When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed Tottenham manager little under eighteen months ago, many Spurs fans were disappointed. Pochettino had never won a trophy; he had left Espanyol in the relegation mire; and arrived at a time when Spurs fans were more disillusioned than ever with the ENIC regime. Yet 18 months on Spurs fans appreciate a manager who may be their best of the Premier League era. He has created the fittest and hungriest Spurs side in a generation, a side that has left Spurs fans wondering if they can once again join the Champions League elite.
Pochettino has implemented his Bielsa-inspired pressing style of football excellently at Tottenham. For many years Spurs have been known as a side that is lacklustre and spineless; a side that requires moments of inspiration, from the likes of Gareth Bale and Dimitar Berbatov, to win games. For many years this was accurate. Not anymore. This season Tottenham have made more tackles per game than any other team; they have made the second highest number of sprints; and they have covered the second highest distance per game. Mercurial players like Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela now work hard to press in the final third of the pitch. The results of this hard work are manifest. Tottenham are unbeaten since the opening day, have the third best defence in the league, and have conceded just three times at the hands of Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Pochettino has built this work ethic by choosing carefully the players he relies on. Gone are the skilled but lazy ‘mercenaries’ of yesteryear such as Etienne Capoue; Emmanuel Adebayor; and Aaron Lennon. He has preferred to place his trust in those who will listen and can adapt. One such example is Ryan Mason, who having made his Spurs debut in 2008 made just three appearances in the following six years. At the age of 23 many Spurs fans thought it was just a matter of time before he was released but he listened to Pochettino’s ideas and in return the manager trusted him. He made his first appearance that season against Nottingham Forest in the Capital One Cup and four days later he made his Premier League debut in the North London Derby. Mason excelled that day as Tottenham drew 1-1 and has gone on to play 36 times for Tottenham in the league and become a full England international. Mason’s success has been replicated throughout the club as young, hungry players like Rose; Kane; Bentaleb; Dier have bought into this new ideology and become crucial parts of the clubs growth.
Tottenham finally have a real chance of qualifying for the Champions League
Pochettino is also a ‘Head Coach’ in the strictest sense of the role, taking a limited rol
e in choosing the players Tottenham buy. This goes against previous Spurs managers such as Redknapp and Villas-Boas, who both clashed with the board on transfers. This has allowed Spurs to buy effectively in the transfer market over the past two years. They have bought Eric Dier and Dele Alli both of whom have shot through U21 level and up into the England squad under Pochettino’s tuition. They have also bought some more experienced players like Toby Alderweireld, who has formed a dominant partnership with Jan Vertonghen, and Heung-min Son who is a coup for a club not in the Champions League.
As a result of all this Tottenham finally have a real chance of qualifying for the Champions League in a season where most pundits gave them no hope. They have one of the best keepers in the league in Hugo Lloris; a solid defence marshalled by Vertonghen and Alderweireld; tenacity with Dier and Alli in midfield; and an attacking threat with Son, Eriksen and the outstanding Harry Kane. It is the most exciting time to be a Spurs fan since the Redknapp years and maybe they can emulate the 2009-10 side and qualify for the Champions League this season. Or maybe they’ll emulate every other Spurs side since and melt with the snow in the spring. That will be the true benchmark of just how far Tottenham have progressed.