We will stand tall, face it all together
It is easy, given all that has transpired since, to have forgotten the reality of Mauricio Pochettino’s welcome to English football when he was unveiled as Southampton manager in January 2013.
The Argentine was warned the club’s supporters intended to strike against the sacking of Nigel Adkins, the man he had succeeded at St. Mary’s, while the external question marks against him felt ceaseless.
“What does he know about our game? What does he know about the Premier League? What does he know about the dressing room, does he speak English?,” went one line of enquiry.
While the antagonistic introduction did not ruffle Pochettino, the last point - his unfamiliarity with the language - was slightly unsettling.
“The most difficult time of my life was when we moved from Spain to England,” Pochettino recalls in an exclusive interview with JOE on the second tier of Tottenham’s impressive Hotspur Way training complex.
“As a kid moving from home to Rosario - about 160 kilometres away - at 14 was tough. You always think that leaving your family when you are young will be the hardest thing. Then I moved to Spain and France during my playing career, before becoming a manager so quickly during a relegation fight… But the most testing period was coming to England.
“The decision was not the hard part, but the adjustment. There were many nights when I could not sleep. I remember the first night in the hotel at Southampton, it was a Friday and the next day was going to be the first training session.
“I was so restless, tossing and not able to close my eyes. I took my phone, it will have been just before 4am, and I sent a WhatsApp message to [his assistant] Jesus [Perez]: ‘Are you awake?’. Immediately there was the response ‘Yes’ so I told him, ‘Ok, come to my room, we talk.’ He came and I looked at him and just said ‘Jesus, tomorrow!’
“I did not know what to do. I couldn’t say one word in English and I needed to put myself in front of about 50 people, including the chairman. I was shaking.”
By that point, Pochettino had only undertaken a solitary lesson in the language arranged by his wife, Karina Grippaldi.
“She found an English teacher for me and the first session - two hours long - was so boring and the tutor said: ‘Ok, we are going to try something a little different, let’s learn with a song,’” he grimaces.
“She put on Adele’s Skyfall, which is so tricky - as you can imagine - if you don’t know anything about English.
“But every time I hear Skyfall now, I always think about that and smile. I had only one lesson and I thought ‘impossible, I’m not going to be able to get this language.’”
Pochettino had originally planned to spend five months studying English after leaving Espanyol - his first managerial job - in November 2012, while enjoying a period of reflection with his trusted lieutenant Perez.
The pair had turned the home office at Pochettino’s residence in Barcelona into a football bunker, where they endeavoured to refine their philosophy and collate training dossiers at the turn of the year.
The designs for their working future were shredded by the ambitious blueprint of Southampton’s chairman at the time, Nicola Cortese.
It was on May 13, 2012, when Pochettino’s career trajectory altered without him knowing it. Stationed in the Espanyol dugout as the on-loan Philippe Coutinho secured a 1-1 draw against Sevilla, the manager had unwittingly thieved attention from his goalscorer.
Cortese was in attendance to watch the Brazilian playmaker, who was Southampton’s premier transfer target. Coutinho dazzled, as anticipated, but it was Pochettino’s mannerisms in the technical area and the positive aggression his side displayed that left the biggest imprint on the Italian-Swiss banker.
That November, the man who bettered Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona in his first win as a manager with rivals Espanyol, bid an emotional but overdue farewell to the club, then bottom of the table.
Cortese immediately got to work. Dynamo Kiev and Olympiacos had already sounded Pochettino out before he left to spend the festive period in Argentina.
Now back home, his plan to relax and reset would again be interrupted by an approach: an agent called on behalf of Cortese with the message that Southampton wanted to overhaul the club and they felt him to be the perfect candidate to oversee their reconstruction.
Soon after, the chairman personally rang Pochettino to reinforce that message and a meeting was arranged at a hotel in London for January 6, with Les Reed, Saints’ executive director, also present.
The three-hour conversation which began at 4pm, translated through Perez, extensively detailed Pochettino’s core footballing principles: building from the back, dominating the ball, being aggressive without it.
It also underlined his passion for youth development, his focus on fitness - and significantly, a devotion to helping players grow as people.
