Red-hot Poch

What is it that makes Spurs boss so good?

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

‘You love play­ing for him. You’d run through a brick wall for him, as he’s a lovely man’

Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino has the same rou­tine. He ar­rives at Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur’s train­ing ground in En­field, just off the M25, by 7.30am. He holds meet­ings with his staff, as most man­agers do, but then he po­si­tions him­self on a sofa in the play­ers’ can­teen, wait­ing for them to ar­rive.

Nor­mally, he is in place by 9am. If Spurs have lost, Po­chet­tino can some­times be seen just af­ter 8am, wait­ing to see if the play­ers come in any ear­lier, want­ing to get to work af­ter the set­back, and ob­serves their de­meanour, weighs up their moods.

“Gen­er­ally, he likes to be in early to dis­cuss the plan, the mes­sage of the day,” says a friend, who spoke to

Tele­graph Sport on con­di­tion of anonymity, given the sen­si­tiv­ity over Po­chet­tino’s fu­ture. “But he also likes to have con­nec­tions with peo­ple. He’s a peo­ple per­son, and his emo­tional in­tel­li­gence is so high, and so sen­si­tive, that he ac­tu­ally ob­serves the way peo­ple walk, they way they are, the way they in­ter­act with him.

“He can ac­tu­ally dis­sect whether there can be a prob­lem that day or the fol­low­ing day just by the en­ergy that is trans­mit­ted by that per­son com­ing into a room, how he com­mu­ni­cates, how he wel­comes the oth­ers. His skills in that area are ex­cep­tional.”

Po­chet­tino refers to this as his “sixth sense”, how he can an­a­lyse “auras” – and there is an aura around him. His Spurs side face Manch­ester United at Wem­b­ley to­day, and de­spite the im­pres­sive start Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer has made to his care­taker spell at United – five wins out of five and a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion of the mood around the club – Po­chet­tino re­mains United’s No1 tar­get.

In say­ing that, no fi­nal de­ci­sion has been made, and no ap­proach has been en­tered into – not least be­cause Po­chet­tino would not wel­come it at this time. All those who know him say the same thing – that he will work as hard as he can, stay fo­cused and al­low events to take a nat­u­ral course.

They also point out two things: that Po­chet­tino wants to work for a club who con­tinue to progress, who match his burn­ing am­bi­tion; and that he knows that in foot­ball things come along that are too at­trac­tive to turn down.

The “process” that United promised when they sacked Jose Mour­inho last month is gen­uinely be­ing run. All op­tions are be­ing con­sid­ered. Real Madrid are also strongly in­ter­ested in the 46-year-old Ar­gen­tine, while Po­chet­tino may, just as eas­ily, de­cide to re­main at Spurs, where he signed a new five-year con­tract last sum­mer.

It is easy to see why United are in­ter­ested. There is the com­mit­ment to de­vel­op­ing young play­ers, a strong at­tack­ing style of foot­ball and an over­all ap­proach which is akin to Pep Guardi­ola and Jur­gen Klopp, who take the roles of coach, friend and con­fi­dante with­out los­ing the play­ers’ re­spect.

Po­chet­tino has sim­i­lar traits to Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, not least in the pa­ter­nal ap­proach he cre­ates, the sense of fam­ily, of, for ex­am­ple, know­ing the name of ev­ery­one at the train­ing ground, of hav­ing a good sense of hu­mour and at­ten­tion to de­tail. But he also has what has be­come a buzz phrase of modern foot­ball: emo­tional in­tel­li­gence.

When he ar­rived at Southamp­ton, from Es­panyol, in Jan­uary 2013, he could not speak English. Yet within a cou­ple of weeks he had not only trans­formed the team’s play­ing style to make it far more pos­i­tive, but stunned the club by “char­ac­ter-ref­er­enc­ing” the en­tire first-team squad and of­fer­ing de­tailed analy­ses of them all.

“He’ll see it be­fore you see it,” said Dele Alli, while the for­mer Spurs mid­fielder Ryan Ma­son says: “You love play­ing for him. You’d run through a brick wall for him, be­cause he’s a lovely man. Don’t get me wrong – I would never, ever cross him, be­cause his morals and val­ues are so strong.”

An­dros Townsend dis­cov­ered that. He pushed Spurs fit­ness coach Nathan Gar­diner af­ter be­ing frus­trated at not play­ing in an FA Cup tie in Novem­ber 2015. Po­chet­tino was shown im­ages of the in­ci­dent as he left the White Hart Lane press room and Townsend never played for Spurs again.

“He’s a pro­tec­tor, he’s a cap­tain, he’s a leader,” says an­other source who works closely with Po­chet­tino. “You also know you are deal­ing with a man, and if you want to have con­flict and be ag­gres­sive he can more than hold his own in that arena as well.”

Po­chet­tino is also a worka­holic. He never switches off, is fully across all as­pects of sports med­i­cal sci­ence, con­di­tion­ing and psy­chol­ogy while sto­ries of him send­ing What­sApp mes­sages to play­ers such as Harry Kane, tips on how to im­prove, clips and matches to watch, are all true.

Po­chet­tino is well aware of two ac­cu­sa­tions lev­elled against him – that he does not like to work with “big play­ers” and has not (yet) won a tro­phy.

The first is dis­missed out of hand, given there are fewer big­ger play­ers in the Premier League than Kane, he has a World Cup-win­ning cap­tain in Hugo Lloris and he has man­aged to keep ev­ery­one happy at a club where money is not thrown around.

The sec­ond is more nu­anced. Of course, Po­chet­tino wants to win tro­phies, but what ap­peals to him is de­vel­op­ing a club. He has taken Spurs from be­ing a Eu­ropa League team to a Cham­pi­ons League team. He has changed their “land­scape”.

Can he take the next step and win things with them, or will United make their move and ask him to “re­set” them? “He will al­ways push the clubs he works for to be bet­ter,” the friend says.

At­tack­ing be­lief: Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino quickly trans­formed Spurs’ play­ing style when he was ap­pointed in 2013

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