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Quiet contenders? How ignoring Spurs can lead Pochettino's players to glory

COMMENT: 'Wait a minute. Hang on. He was at Espanyol, wasn't he? You're saying he's in England today? Where...?

'...Southampton? What's his name again? Pochettino, right...? And he's meeting with Cortese at a hotel? Okaaayy...'

Sense the silly sarcasm? It was a great tip. And five years ago, we did run with it. But it was also new source (who has been sensational ever since) and this column just couldn't find a second one to back it up. The gut said 'go for it'. But we should've gone harder. It was one of those regrets.

We just couldn't put it together. Mauricio Pochettino - an out of work Mauricio Pochettino - at Southampton? Why would Nico Cortese, the former Saints powerbroker, be taking such a gamble?

Well, five years on. Daniel Levy. Tottenham. The lot of us. We can all see why Cortese was so confident moving for the Argentine almost two months after he'd been forced out of Espanyol.

By rights, Tottenham should've gone into Monday's clash at Manchester United on their knees. Zero summer signings. The captain had been arrested. The manager was having to turn to players - apparently - desperate to get away. And they hadn't scored - let alone won - at the ground in their last four attempts.

But by the end of the night, Hugo Lloris had a clean sheet. Toby Alderweireld was outstanding. Danny Rose kept it together. Harry Kane had another goal in August. And Spurs were traveling south with the three points.

What's more, he'd done it again. The manager had unearthed another one. A talent no-one had seen coming. Two goals and five-star performance introduced Lucas Moura to the world on Monday night. Okay, the lad is 26 and by his own admission, there's still more to come from him. But he'll also now know that playing as he did, the reaction to such a display at Old Trafford is unlike anything else. Lucas joined Spurs earlier this year attracted by the buzz and excitement around Premier League football. And he earned his part of it this week.

Zero signings? Who cares? Not when Lucas can produce a performance like that. This was Brazilian football at it's best. Skill. Flair. But also power - even grit. The determination to reach that 40-60 ball ahead of Ander Herrera for his first goal said it all. Lucas played like a throw-back. One who could survive the defences of Serie A in '80s. Or the First Division of the '70's. And he told Brazilian media in the aftermath he still has a gear in him...

Pochettino (who himself looks fitter than he has in some time) knew this. He'd seen Lucas in preseason. A full preseason. It's significant that the strongest player on the pitch was one who was overlooked for the World Cup this summer. But so what? This performance was simply another triumph for the manager's nous.

This column highlighted it last week. That line in the sand. Pochettino's six minute, "Players that are not happy, from my point of view, everyone can leave," rant. He didn't want to name names. But we all knew who he was talking about. And yet, there was Alderweireld. Rose. Half his back four. The pair of 'em were superb. Particularly the Belgian. Stick then carrot? Whatever it was, it takes a special kind of man-management to manoeuvre a group of millionaires through such a minefield. But he did. Where other clubs and other senior players will criticise the lack of signings. Tottenham's lot embrace it. Where other managers draw a line through a player he falls out with. Pochettino will help them find a way back.

But as much as Pochettino has been good for Tottenham, the Argentine must know Spurs have been good for him. Especially where they sit in terms of media coverage.

As mentioned, over the past the year, Pochettino has had to navigate a minefield of player issues. Board rucks. But as much as there's been some great football stories to cover, it seems the biggest thing to attract the national gaze has been some minor issues around the new stadium.

Why the national media should focus - even mock - delays which amount to a few weeks for a project that will still be around in 25 years is beyond this column. But that's what has generated the most coverage for Spurs so far this season.

Indeed, you can argue this goes beyond England's shores. It's a mystery why Cholo Simeone, not Pochettino, is always being pushed for the Argentina job. There's no comparison between the manner of Tottenham's play and Atletico Madrid. Yet, the Spurs manager never gets mentioned.

But he shouldn't feel insulted. Nor the fans. That third party is out of the picture. Pochettino. Efficiently. Quietly. Can focus on what he needs from his players - without needing to combat crazy headlines in the morning press. The media currently have their love-in with Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. Pep Guardiola can do no wrong. There's the chaos at Arsenal. United? Well they're United. And even West Ham appear more popular with the scribes.

But again, so what? Every edge in a title race is welcome. If Pochettino is allowed to rant against his players. Then throw an arm around them. If his best can talk out of turn. Then be welcomed back. All without the pressure of national headlines. Then that can only be an advantage.

If it means finishing top of the table, let the others have their publicity. Their spotlight. And come May, enjoy seeing those who underestimated Pochettino, Spurs, even Cortese regret what they're ignoring today.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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