No English was necessary from Pochettino to convince Cortese that he had found the right candidate.
“I believe people can perceive what you are about and that first impressions are big - you need to be strong and honest and people will relate to that,” the 46-year-old explains.
“You can speak very good English but without translating any emotion or feeling, which is pointless.”
That is why the nerves that circled in the early hours ahead of his introductory talk and training session with Southampton disappeared when the big moment arrived.
“When I am in front of people, everything changes,” Pochettino says. “It’s like I was born to be there. It’s hard to explain, but I look in people’s eyes and it becomes easy to connect.
“I couldn’t say anything in English, but I made them believe in me. I think it's because of the energy that was translated, which is so important. Sometimes, you don’t need to speak for people to know if they can trust in you - it’s there in your body language and your manner. More important than what you say is to be true to who you are.”
Pochettino’s family - Karina, his sons Sebastiano and Maurizio, as well as the extension of that in the form of his working inner circle - Perez, Miguel D'Agostino and Toni Jimenez - cherished their experiences in Southampton.
It tore them to depart, but the uncertainty around the club following Cortese’s exit in January 2014 - coupled with the futures of so many players being up in the air - meant the decision to join Tottenham after a season-and-a-half was basically made for them.
One staffer, who worked under Pochettino at St Mary’s, described how the manager “made everyone feel like giants. There was nothing beyond us. It was such a happy place for the staff and the players and it hurt to lose him but there will never not be love for him from those who were here.”
The testimonials are the same from Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Jose Fonte, Dejan Lovren - the list goes on.
Over the past five years, Pochettino, Perez, D'Agostino and Jimenez have replicated that close, odds-defying environment at Tottenham.
“My priority is to provide the best result, but at the same time, why not create a good atmosphere to work? A place where people are excited to come and enjoy being,” he notes.
“We all feel the pressure to deliver, the dedication to develop players to be better, to develop them as people, to advance the club. We all feel responsible.”
‘A great manager, an even better man’
There is a picture of two-year-old Pochettino, sitting in front of a shed that his father built on their farm in Murphy, Santa Fe. He is shirtless, sporting a broken shoe with part of his nappy protruding from his shorts. He is tightly clutching a ball under one arm, his face coloured by a gigantic grin with typical farm machinery painting the background.
That image serves as his reference point: the foundation of who he is, of how he was brought up, of his strong connection with football even before he was out of diapers.
This interview has materialised in the middle of a torrid week for Spurs, who have been beaten by Burnley and Chelsea with the North London derby against Arsenal to follow on Saturday, and yet Pochettino glows like he did in that memory while talking about pressure, expectation, rises and declines.
“When I thought for the first time, around the age of 27, that I wanted to be a manager, I knew it wasn’t a joke,” he emphasises. “It’s not because I woke up one day and decided ‘okay, now I want to be a manager - easy!’. Or ‘I’m bored, what can I do? Oh, be a manager.’
“No, no. I wanted the responsibility because I feel the passion to manage players, to lead a group of people all working towards the same thing. When I started my career as a manager, I was open to learning a lot. Now, 10 years later, I am still open to learning a lot. Every day presents a fresh chance to improve.”
Responsibility is a word Pochettino reaches for often. His parents Hector and Amalia instilled the sense of duty to him in his formative years, whether it was helping tend to the pigs and cows in labour or doing tractor work on the fields out of school hours.
He was a natural leader, Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Griffa saw it when they recruited the teenager who had “the legs of a footballer” for Newell's Old Boys, and it was evident all the way through his playing career with Espanyol, Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux as well as on international duty with Argentina.
Despite being ultra modern tactically, while seeking out analytical, mental, physical and nutritional advantages, Pochettino subscribes to old-school values.
It pains him that leadership is so often no longer a sacred concept, but a personal brand opportunity.
“Wanting responsibility is in your character automatically, I think. Without even knowing it, you show it as a kid that you have the ability to be a leader and other people see it,” Pochettino explains.
