When I was tasked with writing a piece about Tottenham’s development under Mauricio Pochettino I had to think long and hard about what things were like before the Argentine arrived. Despite departing the Club less than a year ago, life under Sherwood seems a distant memory. At the time of writing Spurs have played 41 games this season. That’s more than a whole league campaign and we’re still only halfway through February. It is testament to the work of Pochettino that he has left an imprint on the Club already, to such an extent that the recent past has been quickly forgotten.
Roll back the clock twelve months and the mood around White Hart Lane was very different. Three points off the top four, knocked out of the FA Cup and into the last 32 of the Europa League. A familiar story this time around. So why the pessimism back then but not now? The answer is simple – unity, direction and stability. Spurs under Sherwood, on and off the field, were without all three. It was clear for all to see that the club was in a state of flux. I personally had never felt more detached from the eleven men pulling on the Lilywhite shirt. The players lacked any real sense of belonging, whilst the managerial regime in place was quite patently a temporary fix. Fast forward a year and a lot has changed, not so much in terms of personnel but certainly in terms of mentality.
Let’s not pretend things have gone swimmingly for Pochettino at Spurs. As always with this club, we’ve had our ups and downs. Hopefully, our low point appears to have come and gone. Four home defeats from our first six league matches was by no means an ideal start. In fact, it was pretty dreadful. Spurs fans expected an exciting brand of high-tempo football, similar to what Southampton had replicated the previous season. In reality what they got was an uninspiring style of play which resembled that of the Villas-Boas era, minus the positive results. Winning boring is sufferable, losing playing well is admirable. But when you are neither winning nor entertaining, questions will be asked. I am ashamed to say I was one of the vocal minority who asked those questions; the main one being, is Pochettino the right man for the job? I thought I had seen it all before. A ‘clever clogs’ foreign manager comes in, promises the world and delivers very little; e.g. Santini, Ramos and Villas-Boas. But boy have I been proved wrong.
It’s early days and a lot of football is still to be played between now and the end of the season, but the turnaround has been quite remarkable. Results have improved considerably, with famous victories against Chelsea and Arsenal still fresh in the memory. But most importantly, the team has developed a philosophy; press the opposition and fight until the very end. Any fears of the players being disillusioned with the frequent high intensity training sessions have been eradicated. Whilst fitness levels elsewhere in the Premier League may be dwindling, Spurs are in peak condition going into the business end of the season. Huge credit must not only go to the manager, but also to the players who have been vocal in their support of the new regime. Everybody at the Club appears to be buying into Pochettino’s methods, including the supporters. How long is it since we have said that about a manager?
Speaking as someone who has been a season ticket holder for the past ten years, I like to think I am fairly well placed to comment on the atmosphere at home games. Towards the back end of last season and the beginning of this campaign, there was little enjoyment in travelling to the Lane. At times the atmosphere was toxic; hardly a conducive setting for footballers to thrive in. But ever so slowly I am starting to regain the buzz which, if I’m honest, was last felt during the Redknapp days. Recently, both our home and away support has been nothing short of magnificent. Any supporter with access to the internet will have surely seen the videos all over YouTube of Spurs fans across the country bouncing up and down to the tune of ‘everywhere we go’. We truly do have some of the loudest, proudest and most loyal supporters in the land.
So where now for Spurs? Well, Champions League qualification remains the ultimate goal. Take heed of the wording; ‘goal’, not ‘expectation’. This team is still very young and is packed full of potential. Whereas in the past I feel we have been overly dependant on one man – one Welshman to be specific – we now play as more of a cohesive team. If Kane fails to score, Eriksen will. If Eriksen can’t find the net, Chadli will. If Chadli is out of sorts…you get the picture. Naturally, the cream rises to the top and it just so happens Harry Kane is having the season of his life. Nevertheless, Pochettino has set the team up in a way that facilitates our best players rather than relying on them to do all the work. It makes me proud when I see these group of players grab the game by the scruff of the neck and take responsibility. Younes Kaboul officially occupies captaincy duties but in reality we have got four or five leaders out there on the pitch, including young Bentaleb who has been a revelation.
I certainly will make the most of the next few months, because with Spurs you never know what tomorrow might bring. Players leave, managers depart, optimism quickly turns to pessimism. Although with this current setup you do get the impression that the key personnel are here for the long haul. And with the prospect of a cup final at Wembley on the horizon, all is looking rather rosy in the White Hart Lane garden once again and with a Cup final on the horizon, things are most definitely on the up.