Cold hard reality hits Mauricio Pochettino after Tottenham's dispiriting loss to Inter MilanCold hard reality hits Mauricio Pochettino after Tottenham's dispiriting loss to Inter Milan
In Mauricio Pochettino’s mind, Tottenham are different.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference at San Siro on Monday evening, Pochettino returned his favourite theme of the season. That at his club more than any other, the “reality” of what is happening is at odds with the “perception” outside.
“Always it is about – maybe I am so repetitive and boring – the perception,” he said. “Perception and reality here are on the opposites, in our club. Maybe in different clubs, they have some good balance. But for us, the perception and the reality are too far apart.”
What he meant is clear enough. Reality is his sphere: what happens on the pitch, inside the club, his daily interactions with players and staff, the performances of the team, and their results. All of the objective data that makes up his world. Perception is the opposite: the media narrative, the whims of the fans, the barbs of outsiders. All of it subjective, and all of it flawed, because no-one on the outside can have access to the perfect information of the insider.
But just over 24 hours later, as Pochettino sat in the same chair in the same room, the shoes were on the other feet.
The reality on the pitch was that Spurs had lost 2-1, their third defeat in a row, their worst run since Tim Sherwood was in charge. Their Champions League campaign is already in a difficult position, with Barcelona coming to Wembley next up.
But for Pochettino, despite the result, the perception was different. He was pleased with how Spurs played and argued that they deserved something from the game. “The performance was good, the result should be different,” he insisted. “I am happy, we could have won. It’s so cruel, the team deserved much more.”
Pointing to how Spurs dominated the second half, took the lead and kept the bal off Inter until their out-of-the-blue equaliser with four minutes left, Pochettino claimed it was the best that his team had played all season. “I think that was our best performance since the start of the season,” he said. “It’s a fact that we lost. The only way back to winning games is to play the way we played.”
But that last point is precisely the issue. This was an evening when the reality went against Spurs, and Pochettino was relying on his perception to defend his team. And while there were things to admire about the Spurs performance, the way they slowly took control in the second half and kept the ball from a tiring Inter, that is far from the only way to see the game. Another subjective reading of it might be that they looked lost in the first half, scored from a deflection and then chucked it away at the end. Just as they did at Watford.
You may agree with Pochettino or you may not. In the sphere of perception there is no right answer. But tonight, after the third straight defeat, falling back on positive interpretations is all Spurs have. Which is almost a climb-down for a manager who has positioned himself as rooted in the objective truth, and besieged by external critics.
This is not a comfortable position for Pochettino or for Tottenham. No manager, especially not this one, wants to be left insisting his team played better than you might think. Spurs need to get back to winning ways, starting at Brighton on Saturday evening. Because, as Pochettino knows, the only reality is the result.