Mauricio Pochettino tugged on Tottenham heartstrings this week when he spoke of his love for the club enduring despite his sacking in November.
The Argentine lost his job after a poor start to the 2019-20 season, having failed to turn things around following a disappointing end to the previous campaign.
His finest hour as Tottenham manager also came last year though – the comeback win at Ajax in the Champions League semi-final in April.
Mauricio Pochettino was speaking to BT Sport this week about his time at Tottenham
TOTTENHAM IN PREMIER LEAGUE UNDER POCHETTINO
2014-15: 5th (64 points)
2015-16: 3rd (70 points)
2016-17: 2nd (86 points)
2017-18: 3rd (77 points)
2018-19: 4th (71 points)
But the fact Pochettino’s best moment at Tottenham doesn’t involve winning a trophy tells you all you need to know, because despite forging a reputation as one of the best and most likeable managers in the world, he still hasn’t won anything.
‘It was an amazing journey, we were so close to winning the right trophies, the Premier League, the Champions League,’ Pochettino told BT Sport when looking back on his five years at Spurs. ‘Maybe in five years maybe in 10 years, but before I die I want to manage Tottenham again and try, if it is possible, to win one title.’
In truth, Tottenham should have won at least one major trophy under Pochettino – and could have won six. Here, we look back at those near misses…
2016 PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE
2016 will forever be remembered as Leicester’s year – but it really should have been Tottenham’s year.
After winning six matches on the spin in February and late January, including a 2-1 win at Manchester City, Spurs went into a London derby at bitter rivals West Ham on March 2 knowing that a win would send them top. But Michail Antonio had other ideas, scoring the only goal in a deserved win for the Hammers.
West Ham celebrate Michail Antonio’s winner against Tottenham in March 2016
Then, just three days later, Spurs could only draw at home to north London rivals Arsenal, who equalised through Alexis Sanchez despite playing the last 35 minutes with 10 men.
Leicester, who beat Watford on the same day, had suddenly gone from looking like losing top spot to being five points clear with just nine matches to play. They never looked back, while the wheels well and truly came off for Spurs, who won just four of their last 11 league matches and were pipped to second place by Arsenal on the final day, following a 5-1 drubbing at Newcastle.
Harry Kane reacts as Spurs slip to defeat by their London rivals which derailed their title bid
2017 PREMIER LEAGUE TITLE
Tottenham went into the 2016-17 season as title favourites with some bookies having strengthened a young and improving team which had performed so well the previous campaign before their late collapse. They were certainly better fancied than eventual champions and London rivals (there’s a theme here) Chelsea.
But Pochettino’s title challenge was over before it ever really started as his team won just seven of their opening 15 matches, while the Blues went on a 13-match winning streak, including a 2-1 win over Tottenham in November which sent them seven points clear of their fifth-placed opponents.
A brilliant run of 12 wins from their final 13 matches saw Spurs finish in second place on 86 points – five more points than Leicester had gained the previous season and enough to win the Premier League on 11 occasions.
Jan Vertonghen looks dejected as Tottenham slip to a 2-0 defeat by Chelsea in November 2016
2019 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
It is difficult to be too critical of Pochettino here, as Spurs had done exceptionally well to reach the final. The famous Ajax win was in fact the salvaging of a tie they were favourites for, but victories over Manchester City and Dortmund over two legs as well as coming though a group including Barcelona and Inter Milan represents a mightily impressive campaign.
But Liverpool did not play well last June and Spurs could not take advantage. Despite dominating possession – 61 per cent to 39 – it never really felt like they would win. Yes, the first-minute penalty award was key, but so was Pochettino’s dropping of the man whose hat-trick had got them to the final, Lucas Moura.
This match defines Pochettino’s reign. Jose Mourinho once dubbed Arsene Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’. Pochettino is a specialist in glorious failure.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson lifts the European Cup after last summer’s win over Spurs
2017 FA CUP SEMI-FINAL
Chelsea and Tottenham dominated the narrative in 2016-17, with Pochettino’s side heading into this Wembley semi-final in the midst of that aforementioned brilliant end-of-season run and looking good to salvage a trophy from the season.
Chelsea were supposed to be distracted by the title race, and their team selection suggested so with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa left on the bench. But the pair’s introduction on the hour with the game tied at 2-2 proved crucial, as first Hazard and then Nemanja Matic struck to pile the pain on Pochettino at Wembley. Arsenal beat Chelsea in the final to deny the Blues the Double.
Pochettino looks on as Spurs are beaten 4-2 by Chelsea in the 2017 FA Cup semi-final
2018 FA CUP SEMI-FINAL
Spurs were never in the title race in 2017-18, but that owed as much to the brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City than anything Pochettino had done. Still, they were locked in a battle with Manchester United and Liverpool for second place and had an FA Cup semi-final against the former to look forward to.
Pochettino rested players for a midweek game against Brighton before the semi-final and it appeared to pay off as Spurs came flying out of the traps, taking an early lead through Dele Alli. But Mourinho’s United turned things round through Ander Herrera and Alexis Sanchez to leave Pochettino feeling empty at Wembley again. United were beaten in the final in Conte’s final Chelsea match.
Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku celebrates their FA Cup semi-final win over Spurs
2015 LEAGUE CUP FINAL
Pochettino’s first season at Spurs seems like an awful long time ago now, so much so that it’s easy to forget that he reached the League Cup final that campaign.
Tottenham were soundly beaten and the opponents were – you guessed it – Chelsea. Mourinho’s side would go on to win the league three months after John Terry and Diego Costa goals saw off a developing Spurs team featuring Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli at Wembley.
The furthest Spurs have got in the League Cup since was their semi-final defeat by Chelsea last year, while they were knocked out by League Two Colchester on penalties this season in one of Pochettino’s last matches in charge.
Pochettino hugs Eric Dier as his side are beaten by Chelsea in the 2015 League Cup final