“At 17, 18, 19, 20, you’re not sitting thinking ‘I have the personality to be a manager.’ But it is true that I always felt a strong responsibility as a player - captaining teams and being the voice in the dressing room. When you put the armband on your bicep, it’s not only for the picture.
“For me, it was a case of: I am responsible for what happens on the pitch, I have to be the manager’s helping hand. Over time I think that the armband has lost some significance, which is very sad. Today, some fight to be captain because it looks good to have the picture, to have the status, or it’s good for sponsorship.
“But do you know what it means to be captain? It is more duties than benefits - but some people only see the benefits. We need to fight to rediscover the importance of these things, but that is not so easy sometimes with how society is today.”
Pochettino is unfailingly honest. In 2004, Espanyol re-signed him from Bordeaux to help the club through a difficult patch but, two years later, rumours surfaced that the club’s president Dani Sanchez Llibre wanted to get rid of him.
Pochettino needed to know from the man himself, but his calls rang unanswered. He persisted, showing up while Llibre was at lunch to tell the president that if his wish was to see him leave the club, he would duly oblige.
The answer was affirmative and Pochettino retired. Not long after, talk swirled that the ex-player was plotting to usurp Llibre as the head of Espanyol. Again, Pochettino picked up the phone to the president to set the record straight: he had no intention of taking his job.
Llibre later admitted that he would never have ratified the Argentine’s appointment as Espanyol manager in 2009 if it wasn't for those two honest talks.
Fast forward to present day, and on Saturday, after Tottenham suffered a 2-1 defeat to Burnley, the manager didn’t seek to evade questioning about his team’s insipid performance.
“I am so frustrated because we didn’t show more attitude than Burnley or energy or ambition, and we were fighting for the Premier League,” Pochettino said post-match.
“We showed we are a good team, with good quality, but it’s not enough. To be a real contender, this type of game is must-win. It’s unacceptable to lose.”
Here, as the afternoon sunshine peeps in through the blinds of the floor-to-ceiling windows, it is Pochettino who chooses to address his confrontation with referee Mike Dean following the final whistle at Turf Moor - which has already publicly apologised for - that led to an improper conduct charge from the FA
The chaotic scenes - the official seemed to say something that incensed the Spurs boss and Perez as they were walking away - was the antithesis to his usual state of tranquilidad - calmness.
“I cannot say that wasn’t me,” Pochettino admits. “It is part of a side that maybe I don’t show often, but inside with my staff, the players or sometimes with my family, my personality is that I am capable to be upset or angry. But I never lose my control.”
In the minutes between the heated exchange - where Pochettino freely accepts he failed to keep his cool - to the post-match TV interview, there was a complete shift. He was composed and handled his media duties with poise, refusing to divulge what Dean had said, not placing the blame for defeat on the officiating, while adding that he had “made a mistake.”
Pochettino and his backroom team have a mantra: When something has happened, it is gone. You can’t change anything about that moment, you can only make it worse. Do not make it worse.
That line of thinking surfaced on Saturday. “In life, it is a massive advantage to have people that can tell you the truth, that care about you and aren’t only going to tell you what you want to hear,” the manager says.
“The people that love you can be so tough with you and this is necessary. They are not there to push you just through the good times, but tell you when you are wrong and not doing the best for your career or your life. You need people that tell you the truth, that give you real advice not just nice words.
“I’m 46 and I feel very blessed to have so many people that are honest with me. [Tottenham’s head of communications] Simon [Felstein], for example, after the game on Saturday sent me a message. He helped me a lot when he described to me the reality that he saw, I realised quickly ‘come on, I need to do what is best for the players, the staff, the club’ here. It was only a message, but I could see from it that he cared about me.
“My responsibility as a manager is bigger than whatever I feel. That must always come first.”
One of Pochettino’s strengths as a leader is trust, loyalty and a willingness to be collaborative rather than dictatorial. D'Agostino, his former defensive partner at Newell’s, has joined him in the technical areas of Espanyol, Southampton and Spurs, where is he is first-team coach.
Jimenez played with 'the gaffer' in Spain and has been part of his staff since 2011, now as goalkeeper coach. Assistant manager, Perez, who was instrumental in convincing Pochettino to move to England, has been a fundamental part of the close-knit team from 2010.
