Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are names you probably have never heard of. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is something that you must have unless you’ve locked yourself away in a bomb shelter during the cold war and have since refused to come out until now.
These four words, in this sequence, should have no correlation to the one beside it, but it does. That is because the two gentlemen mentioned above had the spunk to validate their whims.
‘Tottenham, Champions League Finalists,’ carried with it the same kind of unlikeliness. Manager Mauricio Pochettino paired up with chairman Daniel Levy to make this whimsy a reality. But like Eastman and Laird’s spit due to creative differences, the Argentine manager had to leave Tottenham in the last 72 hours despite making a team of also-rans into contenders. This was arguably his life’s work.
Jose Mourinho was appointed manager by Daniel Levy, wasting little time. But the outpouring of sympathy for Pochettino has, for once, taken the limelight away from Portuguese ringmaster and two-time Champions League winner. Mourinho will remind you with a drop of a hat, or even in the utter absence of any headgear obeying one of Newton’s Laws, that he has also won 13 domestic titles, and has done so in four different countries: Portugal, England, Spain and Italy. Mauricio Pochettino, for all the goodwill engendered, has none still.
All Pochettino has to show for all the countless hours of stress, delegation, strategising, and sacrifice is a severance package and two runners-up medals (League Cup 2014-15, Champions League 2018-19).
His achievements, like Eastman’s, will be resigned to the footnotes, while Levy and Laird continued with their franchises steady upward growth. That said, the purpose of pieces such as this is to hold a wagging forefinger at such reductionist narrative and reaffirm that Mauricio Pochettino was no pointless bubble in the hot water spring of history.
Very few managers have neutrals rooting for him, but Pochettino is one of them. Him welling up in tears following Tottenham’s win at the Johan Cruyff Arena endeared him to the world indefinitely.
There was truth in that moment. So much of what a manager puts out in front of the camera is contrived and pre-written in their heads, Pochettino seemed more human than others.
Mauricio Pochettino stood for something. He made football aware of itself. Collectively, we in a time when symptoms are looked to be cured than the actual disease and managers are sacrificed in the high altar with stockholders instead of the chairman downing the thumb. Pochettino’s term in Tottenham was proof that financial prudence and improvement were not mutually exclusive in football.
£29m was the total net spend in player transfers from the point of his appointment to Tottenham’s Champions League final run. Tottenham’s rivals for the top six have in that period outspent the London club by at least £100m.
Manchester City (£518m), Manchester United (£466m), Arsenal (£225m), Chelsea (£200m) and Liverpool (£183m), the eventual finalist had more options to call upon from their bench. Mauricio
Pochettino, like Don Quixote, saw giants everywhere and was going against them, chest-puffed with only a lance in hand.
The tight purse strings at Tottenham wasn’t without reason. Chairman Daniel Levy had meetings with Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust (THST) to assuage their agitations. The stadium relocation away from White Hart Lane meant cut-backs were inevitable.
Pochettino understood the limitations of his requests for funds and looked forward to the day that Tottenham could boast a state-of-the-art stadium of their own. Since then, the new sixty-two thousand-seater Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has become one of the largest capacity stadia in London. But sadly, Pochettino will not remain to see the glory nights wash over it. Despite leading Spurs to their most successful period in recent history, success was subjective.
There was dignity in Pochettino’s attempt. There is respect for him but more than that there is sympathy. There was a sense of almost there but not quite about Pochettino’s Spurs. There were occasions that his team would have completely outmanoeuvred the favourites convincingly (4-1 vs Liverpool, 22nd October 2017) but even then they wore a look of pretenders to a crown.
There was invalidity in Tottenham’s identity that Pochettino hasn’t been able to shake off. So much so that when they lost in the dying embers to one of the more esteemed teams, it felt routine.
Even when they were on a winning run, and aiming for the Premier League title last season there was a deep-rooted sense of disbelief that would make sense if it exuded from the likes of Leicester or VfL Wolfsburg.
Despite the moments to last a lifetime, for instance, Ajax, 2018-19 Champions League semi-final, Tottenham seemed to be surprised to be there, lovestruck with the romance of it.
They seemed to be convinced of the underdog narrative others were peddling on their behalf, selling themselves short when the final came around. There’s no denying that the last four months of Tottenham was entropy playing itself out.
Pochettino reportedly was snubbed in the dressing room by Harry Kane, while Danny Rose kept throwing his toys our of the pram refusing to sign on a contract extension.
Jose Mourinho brings iron-clad pragmatism and none of that wishy-washy wonderment. Trophies, points and good football - in that order. Mourinho’s more about a theme, and conservation of energy, slyness and sleight of feet, and less about the knife-edge thrill.
Pochettino embodied the Bielsa code of garnering growth through suffering. What exactly made Pochettino’s Tottenham enviable is what became their weakness. Daniel Levy and Tottenham have decided that they want to suffer less and win more, run less and win more. A proven winner, Jose Mourinho may be the next step in Tottenham’s journey of self-realisation.
It is true that Pochettino helped nurture the talents of Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen, Moussa Sissoko, Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, to a world-class level, but if not when Tottenham start winning trophies, not many people will remember Mauricio Pochettino. C’est la vie.
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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2019 13:26:21 IST