Before Tuesday night, Juventus had won ten games in a row and hadn’t conceded in sixteen.
Those statistics put Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at the Juventus Stadium into context but it was just the latest result in a season of sterling performances.
Wins against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, and Manchester United punctuate an impressive run of form that sees the Lilywhites retain their rightful place amongst the top four in English football.
Still, however, a vocal minority questions Pochettino’s achievements. The lack of a top-level trophy, they say, means that his successes are irrelevant.
It is a nonsense claim.
Unless that trophy is the Premier League or Champions League, winning it isn’t enough to validate your ability. Just ask Arsene Wenger, winner of three FA Cups in the past four seasons, about his job security.
The very fact that Pochettino’s side are competitive against Old Boys like Juventus (finalists in two of the last three years) or Real Madrid in the Champions League is a testament to his managerial nous. In a field that is becoming increasingly skewed, his side are punching well above their weight.
His transfer acumen cannot be questioned, either. Consider the following arrivals during his first year at Tottenham: Ben Davies was an average fullback locked in a battle with Neil Taylor at Swansea; Eric Dier was an obscurity from Sporting Lisbon; Dele Alli was a teenager from MK Dons.
It’s not enough to point out his successes in the transfer market, though. Look at how far those three players have progressed in the intervening years. Dier and Alli are shoo-ins for the England World Cup squad, whilst Davies is one of the best left-backs in the league.
That’s before you even consider the fact that Pochettino built his attack around an unknown youth team player that season – a certain Harry Kane.
The pattern repeats itself. Kieran Trippier, Son-Heung Min and Toby Alderweireld arrived in 2015 and all three are vital members of the first team two seasons later.
The Trippier signing is particularly important. With Kyle Walker sealing a £50 million move to Manchester City in the summer, there were concerns that his pace and width would prove a real loss to the Tottenham attack.
Instead, his absence has barely registered, with the former Burnley man making a seamless transition from the bench.
It is a testament to Pochettino’s ability to make players better. Christian Eriksen was a talented frustration before the Argentine’s arrival; he finished second only to Kevin De Bruyne for assists last year. Moussa Dembélé was a languid number ten at Fulham: now, he is arguably the most complete midfielder in England.
Pochettino has been equally astute with outgoings, too. Emmanuel Adebayor and Younes Kaboul were problematic influences in the dressing room, whose departures were skilfully managed.
Again, the pattern repeats itself. Paulinho, Andros Townsend and Federico Fazio were remnants of a laissez-faire era. They weren’t good enough so they were let go with nary an irksome headline in sight.
Spurs: a club again
This article could go in-depth about Pochettino’s on-field successes: pushing Arsenal all the way for a Champions League place in his debut year via the goals of a youth team player on whom he’d taken a massive gamble; finishing above City and United in his second year to qualify for an automatic place in the same competition; finishing second with 86 points last year.
In each of his three campaigns, the improvement in his Spurs side has been tangible, bucking a continental trend that sees a shrinking cabal of teams finish comfortably at the top of their tables.
What is most impressive about Pochettino, however, is his ability to inculcate his players into an overarching strategy. It’s a skill for which José Mourinho often receives luscious praise – the knack of cultivating a ‘them-or-us’ mentality, a commitment that wrings every ounce of effort from a rapt squad.
Pochettino does the same thing with significantly less money. The restrictions of Spurs’ wage structure have been well-publicised, but the Argentine has convinced his players to overlook their comparatively-lower earnings to be part of something that feels significant.
Players who have stepped out of line, such as Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, have been either sold or frozen out until they get back on board. He has transformed a team of underperforming mercenaries into a lean, cohesive unit capable of beating any team in Europe.
A trophy would be nothing more than a bow around what is an already-generous gift. Pochettino doesn’t need one to be regarded as one of the league’s best managers – he already is.
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