Mauricio Pochettino sets out to ‘repair the damage’ of Spurs’ Champions League heartbreak
Sept. 17, 2019
ATHENS, GREECE – There are two models for Mauricio Pochettino as he prepares to take Tottenham Hotspur into a fresh Champions League season. Both are German.
One is Jürgen Klopp. Three months ago, Pochettino stood where the Liverpool manager once stood, trying to marshal his thoughts after defeat in a Champions League final.
Klopp had responded to the loss of one final by winning the next one, transferring the pain he felt to another man. “It affected me for a long time after the final in Madrid ,” said the Tottenham manager as he prepared his side for their opening group game against Olympiakos.
“Being honest, I was thinking a lot about it during the summer. To finish that way in a final is always so painful. You can’t put out the feeling of losing the last game of the season. You have to wait to repair the damage.”
Klopp or Toppmöller?
He would not quite contemplate repeating what Liverpool had achieved. “No one today will make us one of the contenders to be in the final in Istanbul,” he said. “I don’t care if people think we are contenders or not because we went to the final. I don’t care. I am focused on starting the Champions League in a good way.”
The other role model is Klaus Toppmöller, who in 2002 took Bayer Leverkusen past Liverpool and Manchester United to reach the Champions League final. After United were beaten, Toppmöller declared it “a night for wine and cigarettes”.
Soon Toppmöller would need the fags. The final, at Hampden Park, was lost to Real Madrid. Leverkusen’s attempt to win a German league and cup double collapsed in the final furlongs. The following season they were nearly relegated.
Before Saturday’s swaggering 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace, there were some who thought Tottenham might face a season, if not of relegation, then of struggle. Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen had unresolved, rapidly running-down contracts, Pochettino could not hide his dissatisfaction. Defeat at home to Newcastle appeared an omen. Last Thursday, Pochettino called a team meeting where home truths were shared. Then came the command performance against Crystal Palace.
However, this might be the last hurrah for the Spurs that Pochettino inherited and built. Perhaps significantly, he has talked about the importance of silverware this season, whereas like his mentor, Marcelo Bielsa, his main focus had always been on the quality of the performance rather than what it brought.
“Our last big adventure? You never know. In football anything can happen,” he said. “A few players have started the last year of their contract but that is in the hands of the club and the club will take the best decisions to be competitive every season. The trust is massive. All that was affecting different players is now in the past. We are focused on trying to perform in our best way. At the end of the season, we will see what happens.”
For Pochettino and for Olympiakos’s manager, Pedro Martins, this match is not the only focus. On Sunday, Olympiakos face Panathinaikos in what in Athens they call “the derby of the eternal enemies”. Spurs have seven matches in 21 days. Martins will probably field his strongest side while Pochettino will not.
Nevertheless, the careering, seat-of-the-pants ride that took them to the Champions League final has changed Tottenham. Where before they might have been viewed in Greece as London’s third team, who once played very well against Inter Milan, they are Champions League finalists.
They may not yet be European royalty but Spurs earned themselves an earldom by reaching Madrid.
The Greek press did ask Pochettino about the flares, the noise and the smoke Spurs can expect inside the Karaiskakis Stadium but he was more often asked about how big a favourite Tottenham now were. Pochettino preferred to talk about the atmosphere. “I am Argentinian,” he said. “I like to play where the fans are tough.”
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