Mauricio Pochettino: The Argentine who turned Tottenham Hotspur into a European powerhouse
If someone had said that Tottenham would make it to the finals of the UEFA Champions League after their draw last season, they surely had to be dreaming. There was no way this could actually happen in reality. Well, as it turned out, the North Londoners ended up astounding everyone including themselves. The man who deserves the most praise for turning the far-fetched dream into a reality is definitely their golden manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Born in the Santa Fe district of Argentina, Pochettino was a defender in his comparatively lesser renowned playing career. He had played for Newell's Old Boys, Paris Saint-Germain and Espanyol in his career. It was in the latter club that he began his managerial stint in 2009. He then moved on to Southampton in 2013 before being snapped up by Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2014.
Pochettino is a manager who likes implementing the same style of football across all tiers of the club, highly favouring the 4-2-3-1 formation, with quick press and building from the back his conventional tactics. As a manager, he really matured in the 2018-19 season.
The last season did not start well for Spurs, with the club not bringing in a single reinforcement, remaining completely idle in the transfer market. Additionally, their move to the newly replenished White Hart Lane was delayed due to some technical faults. They were also plagued with injuries and fatigue after the exhausting World Cup. However, Pochettino proved more than once that he is capable of remaining strong and can adapt in times of adversity. Here are some matches and instances where he provided some brilliant masterstrokes.
Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur (0-3)
Tottenham started the game with a 4-1-2-1-2 formation, with Harry Kane and Lucas Moura heading the attacking line in front of Christian Eriksen. They were slow off the blocks in the first half as Manchester United dominated proceedings. But it was clearly a plan devised by the Argentine coach to conserve energy and in turn tire out the opposition, after withering out the initial storm.
The plan worked like a charm as Spurs came out all guns blazing in the second half. They pressed high up the field and pounced upon any astray pass. Manchester United evidently had problems in the central half of defence, which was clearly exploited upon. They couldn't cope with the pace of Moura and the aerial threat of Kane, both scoring in quick succession before finishing off the rout via Moura's brilliance.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea (3-1)
Unlike the aforementioned game, Spurs started this game in a very proactive fashion, launching attack after attack, barraging Kepa's goal and struck twice within the first 20 minutes of the match. Dele Alli scored with a header before Kane notched one with a slightly fortunate strike from distance.
Pochettino deployed a high pressing mentality to overrun the not so press-resistant midfield of the opposition, with Alli, Eriksen and Eric Dier playing vital parts. They played some very fluid and dynamic football against the then-unbeaten Chelsea, who had been shaping up well until then under Sarri.
David Luiz and Jorginho were seen as weak links to be capitalized upon. The highlight of the game was Son Heung-Min's incredible solo goal, who ran the Chelsea defence ragged with his mazy run. This match showed very promising signs for the entire club and its fans.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Borussia Dortmund (3-0)
This was another one of those games where the North London side failed to step on the gas from the word go. They were lacking in confidence against red-hot Dortmund, who were seen as the favourites to progress with their attack making great strides in Bundesliga, added to the fact that Spurs were without their talisman Kane and Alli.
It was in the second half of the game where Tottenham came alive, with Son breaking the deadlock soon after the whistle. This game was more of a masterclass from Poch, who had also deployed Jan Vertonghen in a left wingback position that provided dividends.
His opposite number Achraf Hakimi struggled to endure the occasion, where the Belgian's experience was vital, with him producing in attack as well with a goal and an assist. Spurs took the aerial route against an inexperienced defence, with all goals coming through lofted crosses.
Ajax vs Tottenham Hotspur (2-3)
This match was quite easily one of the best and most important games of the season. The stage was set for a monumental moment in the history of both the clubs, with a potential crack at the coveted UCL title on the offering.
Things seemed very bleak for Spurs fans when they saw their team go down 2-0 for the day and 3-0 on aggregate when Ajax ran the Tottenham midfield amok and gave them no time to breathe. At half time, they were certainly up against it and it looked way too improbable for them to salvage a win, almost impossible with their main man missing again due to injury. They had to do it all against the giant-beaters, who looked relentless.
Ajax probably should have added more goals but struck the post twice in the course of the two games. Such fine margins define plenty of ties and as fate would have it, this would go on to be one of those. Usually not seen as more than an alternative option, it was Moura who proved to be the match-winner as he scored a sensational hat-trick, with the winner coming right at the death to send the Spurs fans into delirium.
The game always looked beyond them, but Pochettino made the right choices at the right moments, like bringing Fernando Llorente on (to provide an aerial edge and win the majority of the long balls sent in other players), to take his team to the finish line.
If the previous seasons were negligibly discarded as luck and not true achievements, the 2018-19 season most certainly proves once and for all the fact that Mauricio Pochettino is one of the best managers around and that he deserves all the plaudits and recognition coming his way.