For all that has been positive under Mauricio Pochettino for Tottenham, one thing has been clear; success is measured in trophies and to date, Spurs haven’t truly accomplished anything.
Their title chase is turning into a half-hearted determination to keep the side motivated but realistically, trophies are available elsewhere. The side have reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup and the (dependent on Thursday’s result) Europa League still poses a slim chance for grandeur. Not only do Tottenham need something to show for their growth spurt, but the man at the helm of it all, Mauricio Pochettino, needs to know what it feels like to become a champion.
Winning trophies is what makes the manager. You can conjure up decent sides who compete at the highest level consistently but an absence in silverware means you’re soon forgotten. History is marked by being the best and being that means obtaining to show for it. Take Jose Mourinho for instance. Over his career, he has prioritised cup glory when league ambitions represent so little. Even this season, with a squad that seems lacking in the typical attributes of a Mourinho side; namely defensive resoluteness and manpower, Man Utd find themselves in a final this weekend. When it seemed everybody had else abandoned the EFL Cup, the hairs on Mourinho’s neck spiked up. He saw an opportunity. If they go on to beat Southampton this weekend, already, Mourinho will have created a dressing room that knows what it feels like to win a domestic trophy in this country. They won the FA Cup last season, but with new managers and faces, they are rebuilding a winning culture that was lost post-Ferguson. That, despite his disputed approach to game, especially from a United perspective, is why he was recruited. Van Gaal stumbled into an FA Cup, Mourinho looks like winning on his first attempt.
Tottenham, despite having finished above Manchester United since Ferguson’s retirement, have nothing but one year’s Champions League qualification to show for it. As a club, the word was that a place in Europe’s elite rather than another redundant journey in the Europa League was progression for the club. Reflecting upon that, it is important that you can walk before even attempting to run. Spurs tripped, stumbled and faltered through their Champions League campaign; the worst type of triple jump. The other three, all of whom have won trophies in the past two and a half years, progressed. The club should, and based on the last few years, will learn from their mistakes.
A hefty portion of the blame lies with Pochettino. Suffice to say, he has been excellent for Tottenham, but that one tangible to show for his accomplishments is missing. His playing career as an Argentinian international who represented Newell’s Old Boys, Espanyol and Paris Saint Germain accrued three major honours: one winning the Primera Division with Newell’s Old Boys and two Copa Del Rey wins with Espanyol. Make what you will of winning the title in Argentina, but two Copa Del Rey scalps is important. He went into management extremely young after retiring as a player with Espanyol in early 2009 and led the club to a mid-table finish once labelled as the man to save them from a relegation scrap. A few years on in November 2012, Pochettino and Espanyol mutually agreed to end his contract with the club in disarray both on and off the pitch. He had left his mark. Espanyol had a culture of pressing high up the pitch, for implementing 4-2-3-1 and for promoting academy products. This time, it just didn’t work out. Soon after, Southampton sought out his expertise and his reputation grew outside of Spain. He’s left a Pochettino-sized imprint on every club he has managed, but regrettably, he didn’t guide any of those sides to silverware.
There have been arguments to suggest that these Marcelo Bielsa ‘disciples’ tend to prioritise football purity and tenacious, intense tactics over game management and the desire to be ruthless, but in his reign at Spurs, Pochettino has learned to adapt. Even this season, Tottenham have employed three at the back and enjoyed one of their most momentous runs of form with that very formation. He’s moulding his own style and is a coach regarded on his own merit. That argument has been put to bed. Frankly speaking, he can be one of the best in the world.
All the signs are there that Pochettino is accumulating different experiences, both torrid and glorious, to muster up a template for realising his possibilities as a manager. The sides he fielded against both Gent and Fulham were testament to that, but the balance with the significance of the Premier League remains a constant obstacle in the search for glory. They lost to Gent, but none of the blame lay with Pochettino. They swiftly put aside Fulham; a fixture little had any optimism heading into given the week that had come before. Had Tottenham lost to Wycombe in the 4th round, he would likely have gone another year trophy-less. Fortunately, enough of the parts functioned. He had Dele Alli to change the game, £17m Vincent Janssen and £20m (?) Son were too strong for the League Two side. Tottenham were, like any side needs to be, beneficiaries of good fortune. With that running out, a near enough strongest XI barring Lloris and Dier took to the field at Craven Cottage and now, it’s probable that Pochettino will replicate that in the last ever FA Cup game to be played at White Hart Lane.
The fans are getting to a breaking point, it’s coming up to ten years since Ledley King lifted the League Cup in 2008. In no way is this breaking point hazardous to Pochettino’s tenure at Tottenham, but it’s certainly his first complication. Back in 2008, it felt like Tottenham were buying time and had done enough to end a nine year drought, now, winning something feels like it could be the first piece in an extremely extravagant puzzle. Most meaningfully, Pochettino needs to experience glory first hand.
Tottenham isn’t the same job as Southampton or Espanyol, it’s a job where the fundamentals require winning finals. While the enjoyment for his style breeds immediate respect, patience wears thin in a job where trophies are a necessity.