Mauricio Pochettino is in the unusual position of being one of the country’s most revered coaches but not the most eminent in his parish. The South American is different to most of the Tottenham managers who have passed before him but also exactly the same. He is still in the slipstream, ever so slightly, of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.Tottenham travel to the Emirates Stadium today as the Premier League’s only unbeaten team and with only five goals conceded. Yet still, they find themselves behind Arsenal. Last season, Tottenham’s title tilt ended on a horrid Monday night at Chelsea. But worse was to come on the season’s final day.Newcastle 5 Tottenham 1. Down to third. Back behind Arsenal.
“I still feel bad about that,” said Pochettino. “It was so easy to be above Arsenal in that moment. It was difficult to not think about that in the summer,” he said.
Pochettino is a modern football coach, particularly in the way he obsesses over the small details. As such, he is happy to talk broadly about the heartache of last season but long ago identified the reasons why his team fell short. For example, what happened on that ugly night at Chelsea is well referenced but Pochettino knows that his team’s decline began a week earlier, at home to West Bromwich. Leading 1-0 with 15 minutes left, tiring goalkeeper Hugo Lloris delivered a long kick upfield rather than pass the ball short as he has learned to do under his manager. It came straight back into the Tottenham half, West Brom won a corner and, from it, they equalised.
“We lost two points from a single mistake,” said a source this week. “To Mauricio, these things are what make the difference.”
Lloris is much loved by Pochettino, a world-class goalkeeper who can use the ball on the floor.
Seven years ago at Espanyol, the Tottenham manager was employing a style that used his goalkeeper as the trigger for everything. He still has the videos to prove it. It is this football that he has brought to Tottenham. It is this football that he will ask his team to play at the Emirates as he seeks to break a six-game winless run that has followed last month’s stunning dismantling of Manchester City at White Hart Lane.
Another Premier League coach described it perfectly this week, saying: “There is not a fitter side in the league. That’s how it feels when you play them.
“They are so young and play with such intensity that your main hope early on is to stay in the game. If you fall behind and have to chase it, you’re struggling. “People talk about Klopp at Liverpool and Guardiola at City. Yeah, they will press and press you but Tottenham can do it just as well.”
Pochettino’s commitment to double training sessions and gym circuits is well-known. There are no excuses made for senior players and the training ground is the way into the 44-year-old’s team. Harry Kane is known to be one of the most committed in this area and, after an absence of 10 games with a thigh problem, the England forward is expected to start today.
Tottenham have missed Kane, particularly given the way his understudy Vincent Janssen has struggled to impress.
Within this lies one of Pochettino’s difficulties as he looks to move Tottenham forward.
Until the new stadium is built and ready for the start of the 2018-19 season, Tottenham will continue to compete for players on a level one below that of Arsenal and others near the top of the Premier League. Tottenham’s record signing is £30 million France midfielder Moussa Sissoko and their wage ceiling is around £85 000 a week.
Having looked for a striker to complement Kane since the start of the year, interest in Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata never got off the ground and, ultimately, Janssen was brought in from AZ Alkmaar for £17 million.
Pochettino said on Friday: “Today the project is completely different to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Sometimes it is difficult to speak about that because our fans can take it in a negative way.
“Maybe when we finish the stadium we must change the project and maybe it is a moment to sign a player and spend a lot of money. We are expecting to finish it in a year and a half and then start to compete with different tools and resources.”
Tottenham’s commitment to their ground project mirrors that of Arsenal several years ago. Only recently have the other North London club released the chains.
If it means the responsibility for success lies even more heavily on innovative coaching, clever recruitment and finely tuned player management, then Pochettino doesn’t mind too much. His belief in young footballers is absolute. The average age of his first XI is 25 and when England played Wales at Euro 2016, six of the starting XI – Kane, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Liverpool’s Adam Lallana – had been introduced to international football while Pochettino was their club manager.
With Spurs’ young players housed in the same complex that boasts the club’s exceptional new training ground, Pochettino is a regular watcher of games at all age levels.
For example, he was seen one recent Friday on the touchline as Tottenham’s Under-23s played Manchester United, only breaking off to conduct his weekly media briefing before returning for the final 10 minutes.
At Espanyol – where he coached between 2009 and 2012 – Pochettino brought 20 players through the academy to the first team.
Today, with Sissoko suspended and Erik Lamela and Moussa Dembele injured – he may hand Harry Winks (20) his first Premier League start. – Daily Mail.
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