Monday 16 September 2019

Pochettino buys into the Hotspur heritage with some added steel

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino applauds the travelling fans
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino applauds the travelling fans

Paul Hayward

The dilettante streak in Spurs has seen off countless hopeful managers.

Coaches have stumbled out of White Hart Lane with a thousand-yard stare after failing to cure the club of the more harmful effects of romanticism.

Mauricio Pochettino, though, is winning that fight. This Tottenham side are resilient, fit, powerful, constructive in their use of the ball and seldom inclined to study their own image in a mirror.

Pochettino has abolished narcissism. There remains doubt about whether the owners will now take the next step and spend the kind of money that would propel Spurs into a regular top-four place. But they are so much more credible now as a team who understand the league they are in.

Too many Spurs teams of the last 20 years seemed to be trying to remain true to some artistic manifesto that came from the mists of time. Often it was a cop-out. Promising positions would be squandered, momentum lost, and the players could ascribe it all to the sacred "Tottenham way" of doing and daring (and ending up sixth).

Harry Redknapp's Champions League side of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric was rather better than that. For a brief spell that team rattled the bigger-spending clubs around them. But then the Bale bonanza (€100m) was wasted and Pochettino faced the task of purging the squad of expensive passengers while instilling his own formidable work ethic.

The result: Spurs are unbeaten in 11 Premier League games stretching back to the opening weekend after "winning" 75 minutes of this north London derby then surviving a ferocious Arsenal fightback.

Pochettino's men ought to have been further ahead when timidity seized Hugo Lloris, their goalkeeper, as Kieran Gibbs met a Mesut Ozil cross.

Lloris was already falling back into his net when Gibbs made contact. His unwillingness to come off his line was a rare case of subservience from a Tottenham side now playing with conviction.

Take Erik Lamela. There is a very good player fighting to get out of this £30m signing from Roma and Pochettino has forced him to assert his talent more. Mousa Dembele, who was another chugging midfielder, is now dangerous. Toby Alderweireld has added brains and brawn in central defence and Dele Alli, bought from MK Dons, is on a sharp upward trajectory.

Harry Kane, who put Spurs in front and should have scored more, has now netted six goals in as many league games after only two in his previous 14.

To play this well in a north London derby, in a run of three games in six days, is clear evidence of progress. And not all of it can be traced to double training sessions and GPS monitors to measure work rate. Pochettino retained the eager older pros while shifting out the tired old names and infusing the side with youthful talent.

The White Hart Lane rebuild is just one of the factors that could place a limit on Pochettino's team refurb. Injuries and the conservatism of the owners are also potential snags. But if their mentality can be shifted beyond charming but ultimately hollow idealism, then Spurs could yet hope for more than finishing fourth in an above average year.

The old tendencies survive outside Pochettino's first-team operation.

Tottenham's Soccer Schools manifesto declares: "We have a reputation for playing stylish, flowing football. From the 'push and run' side of the 1950s to the present day, flair fluidity and attacking football are the hallmarks of Spurs. The 'Tottenham Hotspur Way' is our history, heritage and tradition. It's what we have become known for."


A cheer goes up. You would hate to see Spurs lose those feelings altogether. But surely no club can be content to represent a tradition at the expense of today and tomorrow? If one word expresses the quality Spurs are acquiring, it is authority.

Alli and Alderweireld apart, the "ins" from Tottenham's summer trading have yet to make a substantial contribution. The "outs" tell a bigger story: Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Lewis Holtby, Benjamin Stambouli, Vlad Chiriches and Younes Kaboul.

In this age of mass buying and inflated wages, selling is going to become an increasingly valuable skill. Managers may be rewarded faster for spotting those players who are not adding much and are unlikely to do so.

Pochettino plainly wants only players in his own image willing to embrace the high intensity of the modern game.

A dilettante is defined as "a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge".

That hints at Tottenham's problem down the years. Average recruiting also hindered them, along with endless managerial sackings. Now, we see the beginnings of stability: promise backed up by strength.

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