Mauricio Pochettino gave a long, verbose, and passionate defense of Tottenham Hotspur and his approach to competing in multiple competitions on Tuesday. Spurs crashed out of their second domestic cup competition in a week on Sunday, losing 2-0 to Crystal Palace, and afterwards Pochettino seemed to dismiss winning cup silverware over finishing in Champions League places, suggesting that cup trophies are good for the ego but not necessarily the best thing for the club.
That didn’t go over well with a segment of Spurs fandom, and the Tottenham boss caught a bit of flack with supporters because of it. However, in a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League match against Watford, Poch gave a long answer clarifying his point, asking fans to have patience and to look at how far the club has come in the four and a half years since he took over as manager.
“First of all I don’t know if our fans were happy or unhappy because I don’t follow social media.
“But I think it’s important to clarify, and our fans need to know, when you ask me if I agree that winning a domestic cup will help us to reach the next level, I can’t agree. I only wanted to say that we are doing fantastic things in the last few years. We are focused on different things, not only to win. Because football is about winning every game. No one thinks different, no players, managers or clubs think differently.
“But if you ask me if I want to win, of course I want to win. I am not a naïve person who does not want to win. Not because I want to be like this or that, I think it’s a point that we cannot debate. To clarify, it’s tough for me because after three or four seasons we are still talking and debating about the cups, the cups, the cups. Of course I want to win and build my CV, winning titles. I am the first person that wants to win.
“In the last four or five years we played in four semi-finals, one final. I think we tried, we were there, we were close, and in last three seasons, we are consistently playing Champions League and finishing in the top four. If you ask me ‘How we can help the club get to the next level?’ it’s about improving every season, improving our structure, our way to operate, improving our squad, improving our facilities. I think if you make the list you can nearly tick all the boxes. We are so close, we need to try to keep working. The fans that are not happy, with perspective in the future they are going to appreciate the job everyone is doing at this football club.
“If I talk about Tottenham, it is only to say to our fans that we are moving in a good direction, working hard to deliver things. We need to have faith and keep working.”
It’s been a frustrating season on a number of levels. The ongoing drama over the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the frequent delays have soured the mood of a fanbase that expected to play Champions League group stage matches in their new ground, and now potentially may only play a handful of games there this season. The club’s failure to reinforce the squad in the summer after a long World Cup summer meant the club was more susceptible to injuries and lacked the depth to adequately replace them. There are the constant links between Pochettino and the vacant Manchester United managerial position. And now, unfairly or not, there’s the sense that the season is starting to skid a bit off the rails, with Harry Kane and Dele Alli both out for multiple weeks to start 2019.
In short, the fans want something real. They want something in the trophy case that they can point to as tangible evidence of the club’s progress, and they’re not getting it. Crashing out of two cup competitions in a week may have put a fine point on it, but emotions are at the point where, with an ailing squad and seemingly no help on the way, emotions are starting to boil over.
But Pochettino has had a consistent message over the past 18 months, ever since Spurs left White Hart Lane: have patience. Good things will come. And that was what he tried to convey to the fans and the media today.
“I love my job. And of course I love a big challenge. When I arrived at Tottenham I knew very well the challenge would be tough and what happens now will happen now.
“We are victims of our own success. The club was in a different level and now the board, the players, all we feel the same. No one believed in us, no one believes the way we operate from beginning will bring success to club. Of course if the club played once in 22 years in the Champions League and now after four years we’ve played three times in row, that was the dream of our fans, our staff and players to play in Champions League.
“I feel the same as some of our fans, it’s never enough. But we are working hard. It’s so difficult to grow in a constant trajectory, sometimes you push high then you stay same, or you drop a little bit to go forward again, but that is the process.
“We need to finish our stadium. We need to get to that day, because that will be the day that it clicks, the day we sign a player and the player says, ‘I am signing for Tottenham because I want to win titles.’ That is going to be the day the club is in the top level.
“I am not going to complain, I am going to speak the reality, the fans want the reality. Then other people want to give their opinion from outside. I am a very positive person and I am going to try and deliver in my job. I am going to stick with the club until the end to help the club achieve all they want.”
You can hear the Pochettino’s pride in what Spurs have accomplished the past few seasons, but it’s also easy to say that he’s not resting on his laurels. When he says Spurs are the “victims of [their] own success,” he’s referring to how the plan when he was hired was to have Spurs ready to qualify for Champions League by the time the new stadium opened. They achieved that goal way earlier than expected with an overachieving squad, and the implication is that the finances haven’t caught up with Spurs’ performance on the pitch, and while the perception is that Spurs have struggled a bit this season, it’s not yet reflected by their third place table position.
But Poch knows that positive improvement is rarely a straight line. He has called this season “challenging” on a number of different levels multiple times this season, and understands that the way to grow is to persevere through adversity. Fans may be a bit frustrated with the way the path twists and turns in the short term, but Pochettino is trying to be clear that Spurs are most definitely still on the right road.