“It’s impossible today to work without the support of people with capacity, quality, who have honesty and loyalty - people you can trust,” the Spurs boss says.
“With all the things a manager has in his hands these days to deal with, you need to be able to delegate to people you know are committed to helping you. This is a 24-hour job, seven days a week. It’s not only about tactics or training sessions, because the evolution of football means we need to be across everything at the club.
“It’s key to have the right people with you, who know you, who accept the role they do next to you, who really enjoy what they do. How you treat them is very important too, to give them the opportunity to have influence. I don’t want people that only follow me, I want people that challenge me and think like leaders.
“They need to be able work well within a team, but also grow as individuals. They have to feel important and have the bravery to take decisions and make a mistake.
“The ultimate decision will always be mine and I am the face to the cameras, but it happens a lot that sometimes it is Jesus’ idea and we translate it together. We like to have different input and it’s never Miki’s decision, or Jesus,’ or Toni’s, or mine - it is a conclusion we reach as a team.
“I arrived with those three, but my staff is Simon, the chef, the doctor, the kitman. It’s 25 football people, but also everyone that works in the canteen and everyone who gives their time to Spurs.
“We’re lucky to have been here five years now and to work with passionate people. If, after all this time, the staff didn’t feel like they were mine or I didn’t feel like they were mine, we’d be doing something very wrong.”
Pochettino rushes to point out, though, that the support structure away from football should never be under-appreciated.
“At Espanyol, after we secured our safety from relegation, we gathered the families of everyone - players and staff - together.
“We recorded a video as a way of saying ‘thank you’, because you cannot achieve anything without the support of the people you love. If I leave the training ground today and I go home and I don’t feel happy or don’t feel like I have a strong foundation, it’s so difficult to do the job well.
“You have to have that support base - not just in football, but for every type of situation. Family and friends are so vital to give you consistency and the capacity to have balance in the good moments and the bad moments. It is crucial that in both moments, you have the right people around you, but also that you remain the same person.”
Hector Pochettino has recalled, more than once, his pride when people relay to him that ‘your son is a great manager, but more than that, he is a great man’.
As one employee at Hotspur Way put it: “He is the boss, yes. But he is a person I can go to when I have a problem: he is a friend, he helps. There is a chant the fans have that goes ‘Mauricio Pochettino, he’s magic you know’, which is true, but even better than that - he is real, he’s genuine.”
"You cannot create something you don’t believe in. You cannot put on an act every day, you have to be natural."
How is it that so many players, both present and former, are still Pochettino devotees? Rattle off names and they’ll rattle off praise. Coutinho? “Mauricio Pochettino gave me a lot of confidence. He always encouraged me to play and show my skills.”
Harry Kane? “If I've got problems off the pitch or personal issues, he's there to talk to.”
The answer can be found in Pochettino’s man-management approach.
“Of course, we want to win, but always I think you have to respect the people you have in front of you,” he explains.
“The way that we choose to work with the players, is to touch them inside. It’s more than just focusing on the professional side. If you touch the person inside, you automatically create the room to improve them as a player.
“I am open, I am here for them all. We told the players from the start, ‘there is no limit to how close you can be with me - it’s up to you to choose’.
“If you’re not playing tomorrow, I know the day after that you’re going to be upset. I’m going to give you your space. I’m not going to put my arm around you and say ‘you are going to play next time, don’t worry’. The player would think ‘fuck off, I don’t need this’. After three or so days, I can check how they are doing and if they say they are disappointed, I’ll say ‘show me more’.
“I never justify my decisions, but if a player comes to me asking why he didn’t start, I will be honest with him and tell him what he needs to work on. You need to treat them with respect and understand their emotions in different situations - it is about them not you.
“It’s true that at the start of every season - ok, for the last two seasons we haven’t had many new faces in the squad - that you refresh this message.
“The first meeting is always about discussing the two different sides: one is the human side, the other is professional. On the first, everyone is all the same to me. We help everyone: whether you play a little, all the time, whether you are 17 or 30, you will be treated the same and our door is always open.
