It speaks volumes for Mauricio Pochettino’s drive to win that he was not impressed with a flash of impromptu showboating in stoppage time of a game with a slender scoreline.
That was the exact situation last weekend as Erik Lamela sent a flicked nutmeg though Andros Townsend’s legs as Tottenham closed out a 1-0 win over Cystal Palace. The crowd whooped. The clip caused an internet stir. Pochettino growled internally. It is not really his thing. If someone had tried something like that on him when he was playing? “Afterwords I would kill them!” he exclaimed.
“I understand Lamela’s game – he is always trying things like this in training sessions. But for me, it is important to show respect to the opponent. I don’t like it when you try to humiliate your opponent. Lamela never tries to humiliate opponents – it’s just the way he plays. But it is nothing to celebrate,” Pochettino added.
“One day, if we win a trophy or the Premier League, it will be time to celebrate. Or when we score a goal or win a game. Not for this type of action.”
On the pitch at the time Danny Rose put his hands to his head in disbelief, later explaining to Spurs TV, “I just thought ‘Erik why did you do that!? It was brilliant to watch, I just wish it was against another player and not Andros. It was brilliant, sorry Andros!”
If there was a warning of sorts in Pochettino’s appraisal, it was far less about curbing Lamela’s natural audacity and far more about reminding his players of the focus and determination to succeed he wants from them. This weekend Liverpool visit White Hart Lane, a contest he expects to be tough. Then comes the international break. After that a fresh wave of club games in three competitions including the Champions League which is causing such excitement around the place.
Pochettino is hopeful his players, still re-adapting to the demands of the season, will have sufficient sharpness to put in a strong performance against Liverpool. Although the opposition have improved considerably sinceJürgen Klopp’s first game - a goalless draw at White Hart Lane last October - he feels his own team have grown too.
“We have learned a lot and improved a lot but in football you need to carry on improving every day,” he says. “It is never enough. If you run 12km during the game, you can go further in the next game. You can always play better and do better. It is true, I happy with the way we have grown up but I am still concerned that we can improve more.”