Guillem Balague’s new book about Mauricio Pochettino, titled “Brave New World,” was released earlier this week. Written as a “first person biography,” the book is essentially a Pochettino diary written over the course of the 2016-17 season.
Pochettino is unusually candid in this book, and you start to get a much clearer picture of what he’s like, not just as a manger, but as a person, too. There are tons of little nuggets of insight into Poche’s personal life, likes and dislikes.
We’re going to use a few of those nuggets for today’s theme. Here are the player ratings for Spurs’ 1-0 loss to Manchester United to the theme of Things Mauricio Pochettino Likes, drawn from “Brave New World.” (Now available for purchase.)
Mauricio Pochettino loves wine, something he says he developed a taste for while a player in France. He has bonded over wine with Daniel Levy and it is mentioned in numerous important or introspective parts of the book. It relaxes him. It grounds him.
“The wine was Argentinian: a Malbec. Whenever I am slightly down, I like to smell Argentinian wine. It makes me happy and takes me back to my country, to recognizable places, to when I was a boy, the redolence of the countryside where I lived until the age of eight, in that house with an orchard and horses... If I am challenged to some blind wine tasting, I quickly suss out which one is Argentinian, particularly Malbec.”
Toby Alderweireld: Yes, Spurs lost, but it wasn’t because their defense was poor. They mostly held Manchester United’s impressive offense in check at Old Trafford, and Toby was the best of the lot. He rarely put a foot wrong the entire game, and had some impressive last-ditch tackles when United tried to feed Lukaku over the top.
We know that Poch is a Marcelo Bielsa disciple from his years as a player at Newell’s Old Boys and Espanyol, but the book really hammers home just how much of an impact Bielsa had on him as a player and future manager. Even though it seems they’ve grown apart over the years and Poch doesn’t always agree with Bielsa’s latter-day tactics, I get the feeling even today he’d run through a brick wall for that man.
“Then there’s Bielsa. It’s no coincidence that so many of us who played under him at Newell’s from 1990 to 1993 became coaches... Bielsa made us understand the game and his passion was contagious.”
Jan Vertonghen: Take what I said about Toby above. Now subtract a half star for being ever-so-slightly complicit in Anthony Martial’s goal. Jan had a very good match overall.
Poch explicitly describes his ability to read the auras of people in his vicinity. Perhaps that’s why he considers himself a very good judge of character. Either Pochettino has a deep spiritual connection to other people, he grew up in a house inexplicably filled with crystals, or he’s an untrained Jedi. (I lean towards the latter.)
“Since those early days I’ve had the ability to notice something powerful that you can’t see, but does exist. A vital force, an energy field that makes the world go round, an aura that accompanies people, which gives lots of information about them. It’s in my skin, I feel it.”
Harry Winks: Not flashy, but once again very solid in a match where Spurs had difficulty getting things moving going forward. Was excellent at recycling possession and had the highest passing percentage of any player in Spurs’ starting 11.
Dele Alli: You just wonder what the tenor of the match would be had Dele turned that volley in front of goal past David De Gea. He was Spurs’ primary attacking threat, was active in the press. Squared up to Ashley Young, but kept in control.
Hugo Lloris: Martial’s goal was unstoppable, and he was very solid between the sticks otherwise, rushing out on a number of occasions to stop threats. Had three saves on the day.
One of the consistent threads in the book is how much Poch loved his time at Southampton and how sad he is that the fans don’t like him once he left. Poch is clear that he left the club after Nicola Cortese left Saints and he thought Soton were heading in a different direction. Nevertheless, at numerous times in the book he wonders internally why he ever left. Those years clearly had a lasting impact on him.
“During the difficult start to our tenure at Spurs, my staff and I began a ritual that we continue to this day. When I get out of the shower after training, I always say ‘Why did we leave Southampton to come to to Tottenham?’ Then I hang my towel on the wall and lean my head against it... Sometimes I’m joking, but on occasions I’m being serious.”
Son Heung-Min: He’s not Harry Kane. How can he be? And in this match, his pace and directness weren’t as effective as Kane’s strength. This was simply a match that wasn’t a match to his skill set.
Serge Aurier: Aurier had his moments going forward, but United did a very effective job of shutting down the Spurs’ fullbacks, especially in the second half.
Christian Eriksen: Not his best game. Looked stifled creatively, and was unusually profligate with his passing. United’s setup had an important part of that, of course.
Mousa Dembele: His substitution changed the match, and Spurs looked a lot less overrun when he came in to partner Winks. We missed his strength in this match and could’ve used him for the full 90.
Eric Dier: Had one moment where he switched off in a match where he was otherwise nearly perfect. Unfortunately, that one moment led to the only goal of the game. He’ll learn from that.
“I made Kaboul captain when my staff and I joined the club, and I was surprised by some comments he made ahead of the match, in which he claimed that he had been disrespected and I’d frozen him out without any explanation. He was given plenty of reasons in the many conversations I had with him during a period when we were first stamping our authority and were trying to take the team in a different direction.”
Poch doesn’t, alas, confirm or deny whether Kaboul actually was leader of a Cabal.
Ben Davies: Davies was ok defensively where he had a couple of nice stops, including a double-save in Spurs’ box. But he was pretty woeful with his passing and going forward against United. Not his best match.
Moussa Sissoko: He’s been better in recent matches, but this was not one of them. He was mostly just anonymous, instead of abjectly awful. His few attempts on goal were... well, let’s just call them “weak.”
There’s a fun section of the book where Poch details a holiday he took with his staff and Daniel Levy to Joe Lewis’ ranch in Argentina. While there they went whitewater rafting, something that left Poch “shaken.” He detailed Jesús Perez regularly falling out of the raft, fishing Levy out of the water (while first jokingly asking for a raise), and how Miguel D’Agostino nearly drowned. “I don’t think I will be recommending it to the players,” he concluded.
Fernando Llorente: Spurs needed something in Kane’s absence, but Fernando didn’t provide it. It’s looking more and more like Llorente is going to be useful to Spurs only in relatively specific tactical situations and not as a generic Harry Kane replacement.
This is perhaps the cardinal sin for Mauricio Pochettino. Players that aren’t 100% committed to the project are eventually shipped off. The big thing I learned from the book, however, is that Poch doesn’t take those decisions lightly, he always gives the player a chance to turn things around, and the decision for a player to leave is usually mutual.
“I spoke to Nabil [Bentaleb] a lot, particularly in my second campaign, although his performances were on the decline. ‘He’s a young boy who can make mistakes,’ I said. ‘Let’s give him a chance.’ It reached a point where both parties thought it was better for him to move on. When I make a decision [it] is because I am convinced about it and have plenty of reasons.”
No Tottenham Hotspur players were as bad as dissenting against Mauricio Pochettino. (If they were, they wouldn’t be here now.)