In three minutes Tottenham’s Champions League hopes died against Juventus and with it, potentially, Mauricio Pochettino’s chances of being the next Real Madrid boss.
Not that there was much else he could have done. His Spurs side dominated their illustrious Italian opponents; getting in 23 shots on Gigi Buffon’s goal compared to Juve’s nine. On any other night they’d have won comfortably and progressed through to the quarter-finals (see November’s 3-1 group stage win over Real) but three minutes of madness dumped them out.
Defensive lapses from Kieran Trippier and Davinson Sanchez allowed Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala to prod home two goals that turned the tie on its head, despite the Italian spending most of the game under the cosh. Harry Kane, so normally reliable to conjure a goal out of nowhere when Spurs need them most, saw a slow header bounce back off Buffon’s post and sit painfully on the goalline before being hooked clear in the final minute.
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At the final whistle Pochettino was left searching for explanations and for his first trophy in English football since arriving from Espanyol five years ago.
“We can find a lot of reasons and we can talk about different situations but the reality is they created three chances and score twice and we create many chances and score once and sometimes you need luck as well. The way we conceded two goals we feel disappointed, but the performance was fantastic,” he told reporters after the game.
“The team showed massive maturity against a very good team. The team played fantastic but we lost and I always try to see the future and be positive.”
Pochettino’s assessment was fair and on another day Spurs would be through to the next round with two trophies still in their sights but in the cold light of day it leaves just the FA Cup as their only real chance of silverware this season. And it’s the Argentine’s third at the club, the sort of time – as Gary Neville told Yahoo Sport UK last week – where managers start getting judged on results and trophies after having had two seasons to bed in.
If Spurs don’t win the FA Cup this season Pochettino may be, and some would argue fairly, scrutinised for not bringing tangible success to Tottenham despite the obvious improvements in player quality and footballing quality he has brought to the side. And even with that competition they have made hard work of progressing, needing replays to beat two lower league sides so far this season.
That phone call from Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, which reportedly was going to come when Zinedine Zidane inevitably leaves the Spanish giants, may well not emerge now. Despite being clearly a talented, forward-thinking coach, Pochettino is showing that he isn’t actually a winner. Aside from three Premier League Manager of the Month awards.
Compare that to his opposite number on the Wembley touchline on Wednesday night, Massimiliano Allegri. The Italian, who despite only being four years Pochettino’s senior, looks much older. He wears the haggard, tired look of a winner. A man who knows the strain that actually winning titles takes on someone. He’s won four Serie A titles, three Copa Italias and two Supercoppa Italianas.
The only trophy that has eluded him is the Champions League but he has reached the final in the past two seasons and looking at the mix of raw talent and Italian guile in his current Juventus side you wouldn’t bet against him making it third time lucky.
And that winning mentality has already seen him linked with a move to the Premier League. When asked on Wednesday about suggestions he could replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal this summer he replied: “No, because I have a contract until 2020.”
Taking on the mess that is Arsenal when Wenger does step down would be a huge ask of any manager, but someone of Allegri’s class needs a team he can immediately win things with. A better fit would be Chelsea; a team who almost certainly will be looking for a new coach this summer.
Allegri’s blend of good old fashioned Italian pragmatism at the back and raw, cut-throat explosiveness up front would work perfectly at Stamford Bridge, although granted, their most recent experiment with an Italian coach who swept all before him in Serie A hasn’t completely gone to plan.
For now, Allegri will be concentrating on winning that elusive European Cup. Pochettino, meanwhile, has other competitions to focus on now. He clearly has the ability to win trophies at Tottenham – and further afield – but he needs to start doing it now. The FA Cup offers him that perfect opportunity.