With so many websites churning out so much content in response to a relentlessly feverish level of interest in the Premier League it is little surprise that we now only inhabit the extremes. A manager is either entrenched in crisis and a couple of games away from the sack or he is a genius. The same apogee in fortunes is attributed to their team and club. It’s either doom and gloom or equally unwarranted hyperbolic comparisons are made with the very best that recent history can offer.
Sadly this means that managers, clubs and teams are no longer afforded the perfectly reasonable vindication of being temporarily unfortunate and sadly too at the more positive end of the spectrum it has resulted in the taking for granted of excellence.
Because in this polarised new world excellence is considered everyday and boring. Excellence doesn’t get the clicks or attention and more so if anyone or anything residing higher in the league table than Chris Hughton and Brighton is dared to be lauded for doing a swell job it only agitates. Well look at the players they have, comes back the replies. Look at their resources. If I was on his money I’d be excelling too.
So pointing out that Mauricio Pochettino has put in an excellent shift so far this season in steering Tottenham to within two points of the top is done with some trepidation. He has not been the miracle worker that some have suggested – for reasons we are about to explore – because Spurs’ performances this term have been somewhat mixed and furthermore a poor start to their Champions League campaign has left them adrift in group B and surely now only fighting for the compensation of a Europa League spot. Nor has his stewardship of the north London giants been any less impressive than previous seasons. Granted Spurs are fifth and have already lost on two occasions, while their xG stats and shots conceded per game are markedly lower than the last three years. Yet these illustrations of a general dip are misnomers when placed against the fact that Spurs are enjoying their best ever start to a Premier League season.
Which is some going when it’s acknowledged that Pochettino has had to overcome nothing but roadblocks since last May on a grand project that was building to something rather special to that point. Back then Spurs finished inside the top three for the third consecutive year. They had a clear mandate both on and off the field that was collectively adhered to and what is more worked a treat. They had a well-organised defence and a balanced midfield with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen providing consistent magic in the final third. They had a raft of promising youngsters coming through the ranks who were embedded in the Spurs way.
What they needed in order to progress, however, were signings; new blood to both stymie the threat of stagnation and strengthen a squad that possessed considerable quality throughout the first team and bench but dropped off thereafter.
Instead the Argentine was made to go on with what he had because no club across Europe recruited fewer players than Tottenham this summer. It isn’t possible to. They brought in nobody.
Pochettino though, to his enormous credit, played the game. He refused to whine like Jose Mourinho who ‘only’ had a £50m midfielder added to his roster. Rather he successfully straddled the awkward business – that even the greats such as Sir Alex Ferguson struggled with – of being a company man while remaining connected to a disenfranchised fan-base. We have enough quality to compete and compete well, he half-fibbed, standing by his employer and appeasing the fans in one fell swoop.
Only then the injuries set in. Not the usual knocks and strains that affect any side early in a campaign but sustained absences to key figures and this undoubtedly would have left the side misshapen were it not for Pochettino’s acuity. He juggled and coerced. He’s coached a string of impactful performances from Winks, Sissoko and Lamela, each talents that have cons evening out their pluses. Lamela in particular, and against the odds, has been outstanding.
That all this has been achieved to the back-drop of serious disruption due to the ongoing stadium fiasco – a situation that in itself could have been used to excuse any dropped points or lull in form but hasn’t – reveals that Tottenham’s manager is neither a man who crows when the sun shines but significantly too nor is he the type to complain when it pours. Instead he pulls up his collar and works that bit harder.
And that work thus far has been excellent. It has been highly proficient. It has been above average. Does that deserve to be shouted from the rooftops in a year that is seeing Manchester City and Liverpool stretch ahead unbeaten with stylish aplomb? Under the circumstances, hell yeah.