Saturday 18 November 2017

Spurs on brink of new glory game if they manage to hold onto Pochettino

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Reuters
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Reuters

Jamie Carragher

Who would you prefer managing your club: a coach with two Champions League wins, a La Liga, and the World Club Championship in less than two full seasons in senior management, or a coach who, in eight years as a manager, has won nothing? Zinedine Zidane or Mauricio Pochettino?

Based on their CVs, there is no choice, yet you will not find a single Spurs fan willing to swap their coach for the Real Madrid legend.

In fact, if Zidane's troubles continue in Spain, I am confident Pochettino would be the first name on the Christmas wishlist of the Bernabeu president, Florentino Perez.

Some managers, such as Zidane, are figureheads. They inspire with their presence, command the respect of a dressing room and ensure the egos work together.

Their work should not be underestimated at the superclubs. Zidane deserves more credit for what he has achieved in Madrid since taking over in January 2016.

No one will convince me Zidane is a superior training-ground coach to his predecessor Rafa Benitez - the most studious and tactically aware manager I ever had - but moulding superstar players into a unit brings its own challenges. Benitez did not succeed with the same group of players.

There are other coaches who change the mentality, reputation and status of a club so their imprint remains long after they have moved on.

Football historians can create their own list of these coaching pioneers; from Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Rinus Michels to Johan Cruyff, Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola.

Pochettino is changing our perception of Spurs by following the tradition of his compatriot and mentor, Marcelo Bielsa.

The Argentinian has absorbed Bielsa's ideas, but he has yet to shrug off one of the more unwelcome habits of his teacher.

Speak to any coach inspired by Bielsa and they will lavish praise, but his honours list is modest. He has never won a major trophy in Europe, and his last title was in Argentina in 1998.

Does this diminish Bielsa's genius or scale of his influence? Of course not, but the greatest managers want success to enhance their prominent standing.

Tottenham are deservedly winning plenty of applause for their brilliant form, but here is one compliment they will not like: they are the best trophy-less team I have ever seen.

English football has never had a side play so consistently well without anything to show for it. People talk about Kevin Keegan's Newcastle entertainers of 1996, but Spurs are vastly superior.

I was at Wembley in midweek to see the dismantling of Real Madrid in the Champions League. It felt like a statement performance.

You heard some say Madrid are a fading force, no longer the side who won three of the last four Champions League finals.

I have no time for such nonsense, when the breaking down of a formidable opponent is attributed to one team's weakness more than the other's strength.

Fair enough, Real had two or three first-team players missing, but they had not lost a group game for five years before Wednesday.

They are a team packed with extraordinary players who were made to look an ordinary side.

Pochettino's line-up demonstrated the youthful vigour that makes them one of the most exciting teams in Europe, and we should also remember how close they were to winning the away fixture a fortnight ago.

This was not a solitary impressive performance, but a level Spurs have been building to for three years.

Pochettino said this game could be a turning point psychologically.

For me, the one thing the team lacks is that winning mentality. Do those players truly believe they can win the big trophies?

Is there something about Spurs as a club that means the general lack of expectation that they will win the top honours impacts on the mentality of the players?

For this to change, there is an emphasis on the need to retain their stars, such as Dele Alli and Harry Kane. No. The most important man they must keep is Pochettino.

Balance

Why am I such a big fan? I retired as a player almost five years ago and since moving into punditry Pochettino's Tottenham are the team I have enjoyed watching most. They are everything you want in terms of balance; attacking, defending, bringing youngsters through and improving players.

Their constant changing of their set-up from a back three to back four typifies Pochettino's coaching skill. We see other managers do this and think it is because of uncertainty, not knowing the best team or system.

When I see Spurs do it; it is seamless, everyone knowing and understanding their role.

A lot of people in football discuss systems. It is easy to talk about it, but a completely different proposition executing it, ensuring players comprehend it and buy into it.

It was a privilege to be at Wembley to witness Spurs' performance.

As a neutral, I am sure I speak for a lot of people when I say it will be a shame if this manager and this team do not win a major trophy in the next two or three years.

That will be extremely difficult with the financial might of the Manchester clubs and Chelsea.

There will be a temptation to leave for Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain, who no doubt will offer Pochettino the chance to join the managerial elite as a trophy winner swifter than might be possible in north London.

The greatest managers not only collect silverware, but leave a lasting legacy.

Pochettino can achieve both at Tottenham. If he succeeds, Bielsa's student will eclipse his master.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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