None of us wants to go further down the Juventus rabbit hole. As Johnny Cash once said about his clothes closet, “It’s dark in there.” But there’s something to be said about looking back with introspection a couple of days after a tough loss. You even start finding admiration for your opponents.
Mauricio Pochettino did, at any rate. Speaking to reporters about Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 Champions League loss at Wembley, Poch talked about how Juventus somehow managed to snatch victory in the two-legged tie from the mouth of defeat, and that in the end it all came down to the little things.
“If we only see the stats from the two games, Tottenham was much the better team. But in football, it’s not only about a better performance, stats, more shots on target or to have more possession. It’s small details. Competitions demand different things. Juve are specialists, because they have the habit to win, the habit to put pressure on the referee.”
Pochettino was noting not only how Juventus players swarmed the match official after he waved off what looked like a stonewall penalty on Jan Venrtonghen. He also referenced how Juventus’ owner positioned himself in the tunnel at Wembley Stadium to speak with the referees at intermission and after the conclusion of the match. Pochettino didn’t bring this up as a pejorative — he seemed to admire that Juventus tried to use every advantage to gain an edge.
“The owner [Agnelli] stayed in the tunnel before and during the game. It’s a club with a culture to try to do everything to help the team. It’s a massive opportunity to learn not only on the pitch but outside it. It’s two games against this type of club – one on the pitch, one outside of the pitch.
“I don’t say that Daniel [Levy, the Tottenham chairman] needs to be there [in the tunnel]. Only that Juventus was a massive lesson in how to behave. Before the game was Agnelli. After the game was Agnelli, Marotta. I saw at half-time how they put pressure on the referee. It’s about small details that count a lot in this type of game – even games that both teams can win. I believe those details can help the club to achieve what we want.”
The Guardian refers to Juventus’ actions as “the dark arts,” which feels a little unfair to me. It’s impossible to say whether Agnelli or the hive of angry Juventus players had any measurable impact on the referee’s actions, and if those actions had an impact on the match as a whole.
Poch’s apparent admiration for these kinds of actions also make me a little nervous, as I don’t know if I want Tottenham to be the kind of club that engages in these kinds of psychological mind games off the pitch.
It’s clear however that Pochettino thinks that Juventus used every arrow in their quiver to get the result they wanted, and that in the end it worked. I’ll leave it up to you as to whether you think that was a good thing.