JUST days after securing Tottenham’s highest league finish in 54 years, Mauricio Pochettino faces a summer of dressing-room unrest.
After narrowly missing out on the Premier League crown for a second successive year, the Argentine must confront the nightmare scenario which many at the club have long feared.
That Tottenham’s inability to match the pay scales of their top-six rivals is going to end up robbing them of their brightest young talent.
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Eric Dier, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose — three of the five-man English ‘heart’ of this vibrant team — are all seeking moves to Manchester clubs this summer.
Dier, 23, is ready to ask for a transfer to Manchester United, while Walker, 26, is desperate to secure a switch to City.
Left-back Rose, 26, is less likely to earn a move, after being told he needs surgery on a knee injury sustained 3½ months ago but he has also told pals he is keen to head north.
As well as being a major talent in his own right, Dier is also best pals with the jewel in Tottenham’s crown, Dele Alli.
And while there is no suggestion Dele, 21, wants out this summer, he is wanted by most of Europe’s major clubs and his long-term happiness would be affected by Dier departing.
Key defender Toby Alderweireld has refused to sign an improved contract and is believed to be demanding parity with Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris, who both earn £100,000 a week at Spurs.
Belgian ace Alderweireld, 28, is also coveted by United, as well as AC Milan and his former club, Atletico Madrid.
Pochettino has crafted this Spurs team brilliantly over the past three years — a young, gifted group constructed through extraordinarily hard graft and a rare team spirit.
But while Poch, 45, is masterful at working young pros to the bone, he is not so adept at handling more opinionated, senior stars.
As this team matures, some of his relationships with players have become less straightforward.
And a club which overachieves on the pitch in relation to its financial standing is always liable to see its talent cherry-picked.
Pochettino admitted yesterday he cannot compete with Tottenham’s top-six rivals in terms of transfer fees — and this extends to the wages which could be offered to his current first-teamers.
Star striker Kane insisted on Sunday that the Spurs players enjoy a “special bond” not found at other clubs.
But that bond is sure to be tested by cold, hard cash.
And even players who are paid around £3.5million a year will get itchy feet if they know they could earn £8m elsewhere.
Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho — the managerial rivals at the centre of last summer’s Premier League hype explosion — have both been left trailing by Pochettino, despite having vastly higher budgets and wage bills.
Both are desperate to recruit a pair of new full-backs and both covet the dynamism of Walker and Rose.
United boss Mourinho is also a long-term admirer of Dier, who though born in England of English parents, was raised in Portugal.
He is seen as a kindred spirit for the Special One — a defensive midfielder or centre-back who loves to defend and, always crucially for Mourinho, is physically imposing, too.
Not that Spurs will be pushovers with chairman Daniel Levy in charge.
Dier, Walker and Rose all have four years left on the contracts they signed at the start of this season — and all are valued at £30m to £40m.
Walker’s relationship with Pochettino is said to be “untenable”, as revealed by SunSport earlier this month.
The pair are said to have held heated discussions after the England right-back was left out of key fixtures against Chelsea and Arsenal in April.
The defender has been told he can go at the right price and Guardiola’s City are his preferred destination.
But Levy is already said to be trying to drive up the price and is even privately talking up the possibility of selling Walker to champions Chelsea — a club he has been loathe to do business with for years.
Rose, a Yorkshireman like Walker, is said to have confided in friends that he is ready to move back north after a decade in London.
And despite his spell on the sidelines making a summer transfer unlikely, the England left-back would also leave given the chance.
As for Dier, that one promises to be an on-going summer saga, with United intent on signing him and Levy likely to dig his heels in.
Dier is valued almost as highly for his off-field qualities as for his footballing ability.
He is mature beyond his years and is regarded as an excellent influence on Dele, who, while far from a bad lad, is a ‘lively’ character with a troubled family background.
When Spurs beat United on Sunday, leaving the club undefeated at home during its final campaign at White Hart Lane, there seemed much to look forward to.
The new 61,000-seater stadium taking shape next door suggests a club which is going places.
And yet it remains to be seen how many of Pochettino’s promising team will wait patiently throughout a year’s exile at Wembley.