James Lawton: Mauricio Pochettino a throwback to era before cult of the manager took over
Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30
Stealth has rarely been the hallmark of the great, messianic football coaching careers, and this surely is the age of managerial self-advertisement stripped of almost any restraint.
No-one ever embodied the culture more extravagantly than Jose Mourinho when he went down so vaingloriously at Chelsea, crying into the night that his players had betrayed him with their failure to respect and feed upon his genius.
Mourinho, Alex Ferguson and the currently besieged Louis Van Gaal all nourished their images with lashings of self-regard, and if Jurgen Klopp is currently doing it at Liverpool with considerable honesty and superior charm, he will never be a candidate for a place in the shadows.
However, it may be that in the top four of the Premier League we could be seeing an extraordinary exception to the trend.
Its name is Mauricio Pochettino and increasingly it is one being bandied among the power brokers of English football.
The possibility it evokes is an almost entirely novel concept of 21st century football success. It is about a coach who teaches, one who never confuses the passing glory of today with the work that needs to be done tomorrow.
We will know better after Tottenham's visit to the sometimes pesky, over-achieving Crystal Palace tomorrow afternoon but there is certainly some reason to believe that Pochettino might well be on the way to an extraordinary coup.
Just five points behind leaders Arsenal and the Leicester City he brusquely banished from the FA Cup this week, the 43-year-old Argentinian has finally come under the microscopes of Manchester United and Chelsea.
If the examination provokes a move from either - or both - of the mega-clubs, the cult of the personality, if not vanquished, will have had a considerable setback.
What Pochettino appears to be saying is not read my lips, or my interpreter's, but study my work and the development of my players.
He could hardly be more explicit about the goal that carries him from day to day. It is to add to a body of work which started under the shadow of Barcelona at Espanyol seven years ago, grew in stature at a previously embattled Southampton and now at White Hart Lane is beginning to hint at dramatic achievement.
As speculation over the interest of United and Chelsea intensified, Pochettino declared: "Always, my decisions are not only for the present but the future too. I work as if one day I'm not here - to give the legacy, it is always my way to work not only for the quick results. I always try to think of the future of the club I work for. That is how I want to be judged."
If this sounds rather pious, and, yes, perhaps just a touch self-serving, it hardly suffers when set against his impressive development of home-produced budding super-stars like Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Nor his outlining of a transfer window strategy that seems mostly geared to the preservation of a carefully built team ethos.
Tottenham have been linked to West Brom's gifted but volatile Saido Berahino, who may be overpriced at £30m but still carries the potential to enliven Tottenham's pursuit of a Champions League place and, just maybe, a run along the rail to the title. However, Pochettino insists that his primary concern is an undivided, confident dressing-room.
After Son Heung-min and Nacer Chadli got the goals to carry Spurs into the fourth round of the FA Cup, the manager explained: "I can understand that when you don't score, people can be worried but we have enough quality. Today was a good opportunity for Nacer and Son to show that they can score and so we are very pleased.
"We can improve the squad, yes, and if we find the right player, okay, but if not I'm very happy with the squad that we have. We have a strong group of players and that is my real thought. We have one of the best strikers in the world in Harry Kane.
"If we get another offensive player, we need to bring the right one, who will fight. Because if you make the wrong decision, maybe you break the balance in the squad and the changing-room. Today we are proud of the changing-room that we have built, and their performance, and how they believe in how they play.
"Games like today show you and show me that we are going the right way and have taken the right decisions in the past.
"I don't like to speak about changes because for me when you have 25 players it is still Tottenham. Sometimes players desire to play more but the rules are you can only pick 11 players and have seven on the bench so sometimes you can't be fair to them all."
The cultivation of unity has been Pochettino's theme through Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham and for the moment at least his work is earning admiration, nowhere more profoundly than in the trenches of the game.
Leicester's Claudio Ranieri, whose ability to inspire his own recently relegation-fighting dressing-room has been arguably the most remarkable aspect of maybe the Premier League's most unpredictable season, was certainly quick to recognise the depth of Pochettino's progress.
He said, "I'm not downhearted by this defeat. Tottenham are building a team to try to win the title."
That endorsement was substantially augmented when the former bulwark of Barca's defence, Carles Puyol, paid a visit to the Tottenham training ground this week.
Puyol admired the work of Pochettino when he first plied his trade at Catalonia and now he declares: "He is one of the world's best coaches. I like his way of understanding football. He likes good football but with players who show intensity. He really enjoys what he does and as a former player that is something I love. He is a great coach."
But then the huge question facing potential suitors like United and Chelsea is how deeply his vision of football, his set of values, would be appreciated at clubs where hugely rewarded players have, in the opinion of many, done away with the most celebrated coach of his epoch, Mourinho, and deeply undermined another of vast reputation, Van Gaal.
It may be they will decide their greatest need, for the moment at least, is not a man to build a legacy but one who might just buy a little time.
That is the nature of the gamble as Mauricio Pochettino seeks to convert his future into now, or at least the spring when he might just lay his hand on the Premier League title.