Pochettino dreams of winning UEFA Champions League
Mauricio Pochettino says he is “living a dream” at Tottenham Hotspur, but concedes beating Ajax in the Uefa Champions League semifinals and then going on to win the trophy would be incredible.
Spurs are in Amsterdam for their semifinal return today looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit after last week’s first leg in London, when a depleted side could not recover from Donny van de Beek’s early opening goal.
However, after edging out Manchester City in the last round, and with Son Heung-min back from suspension for the match at the Johan Cruyff Arena, Tottenham are still within sight of reaching the final of Europe’s leading club competition for the first time in their history.
We are living a dream. Five years ago when we arrived it was to reduce the gap to the top four, and then to have the possibility to play in the Champions League,” Pochettino said at a news conference yesterday.
“I think nobody would believe we would be playing in the Champions League three seasons in a row and competing at this stage.”
The Argentine, who has been in charge of the north London club since 2014, even conceded, with a glint in his eye, that if Spurs were to go to the final in Madrid next month and win the trophy, he might “need to think a little bit about doing something different in the future, because to repeat this miracle.”
Just to get that far, though, they will have to find a way of beating a spellbinding Ajax side, although the good news is that, as well as Son, Erik Lamela is fit again and Jan Vertonghen should play, too, against his old side.
The Belgian defender came off in the first leg feeling the effects of a nasty head knock and missed his team’s Premier League defeat at Bournemouth at the weekend as a result.
Despite concerns as he went off, Tottenham said he was not concussed.
“He didn’t suffer anything more than the cut on his nose. A lot of players keep playing in the same situation. It wasn’t a big issue,” said Pochettino, who is still without Harry Kane.
Tottenham have lost five of their last six games, and nine of their last 10 away matches after losing 1-0 at Bournemouth.
However, they are almost certain to pip Arsenal to a top-four finish in the Premier League and secure a return to the Champions League next season, with one league game still to play against Everton.
“You wouldn’t believe at the start of the season that Tottenham would be in the last week of the season with the possibility of being in the final of the Champions League and to be in the top four,” Pochettino said.
Things might have been very different, however. A 2-2 draw away to PSV Eindhoven when they last came to the Netherlands in October left Tottenham with just one point from three group games and staring at an early exit from the competition.
“This season has been a success for the club but we don’t want to stop at this level,” said goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who was sent off in that match against PSV.
“We need to give the maximum and have no regrets. It is important to keep the belief because everything is possible.”
Pochettino said the situation should allow his side to play with more freedom in the Johan Cruyff Arena.
“The negative result in the first leg obviously makes it more difficult tomorrow, but the tie is still open,” the Argentine said. “We know we need to win and perform to our best. It’s an exciting moment for us.
“We need to feel more freedom to play tomorrow, because we have nothing to lose.”
Pochettino was in a playful mood and even suggested he would “go home” if Tottenham went on to win the Champions League
– pricking up the ears of the assembled media.
Asked to clarify, he said: “To win the Champions League with Tottenham, in this circumstance, maybe I need to think to do something different in the future.
“But sure, whatever happens tomorrow, I go home.”