What a ride it was. There have already been enough post-mortems of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham during the death throes of his magnificent five-and-a-half-year reign, so now is the time to celebrate an incredible and unexpected journey.
When he replaced Tim Sherwood in May 2014, Pochettino inherited a bloated, ego-riven squad and found a club lacking direction and divided,
with an increasingly apathetic fanbase. He quickly detected a fragile, ‘Spursy’ mentality.
The Argentine soon became a golden thread of unity, running from the boardroom to the terraces, imbuing the entire club with his values and philosophy, centred on work ethic and a strong sense of the collective. He took supporters to heights they never dreamed of. He leaves behind a far bigger club in every respect.
In his first interview as boss, Pochettino promised supporters he would “make them proud”. Job done. No Spurs fan will forget the joy and exhilaration.
Against the odds, Pochettino led Spurs to the brink of being kings of Europe, while operating on a fraction of his rivals’ resources and sticking to the club’s core traditions of attractive, attacking football and developing young players.
If the Champions League Final itself remains a bittersweet memory, the dreamlike run to Madrid will always be iconic, unforgettable. Particularly that night in Amsterdam, when Pochettino burst screaming onto the pitch, roared during the frenzied celebrations and wept afterwards in front of the TV cameras as he was confronted with the magnitude of what he had achieved.
Above any other occasion, the 3-2 win at Ajax will contribute to a lasting bond between Pochettino and Spurs supporters, but it was far from the only memorable moment he inspired, going all the way back to his first game in charge, when Eric Dier surged past West Ham goalkeeper Adrian in stoppage-time.
There were so many other great matches, it is hard to pick a top 10, a top 20 even. Every fan will have their favourite. There was the dismantling of Jose Mourinho’s soon-to-be-champions Chelsea in January 2015, when Pochettino’s relentless pressing machine came of age in a 5-3 win at White Hart Lane.
Victory at Manchester City had Spurs dreaming of the title a year later and the following season, the last at the Lane, they were unbeaten at their famous old ground, along the way inflicting a first defeat in English football on Pep Guardiola.
A home victory over Arsenal signposted the long-awaited north London power shift to come and Pochettino beat Antonio Conte at his own game in a 2-0 win over Chelsea in January 2017.
And the joy of the final game at the Lane — a win over Manchester United and the parade of legends under a rainbow.
The move to Wembley was just another challenge met fearlessly by Pochettino, and even as Daniel Levy pulled the purse strings ever tighter, he continued to produce miracles.
The scintillating victory over European champions Real Madrid followed, as well as a thrashing of Liverpool and further wins over Arsenal and Chelsea. There were victorious visits to Old Trafford and even Stamford Bridge, as vintage hoodoos were broken.
Even when Spurs made the unprecedented decision not to change their squad in summer 2018, the landmarks kept coming, notably those surreal nights at City and Ajax.
All of those victories ultimately belong to Pochettino, above anyone else.
While not blameless for his own demise, he has been the beating heart of the club’s transformation, his work the reason Mourinho has accepted Levy’s call at the third time of asking. Pochettino’s fingerprints are all over everything great about this Spurs era.
From Harry Kane’s emergence and all those records to Dele Alli’s rise; from the transformation of Heung-min Son to the majesty of Mousa Dembele — one of Pochettino’s “five geniuses”, who had Sami Khedira chasing shadows in the 2-2 draw at Juventus; from the rampaging peak of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose to the classy resolve of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld; from Christian Eriksen’s brilliance to Eric Dier’s dependability.
The only significant caveat to Pochettino’s remarkable work is Tottenham’s lack of silverware.
Despite leading them to two finals — the 2015 League Cup and the 2019 Champions League — and three semi-finals — two in the FA Cup and one in the League Cup — Spurs remain without a trophy since 2008 and the manager’s detractors have repeatedly used it as a stick to beat him with.
This criticism is to miss the point and anyone wondering if Pochettino’s reign is somehow less for the absence of silverware, or who believes it was not really an era at all, should think again.
The British philosopher, Alan Watts, argued that it is a mistake to view life as a journey, with an end destination firmly in mind. Watts instead saw existence as something playful, like music.
“All the time that ‘thing’ is coming,” Watts wrote. “It’s coming, it’s coming, that great ‘thing’ — the success you’ve been working for — but we cheated ourselves the whole way down the line. We thought of life as analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end. And the whole thing was to get to that end: success, or whatever it is.
But we missed the point all along. It was a musical thing and we were supposed to dance or sing.”
At the close, this is the best way to view Pochettino’s Spurs. Yes, Tottenham went on a journey under the 47-year-old, growing along the way, striving “step-by-step” to taste glory at the last.
Without silverware to show for it, it is easy to wonder if Pochettino’s pilgrimage never really reached its final destination. But it was a musical thing all along — and he made the Spurs fans dance and sing.