“On the other side, I have to take decisions. Do we want to play with one striker, or no striker? These decisions are based on many information-based factors and you can’t mix the first side with the second one. The professional choice is never personal and it is important that no-one takes it that way.
“The point that you start to mix to everything and think ‘oh, I’m not playing because the gaffer doesn’t like me’ - no, no, no, no. If you’re not playing, it’s because we think someone is better suited for the game based on our assessments. Yes, we can be wrong because no-one is right all the time, but it is about strategy nothing else.”
Pochettino, meticulous and a believer in energia universal - nothing happens by chance, everything is a consequence of something else -records all training sessions, gym workouts and meetings to assess body language and pick up when things are off kilter.
“It is a massive challenge for all managers today, because we are in new era,” he details.
“Every single player is different and needs to be treated differently. There are so many distractions these days and with the evolution of society, you can’t be left behind: you have to know everything about what could be affecting them, what they spend their time doing, the effects of social media and all these kind of things.
“Collective meetings with the team is not enough these days, you need individual meetings, you need to communicate with players over WhatsApp, some need to know constantly that you are there and available for them to talk, others maybe just need one emoji a week, some don’t need regular chats.
“You cannot manage every player in exactly the same way because you are not going to address their individual needs or maximise their potential. If a player needs you but they feel you are closed or that they can’t talk to you, that creates problems for both of you.
“We have had many discussions as a coaching staff to say if we notice something with a player - even if it seems a very small, insignificant detail - to tell each other. We say the same to the players - don’t judge if you have an issue which you think is important or not, communicate it to us and we can decide together.
“Sometimes a small thing can become a huge problem if you don’t address it in time. This side of the game, taking a real interest in the players, consumes more time than tactical instructions or planning training sessions and that is the way it should be because we work with humans, not robots.
“It’s such an important thing that a player enjoys being part of the group, that he feels comfortable and happy. We demand a lot from them and we also have to give them a lot.”
One example of Pochettino paying attention and uncovering an underlying issue was with Adam Lallana at Southampton. He explains: “When we arrived there, we watched all the analysis videos of him and it was ‘phwoar! What a player!’. But why was he always injured? We needed to do some assessments.”
The backroom team arrived at the conclusion that Lallana’s training schedule and his game - quick switches in direction, high energy and control in tight spaces - were at odds with each other.
“One day, we called him in and said ‘ok, we’ve looked at why you’re having all these issues and we have created a special plan for you to follow. If you trust and you do it, this is how we see your role for us,’” Pochettino remembers. “He was so determined to follow it, he was so professional.”
There was still another problem to solve. The manager takes up the story: “It was a day just like this, a sunny afternoon in April, that we spent nearly three hours on the pitch after training with Adam.
“I remember, he was under unbelievable pressure. I needed to know what was wrong. It was because the chairman (Cortese) kept calling him before and after games complaining about the result or the performance. I called the chairman and said, ‘please, stop calling Adam. When you have problems, call me instead. He is the captain, you cannot put the pressure of the entire club on his shoulders, come on!’
“It stopped and bam! - Adam was our best player that season.”
Those closest to Pochettino label him a ‘giver’. He offers opportunities, he empowers his staff and the squad, but most importantly, they say, is that he shares his core being with people.
Perhaps that is why Lovren refers to him as “my footballing father” or Jay Rodriguez concedes “he’s still a big part of me”.
It is the story of Ryan Mason, though, which underlines Pochettino’s desire to go above and beyond. “Five years ago when we arrived here, he had been on loan at Yeovil, Doncaster, Millwall, Lorient, Swindon. On loan, on loan, on loan,” the manager relates.
“He hardly played, he was often injured. We went in the gym one day and saw this kid in there, sitting down, bent over with his hands on his head. We wondered why he had this depressing body language and we asked around about him and told [the Academy’s head of coaching & player development] John McDermott could we please have all the information on Mason.
“He was injured at the time, but John said ‘a few years ago, he was one of the most talented players I had in my hands’. We asked what happened and he explained ‘he was always injured, or on loan, with no-one really believing in him’.
