Thursday 23 May 2019

Spurs insist rousing rallies have killed off bottlers tag

Mauricio Pochettino celebrates Tottenham’s Champions League semi-final victory over Ajax in Amsterdam. Photo: PA
Mauricio Pochettino celebrates Tottenham’s Champions League semi-final victory over Ajax in Amsterdam. Photo: PA

Paul Doyle

Liverpool may yet deny Tottenham a historic European triumph but Jürgen Klopp's team helped Spurs set up a Champions League showdown that few believed possible. Watching Tuesday's extraordinary events at Anfield drove Spurs to perform similarly improbable heroics on Wednesday.

"We all watched the first half together over dinner and at that point it was 1-0 at half-time and Barcelona seemed to have weathered the storm and the way Liverpool played in the second half was inspiring," says the Spurs midfielder Eric Dier. "From an English point of view and from the Premier League point of view, [it] was incredible. They showed the beauty of football and the next day I think we did the same."

As the second half got under way in Amsterdam, nothing suggested that a side who have been struggling domestically and were being outplayed by a spry Ajax team were about to mount a comeback. But this was not a night for logic.

"I think in a game like that your head doesn't listen to your body, your heart is carrying you and I think that is what it did to the team," says Dier. "We were just so focused on trying to qualify and it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, the way we started and getting back into it, being 2-2 for so long and then finally getting the goal at the end. It was an incredible feeling for everyone involved with the club. A special, special moment."

Dier was an unused substitute against Ajax but the ecstatic celebrations on the pitch and the giddy rendition of Wonderwall in the dressing afterwards spoke of a squad united in their pursuit of a single dream. "I actually put it on," says Dier of the Oasis track. "I think it was Christian Eriksen who asked me to. It's a great song that everyone knows the words to, so it's a good singalong."

Fostering that squad spirit has been one of Mauricio Pochettino's achievements. The way the manager has ensured that fringe players always knew their importance has paid off, with players such as Lucas Moura making big impacts after spells on the sidelines. Dier, too, has kept pulling in the right direction despite losing his starting place after injuries and illness.

"When you're not playing you're disappointed but there comes a point where you have to put your ego aside and support the team," he says. "Be a part of something bigger. To reach a Champions League final you need something bigger, you need a togetherness that goes past 11 or 18 players. Everyone's mindset is to help the team, whatever that might be . . . the manager is extremely fair. He has always shown that to all the players the whole time he's been here. We trust him 100 per cent. Whatever decisions he has to make, everyone will respect and be together. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Whatever happens in Madrid, Dier reckons Spurs have altered perceptions. By getting out of their Champions League group despite losing the first two matches, by emerging victorious from last-second dramas against Manchester City and Ajax, he says Spurs, under Pochettino, have shown that the bottler tag has expired. "It's pretty clear since the manager has arrived that I don't think that represents us. Even though people still use it, I think they know they don't believe in what they're saying."

In fact, Dier believes the feats of this Spurs team will never be matched by any club in a similar situation, making no signings in the last two transfer windows and playing in a temporary home while their new stadium was built.

"We've had many different things to overcome. It's clear that the club is in a completely different phase to the clubs we're fighting against, so we can all be extremely proud of everything we've done. And, of course, the work that the manager has done has been incredible, everyone can see that. I don't think a club under the circumstances that we've been in will ever achieve what we have achieved over the last five years."

The biggest achievement may be ahead. But before facing Liverpool in Madrid Spurs host the other main Merseyside team today. It would take a freakishly heavy defeat by Everton, plus a big win for Arsenal at Burnley, to cause Spurs to fall out of the top four. But Dier has learned to take nothing for granted. "After the last week we know anything is possible in football, so the job isn't done yet."

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