Mauricio Pochettino has been unfairly targeted over his failure to win silverware during his time at Spurs, and the Champions League tie against Barcelona with PSG is a huge opportunity to correct that perception.
The Argentine was unable to pick up even a domestic cup in his five years at Spurs, but looking merely at his track record of trophies misses the point of how he transformed the side. Up against the financially hefty Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, there is a hegemony that almost nobody has been able to break up.
People will point to Leicester’s title win a few years ago and see Spurs’ failure to at least push them to the wire as a blemish, and it was. The club imploded under pressure but it is wrong to ignore the absolutely freak nature of Leicester’s success, which has almost no comparison in modern football, save for Montpellier’s Ligue 1 triumph against a rapidly improving, post-takeover Paris Saint-Germain.
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However, when Pochettino left Spurs, he had taken them from a team that could threaten the top four in a good year, to a team that now expected to be in the Champions League. That shift in mentality is no small thing. He had also taken players like Harry Kane and Dele Alli and made them some of the best in the Premier League. The team became more than the sum of its parts, a hardworking and imaginative attacking side. The greatest reason for his eventual sacking was essentially because Daniel Levy refused to properly back him in the transfer market to fundamentally refresh the squad, rather than Pochettino failing to make the most of his resources.
Now that he has switched to PSG, he will no longer be able to point to any lack of resources. While Thomas Tuchel fell out with Leonardo over disagreements in the market, there is no shortage of talent in Paris. The blame has to fall with the manager for failing to get the most out of the players at his disposal, which is a weakness that could not be aimed at Pochettino.
He may be without Neymar for the first leg against Barcelona, but he is just one of a number of players who are better than most of his former Spurs team. There is Kylian Mbappe of course, but Keylor Navas, Marco Verratti, Marquinhos and Angel Di Maria are all probably superior options to their Tottenham equivalents. Barcelona are held back by an inferior manager in Ronald Koeman, an extensive injury list - Ronald Araujo, Ansu Fati, Gerard Pique and Philippe Coutinho, and Sergi Roberto are out, and Samuel Umtiti is touch and go to make the cut - and are far from at their best.
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Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Trincao, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele are showing that they are developing a greater understanding as the season progresses, and Messi’s form appears to be improving slowly, along with his mood. That means victory is not easy, but it would be a failure if Pochettino cannot beat them over the course of two legs.
PSG will still be haunted by 2017’s Remontada, and although there has been a decent squad turnover since then, Spurs show that muscle memory at a club can transcend the players in a squad at anytime. So far, expunging Spursiness has been beyond any manager. Just as Pochettino’s Spurs suffered the heartbreak of a Champions League final defeat two years ago, so did PSG last season.
It is now up to Pochettino to show that the excuses have run out for his current club and himself as a manager. He has the players, he has the backing, and he has Mbappe. A Ligue 1 title will probably provide Pochettino with a boost to his self-confidence, but to truly prove his worth, reaching the quarter-finals with victory against Barcelona must be just the start.
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