Sunday 20 August 2017

Spurs boss and darts fan Mauricio Pochettino hits his targets and ready to take aim at Chelsea in FA Cup

Argentinian's Tottenham revolution is well on course for silverware ahead of FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Getty
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Getty

Matt Law

There is a photograph that Mauricio Pochettino holds especially dear. It shows Tottenham Hotspur's manager, aged two, clutching a ball like it is a bar of gold in his hometown of Murphy in Argentina.

For Pochettino, the image represents why, for him and his Tottenham staff, passion is a more valuable currency than money or ability.

Emotions will be running ­particularly high at Wembley for today's FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, following the tragic death of Tottenham U-23 coach Ugo Ehiogu. Pochettino was one of the first on the scene after Ehiogu suffered a heart attack at Tottenham's training ground on Thursday and the togetherness the Argentinian has helped to foster at the club means the death of the 44-year-old has been felt like the loss of a family member.

Players at rival clubs are telling their friends at Tottenham that they are envious of the spirit Pochettino has instilled at White Hart Lane while, for the first time in more than 20 years, Arsenal look likely to finish the season as the second-best team in north London.

Pochettino is now relishing the challenge to win silverware with Tottenham, who have cut Chelsea's Premier League lead to four points and can strike a psychological blow against Antonio Conte's men by reaching the FA Cup final.

"It is normal to win titles with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, maybe Juventus, Porto in Portugal," said Pochettino.

"With a big team, you are already very close to winning. Look at Barcelona with Pep, with Tito Vilanova, with Rijkaard, with Luis Enrique. All different managers, but with the same group of players and they were successful. Success for me is to finish in the top four like last season. It was a big success for Tottenham and means maybe more than winning one title with Barcelona.

"I dream of lifting trophies but the way I did [as a player] with Espanyol. Two Copa del Rey - with Espanyol! And as a kid playing for Boca Juniors or River Plate, it was normal to win - not playing for Newell's Old Boys. But I liked that challenge. If you are not spending the money and still challenging, that is what I like the most."

Building bonds was Pochettino's biggest priority when he arrived at White Hart Lane three years ago. Not just between the players, but also between the players and the crowd, who had become tired of expensive prima donnas, and between the club staff and chairman Daniel Levy.

He made a number of small but important changes, such as getting the players in for breakfast together each morning and insisting they greet one another with a handshake. When, one by one, the players lined up to shake hands with a slightly bewildered Levy one lunchtime, Pochettino knew his message was getting through.

Pochettino frequently messages his Spurs players over WhatsApp and has remained in touch with many of his former Southampton squad. He has on numerous occasions spoken about the importance of showing "love" for his charges.

James Bunce, who was appointed as high-performance director of the US Soccer Federation in February and worked under Pochettino at Southampton, said: "Mauricio built strong relationships with his players and staff. Luke Shaw would be in his office for a couple of hours each day. Mauricio would involve you and listen to you. He'd be in from seven in the morning to nine at night - he's just exceptional."

It has not all been handshakes and hugs, however. Pochettino can use the stick just as much as he offers the carrot: he told Danny Rose that he could turn him into the best left-back in the country and then promptly made Ben Davies his first Spurs signing to create competition between the pair.

Players were made to work harder in training than they ever had before and were filmed from different angles, so that their every move could be studied and tracked. Anybody who did not like the new regime was sent to train with the U-21s - including Younes Kaboul and Emmanuel Adebayor, the pair who started Pochettino's first season in charge as Tottenham's captain and vice-captain respectively.

Pochettino likes to take part in small-sided training matches to battle against his players, although he has come out worse off from more than one clash with Cameron Carter-Vickers, the club's teenage centre-half.

The freedom Levy has given Pochettino to ship out the likes of Adebayor, Kaboul, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend has surprised outsiders, who have seen other Spurs managers struggle to get their way.

Having done his due diligence on Pochettino, Levy agreed to make his latest manager the centre of the football operation and implemented the requested changes to the medical and scouting departments.

Promised

He also promised the Argentine time to get results and was true to his word during a first season in which progress was not instant and Tottenham lost the League Cup final to Chelsea. The confidence Levy showed in the early days is now being repaid and set the foundations for what has become a close relationship between himself and Pochettino.

Levy has hosted 45-year-old Pochettino and his assistant Jesus Perez at his house in the skiing village of Megeve in the French Alps for strategy meetings in a relaxed environment. Neither Pochettino nor Perez ski, but the setting provided the perfect setting to talk transfers, contracts, the new stadium, and any other business that needed to remain a closely-guarded secret.

Pochettino has also accompanied Levy to the luxurious Rio Negro Province ranch belonging to Tottenham owner Joe Lewis in Pochettino's native Argentina.

Both Levy and Lewis are amused by Pochettino's love of darts, having discovered the sport when he first moved to England to take over at Southampton in 2013. Such is his fascination that he sets up two screens to watch simultaneously Europa League games and Premier League darts fixtures on a Thursday night when Tottenham are not involved in Europe's second-tier competition.

Pochettino was drawn to darts' raucous atmosphere and he went about trying to encourage similar support from Spurs fans.

Tottenham are unbeaten at White Hart Lane this season, in what is expected to be the last in their ­traditional home, and regulars will tell you the football and the atmosphere have rarely been better.

It seems to be only a matter of time before Pochettino wins his first trophy as a manager. He is aware of the challenge that silverware will bring.

"If you win a trophy and you touch the glory, it's like you need afterwards to touch the glory again because it's a feeling that makes you very happy," he said. "But sometimes it's a big risk if you touch the glory and, at the same time, you feel that your pocket is full of money and you don't have the hunger to repeat again, to touch the glory again, maybe you put yourself and your team at a big risk.

"There is a risk when you win something. It's important how you rebuild the team or you are so clever again to find the challenge, to find the dream, to have the hunger to achieve again."

For Pochettino, that photograph of him holding the ball will always remain the most important. No matter how many times he is pictured ­holding a trophy above his head. (Daily ­Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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