TV View: Lots of pinching before Spurs get a slap of reality
Pochettino may have to delay rendezvous with star command
Ajax players celebrate after beating Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League semi-final first leg. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
“I’m pinching meself,” said Glenn Hoddle, the fella, a little like Manchester City perhaps, struggling to believe that here were Spurs in a Champions League semi-final, the last time they’d reached one well, the Champions League in old money – just the 10 years before Mauricio Pochettino was even a twinkle in his Ma and Da’s eyes.
Edgar Davids was doing a bit of pinching himself, emitting a quiet chuckle and a shake of the head when Gary Lineker asked him if, back in August, he could have anticipated Ajax reaching the semi-finals. Juventus certainly didn’t see it coming when they met the Dutch lads last month, so those of you who bet your house on a City-Juve semi-final pairing are now living under the stars.
Egdar, of course, has both Ajax and Spurs stamped in his career passport, so Rio Ferdinand asked him who he was rooting for. Readymade for the diplomatic corps, he said: “I love football!” A good answer, that.
And it’s been hard not to love the Champions League this season, so outstandingly bonkers has it been at times, one of the many highlights coming off the field during the week, as Gary reminded us, when Pochettino found his inner Buzz Lightyear:
“You know always you must dream with the moon if you want to get to the sky,” he’d said. “You need to settle your dreams. In the infinity and beyond. Because if you put your dream here and you don’t get this dream, you get maybe a bottle without water.”
Rio’s not too sure what language Pochettino was even speaking, but if he – Rio, not Pochettino – gets that Technical Director gig he’s been linked with at Manchester United, he might try that line in his first meeting, just to ensure he gets the funds to bring in some half decent players and replace the bottles of water that currently make up the squad.
And speaking of half decent. Matthijs de Ligt. “If, say, you were the director of football at a big club, is he the kind of player you’d like to sign,” asked Gary with a grin. “I see where you’re going,” Rio replied, but you’d imagine he was thinking, ‘too bloody right’.
Over on RTÉ Didi Hamann was telling us that the Dutch regard de Ligt as an even better defender than Virgil van Dijk, which left Richard Dunne’s mind boggling and possibly concluding that it’ll be 2031 before the Netherlands concede another goal with those two lads at the heart of their rear-guard.
BT, lest we’d forgotten, reminded us that de Ligt has big starry boots to fill at Ajax, their montage of greats who played for the club – Neeskens, Swart, Cruyff, Bergkamp, Van Basten, Rijkaard, and on and on and on – a gobsmacking reminder of their pedigree, (and that they have the loveliest kit in the history of football), although when we were shown the current crop getting off their bus it looked as though they’d sent their under-16 team.
“The baby-faced killers,” said Rio.
The BT panel swooned over the talents of their squad, but it’s often the way with English pundits, they’re in awe of the continentals’ technical abilities but remain convinced that they’ll be overcome by (a) high balls and (b) the noise from the home crowd. Like they have no big lads at the back, so would be undone by high balls lumped up to Llorente, and like they play in their local park in front of one man and two Jack Russells. Two wins and a draw from their visits to Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus this season would suggest that Ajax cope reasonably well on their travels to the behemoths of world football, like Spurs.
Off we went and, yes, Ajax were coping. “Outplayed, outpassed, out-thought,” said Gary at half-time, and he wasn’t referring to the visitors. And in reference to the man who gave them the lead, he actually went and said, “it’s very much been the Great Dutch de Beek-off in that first half”. People have been given community service for less.
(Just a quick and gentle note to the BT folk: showing a replay of an unsteady Jan Vertonghen vomiting as he left the pitch after sustaining a head injury wasn’t your finest hour, it might have been better to use the time to question the decision to put him back on the bloody pitch in the first place after he suffered the injury).
Any way, the Great Dutch de Beek’s goal proved to be the only one of the game, so it’s advantage Ajax. When Pochettino embraced their coach Erik ten Hag come full-time he covered his mouth and whispered something. We’re guessing: “You, my friend, are responsible for delaying my rendezvous with star command!”