It is inevitable that following their Carabao Cup collapse against West Ham United on Wednesday, people will point towards Mauricio Pochettino’s admission that Tottenham Hotspur are only aiming to win either the Champions League or the Premier League as an example of the Argentine’s disrespect to the other competitions.
However he should not be castigated for being honest about his club’s ambitions, especially when they are shared by most of the other top clubs in England’s top-flight.
Winning does very little
It goes without saying that Pochettino and his players should show respect to the supporters who have paid what is hard-earned money to attend these matches, but that doesn’t change the fact that winning the tournament does little for a club other than providing its fans with a memorable day.
People can’t point towards Manchester United’s victory in last season’s Carabao Cup as a springboard for their success in the Europa League; the reality is that it wasn’t.
Beating Southampton at Wembley gave a club that had been through, by their standards, some pretty bleak times a memorable day of joy. The truth is that Jose Mourinho was preparing to win the Europa League right from October when his team first started to slide away from the top four in the Premier League.
Tottenham Hotspur have their best team for over two decades at the present moment, they certainly have their best coach since the turn of the millennium. At a time when supporters lament players and coaches for not speaking with any emotion, why should Pochettino be criticised for being honest?
“I would like to win the Carabao Cup, but I don’t think that it would change the life of Tottenham Hotspur,” he explained.
“If you want to be a big team, then you have to fight for the big trophies.
“Our objective is to try to win the Premier League and the Champions League. For me they are two real trophies, ones that can really change your life.”
Should be applauded for showing ambition
You’d think that in a period where it has been five years since England last had a Champions League winner, people would be applauding the former Espanyol coach’s ambition to win such a prize.
Unfortunately not, he has instead found himself roundly criticised for not showing respect to England’s domestic competitions.
“Trying to win the big trophies in England is impossible if you don’t use the whole squad and rotate,” he confirmed.
What is most uncomfortable about the criticism Pochettino has received is that he is speaking the truth and his admissions place the spotlight back on both the Football Association and the collection of television right holders and the Premier League who are in charge of the fixture scheduling.
As Jose Mourinho rather laboriously points out every fortnight, English teams in the Champions League are given absolutely no help. Often those teams who play matches on Wednesday at 7.45pm GMT are then in action again on the Saturday afternoon/early evening.
Schedule is too rigorous
Defensive focus has been one of the let-downs of English teams in Europe in recent years, you can’t ignore that, yet the impossible fixture scheduling hasn’t helped them either, especially at a time when the French and Spanish governing bodies have looked to protect their continental challengers.
Perhaps it is because England has never been in a position where their coefficient is in danger, but the fact is that should the Premier League lose their fourth Champions League spot, the league as a brand will lose monumental value. Unfortunately given the way the English footballing pyramid is structured, this would have knock-on effects all the way down the leagues.
Those clubs in the Champions League are then given even less help by the presence of the League Cup, mid-week fixtures where you are expected to play your best players otherwise you risk widespread ridicule.
Tottenham Hotspur welcome Real Madrid to Wembley Stadium on Wednesday, in the seven days prior to kick-off against the defending European champions, Spurs will have played 90 minutes against West Ham on the previous Wednesday, before heading to Old Trafford for the 12:30 kick-off against Manchester United on Saturday. If you think this is an acceptable way to keep a squad fresh and able to perform at their best then you are deluding yourself.
The Real Madrid fixture is one of the biggest matches in the North London club’s recent history, they can face up against the biggest club in the world in front of almost 90,000 spectators and all things being equal, they can give them a fair game.
Now you may suggest that I am being disingenuous by not making clear Los Blancos’ equally packed schedule.
They face lower league Fuenlabrada on Thursday evening before visiting Girona on Sunday, the gaps between matches are the same as those faced by the English club, but you can guarantee the team selected to face Fuenlabrada will not include any more than 5 of those expected to start in the Champions League tie on the Wednesday.
There seems to be a desire to criticise English teams that are doing well, Tottenham are achieving things that Daniel Levy’s long-term planning couldn’t even have imagined, yet people are focusing on how the team can’t be considered ‘proper’ until they win silverware, no matter what the silverware, they just have to win something, anything. It’s nonsense.
Pochettino is a trailblazer in English football in the way Jose Mourinho was in 2004, although the sporting landscape is different. Do people realise how difficult it is to overcome a Manchester City side with unlimited wealth and one of the greatest coaching icons the game has produced?
Now Spurs are not without fault, they failed to put together consistent enough title challenges in the previous two seasons, but were going through their own development period. They are now near their peak and people are critical of their coach for prioritising trying to win the two most reputable trophies available.
There is a reason Manchester United and Chelsea supporters continuously sing about their continental triumphs, there is a reason Manchester City’s owners kept pumping money into the club’s transfer budget even after Roberto Mancini won the league the first time, it is because the Champions League is the pinnacle.
Should ignore the haters
To suggest prioritising that over the Carabao Cup is somehow wrong, or worthy of derision is one of the fundamental problems with football in England, and is exactly why there is continued resistance to helping the continental competitors with regards to scheduling.
Pochettino should be praised for his honesty and ambition, until changes are made to both the format of the domestic tournaments and the fixture calendar as a whole, he is well within his rights to continue to try and work towards winning one of the big two trophies, irrespective of what people say.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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