In an extract from Guillem Balague’s new book ‘Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs’, we take a deep, behind-the-scenes look at how the Tottenham manager dealt with a crushing final-day 5-1 defeat by Newcastle in 2016.
Having missed out on the Premier League title to Leicester weeks earlier, Pochettino’s Spurs lost their last two games and eventually finished third behind north London rivals Arsenal. Their final-day defeat, a 5-1 humbling at relegated Newcastle, caused Pochettino to turn to deep reflection, junk food and his favourite Argentine Malbec. Here, he tells the story of the defeat and the aftermath.
You can order Guillem Balague’s ‘Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs’ here.
Why did we start our holidays before that match? What did we do wrong? That uncomfortable place is where we are at the moment. It was all my fault. I did something wrong. We have to understand the underlying cause behind that defeat.
I got the screen out at half-time, when we were 2-0 down. But it wasn’t a matter of altering the position of our defensive line or which players played where. ‘What’s happening here has nothing to do with tactics. We aren’t battling. You aren’t yourselves on the pitch!’ I repeated that several times.
But it was to no avail.
Where was the individual commitment that gave us that special feeling of belonging to the group? I get very annoyed when I cannot find the way to motivate, to generate the passion necessary to enjoy this game.
Was it my fault?
At the end of the game, I headed into an empty dressing room. The players gradually came in, but I swiftly had to head off to see to my media commitments with radio and television. I came back 45 minutes later, by which point they had all showered and got changed, so I couldn’t say anything. What was I to do?
We went back down to London together, but there was no way to get the players on their own.
I didn’t even try. Everyone had serious expressions on their faces. They certainly all had their own ideas in their heads and had reached their own conclusions. We were not avoiding one another, but nobody was smiling. We felt embarrassed when we crossed paths, and if we saw a fan we kept our heads down.
Players want first and foremost to win, of course, because they’re the ones who are on the pitch, and there’s nowhere to hide. But sometimes they live their own reality – without realising it, they become trapped in a bubble. A player’s entourage protects him and often blocks out other worlds out there, only allowing him to see his own. Of course, a footballer must look after himself and put up walls in order to ensure that external factors don’t have an overbearing impact, but in order to perform well he needs a balance of self-esteem, ego, his own reality and other realities outside those walls. Excessive self-criticism is crushing, as is ignorance of the wider world.
It becomes a serious matter when there’s a mental disconnect with the basic principles of the game – if the footballer’s aim isn’t a shared one, but purely individual, and he forgets the required order in this sport: that the individual shines more when at the service of the team and the structure that supports him.
Man Utd vs Tottenham
October 28, 2017, 11:30am
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I was thinking about all of that as we landed back in London from Newcastle. I got in the car and headed home. The first thing that I did when I got there was open a bottle of wine and stuff myself with unhealthy food. I think I let my frustration out on myself. I ate the lot: crisps, snacks… If we had pizza, some of that as well. No salad.
The wine was Argentinian: a Malbec. Whenever I am slightly down, I like to smell Argentinian wine. It makes me happy and takes me back to my country, to recognisable places, to when I was a boy, the redolence of the countryside where I lived until the age of eight, in that house with an orchard and horses… If I am challenged to some blind wine tasting, I quickly suss out which one is Argentinian, particularly Malbec.
Today I started this diary.
Not even 24 hours have passed since the game. I’ve just received a message from Harry Kane saying thank you for the season and that it was a good year despite the final match… You could see that he felt ashamed at the end of the game.
I’m not going to reply. He doesn’t expect it either.
I’ve started the summer in Qatar. I received an invitation from one of the directors at Aspetar Hospital in Doha, Dr Hakim Chalabi, a good friend of mine who was my doctor at Paris Saint-Germain. It’s a three day trip with Jesus Perez, my assistant and right-hand man, and my son Sebastiano, who specialises in sports science. We’ve had a great time and they’ve explained to us how they’re preparing for the World Cup in Qatar.
Everybody was impressed by our campaign. There was talk that we’d played the best football, had the most shots on goal, conceded the fewest goals and the rest, but I couldn’t brush off the embarrassment of what had happened on the final day.
I’m experiencing another type of deeper pain. My father-in-law is unwell. He went to Barcelona to continue his treatment, and when we saw him, my wife Karina and I could tell that he wasn’t right. He wasn’t the same person whom we knew and had enjoyed spending time with two years ago, the last time we saw him.
I’ve just sent good luck messages to the players at Euro 2016, which has just kicked off. While I was writing to them I thought about how at Newcastle we had stopped doing what we’d been practising for two years. Finishing third is certainly not the same as finishing second, even though some seem to think it is. Arsenal leapfrogged us in the end. I didn’t recognise my own team.
I should’ve seen it coming. I should’ve sensed that some of them were already on holiday and others were thinking about the Euros.
In reality, we did sense it and we did see it. I should’ve stopped that negative spiral, but how?
Sending them good-luck messages hurts. I’ll do it before every game, but it hurts.
How can anyone think that finishing third is the same as finishing second?
Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs’ by Guillem Balague is out on October 26. You can order the book here.