Mauricio Pochettino has accomplished quite a bit since becoming Tottenham Hotspur manager.
He has taken Spurs back into the Champions League and overseen a Premier League title bid.
He has cleared the playing staff that he inherited of dressing-room egos and poorly-advised signings, bringing in his own players to help mould arguably the most exciting squad in the country.
He has spotted exceptional young talent such as Dele Alli and Eric Dier, and developed them along with the club’s own homegrown stars to contribute potentially half of England’s Euro 2016 lineup.
He has instilled into his team a spirit and a hunger which was missing from previous Tottenham sides, indicating that they will come again next season after the collapse of their championship dreams.
It is because of this that the Argentine is now valued as one of the best coaches in the Premier League.
But a Pochettino accomplishment that has gone under the radar is his transformation of Mousa Dembele, the Belgian midfielder whose endless ability has not always been harnessed to maximum affect.
That changed this season, in which Dembele arguably became the most important factor to Tottenham’s fortunes, above the goalscoring exploits of Harry Kane or the defending of Toby Alderweireld.
Of the 27 league games that Dembele started, Spurs only lost one – on the opening day to Manchester United, when he played on the left wing. They did not lose when he started in central midfield.
Tottenham were significantly weaker with Dembele out of the side, and their problem was that he missed 93 days of the campaign with five separate injuries, and they could not replace his influence.
In 12 games without Dembele in central midfield, Spurs averaged 1.2 points, compared to 2.2 points in the 26 matches he started there – a ratio over 38 games which would have seen them win the title.
Between them, Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll started 12 league games. Tottenham only won two. Pochettino must find a solution to the Dembele drop-off, and he must do it before the start of next term, because he still has four matches of his suspension to serve for eye-gouging Chelsea’s Diego Costa.
In what is shaping up to be one of the most open Premier League title races ever, those four games could be absolutely crucial at the rate of which Tottenham lost points in Dembele’s absence this season.
Better-quality cover seems to be the most obvious answer, particularly with Champions League football to consider. Indeed, it appears as though Pochettino is making room for midfield reinforcements, with Carroll out of contract in the summer and Mason a target for Bournemouth, according to The Mirror.
The Sun reports that Southampton powerhouse Victor Wanyama is a target – Pochettino signed the Kenyan when he was Saints boss – but he might cost £25m despite entering the last year of his contract.
Wanyama certainly has the physical presence to deputise for Dembele. It seems a steep price to pay, but to solve what turned out to be a title-defining flaw for Tottenham, it could worth every penny.
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