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Champions League: Lucas Moura repays Mauricio Pochettino's faith to fire Tottenham Hotspur into first final

2012, summer

There are advanced-level talks at the Manchester United Head Quarters. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson wants to bring a talented right winger from Brazil's Sao Paulo. Chief Executive David Gill and his staff start the process.

 Champions League: Lucas Moura repays Mauricio Pochettinos faith to fire Tottenham Hotspur into first final

Lucas Moura repaid Mauricio Pochettino's faith in him on Wednesday. AP/Martin Meissner

First bid - £24 million. Rejected.

Second bid - £30m. Rejected.

Third bid - £35m. Rejected.

Ferguson and Gill finally decide to end their quest to fill the gaping hole left by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. Very soon, sports pages get their headline for summer.

Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain break transfer record to sign Brazilian Lucas Moura, it read. £45m, according to the various sources, is the price the club paid for the then 20-year-old winger.

2019, summer

Lucas Moura pounces on a ball in the penalty box to complete his hat-trick and secure his side the unlikeliest of comebacks in the history of the Champions League.

The night in Amsterdam, as Spurs fans will fondly call it in years to come, will be remembered for so many things. How an injury-hit Tottenham Hotspur made it to the final will be a key point in these discussions. How arguably the greatest Ajax side since the early 90s bottled it will also feature in it.

But for Lucas, this was the night his destiny came true. The Brazilian's career has always been, till tonight, a story of potential and could-have-beens. His move in January 2018 from PSG for a reported fee of around £25m was seen as a step-down — a club off-loading him to make space for star players who could push the Paris side to Champions League glory.

But football has a way with irony and under Mauricio Pochettino's tutelage, Lucas has been given the opportunity to play to his strengths and now reach the Champions League final — a feat PSG are still trying to achieve.

The key to Lucas' change in fortunes has been the slight tweak in his position. The former Sao Paulo man is no longer the advanced version of a Jesus Navas — a pacy winger who kisses the right flank and sends in a cross every minute. The Brazilian has now developed a knack of picking up second balls in and around the opposition penalty box and finding space to either create a chance for a teammate or score a goal. All his three goals involved pace, quick feet and most importantly, desire.

A game of two halves

Desire summed up the entire Spurs side, who, like they were in the first leg in London, had looked down and beaten in the first half. Ajax started the match in a higher-tempo and scored two important goals in the first half through Matthijs de Ligt (5') and Hakim Ziyech (35'). Tottenham had started the match with an expected 4-4-2 formation with Lucas and Son Heung-min starting up front. Strangely, Spurs wanted to play out from the back, thereby inviting the famous early press from the Ajax team. And for most parts, Ajax looked like they would sweep the visitors away in one blitzkrieg, with Ziyech particularly impressing in a free role cutting in from the right wing.

Nobody knows clearly what must have happened in the half-time interval – a pep talk from the manager, rage or simply the players realizing that's probably their last chance. Whatever it was, it worked. So did the Pochettino's decision to throw caution to the wind and replace his only defensive midfielder – Victor Wanyama – with the tall centre-forward Fernando Llorente.

Spurs started the second half with intent and suddenly Ajax's defensive shape crumbled. They had no answer to Llorente's presence, while Pochettino, sensing an opportunity pushed Dele Alli forward while Son was moved to a slightly wider role. In fact, if the man of the match awards could be given to off-field members then Pochettino should be walking away with it. He was brave with his substitutions, shuffled the strategies and squeezed out the best from his battle-worn Spurs side.

Moussa Sissoko, like Lucas, was a great example of how Pochettino gets the best out of the players he has. Two seasons back at Newcastle, he was seen as a liability. But the Frenchman toiled hard and single-handedly ran the midfield after Wanyama's substitution, bringing back to memory France national team manager Didier Deschamps' take on the player: "Moussa is the prototype of a soldier. He was the soldier of [former coach Alain] Casanova at Toulouse, he is Pochettino's solider at Tottenham, even if it was more complicated at the start. He does not complain. Whether he starts the match or comes on after two minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes, he gets into the match."

An ode to a great Ajax team

Questions will be asked about Ajax's naivety that handed over the match to Spurs though. Erik ten Hag insisted on not covering up his team's primary weakness — lack of height and physical presence — and thought his side could play out of it. To be fair, they looked like they could for most parts of the game. But questions such as why Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was not brought in the dying minutes to see out the match will echo in the Johan Cruyff Arena for a few days to come.

For ten Hag, the task will now be to get his side motivated enough to compete for the Dutch Eredivisie where they have a close battle going on with PSV Eindhoven. The manager was supposed to be the perfect blend of Ajax's greatest two coaches and their ideologies – Cruyff's flair and Louis van Gaal's pragmatism. The van Gaal element, sadly, went missing on the big Champions League night.

As it is often the case in modern-day football, ten Hag will be unlikely to get another go at the Champions League with the same team. Frenkie de Jong is Barcelona bound while de Ligt, Ziyech and Donny van de Beek are all being eyed up by big teams.

Spurs' history-making journey will see them clash against Liverpool in an all-English Champions League final in Madrid on 1 June. Regardless of what they achieve in the final, the 2018/19 season will be considered a massive success by Spurs after making no addition to an already thin squad in the two transfer windows of the season. In fact, Spurs' last signing was in January 2018 – Lucas Moura from PSG.

Note: Details of the Lucas Moura transfer was mentioned in Sir Alex Ferguson's book 'Leading' (2015)

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 10:08:40 IST