It might have been politically easier for Mauricio Pochettino, in the aftermath of defeat at Selhurst Park, to admit how devastated he was that Spurs were out of another competition. They are now likely facing another trophyless season, depending on what happens in the league and the Champions League, after going out of both domestic cups in the space of four days.
There are plenty of people who think that Pochettino needs to win a trophy to complete his work at Spurs. And if he had agreed with them, and admitted his despair, then it might just have bought him some sympathy overnight. Pochettino may have failed again, but at least he knows what the rules of the game are.
But Pochettino did not pay lip-service to the importance of the domestic cups. He did not feign crocodile tears over Spurs’ two exits in four days. Instead, he doubled down. He made clear, in stronger terms than ever before, how he sees his job. And that means making Spurs as strong as possible, as judged by the Premier League and Champions League. Not by bending over backwards to try to win a cup.
“We are going to create a debate that to win a trophy is going to help the club,” Pochettino said. “I don’t agree with that. That only builds your ego.”
Pochettino’s point is that consistent top-four finishes are ultimately more valuable and more lasting to the club than the one-off buzz of lifting a trophy. He has pointed in the past to Wigan Athletic, who won the FA Cup in 2013 before sinking down to League One. In a rational sense he is right: consistent top-four finishes pay for new stadiums, domestic trophies do not.
But Pochettino must also know that plenty of fans do not see it that way. And that for them the possibility of trophy is still what football is all about. Rather than the long-term financial health of the club. And to write a trophy off as an ego-trip is to miss the point.
Pochettino argues that winning a cup is not a true merit test, that it comes down to so many other factors, like the draw, or injuries, or how much rest a team has before a big game. A club like Spurs, stretching every sinew to stay in the top four with far richer teams, never has the spare capacity to make the difference in a cup. As the recent examples of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal show, the best way to win the cup is to have a big squad and an off-year in the league.
“In the last few weeks I was listening a lot about winning titles,” he said. “In the last few seasons we were there, and we were close. People wish we could win some trophies, but being realistic, we are doing so well. To win a title here in England like the FA Cup or Carabao Cup is about being lucky, not only about quality in your squad.”
Of course this is true: the cup does not always go to the best team in the country. For Spurs to do what they do in the league with their squad, and then to deliver a cup on top of it, would add an element of acrobatics to their balancing act.
But football fans are entitled to be irrational and there are plenty at Spurs who would just like their manager to care more about winning even a minor trophy. No-one disputes his argument about the success of the last four and a half years since he took over.
“In reality, the most important thing is being consistently in the top four and playing Champions League,” Pochettino said. “That is going to help the club to achieve the last step. Today the club is doing fantastically, it’s so successful. In the last four or five years, we’ve been fighting in different ways to achieve what the club needs, to be in the level of Chelsea, United, City or Arsenal or Liverpool.”
All of which is true, and any analysis of spending, salaries and Premier League points since 2014 would vindicate Pochettino. But sometimes fans just want to have their egos stroked.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies