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.


Tunisia told to forget about England defeat ahead of Belgium clash

Updated 22 June 2018
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Tunisia told to forget about England defeat ahead of Belgium clash

  • Tunisia still confident despite last-gasp defeat to England on Monday.
  • Eagles of Carthage come up against highly fancied Belgium.

LONDON: Nabil Maaloul has called on Tunisia to forget about the defeat to England and concentrate on the task at hand: Beating Belgium today.
The Eagles of Carthage lost 2-1 in their opener to England on Monday to leave them needing to get a result against Eden Hazard and Co. in Moscow. Getting a result against the highly fancied Belgians will not be easy, not least because they looked sharp during their 3-0 victory over Panama.
But Maaloul is certain his side can make their mark in Russia, having held England at bay for all bar the last minute.
“If we had got a draw it would have been an excellent result for us (against England), but hopefully this will lead to higher levels of concentration in the coming games,” Maaloul said.
Tunisia will not make life easy for Belgium as they seek to provide a bright spot in a poor World Cup for African sides, with Egypt and Morocco already out.
“We lost a battle, but not the war,” Tunisian forward Fakhreddine Ben Youssef said of the England game.
The Belgians want to win at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow to avoid making their final group game against England on June 28 a make-or-break qualification affair.
Romelu Lukaku netted twice in the victory over Panama, but bar the scoreline, the match was notable for the rough treatment dished out to Hazard. The Belgium playmaker was tightly marked and occasionally clattered by Central Americans.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez hopes the Chelsea player will not get the same treatment from Tunisia.
“It is a worry that in any of those tackles he could really get hurt,” said Belgium’s Spanish coach.
“It doesn’t worry me if that is just their way of trying to stop him.”
History favors the Belgians. They are yet to lose to African opposition at a World Cup, while Tunisia have never beaten a European side at a finals.
The experienced Oussama Haddadi is set to replace Ali Maaloul at left-back in the Tunisian defense and Martinez saw plenty of danger for his team in the north Africans’ opening 2-1 defeat to England.
“They have a lot of bravery and they’re very dynamic,” Martinez said. “The players have a good understanding between each other and they can bring energy and intensity on counter-attacks. They play direct, efficient football.”
After seeing Lukaku and Dries Martens grab the goals against 
Panama, Hazard wants to add some goals of his own.
Hazard, whose younger brother Thorgan is also in a squad considered to be Belgium’s best for decades, is aware of the thirst for success back home.
“We knew it before the tournament. People say that Belgium would win every game but it’s not that simple,” said Hazard. “We want to win, we won the first game and have another one Saturday against Tunisia. We take it game after game.”
Belgium, ranked third in the world, reached the quarterfinals of Brazil 2014 and are aiming to match their previous best of reaching the semifinals at Mexico 1986.
There was some good news for Martinez on Thursday when Barcelona center-back Thomas Vermaelen trained for the first time in Russia.
Likewise Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, who like Vermaelen is 32, is expected to return on Friday.