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.


IN PRAISE OF - FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 10 December 2018
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IN PRAISE OF - FIFA Club World Cup

LONDON: The Club World Cup gets underway on Wednesday in the UAE, with considerable worldwide interest this year. Following two previous victories with Ronaldo (below), Real Madrid are chasing a third successive title to match their Champions League treble. The Spanish giants are likely to face either River Plate or Boca Juniors from Argentina in the final on Dec. 22, a match that promises to be a mouthwatering spectacle.
The tournament, a simple concept of bringing the continental champions from around the world to decide the best club side on the planet, has struggled to entice football fans or TV companies.

Granted, it got off to a shaky start. In 2000, Corinthians took the title on home soil, but after the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner ISL, the following year’s edition was canceled. The tournament was not held again until 2005. Since then there has been a mix of winners from Europe and South America. Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad have earned a respectable fourth place in the past and Egypt’s Al-Ahly came third in 2006.
By hosting the tournaments away from the traditional European and South American power bases — Japan, Morocco and the UAE — FIFA is fulfilling its mandate of making football a global game. Fans who have no chance of seeing European superstars or talented sides from South America can see their heroes in action. The Club World Cup might never supersede the Champions League or Copa Libertadores, but it has grown in stature and has become a trophy worth winning.