Mauricio Pochettino spoke about his new book with Guillem Balague, Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs, at Tottenham’s training ground on Wednesday. Adam Bate was there to hear how the Argentine’s emphasis on relationships is central to his success…
There is a tale recounted in Brave New World, the much-discussed book about Tottenham’s 2016/17 season under Mauricio Pochettino, that is particularly revealing. The manager and his coaching staff were on a trip back to Argentina, accompanied by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy. Together they indulged in some white-water rafting and things soon got a little hairy.
Assistant manager Jesus Perez and goalkeeper coach Toni Jimenez were flung from the boat but first-team coach Miguel D’Agostino was missing. It later emerged that he was trapped underneath the raft. “After when you saw the video it was like, wow, because he was under for like 30 seconds,” said Pochettino, speaking at the launch of the book on Wednesday.
Pochettino confirms Harry Kane is fit to face Arsenal and discusses his own future
Pochettino himself? “I was focused on saving my chairman,” he explained to much laughter in the room. But what is really intriguing is the importance that he clearly places on those bonds that were forged in adversity. “We are so happy we had this experience,” he added.
“I think how we create these links, how we work in different situations, doing different things, you cannot hide. You show who you really are. Here, you can act. You can go in front of the TV, in front of the journalists or the fans and for some time you can hide your reality.
“But in that place you cannot hide yourself and that was fantastic because it confirms that people are how you believe they are. To discover that with Daniel, I think it changes your vision, your feelings and your emotions when you see how people react in reality.”
Relationships and truth. In many ways, they are the themes of this book. The partnership with wife Karina. The love for his sons Sebastiano and Maurizio. And yes, for his chairman too. “I am in love with him,” Pochettino said of Levy who was present among the assembled guests that included more family and friends than media.
Pochettino on Daniel Levy
“The dream is impossible without you and your help. You believed in me, you trusted me and for me that is the most important thing. I don’t want to be so kind with Daniel because Daniel knows more than me sometimes we have some differences but I am in love with him because he is the person who, three-and-a-half years ago, gave me the possibility to be here and write history at this amazing club. To be here is more than a pleasure. I am so happy.”
The aforementioned staff were there, of course. Pochettino’s relationship with them is best summed up by their first six months in the country. Not only were the four travelling and working together at Southampton but also living together in a hotel in the city. Thursday nights were spent crammed around a single laptop screen watching Europa League games.
Perhaps most importantly of all, there is the relationship that Pochettino enjoys with his players. “I can’t thank him enough,” said Harry Winks recently when discussing his journey from teenage reserve to England international. Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris even told Guillem Balague, the author of the book, that his manager had changed his life.
Balague himself admits that he listened back to the tape of one hour-long conversation with Pochettino and realised that he had done much of the talking rather than his subject. In fact, he had revealed stuff he had never told anybody. “You break barriers,” said Balague. “You allow people to be themselves.” If there is a secret to Pochettino’s success, this is surely it.
“Many managers and coaches come to see us because Tottenham beat Real Madrid or because in the last two seasons we have been close to winning the Premier League,” he said. “They believe that it is about some tactical work or it is because we use some system or have changed to another system of three at the back or four or five. But that is nothing.
“For me, the key is how we support and how we work together. How important everyone feels in the club. It’s that we want to work to give our best to help the team move on and achieve not only our individual dreams but our collective dreams. That is the key.
“The key is the management. You cannot find tactical advice because today you have everything. Today, all the coaches have knowledge about football, about tactics and about different things. For me, it is the management with the knowledge.
“But management is how you feel. You cannot tell people that in this situation you take this decision or another decision; to shout or turn and leave the room. That is your intuition. It is your experience. Your perception. That you cannot learn and you cannot find it in a book.”
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Perhaps not. But it is a book littered with such anecdotes. There are the psychological ploys used to get Harry Kane to take responsibility for his development or to convince Dele Alli to embrace a leadership role. One story told to Jorge Valdano, the Argentine World Cup winner and former Real Madrid chief, reveals how Pochettino tries to light a fire in his players.
“[Valdano] asked me why I had a ball on my desk,” he said. “It’s because sometimes I throw it to my players and tell them to touch it and remember when they were three, four, five or six. I tell them to recover that feeling because that must be your priority in life. Of course you must make time for friends or your girlfriend but your priority must always be the ball.
“People start to strive for different things and they lose this priority. If you stop to feel what you felt as a child, your motivation to play football, I think it will affect your performance. You can play football, you can stay on the pitch, but you cannot translate it to the fans and your team-mates or the people that trust in you and you start to go in the wrong direction.”
Pochettino on improvement
“I always try to learn and try to improve new things. Not only to improve myself but to improve the people around me and help them. The evolution is every day. You must be open to improve and to learn. The moment that you think you know everything and nobody can help you or teach you anything to help you improve then you are going down.”
He added: “Players arrive here and they are a kid. Then they start to grow up and one day they are a man and the best in the world as a player and they start to achieve everything. Of course, you cannot treat them the same as you did three years ago or one year ago. That is part of our job to be aware and be ahead. That is the most important job to anticipate it.”
Given this emphasis on man-management and these intense bonds between coach and player, it is perhaps no surprise that some have expressed surprise that Pochettino would seemingly risk breaching that trust by revealing intimate details in a book. It is a theory that he rejects. “After the book, they start to behave better,” he joked. “They are worried.”
Pochettino on future plans
“My commitment with the club and Daniel [Levy] is complete. It depends more on them than me if I am to be here for 20 years. Tottenham is a club with massive potential and after three-and-a-half years is growing and growing. I feel so well helping the club, the fans and the players. I am so happy here but you cannot guess what will happen in the future.”
The serious answer? “The truth is the truth. And everything in the book is the truth. It is our reality. The players trust in us and all their feedback is fantastic. I think it is a very respectful book … I wanted to be honest. Not 80 per cent honest. Not 50 per cent honest. You are honest or you are not honest. I want to be honest. I do not want to lie. That book is real.”
The search for something real. It can take place on the water among the rapids of Argentina or in his office as another youngster has a football thrown at him. But he has no plans to stop. “I increase my commitment with everyone every day,” he said. That relationship between Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur seems stronger than ever.