The date is the 17th April 2019. The time is 21:49. Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola, who just several minutes ago sprinted the length of the touchline celebrating his side’s supposed late winner, is slouched in the Etihad dugout, forlorn, with his hands on his head. He cannot believe what he has just witnessed, and nor can the football world.
Mauricio Pochettino’s success at Tottenham Hotspur this season is represented by the scoreboard shining out onto the hallowed turf below. It reads 4-3, with Spurs heading through on away goals. Tottenham, having just eliminated the favourites from Europe’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League, have reached the semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history.
Although this was a major shock to everyone involved with football, not least Guardiola, this victory is not the reason Pochettino should win manager of the season. It is instead that, given the might of the financial behemoths in modern football, Mauricio Pochettino is running on a limited budget, with an injury-stricken squad, and yet he has secured Spurs their historic Champions League semi-finals spot and is one game away from securing Champions League football for a fifth consecutive season.
This week Tottenham will open their account in the semi-finals for their first time, faced with fellow tournament underdogs Ajax, and yet have four senior players out injured with Moussa Sissoko just returning after a short spell on the sidelines. Two of those players, Harry Winks and Harry Kane, are arguably two of the most central to Tottenham’s team, and with Kane being Tottenham’s record European goalscorer it must be argued that he is an enormous miss for this tie. Given his absence in the fixture against Manchester City, though, Mauricio Pochettino is clearly doing an excellent job with the players he has available, and “star players” need not be the key component of his formula for a winning team.
It goes without saying that with the suspension of the recently prolific goalscorer Heung-Min Son, who has so often stepped up in Kane’s absence, this tie will be a hard-fought match for Spurs. However, Pochettino’s man-management in both the group stage and the previous two rounds of the competition has proved that he can get the best out of his players.
In addition to the injury list, it is worth noting that Spurs have made zero signings in the last two transfer windows, becoming the first-ever English club not to sign a player in the summer market (although given that Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy sanctioned £850 million to be spent on the club’s new stadium, it’s clear that the club’s focus has been elsewhere than on the pitch).
To his credit, however, Pochettino has delivered results in a difficult time financially for the football club in which both the manager and attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen have reportedly been contemplating moves away. In comparison, Manchester City have a net spend of £-563.24 million over the last five years, a profligate sum against Tottenham’s thrifty £-28.25 million. This is another testament to the astounding achievement on Pochettino’s part to tactically outmanoeuvre Manchester City over two legs despite the striking gap in and financial investment spending power.
Despite this lack of transfer activity, it is becoming apparent now that with their growing injury list, Spurs have few senior players left to put on the bench for this Champions League fixture, but the onus for this is on owner Daniel Levy, and not on Pochettino himself. This is why Tottenham’s position in the League and the Champions League this season is phenomenal and is largely down to the actions and superb man-management of Mauricio Pochettino.
Although Tottenham still must overcome a scintillating Ajax team to reach the Champions League final, regardless of the outcome of this fixture, Pochettino’s season as Tottenham Hotspur manager has been simply outstanding. If they manage to secure victory away at Bournemouth this weekend, they will finally secure Champions League football for next season, a terrific success given the financial might of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United below them. If indeed Pochettino’s Tottenham do manage to advance any further in the Champions League, it could be a very special season for them, and winning would result in the first true underdog victory since 2004.
There is still much to play for this season, but with his achievements already, there is no doubt: While Klopp and Guardiola occupy the headlines, it is Pochettino who slips under the radar, and is certainly a contender for Manager of the Season this year.