London (AFP) – Mauricio Pochettino paid a heavy price for the high standards he set at Tottenham Hotspur as the Argentine was sacked on Tuesday after five-and-a-half years in charge that transformed the club’s fortunes.

Pochettino arrived in north London with the task of assembling a team capable of qualifying for the Champions League. 

He leaves six months after leading his side to the final of Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in the club’s history.

The Champions League is now where Tottenham and in particular chairman Daniel Levy believe they belong.

Prior to appointing Pochettino, Spurs finished in the top four of the Premier League twice in 24 years. In his five full seasons, they did so four times.

However, a run to the Champions League final thanks to dramatic away goals victories over Manchester City and Ajax papered over cracks in Tottenham’s domestic form dating back to February that have dragged on into this season.

In his final 24 Premier League games, Pochettino oversaw just six wins and departs with Spurs down in 14th, already 11 points off the top four.

– ‘Extremely disappointing’ –

“Regrettably domestic results at the end of last season and beginning of this season have been extremely disappointing,” said Levy in his statement dismissing Pochettino.

However, Levy must burden his own share of the blame for diminishing returns on the field.

Pochettino repeatedly outperformed the budget he was handed for transfer fees and wages compared to his Premier League rivals, as his coaching helped turn young home-grown talents like Harry Kane and Dele Alli into household names.

Spurs did not sign a single player between January 2018 and July this year as the completion of the club’s new £1 billion ($1.3 billion) stadium overran, forcing Pochettino’s men to play nearly two full seasons at a temporary home in Wembley.

Last summer offered the chance of a fresh start. After threatening to walk away if his side had won the Champions League, Pochettino was keen for a significant turnover of the squad that had served him well for five years.

But Levy did not recoup the money he hoped to by selling Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld to help fund a summer spending spree.

Instead all three have entered the final year of their contracts with Pochettino complaining that the uncertainty over the trio’s future unsettled his squad.

– Player unrest –

“Is the manager solely accountable?” Asked the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust in a withering statement on the club’s decision to sack Pochettino.

“How much has the board’s line on wages and transfers contributed to player unrest and disaffection? How much did it contribute to the situation we now find ourselves in? And will it change to help support a new manager?”

That final question is all the more pertinent given the favourite to succeed Pochettino is Jose Mourinho.

The Portuguese has the trophy-laden CV that Pochettino cannot match. But his style of football, demand for big money signings and tendency to clash with key players is in stark contrast to all the hallmarks of Spurs’ success over the past five years.

“If you’re a Tottenham fan who loves being brought up with the style Tottenham have played, they won’t enjoy his football,” said former Spurs midfielder Chris Waddle at the prospect of Mourinho’s return to the Premier League, 11 months after being sacked by Manchester United.

Pochettino is unlikely to be on the market for that long. United were linked with making him Mourinho’s successor and could be looking to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer come the end of the season.

Real Madrid have long been admirers of Pochettino’s work, while Bayern Munich will be seeking a new permanent boss come the end of the season.

The 47-year-old leaves without a trophy to remember him by, but as the THST added he “made Tottenham Hotspur a force to be reckoned with again.”

Whoever replaces him has big shoes to fill.