Pochettino pledges loyalty to Tottenham – for now
Manager denies that he is plotting a move to Spain But Argentine refuses to rule out switch in future
CHIEF SPORTS FEATURE WRITER
After an experience as ecstatic as beating Real Madrid at Wembley, the last thought that occurred to Mauricio Pochettino was sleep. Instead, he sat on a sofa in the manager’s room, away from his jubilant Tottenham players, to watch highlights of a 3-1 win that may resonate down the years. With assistant Jesus Perez beside him, not to mention long-time sidekicks Toni Jimenez and Miguel D’Agostino, he needed to convince himself that it had truly happened.
Later that evening, Pochettino received a WhatsApp message from Perez, heavy with sentiment. He does not elaborate, saying merely: “Sometimes, we don’t stop to realise what we are doing. But his message touched me inside. When I got home, it was difficult for me to express my feelings. I just replied, ‘Thank you, Jesus. You are un crack, you are top’.” He ate a Halloween biscuit made by his wife, Karina, and poured himself a glass of Japanese whisky. Eventually, having tuned into Spanish radio to catch the latest on the Catalan election fall-out, he drifted off.
These are giddy days for Pochettino, whose transformation of Tottenham from perpetual nearly men into swaggering Champions League contenders has made him one of the most coveted managerial properties in Europe. It is the natural progression that no sooner has he vanquished Real Madrid than he finds himself the favourite to take over Zinedine Zidane’s job.
For Tottenham, it is a loss they dare not contemplate. What Real want, they usually get, especially where Tottenham are concerned. First it was Luka Modric, then it was Gareth Bale. One senses, though, that persuading chairman Daniel Levy to part with Pochettino will be rather like trying to prise a rifle from Charlton Heston. “From my cold dead hands …” Pochettino enjoys lavish patronage from Levy, right down to a grace-and-favour Bentley. True to form, the Argentine claims that he would prefer to drive his tiny Smart car, except that his wife uses it. One wonders, sometimes, whether this humility is all a little too deliberate. For all that he strives to project a modest image, he has just written a self-reverential book about his methods, in which he purports to have a “sixth sense” that “allows him to see others’ auras”.
Couple this with the fact that Pochettino entered into huddles with Spanish journalists after the victory over Real, and a suspicion grows that perhaps he is playing both sides. He denies this emphatically. “If you read my book, you will understand that I am not a person whose motivation is only himself,” he says. “At 45 years old, I love to feel part of a project, to share and create something special.” Pochettino’s authorised account of his 3½ seasons at Tottenham, called Brave New World, dwells much on the strength of his dynamic with Levy. This, the club’s fans can be sure, is no illusion. The manager glimpses a sensitive, convivial side to his chairman, renowned for his fearsome negotiating style.
“I speak every day with Daniel, and you feel how he cares about everything,” Pochettino says. “It is impossible not to feel proud about the future of Tottenham. Daniel is driving the project. A few weeks ago, we were at the new stadium with the architect, and you sensed that it was not an empty structure, but that there was soul, love, that people cared about every detail. Before I arrived at Tottenham, I heard, ‘It is so difficult to have a relationship with Daniel’. But I discovered a great man.”
For now, the results enable this level of gushing. The humbling of Real, so soon after a 4-1 demolition of Liverpool, invites predictions that Tottenham – who in three full league campaigns under Pochettino have finished fifth, third and second – could yet muster a title challenge. But they need to back up their upset of the 12-time champions of Europe with a win today over Crystal Palace, bottom of the Premier League, if they are to cast off their flaky image.
Suggestions that Pochettino will soon succumb to overtures from the Bernabeu are, he argues, premature. “I cannot guess what happens at Real Madrid or Barcelona. I don’t want to lie. Always I want to be honest and say, ‘I don’t think about tomorrow’. It doesn’t depend only on me, it depends on many circumstances. I like to be respectful, prudent, cautious, intelligent. For me, the most important club in the world is Tottenham. The emotion is real – I cannot fake it. Today, I do not change Tottenham for another club in the world because I am so involved, so focused. The club, the fans, provide us with an unbelievable life. It’s important for us to pay that back.”
Visionary: Mauricio Pochettino (second right) at a Spurs training session with (from left) goalkeeping coach Toni Jimenez, Michel Vorm and Serge Aurier