Fernandes, Maguire, Grealish: The Spurs starting XI Mauricio Pochettino wanted

Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino is without doubt the most successful manager in Tottenham’s recent history, implementing a fascinating style of play while taking his side to the brink of domestic and European titles, and yet even he couldn’t avoid the sacking axe forever.

After an incredibly deflated start to the 2019/20 campaign, Pochettino was sacked in November to make way for Jose Mourinho, who has since done a fantastic job in getting the Lilywhites to the top of the Premier League table.

But it’s no secret that Daniel Levy didn’t do Pochettino too many favours in the transfer market during his time at the club.

In fact, the Argentine had to go a whole year without any new additions to his squad, and in just two transfer windows Mourinho has been allowed to spend nearly half the money his predecessor was afforded in five years at the helm.

So, would Pochettino still be in the job right now if Spurs had landed some of the signings he wanted to bring to north London? And perhaps more interestingly, would Pochettino’s Spurs side with his desired additions beat the team that Mourinho’s taken to the top of the Premier League?

Let’s find out by taking a look at the starting XI Pochettino wanted…

The defence

Back in 2017 as Kyle Walker headed to Manchester City, Pochettino reportedly wanted to bring in Ricardo Pereira as his immediate replacement. 

The then-Nice loanee would instead return to FC Porto for a year before joining Leicester, where he’d quickly establish himself as one of the best right-backs in the Premier League - prior to an injury last season, the Portuguese had notched up 13 goal involvements in 63 top flight outings. 

On the opposite defensive flank, meanwhile, although his Spurs career has amounted to precious little so far, according to The Guardian Ryan Sessegnon was indeed a Pochettino signing. The Hoffenheim loanee might well be enjoying an important role at his parent club right now had the former Spurs boss not received his marching orders.

In the heart of defence, although Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen provided the backbone of much of Tottenham’s success under Pochettino, Danny Rose claimed earlier this year that the former Spurs boss was a massive fan of Harry Maguire’s from his time at Hull City.

Instead of moving to north London, the England centre-back would go on to join Leicester, before a world-record move to Manchester United two years later.

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire

The Midfield

Here’s where things get really interesting. During his last summer at Spurs, Pochettino wanted to sign not only Ndombele to bolster Tottenham’s midfield but also Donny van de Beek, who had just helped Ajax reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Ultimately the Dutchman never arrived and after another year in Amsterdam moved to Manchester United last summer - although so far, the 23-year-old has been granted just a single Premier League start. 

Pochettino was also reportedly a big fan of Bruno Fernandes, with the Red Devils talisman himself admitting he came close to signing for Spurs. Fernandes’ ability to press high would have been perfect for Pochettino’s style of play, but there appeared to be some disagreement over his transfer fee.

The former Spurs gaffer was tipped to return for Fernandes in January but didn’t last long enough in the job, and in his absence the Portugal midfielder went on to join United instead. Now valued at £72m, he’s produced 35 goal involvements in 36 games for the Red Devils.

Bruno Fernandes

The Attack

While we could go into the countless players mooted as a potential backup to Harry Kane, Pochettino’s faith in the England captain was of course never in doubt - potential signings were more a question of finding the best support acts to the Premier League’s top striker.

Heung-min Son was always a firm favourite of Pochettino’s too, but he may well have ended up in a slightly different role under the Argentine, had he been able to land one of his long-term targets in Jack Grealish.

The Aston Villa talisman was billed as a prime target for summer 2018, which is probably remembered best for being the transfer window in which Spurs failed to sign a single player.

Grealish, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength at Villa and is now reportedly a target for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Spurs XI under Pochettino

Would things have gone differently for Pochettino?

Make no mistake about it, Tottenham’s underwhelming recruitment during the final few years of Pochettino’s reign was one of the underlying factors behind Pochettino’s eventual dismissal.

They went an incredible 517 days without signing a single first-team player and the cracks showed in the summer before the 48-year-old’s departure when he publicly suggested the club should change his job description to reflect his lack of involvement in transfers.

While it’s perhaps fanciful to assume Spurs could’ve brought all these players to the club, even from a mere mindset perspective, a lot of the resentment Pochettino seemed to develop towards the club’s hierarchy could’ve been avoided, and thus his reign would’ve presumably lasted a lot longer.

But the ultimate barometer is how this team would fare against the current Spurs side Mourinho has at the top of the Premier League table, and it must be said that in terms of quality, Pochettino’s team probably just edges it.

While Sessegnon is an obvious weak link at left-back, Grealish and Fernandes are among the top talents in the Premier League right now, while few centre-backs surpass Maguire’s status as Manchester United captain and before his injury, Pereira was causing waves at Leicester City.

Instead, Mourinho’s plugged those gaps with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Matt Doherty, Steven Bergwijn and Sergio Reguilon. While all of those have made an impact at Spurs, only the latter is arguably in the same calibre as some of the names mentioned above.

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