Spurs face a huge test against Chelsea on Saturday in the FA Cup semi-final, and Pochettino admits that he “dreams of lifting trophies”, as they may do next month.
But he was very clear at his press conference on Thursday that trophies do not tell the whole story. They are easy to win for the big teams and almost impossible for the smaller ones.
There is more achievement, then, in upsetting the odds than simply performing at par. That is why Pochettino wants Spurs to be like Atletico Madrid, who have won one Spanish title and reached two Champions League finals under Diego Simeone, and are aiming for a third this summer. Everything has to remain in context.
So Spurs’ record, heading for second place at worst with the sixth-biggest budget in England, counts for a lot. “Here is a massive success,” Pochettino said proudly. “Success for me is to finish in the top four like last season. It was a big success for Tottenham and means maybe more than winning one title with Barcelona.”
Pointing to the sustained success of big teams, Pochettino said that stacking up trophies with them meant less. “Yes, you can win titles,” he said. “But with which teams? It is normal to win titles with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, maybe Juventus, Porto.
“With a big team, you are already very close to winning. Look at Barcelona with Pep [Guardiola], with Tito Vilanova, with [Frank] Rijkaard, with Luis Enrique. All different managers but with the same group of players and they were successful.”
Pochettino was not ruling out the possibility of Spurs winning a trophy under him. He was saying that it would mean more than a rich side doing so. Atletico is an instructive example but he has his own experience of this, as a player with Newell’s Old Boys winning the Argentinean titles in the early 1990s and then his two Copa del Reys with Espanyol in the 2000s.
“I dream of lifting trophies,” Pochettino insisted, “but in the way I did with Espanyol. Two Copa del Rey, with Espanyol! I have not changed my desire to lift trophies from when I was at Espanyol.
“And as a kid playing for Boca Juniors or River Plate, it was normal to win. But not playing for Newell’s Old Boys. But I liked that challenge.”
“If you are there but not spending the money and are still challenging, that is what I like the most. For me success is not only to lift a trophy. How you arrive in a position to lift trophies is more important. That is why I admire Simeone at Atletico Madrid. It is so difficult to win with Atletico Madrid. He deserves more credit maybe than some others.”
Tottenham are the closest thing England has to Atletico Madrid now, a team overperforming their resources, bloodying the noses of the big boys and all inspired by a workaholic Argentinean coach and his intense energetic brand of football.
Atletico have kicked on since they won the Europa League and the Super Cup in 2012, while Spurs are still waiting for their first trophy under Pochettino. They had the chance in the 2015 League Cup final but they did not win. Pochettino admitted to few regrets, saying that they were not ready for title then.
“I wasn’t affected by that,” he said. “When we achieved the final, it was a little bit coincidence. I don’t know if at that moment we deserved to win the Capital One Cup. Now, all this is happening because we have worked so hard to achieve, and that feels better because all of the team is achieving.
“Because we work so hard, because we work to win, we work to achieve things. When we arrived to that final, I think it was a little bit coincidence, a little bit lucky. It was completely different.”
Now they are here, in the cup semi-final, and second in the table by merit. This is the time to win.