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Home / Sports / Pochettino has mastered the process. A price, any price, still deprives it of its importance.

Pochettino has mastered the process. A price, any price, still deprives it of its importance.



The view that Spurs needs something tangible, not just to prove his progress under Pochettino, but to cement it, is something that comes close to the wisdom received. Inside the club, players are giving in – as both Jan Vertonghen and Harry Kane have said – it's time to "win something".

This belief is stronger, if anything. Alan Shearer, the former England striker, wrote earlier this season that Spurs would not miss the chance to open his new stadium later this year "with a high-powered trophy". Only then can Spurs claim a place among the true elite of the game. Until then it is only a pretender. Pochettino finally joined the choir.

And yet it's worth remembering exactly where Tottenham was, what it was when he arrived at the club four years ago.

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Harry Kane, right, is one of several Tottenham players who will almost certainly land in England's World Cup squad this summer.

Credit
Alastair Grant / Associated Press

The last game before Pochettino in May 2014 was a meaningless, convoluted home win against Aston Villa. At the beginning of the tournament, Spurs was sixth between Everton and Manchester United, the European qualifiers were secured, but the Champions League place was incredibly far away.

Pochettino's predecessor Tim Sherwood sat on the bench at White Hart Lane. At least for the most part of the game. Midway through the second half, with his team 3-0, Sherwood decided that it was time, in his words, for "some teasing."

Not far from the dugout was a couple of fans who had, Sherwood said, "He told me what to do each week." Sherwood turned away from the field and suddenly pointed to one of them, Danny Grimsdale. Sherwood asked Grimsdale if he could bring his money to where he was staying to go to the bank and see if he could do Sherwood's job as well as he thought.

Grimsdale initially declined, but soon changed his mind. He trudged across the billboards, hopped over to Sherwood, slipped on the manager's vest – a garment that had become a trademark – and took his place on the bench. Sherwood laughed. Grimsdale laughed. White Hart Lane laughed.

This is the club that Pochettino has found: one of promising, talented players and weighty history, but one in which a little more laughter was heard and not all shared with the regulars of the first few rows. Spurs' taste for self-destruction was such a cliche that an adjective – Spursy – had been coined to encapsulate it.

Spurs was the sort of team that could miss the Champions League qualifiers because of a lasagna – or so Legend It – in 2006, and then again in 2012, because Chelsea, among its harshest rivals, won the title to cancel his place.

It was a team that appointed Sherwood as coach, despite deep-seated reservations, and then watched as he became a villain, criticizing his players and board, and finally offering his place on the bench to a fan. It was a team that rummaged through managers and players with little rhyme or reason, a club that was in motion forever.

Pochettino changed all that. His transformation of Tottenham, if examined not in the heat of a moment and the bitterness of defeat, is at one blow, one of the most notable achievements in recent English football history.

Spurs was not used to reaching two semifinals a league cup final – within three years. It has not defeated Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. It was not even qualified for the Champions League with the exception of the occasional season under Harry Redknapp.

It was not common to face title challenges of any kind, whether successful or not. It was not the backbone of the England team or was considered a prime example of youth development. Real Madrid and Paris St.-Germain did not look at their manager with envious eyes; They were not talking about Tim Sherwood in the marble halls of Bernabeu.

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Tottenham's Deli Alli looked very dejected after beating Manchester United 2-1 on Saturday.

Credit
Carl Recine / Reuters

Pochettino's critics would point out that none of the goals is the ultimate goal for a coach, for a team: José Mourinho, Pochettino's longtime friend and temporary tormenter at Wembley on Saturday, would not have the Impression that manager performance can be weighted differently than silver and gold.

But these are all concrete achievements. Pochettino has fundamentally changed Tottenham's identity. He has revolutionized how the club is seen, its place in the firmament. And that, in his own estimation, was what he was obliged to do.

Several years ago, during his first full season in England, in Southampton, Pochettino was asked if it was a managerial goal to win trophies or leave a lasting impression on a club. "It's better to leave his mark without a doubt," he said. "That's my personal value."

He did that without any reasonable doubt. He has made Tottenham a bastion of stability, progress and promise. He is right in saying that "the process is more important than winning a trophy." What he has done is a greater triumph – and a greater test of his abilities – than winning the League Cup or perhaps even his older brother FA Cup

Tottenham has not yet turned away as a permanent loser, the team, its story – like Giorgio Chiellini put it – "always has something to miss to arrive at the end." But there's another way to look at this: Pochettino has put the club in the position to fail again the last time. It's not that long ago that it failed long before.

It's easy to forget how far Tottenham has come under his leadership, but it's worth remembering. In four years he has changed where Spurs is and what it is. Pochettino finished the laughter.

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