Time is running out for Mauricio Pochettino’s underachieving Tottenham

Mauricio Pochettino and his Tottenham side were left to rue yet another defeat and early exit in the Champions League. (AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Time is running out for Mauricio Pochettino’s underachieving Tottenham

LONDON: When Juventus’ triumphant defender Giorgio Chiellini made a throwaway comment in the aftermath of his side’s Champions League victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, it was used by the press as little more than an easy soundbite for the next day’s newspapers.
“It was very difficult, and we knew that before the match and also before the first game, but we believed in the win, because Tottenham always create chances to score — but they always miss something at the end,” the Italian said. “It’s the history of Tottenham.”
And looking at that history, not to mention how much is in the club’s coffers, it is hard to disagree with him. “Missing something at the end” seems a more fitting adage than Tottenham’s current motto “To dare is to do.” For all the wealth the club has accrued in the Premier League era and the plethora of talented players who have pulled on the famous white jersey over the years, it is nearly six decades since the north London club last won a league title. They have won just one League Cup since the turn of the century.
It is true that Tottenham have always played the game “the right way” — N17’s finest have always been proponents of a slick, incisive brand of football — but all too often the end result has been missing. For decades, Spurs sides have shown brief flashes of style, but not enough substance. They have promised so much, and delivered far too little.
Yet, when manager Mauricio Pochettino arrived in 2014, there was a distinct sense that Tottenham Hotspur could, at last, fulfil their potential. There was palpable hope that they could muscle in on the big boys of Europe and warrant their place at the top table of English football.
The affable Argentine very quickly created something magical at White Hart Lane, and bar a few teething problems, has continued to create it at Spurs’ current temporary home of Wembley. At the dawn of each season, Spurs are tipped as potential champions of England. This season, they were a lot of people’s “dark horses” for a run at European glory (this writer included). And then, on Wednesday evening, that burning flame of hope in the hearts of Tottenham fans everywhere was unceremoniously extinguished in three crazy second-half minutes. Juventus showed all their experience and nous to win the tie, their “will to win” was there for all to see at Wembley.
And it prompted the question: How long can this Spurs side show promise before we have to deem them — given the talent they have — as one of the biggest crop of underachievers in the history of English football? After every near miss, after every heartbreaking knockout defeat, Pochettino says his side are “getting closer” or that they are “still growing into something great.”
Even on Wednesday, the Argentine said that he was very disappointed, that the defeat was “part of growing” and that his side “will keep going.” He has been saying that since Leicester City inexplicably pipped them to the title two years ago.
And almost weekly, football experts say that with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Pochettino at the club, a trophy is “just around the corner” for this Tottenham side — that they are within touching distance of becoming a great side.
Unfortunately, nobody remembers sides that almost won trophies or nearly became a great side.
The truth is, time is running out for Pochettino. The likes of Kane and Alli, or Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier, will not hang around forever. The nucleus of this almost-great team will disappear without any tangible evidence of success.
And while Pochettino is undoubtedly a very talented manager, without titles or trophies, he could end up going down in history as the man who blew it with one of the most promising and exciting teams the English game has ever seen.


Ali Al-Habsi confident of prolonged Al-Hilal success under Jorge Jesus after Super Cup win

Updated 19 August 2018
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Ali Al-Habsi confident of prolonged Al-Hilal success under Jorge Jesus after Super Cup win

  • Eduardo had been absent since December after suffering the dreaded cruciate knee ligament injury
  • He made his competitive comeback against Al-Shabab on Sunday but announced his full return to form and fitness against Al-Ittihad in London

LONDON: Ali Al-Hasbi was thrilled Carlos Eduardo emerged as the star of the Saudi Super Cup final, believing his goal was a fitting reward for the torment he went through during his spell out injured.
Eduardo had been absent since December after suffering the dreaded cruciate knee ligament injury in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final with Urawa Reds.
He had a complex operation in Brazil and has spent this year building up the strength in his knee with some long and lonely hours in the gym.
He made his competitive comeback against Al-Shabab on Sunday but announced his full return to form and fitness against Al-Ittihad in London on Saturday night, scoring the first in a 2-1 win over the Tigers.
The nature of his celebration – a double knee slide to the corner – demonstrated the confidence he now has in the joint and the relief that his injury hell is over.
“It’s fantastic for him,” Al-Habsi, the Omani goalkeeper, told Arab News as he did a lap of honor with the trophy around the pitch.
“He has been out for seven months and to come back, play like that, score a goal is fantastic. It’s unbelievable as it was a bad injury and he had to work really hard to recover.”
Gelmin Rivas got the second goal to ensure Jorge Jesus launched his reign as coach by winning the Saudi Super Cup, making a statement in the process that Al-Hilal will again be the team to beat this season.
“It’s fantastic to get a start like this,” said Al-Habsi. “It’s a brilliant to win a derby game and it’s always tough against them. We have made the fans very happy and we can now push for the start of the season. I believe we can win a lot of trophies if we can push hard.”
Jesus came in to replace Ramon Diaz who, ironically, was in charge of Al-Ittihad on Saturday night. Jesus won everything in Portugal and he is expected to deliver similar success at Al-Hilal.
“He’s been fantastic since he has come in,” said Al-Habsi. “We did some good work with him in Austria, he has got some good ideas and I think we are going to do well under him. It’s the perfect start that we won this trophy under him.”
Al-Habsi turns 37 in December and this is his 20th season as a professional, but he is showing no signs of aging and looks set to start the season as No. 1 ahead of Abdullah Al-Mayouf.
“I still feel very good,” he said. “I feel very fit and I am very pleased. I’m really enjoying life at Al-Hilal. It’s a massive club.”
The game in Loftus Road, in front of more than 16,000 boisterous fans, was quite the introduction to football in Saudi Arabia for Aleksandar Pesic. The Serbian arrived at Al-Ittihad this summer from Red Star Belgrade and he made a difference after coming on as a half-time substitute.
“The first half we didn’t play very well but we were more attacking in the second half after the coach changed things,” he told Arab News. “But we conceded two goals because of mistakes. But this is football. It was a very strong game.”
Al-Ittihad finished ninth last season but they should be aiming much higher than that this season on the evidence of things against Al-Hilal.
“If we play like this in the league, I think we will have a good chance for the championship,” Pesic said. “Maybe we win, maybe we lose but we will always give 100 percent, then I believe we can do good things. We will try to be champions.”
It will be a tough ask to finish ahead of Al-Hilal, though. They won the league last season and look even stronger following the additions of Alberto Botia, Andre Carrillo and Omar Abdulrahman.
“It’s a very good team, a very compact team with a good coach and good players,” said Pesic. “They are very tough to play against and I’m sure they will have a strong season.”