Mauricio Pochettino was in an unusually candid mood in his press conference ahead of Saturday’s match against Swansea City. The subject of the conversation was Harry Kane, who had scored his 100th and 101st Tottenham Hotspur goal last weekend against Everton, before scoring two more against Dortmund in the Champions League.
Pochettino has been around for all of those goals as manager. What, he was asked, was his favorite Harry Kane goal? Pochettino pointed to one especially noteworthy goal from early in Kane’s Tottenham career: his deflected, 90th minute free kick winner at Villa Park in November, 2014 against Aston Villa that completed an impressive comeback victory.
That goal, Pochettino said, might have saved his job.
First, let’s take a look at the goal itself. I have a terrible football memory, but I remember this one: it’s burned into my brain and it left me screaming and running in circles in my living room.
Spurs weren’t exactly setting the league on fire in the first half of the 2014-15 season. They were coming off of back-to-back losses to Manchester City and Newcastle, and were sitting on 11 points from their first nine matches. Spurs’ starting strikers were Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, both of whom were struggling to put the ball in the net. So Pochettino rolled the dice and stuck Harry Kane in the game while down 1-0. Nacer Chadli got a late equalizer before Kane stepped up to take that free kick in the 90th minute.
In certain replays (but not the above), you can see Kane stand over the ball and mouth “I’ll make it,” before firing home the winner past Brad Guzan, and running to the corner in front of the traveling support while being mobbed by his teammates.
That win over Villa was a major turning point for Tottenham that season. Spurs dropped their next match at home to Stoke City, but only lost two of their next fourteen games, and eventually finished in fifth place. It was a big turning point for Harry Kane, too: he started every league game from that point on, and went on to score an amazing 31 goals in all competitions, 21 in the Premier League.
Here’s what Pochettino had to say about that goal.
"I can find many other goals that were fantastic but, for me, goals are related to emotion, to the period you are living in. For me, that goal was an amazing goal because it meant for us, for everyone, the possibility to stay here today.
"It's true, the team were 14th or 13th and we were a little bit under pressure because the team were playing well, but not winning games and we were a bit under pressure. Always in football, when you don't get good results, the first to be sacked is the manager...
"That is why that goal allowed us to carry on working and try to change the club. We were in the first season at Tottenham and people on day one when I signed the contract said, 'Ok maybe in a few months, we have a new face in front of us!'"
Poch’s response was maybe prompted by Crystal Palace’s strange decision to sack Frank De Boer, himself rumored to be a candidate for Pochettino’s job in summer of 2014, after just a few games this season. I’m not sure Poch was ever really in danger of getting sacked so soon into what was clearly considered a long-term reclamation project, but managers tend to know which way the wind is blowing, and Pochettino probably felt an undue amount of pressure nine games into his first season.
Kane has scored a ton of really good goals in his career thus far, but that one is particularly memorable and is a worthy candidate, not just because it was well struck but because Pochettino seems to think that it was what kept the “Tottenham project” alive.