Mauricio Pochettino has finally shown his dark side - and fans will like what they see
On Tuesday night, after Tottenham had been beaten 2-1 by Liverpool in the fourth round of the EFL Cup, Mauricio Pochettino settled into his post-match press conference and did something that, at first sight, appeared out of character.
Softly and without hesitation, the Tottenham manager criticised Jurgen Klopp’s attempts to influence the match officials.
“I think it was strange that at the end of the game they started to complain,” Pochettino said. “The full-back Arnold should be sent off in the first-half, I have seen the tackle again on Ben Davies.
“So after that, it was strange when their bench started to complain with our bench. It is the referee’s authority to say if it was a penalty or not. It was strange.
“They complained about a normal game, but maybe yes, they were lucky to finish with eleven on the pitch.”
Not exactly provocative or derisory, no, but Pochettino has never been a man to openly challenge and criticise his fellow managers. Although the Argentine has always cut an animated and volatile figure on the touchline, he has typically opted to internalise any apprehensions he may have held against opposition teams or coaches, preferring to avoid petty confrontation.
But his recent remarks suggest that such an approach is coming to an end. Given the hostile, cut-throat environment of the Premier League, or the ‘jungle’ as Arsene Wenger recently dubbed it, the 44-year-old is slowly realising that fire needs to be fought with fire in order to survive.
Indeed, this isn’t the first time the Argentine has showcased his confrontational qualities. Pochettino responded angrily last week when asked about Kevin Wimmer's future at White Hart Lane.
The Austrian was left out of his Champions League squad for the side’s fixture against Bayer Leverkusen, despite Toby Alderweireld’s absence through injury, and with only one appearance to his name this season, questions were naturally raised over his future.
But Pochettino was in no mood for speculation. “Why are you confused?” asked Pochettino, when quizzed about Wimmer. “You are creating an issue that doesn't exist. You say it's a big problem for the supporters and media are very concerned. His situation was [he was] out of the 18 players. I need to take a decision about that.”
And when asked if the Austrian was still in his plans, he said: “Why not? When did I tell you he wasn't in my plans? I'm very honest with you. When a player is not in my plans, I tell you quickly but first I tell the player.
“He's in my plans. When I put him on the bench, another player needs to be put out. Tell me which player you would switch with him? That's your opinion.”
So are we seeing a new-look Pochettino? The outburst, coupled with Pochettino’s remarks at Anfield, would certainly suggest so. Such behaviour implies that the former Southampton boss is adopting a more assertive, confrontational style in tune with the likes of Jose Mourinho.
While some fans may be wary of what such a metamorphosis brings, it is this sort of fighting spirit which may prove the difference in the difficult months to come. Pochettino lamented his side’s lack of mental resilience in the wake of their failed title campaign last season, but by demonstrating his own willingness to confront, challenge and even provoke some of the league’s biggest coaches, the Argentine is setting an example for his players.
Speaking after his side’s 2-2 draw with Leicester last May – a result that confirmed the Foxes as Premier League champions – Pochettino openly declared the need for his side to prove their strength.
"It's football, we are men, they are men. We need to show we are strong.
"It was a good lesson for us, we are the youngest squad in the league, we feel very proud and our supporters need to feel proud too, we have massive potential for the future.
He added: "Football is tactical, physical, technical, but it is also mental. More mental than many years ago.”
"We need to know how to improve our mental state. That is very, very important.”
While his players share a responsibility in proving their own mental strength on the pitch, Pochettino is equally expected to prove his own off it.
How he does so remains his prerogative but in adopting the brazen approach that he has, Pochettino has shown that he has the resolve to survive in the ‘jungle’ and walk side-by-side with some of the league’s bigger, older, more established managers. When taken alongside his level-headedness – a quality perhaps missing from Mourinho – it bodes well for the north London club.
Pochettino now has the fire in his belly and while it may bring out the nasty side in him, it can only help Tottenham’s cause as they set upon trying to travel the long, arduous road to Premier League glory.
Independent News Service