Mauricio Pochettino shows steel before Chelsea final
Argentinian willing to make the hard calls in a bid to win Spurs silverware
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have taken 14 points in the league on the back of goals in the final 10 minutes of matches. Photograph: Phil Cole
Mauricio Pochettino knows what it feels like to end a trophy drought – and we are not talking here about Tottenham Hotspur’s three pieces of silverware in the past 31 years. That has to be classed as a mere shortage.
When the Tottenham manager was in his playing pomp, he started the Copa del Rey final in 2000 for Espanyol against Atlético Madrid and his club were seeking to halt a run without a trophy that went back to 1940.
They did, winning 2-1, in a game that was partly remembered for how the Espanyol striker Raúl Tamudo headed the ball out of Toni Jiménez’s hands before scoring the opening goal. Jiménez is now Pochettino’s goalkeeping coach at Tottenham.
“It was a very special moment. After 60 years, Espanyol had won a trophy,” Pochettino said. “I was very happy for that. But, it was a long time ago.”
The Argentinian comes across as resolutely unsentimental; a ruthless, hard-edged professional and, if the approach has underpinned his man-management decisions in his eight months at Tottenham, it will certainly do so for Sunday’s League Cup final against Chelsea.
There are the inevitable selection issues but none more teasing than the one concerning the identity of the starting goalkeeper. Michel Vorm has played in every round of the competition, helping to set up the club for the prize that would fire Pochettino’s tenure.
The other option, though, is Hugo Lloris, the France captain and one of Europe’s finest goalkeepers. It would be heart-breaking for Vorm but surely Lloris has to start?
“It is always difficult to communicate to the players who are not in the squad,” Pochettino said.
“The players, like on the first day, need to understand that I am the boss. I decide the squad, I decide the starting XI. It is true that it is a final and an important game but the players need to accept my decision.”
Pochettino’s mind went back to another cup final from his playing days – the 2006 Copa Del Rey, during his second spell at Espanyol. Again, his club won – beating Real Zaragoza 4-1 – but, this time, Pochettino watched from the bench as an unused substitute.
But he insists that he respected the decision of the coach, Miguel Ángel Lotina, and he still felt a big part of the triumph.
“Always, I had respect for the decision from my manager,” Pochettino said. “If I didn’t play, one of my team-mates plays. When you are a player and you sign the contract, it is for training, for you to give your best in that. After, you have to wait for the decision of the manager.”
It is a novel idea – and a tough sell – that the notion of being a professional footballer is essentially about training hard, with the selection for matches representing some sort of cherry on top. But to Pochettino, the team ethic is everything.
He has spoken of how reputations mean nothing to him; how academy graduates are on an equal footing to multi-million pound signings and, also, of his desire to create a family atmosphere in the squad.
He has at least two players for each position and he has sought to interchange them during blocks of matches, which have come thick and fast. No top-flight team in England has played more games than Tottenham this season and they returned from Italy yesterday, after Thursday night’s Europa League last-32 exit against Fiorentina.
Chelsea have had a free week in which to prepare for Wembley.
The signs are that Pochettino is winning the battle to impose his ideology. In several positions he actually has more than two players, and there had been the suggestion of a clear-out in January yet only Kyle Naughton and Aaron Lennon departed. There are remarkably few out-of-favour players (Younès Kaboul, Étienne Capoue, Emmanuel Adebayor) and little dissent from the dressing-room. There is the general acceptance that everybody will get their games.
Pochettino laughed when he was asked whether José Mourinho’s current war footing might influence the cup final officials. His focus is on a Wembley win, on showing off the mentality of his squad to what will be a global audience. They will start as the underdogs but have already beaten Chelsea – and arch rivals Arsenal – this year.
“I never feel the pressure,” he said. “ I have a good relationship with Daniel [Levy, the chairman] and he has never put pressure on me to get a trophy.”
The notion of an Argentinian leading Tottenham to cup final glory appeals to the romantic element of the club’s support – think Ricky Villa, 1981. Pochettino just wants to win. Guardian Service