No matter how Tottenham’s Champions League semifinal against Ajax turns out, Mauricio Pochettino is still a winner.
Ajax have understandably received the lion’s share of both the plaudits and the attention ahead of this Champions League semifinal. But had Spurs been drawn against any of the usual European heavyweights in the tie, then Mauricio Pochettino would deservedly be dominating the headlines.
As we saw back in March, out of the Premier League big six Tottenham have by far the lowest average player salaries, overall wage bill and total transfer fees spent on their squad.
Indeed, Spurs have only spent marginally more than Everton have to assemble this group of players, while Manchester United’s squad has cost more than double Tottenham’s. In addition, no other big six side has spent less money on either wages or transfers per point earned this season.
Spurs also not only failed to sign a single player this season, but they even went on to make a £4.8 million profit in the transfer window. In stark contrast, Chelsea and Arsenal — who again currently sit below Tottenham in the Premier League table — had a net spend in the summer window of £76 million and £68 million respectively.
In addition, Tottenham’ Premier League points record prior to Pochettino’s arrival was 72. He’s on course to surpass that for a third time this term, with his side just a couple of points away from another Champions League qualification via league position.
There are plenty more club milestones that he’s met as well. He’s already matched their best league finish since 1963, when they came second. And just by securing this semifinal against Ajax, Pochettino has equalled Spurs’ finest ever showing in the European Cup/Champions League, when they went out to eventual winners Benfica in the 1962 semis.
Looking forward to next season, if the move to their new stadium produces a marked improvement in Spurs’ home form, which has been conspicuously poor in the league this term, then a title challenge could be on the cards.
Some concerns still remain, of course. Above all, there seems to be a strong chance that Christian Eriksen could depart this summer. Losing the talented Dane, who has been such a central figure under Pochettino, would be difficult in any circumstances.
And it could prove to be especially problematic, given that Pochettino has so seldom had to deal with such an important player leaving since he took over at Tottenham.
In his four years at Spurs, it seems that the only player who has left the club against Pochettino’s wishes is Kyle Walker when he departed to Manchester City, even if it was for a very handsome price.
Looking ahead, there are two other issues that are likely to worry Tottenham fans. Most pressingly, should they make it past Ajax, the opponents that will await them in the final — Liverpool or Barcelona — both convincingly defeated Spurs at Wembley this season, although Tottenham did at least cause both those teams some problems in the reverse fixtures.
Perhaps more important, though, is the fact Pochettino’s two most eligible and ardent suitors might well be casting admiring glances in his direction again in the near future.
Should Zinedine Zidane’s extraordinary lucky streak in the Champions League desert him and his inability to dominate in La Liga continue, his return to the Santiago Bernabeu might well be a short one.
Similarly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ability to say the right things and not be Jose Mourinho will only take him so far. All the signs are that he’s a very limited coach who’s only been given the job because of his playing days at Manchester United, which makes it unlikely he’ll be a long-term solution to the club’s many problems.
So, yes, Ajax’s success in this season’s Champions League truly is the stuff of fairy-tales — but Tottenham’s progress under Pochettino really isn’t that far behind.