Feature

From hero to villain? A Spurs fan's view of Pochettino's return

By Chris Miller 6 Nov 2023
Mauricio Pochettino-lead

How will Chelsea head coach be received back at his old club? Read a supporter's perspective

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Tottenham Hotspur fan Chris Miller reminisces about Mauricio Pochettino’s time at the club and discusses how the Argentinian will be received when he returns with Chelsea on Monday.

I think to fully understand Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure at Spurs, and connection with the fans, you have to understand the context in which he arrived.

Harry Redknapp delivered a gung-ho, swashbuckling side that burned bright and were a joy to watch, but it quickly soured with the court case and the courting of the England job.

Andre Villas-Boas followed. We expected fresh and exciting. We got stale and drab. And then Tim Sherwood brought a chaotic on-pitch energy and self-centred off-pitch persona, which rubbed a lot of fans up the wrong way.

Top-flight football was moving quickly, and we were in danger of being left behind.

Pochettino arrives

Then came this largely unknown character who had only coached Southampton for 60 games but had made them one of the best-drilled pressing units in the league and had them playing exciting, fresh, modern football.

The fact that he came with an interpreter only added to the layers of mystery.

Pochettino-2015

He wasn’t the big name that many Spurs fans craved, but for the hipsters among us it was an appointment that intrigued.

I remember writing an article about which of our players suited his style, based on his Southampton team – who were our equivalents to Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert?

Second season

After an imperfect first season where we could see the building blocks, but there were still some rough edges to polish, it all came together in Year Two.

The Leicester City season. Or, as I prefer to call it, the Dele season, we probably should have won the league. We were so good that season and the next, in which we won 12 of our last 13 games.

Dele Alli-Mauricio Pochettino

Being Spurs was incredible, and Pochettino was at the centre of that. He’d changed the culture of the club, and even had Daniel Levy smiling. The sense of togetherness off the pitch. The ruthless, energetic pressing and free-flowing attacking football on it.

I felt so proud to be Spurs. Even the pundits loved us, and that’s felt rare over the years.

Sure, he had his quirks – the lemons, the auras, the odd press conferences where he said lots and very little, or used extended metaphors that didn’t quite make sense. But he had a sense of humanity and decency, and seeing him grab and hug our young stars after yet another win felt so good. So. Good.

Another third-place finish followed, and then in 2018/19 everything changed with the departure of Mousa Dembele and the introduction of the Harry Winks/Moussa Sissoko midfield, which came about due to Pochettino’s rejection of potential signings in pursuit of perfection. This arguably hindered the "painful rebuild" he so desperately needed, and that we’ve only just now experienced.

Those European nights

Yet despite everything – disjointed performances, injuries, a seemingly depressed Pochettino – he delivered one of the greatest nights in the lives of Spurs fans.

The Champions League quarter-final had been thrilling enough, as we beat Manchester City on away goals, 4-4 on aggregate, with Raheem Sterling's late, late goal being ruled out by VAR. But then we had Ajax away. Pure, unadulterated joy.

It was the culmination of all of the Pochettino passion and brilliance bursting out onto the pitch, into the stands and the front rooms of Spurs fans across the world. We don’t talk about the final.

Mauricio Pochettino - Hugo Lloris

It felt like he never recovered from that. His cup was so full that it overflowed, and then the overflowing became an emptying and then it was gone. He was gone. People said at the time and people say now that he deserved patience – that he’d over-achieved and over-achieved and then delivered *that* and so when things got bad, we should have stuck with him, backed him, waited for them to get good again.

Personally, I didn’t feel that things were going to get good any time soon. With a heavy heart I thought it was time for a change.

Little did we know that the change would bring such a change in direction, that skip forward a few years, and in summer 2023, many of us would be clamouring for his return.

It felt like there was unfinished business and that we’d changed, and he’d changed and that maybe a second dalliance might just work out. But it soon became apparent that it was not viable. And then Chelsea came a-knocking.

My feelings about him instantly changed. He was a man that I admired and adored, but this is what football does to you.

Mauricio Pochettino-Chelsea

Vicious rivalries mean there are no-go areas for players and managers that come with consequences, and the consequences are that Pochettino will likely get a pantomime villain reaction from large parts of the crowd when he returns as Chelsea manager on Monday night.

I think it’s largely deserved, and I think he knew what he could expect, having shown a deep understanding of football fandom and its rivalries whilst he was ours.

See: Pochettino relishing 'really special' trip back to Spurs

There will be fans that cheer for him, there will be fans that politely clap him. But I think boos will be audible, and that the cheering of Ange Postecoglou’s name will be louder than ever.

We’ve moved on. So has Pochettino, and I hope they lose this game and keep losing, and we can go back to focusing on our latest incredible reinvention, and the new young team we’re having the pleasure of seeing blossom.

You can follow Chris Miller on X @WindyCOYS

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