C/V and makes you wonder where his next job could even be.

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