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Pochettino: I’d rather win the league than the cups

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On the eve of Spurs’ 2017-18 League Cup campaign, Spurs’ manager has essentially dissed England’s premier cup competitions.

Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Mauricio Pochettino isn’t all that fond of England’s cup competitions. We’ve kind of known this for a while, but for the first time he’s come right out and admitted it: given a choice between prioritizing the Premier League and Champions League or the domestic cups, he’d pick the former.

And English football fans are giving him heck for it. But first, here’s what Pochettino actually said.

"The project here at Tottenham is to try to win the Premier League or the Champions League. For me, [those are] the two big trophies.

"OK, I would love to win the Carabao Cup or the FA Cup for our fans, but Tottenham must build a project with the possibility to fight for Champions League or Premier League. Sorry, first of all the Premier League and then the Champions League. If we are going to try to win Carabao Cup or FA Cup, and forget the Premier League or Champions [League], it's a big mistake.

So, those aren’t nuanced comments, and they’re pretty emphatic in their tone. Sure, Pochettino wants to win everything, but he knows he probably doesn’t have a team that can compete for four trophies. With Spurs ostensibly competing for Premier League and Champions League glory (or at least that’s the eventual hope), the cup trophies are considered additional bonuses, not goals in and of themselves.

There are a lot of Spurs fans that disagree with Pochettino on this. The cups are supposed to be the great equalizer. While (Leicester excepted) one of the big clubs will win the Premier League every season, there’s always hope that a smaller or mid-table club can make a special run and lift some silverware.

The cups are also loved by English football fans, especially the FA Cup which has been running more or less continuously since 1871. They give two additional options to win something, and winning stuff is great! But sometimes winning the cups comes at a cost. Portsmouth spent well beyond their means, won the FA Cup under Harry Redknapp, but then eventually collapsed under their own weight. Wigan had a miracle run to the 2013 FA Cup en route to being relegated that same season. Both clubs are now floundering in League One, something Pochettino himself referenced.

"I think what it means for a big team to win trophies is to win the Premier League or Champions League. There are a lot of examples: in my second season at Southampton, Wigan won FA Cup. Where is Wigan today, with all my respect? League One. That is the most important example.

"Of course I would like to win trophies, but first of all we'll fight for the Premier League or the Champions League."

We’ve already seen Pochettino’s preferential attitude towards the Premier League in action. Two seasons ago, Poch basically punted on the Europa League in the first knock-out round, sending out a very rotated side against Dortmund at a time where they were trying to chase down Leicester. Spurs lost 5-1 on aggregate, infuriating some fans.

The cups are exciting, but they are draining, difficult to win, and can be a distraction, especially in the later rounds. While there are fans of clubs that would gladly trade table position for the chance to lift a trophy, it’s not hard to understand why Pochettino would have his depth-challenged side focus on the two premier competitions at the expense of a moment of domestic glory. His critics would say that Poch’s attitude, and those of other Premier League managers that think similarly, are evident of a foreign bias against England’s cup history and continue a trend of cheapening the competitions that has increased in recent years. Poch can have that holier-than-thou attitude, they say, as soon as he actually wins something.

I see both sides. I think the cups can be fun, and winning one would give a much needed boost to a Spurs fan base that is not known for having good things happen to them. But the long view suggests that going full-tilt for a cup trophy would only make sense if doing so would not have a detrimental impact on Spurs’ chances to make top four and qualify for the Champions League. Fans may not want to admit it, but the Champions League money is what will keep Spurs competitive on several fronts in the long run.

What do you think of Pochettino’s remarks? Do you agree or disagree? Put your thoughts in the comments.

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