“When we arrived in Seattle for [2014-15] pre-season and were waiting by passport control, I was next to Mason and we starting talking - shame for him because my English was still not too good. After 20 minutes of conversation with him, I told Jesus, ‘I like Mason as a person - I think he needs our help’.
“We went to training and did some tactical work and Mason was the cleverest player. Everything was quick, everything was done right. You could still see, though, that there were lots of doubts in his mind, he wasn’t confident.
“When we came back to London, together with Jesus and the sporting director at the time Franco Baldini, we had a meeting with Ryan. I said, ‘look, we’re going to propose something. We’re going to give you the possibility to be involved in the first team from now until January. We don’t want you to go to another club on loan, we want you to train with us, to work on a special programme we’ll create for you.
“There is no pressure on you, though. If you trust in us and what we want to do, give us six months. We felt something special with him and I remember after a month and a half, he played for the Under-21s in Sunderland on a Monday night. Tuesday, in the morning, like it always happens, we met with John and asked ‘how was Mason?’. He said ‘wow, for 90 minutes, he fought and gave everything on a shit pitch. He had a big heart, unbelievable motivation and played really well.’
“Because he came back very late on the Monday night, he was scheduled to train in the afternoon with the Under-21s but I told John, ‘no, call him and tell him to come train with us during our morning session.’
“So that was Tuesday and on Wednesday, we played Nottingham Forest at White Hart Lane and we were 1-0 down in the first half. In the second half, I was so upset with some players and I turned to Jesus and said, ‘get Mason ready’. And you know what happened? He goes in, first ball - boom, boom, boom, in the top corner, massive goal! And then 3-1 for us.
“On the weekend, we had the North London derby, I had my press conference and when I was leaving it, I bumped into John. I asked him ‘John, do you think Ryan can play against Arsenal at the Emirates? Yes or no?’ Immediately, he said ‘yes.’ I said OK. And I selected him ahead of more established midfielders.
“He played and played well, then the national team called. It was amazing the change he showed and that’s why I say that it’s important not to only focus on the professional side because you think ‘always injured - out’.
“If you care about the person, you find out many more things about them and yes, afterwards you can still think it is not possible that it will work, but at least you took the time to find out, you checked the possibility.
“It is unbelievable how many players you can miss or throw away just because you didn’t want to give 20 minutes to talk to them, or to find out why things weren’t working out and what you could do to help.”
It saddened Pochettino when Mason requested to leave Spurs in order to play more regularly at Hull City, but that was nothing compared to the devastation he felt when the player had to cruelly retire aged 25 after fracturing his skull against Chelsea in January 2017.
They have been reunited, however, with the former midfielder working towards his coaching badges at Hotspur Way, where he assists with training across different age groups on a voluntary basis.
Pochettino is invested in helping pave a path for those who view a future in the dugout. Last year, he launched ‘Passion 4 Coaching’ - a Tottenham FC Foundation programme that is funded through the proceeds of the insightful book Brave New World, which charts the club’s 2016-17 season through the manager’s thoughts.
The initiative trains 16 to 24-year-olds within the local community to become volunteer football coaches.
Success takes many shapes
Pochettino has not won a trophy in a decade as a manager. He saved Espanyol from relegation, against all logic, after becoming their third throw of the dice in 2008-09.
There is still deep pride and euphoria from the club’s supporters and players who were involved in the two-legged Copa del Rey quarter-final against Guardiola’s Barca, who walked off the Camp Nou pitch relieved they had secured a 3-2 aggregate victory. Espanyol’s highest league finish of 8th in the last 10 years - achieved twice - happened under Pochettino the first time.
Those who lined up under him at Southampton retrace that period with fondness: they were brave, they believed, they played with the ambition and aggression of a big club as Pochettino delivered their best Premier League points total at that time in 2013-14. The wins over Manchester City, Liverpool (twice) and Chelsea, as well as draws with Arsenal, Manchester United (twice) and City, are still discussed in WhatsApp conversations.
