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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)
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.