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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Football - By Oliver Brown

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

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