Tottenham last won silverware - the League Cup - under Juande Ramos in 2008, when they finished 11th. When Pochettino arrived five years ago, Spurs were merely a mild irritation to Arsenal and Chelsea. The former haven’t finished above their arch-rivals since 2015-16, while the latter have looked up at Tottenham in three out of five campaigns, including the current one.
Only City have amassed more Premier League points than Tottenham since Pochettino’s appointment.
The club are participating in their third consecutive season in the Champions League and you would have to backtrack to the start of the 60s to find a more promising succession of top-flight finishes.
Spurs have lost two FA Cup semi-finals to Chelsea and United, as well as the League Cup final defeat to the former (when Mourinho was in charge at Stamford Bridge) in March 2015. This January, their depleted side was beaten on penalties by Maurizio Sarri’s men in the last four of the League Cup.
Those are serious opponents and Spurs have become serious competitors: over the last 20 years, they have never been so consistently involved in the closing stages of the conversation for domestic honours.
All of Tottenham’s top-six rivals have financially trampled them in the transfer market. Since Pochettino was appointed in 2014, they have had a net spend of just £29 million without factoring in January’s outgoings. To put that into perspective for the same period, the comparison is: City £518m, United £466m, Arsenal £225m, Chelsea £200m and Liverpool £183m.
Spurs have the lowest wage bill in the top six and, having not strengthened their squad in the winter window, they became the first Premier League team to not make a signing in an entire season.
As a European transfer negotiator, who had two players who were keen to join the club, phrased it: “They top the accounting league, but you don’t win anything with your balance sheet.”
Despite their self-imposed shackles in trading, despite their rivals operating in a different stratosphere with world-record signings, and despite the financial burden of a new stadium, Spurs remain hugely competitive.
That is a credit of their coaching, of a clarity in methodology and a cohesive culture. Under Pochettino, they find a way regardless of limitations or setbacks. The manager has transformed the club in every area under his remit and has improved players beyond their own belief.
Harry Kane, for instance, went from being fourth-choice striker to one of the very best in the world. Through the threads of his career in the technical area, Pochettino’s ability to enhance a career has proved to be the norm, not the exception.
Pochettino has not won a trophy in a decade as a manager, but that is not the overarching indicator of success, especially in the situations he has been in.
There are quantifiable reasons that some of the biggest clubs in the world - Real Madrid, Manchester United and PSG - have coveted him. They know Pochettino is a winner, they have seen his magic, they know it is real and they realise the countless possibilities with far greater resources.
The man himself signed a new five-year contract with Tottenham in May and has found it hard in the past to walk away from commitment: staying at Espanyol too long out of loyalty even though the turbulent writing was on the wall, agonising over the decision to depart Southampton despite all the uncertainty and changes in direction.
But how long can he keep Spurs exceeding expectations in a climate that will not get any easier?
Pochettino does not have social media, an agent, he rarely offers one-on-one interviews and the first-person book he did was with the proviso that his royalties would be donated to charity.
His work speaks for itself and what happens next is anyone’s guess, but the manager is not interested in external voices.
“I know that I’m exposed to the people’s talk, good or bad, but I don’t worry about that,” he says.
“I care about the people who know us, share values with us, have dinner with us, who spend time with our families.
“I don’t care too much about the people who don’t know me, or see me from outside. I care for the people that know me. That is for me the most important, that is why I don’t have a social media or an agent.
“Nowadays, people are doing more for those who don’t know them. They are concerned about how many likes they are getting from people that don’t know them instead of paying attention to the people next to them.
“And some people need a book where they write down everything because if tomorrow someone comes to talk to them, they need notes to remember their last talk for reference. I remember everything that has happened here in the last five years.
“I remember every single conversation with my chairman, every single conversation with the players, what happened yesterday or on the first day here. I don’t need notes to tell me what happened a month ago, I can say ‘we had this meeting, we discussed this subject’. It’s a skill you cannot buy on the market - you have it or not. Why is it like this?
“I remember because there is honesty, it is natural. You need the staff and players to feel how you work and trust in you. It’s not only about talking, you need to show them with actions.
“Many things can change, but values must always stay.”