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SPORTS | 11-05-2019 09:33

Fearless Pochettino leads Spurs to Europe’s top table

Argentine coach’s Tottenham Hostpur side will once again be underdogs against Liverpool in the Champions League final – but the native of Murphy, Santa Fe is used to beating the odds.

Just five Argentines in the history of the European Cup and Champions League have had the honour of leading a team to the final of the prestigious competition. On June 1, 2019, Mauricio Pochettino will become the sixth after masterminding an incredible comeback on Wednesday night when all looked lost. His Tottenham Hotspur side will once again be underdogs when they take on Liverpool in the decider – but the native of Murphy, Santa Fe is used to beating the odds.

An accomplished central defender during his playing days and, as a young hopeful, Diego Maradona’s room-mate on Newell’s away trips during the legend’s brief stay in Rosario, Pochettino has steadily been making a name for himself on the bench. His first job was in Spain with Barcelona’s Espanyol, the club he represented with distinction as a player, and after 18 impressive months in England at Southampton he stepped up to take the vacant post at Tottenham, one of England’s longest-suffering and historically most unstable institutions, who in the seven years prior to Pochettino’s arrival in 2014 had seen four different managers come and go.

Now approaching the end of his fifth season in charge, the Argentine is Spurs’ longestserving coach since club legend Keith Burkinshaw (the man who signed Pochettino’s countrymen Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa) in the 1970s and 1980s. It is fair to say that Pochettino has revolutionised the north London team in that time. After decades of living in the shadow of bitter rivals Arsenal and feeding off minor, sporadic successes, Tottenham are now firmly established amongst the Premier League elite, and they have the softly-spoken Pochettino to thank.

Barring catastrophe, this weekend’s final round of Premier League games will see the team seal Champions League qualification for the fourth consecutive term, having made Europe’s most important competition just twice in their history before Pochettino took control. A second-placed finish in 2016-17 marked their best league campaign since the glory days of Bill Nicholson in the 1960s. But more than mere success, the coach has restored belief, overseeing a young, exciting team faithful to the swashbuckling principles handed down by the likes of Nicholson and Burkinshaw which had been lost along the way during those years of underachievement.

‘THE GREATEST’

“He is the greatest coach in the world.” Fellow Argentine Ardiles, a Spurs legend who broke new ground in moving to England following the 1978 World Cup, was in no doubt of Pochettino’s importance as he celebrated Wednesday’s 3-2 comeback victory over Ajax speaking to CNN. “He is a very solid person, he knows exactly what he wants, he works every day and it is amazing how he improves each player, not just individually but also as a team.”

And it is not just Tottenham who have benefited from Pochettino’s influence. The club contributed five players to England’s 2018 World Cup squad, more than any other single team, and that contingent proved integral to the nation on its journey to the semi-finals of the competition, the best finish since 1990. Spurs are far from enjoying the biggest budget in the money-soaked Premier League, but with their coach’s keen eye for talent and knack for getting the best out of each player they have consistently punched above their weight at home and now abroad.

Such success has not gone unnoticed, of course. Pochettino has seen his name come up repeatedly in connection with giants Real Madrid and Manchester United, while the extended coaching chaos around the Argentina national team has also seen him logically linked w i t h t h a t post.

NO FEAR

Ardiles, however, is convinced he w i ll stay put in Tottenham’s dazzling new stadium, opened this year to replace White Hart Lane. “He looks very comfortable, we are always working to make sure he doesn’t leave,” the 1978 World Cup winner known as ‘Ossie’ in England added.

Not since Inter idol Helenio Herrera in 1965 has Argentina boasted a coach that was king of European football. Luis Carniglia achieved the feat twice in the 1950s with all-conquering Real Madrid, while Juan Carlos Lorenzo, Héctor Raúl Cúper and Diego Simeone have all since gone close, the latter pair missing out twice at the final hurdle with Valencia and Atlético Madrid respectively.

The bookmakers have already given their opinion, making Spurs’ Premier League rivals Liverpool clear favourites following their own incredible 4-0 fightback to dethrone Barcelona and Lionel Messi. Having already upset the seemingly unbeatable Manchester City, however, and after fighting back from the brink of oblivion to leave Ajax devastated in the final minute in Amsterdam, June’s decider will hold absolutely no fear for this brilliant football mind.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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