By Simon Green
It’s been apparent for the last two or three years that Tottenham have had the best starting XI in Premier League football, from the explosive reflexes of Hugo Lloris between the posts to the composed and consistent Toby Alderweireld in defence and the Danish maestro Christian Eriksen in the middle of the park.
On the other hand, you’d also say their squad depth has been a glaring barrier to Mauricio Pochettino’s side truly pushing on. With the intensity in training which the Argentinian manager is known for, as well as European and domestic commitments, it wasn’t that surprising that Spurs seemed to turn from potential title contenders to scraping a second place finish last season.
Taking into account the club’s tumultuous last few decades, including a string of average managers, failed, costly signings and consistent inferiority in the league to Arsenal, the revival of the white half of North London is nothing short of miraculous.
During the summer transfer window, you probably saw the memes doing the rounds on social media about the lack of market activity from Wembley’s temporary inhabitants, but realistically only the two Manchester clubs did better business than them.
In a world where instant success and big money rule football, Pochettino has built a squad which he fully believes in, and which fully believes in him. He’s taken the time to mould his players into what his tactics demand, and made additions in defence in the shape of Davinson Sánchez and Serge Aurier, with Fernando Llorente coming in as Harry Kane’s understudy.
Of the starting XI that beat Real Madrid at Wembley, the only summer signing was Sánchez at centre-half. Players such as Kieran Trippier, Harry Winks and Ben Davies have been given a platform to regularly start in both league and cup competitions this season. It’s no coincidence they are either cementing or challenging for a place in their respective national teams.
It’s also been well-documented that Daniel Levy is unwilling to give players the same huge pay packets as other European heavyweights. Danny Rose’s ostracism from the first team following his comments about the club’s wage structure shows where the players’ loyalties really lie. So, what is it that makes Tottenham such an appealing prospect?
The case of Llorente tells us a lot about Pochettino’s appeal. He was nailed on to sign for Chelsea, the epitome of what money and managerial instability bring you, and at the last minute opted for North London. Moving to a club where you know you are unashamedly the second choice and will receive less money, seems to make no sense.
Luke Shaw gives a fascinating insight into why this may be the case in the epilogue to Guillem Balague’s new biography, Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs. During his time under the Argentinian at Southampton, Shaw says “He used to call me his son, that’s how good our relationship was. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but when I was with Pochettino it was only ever up, up, up.”
Is it possible the modern footballer actually wants to get better as a professional rather than just increase their bank balance? Llorente and the rest of the current Tottenham squad seem to suggest that this is becoming the new state of play.
Not only is Pochettino building a squad that could compete with Europe’s big boys, he’s also showing that homegrown talent, exceptionally hard work and intense passion can do as much, if not more, than spending hundreds of millions on the ready-made product. Spurs aren’t just on the brink of doing something special, their manager is on the brink of changing the tide of modern football.
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