Just minutes after Maurizio Sarri had told reporters at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground that Mauricio Pochettino must win a trophy, the Tottenham Hotspur manager was insisting that such claims were laughable.
Pochettino reasoned his work at Spurs could only be judged against silverware if chairman Daniel Levy had given him £300 million to spend. Tottenham face Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final tie at Wembley on Tuesday, with Pochettino and Sarri still looking to win their first trophies.
Sarri, who took over Chelsea six months ago, argued managers such as Pochettino, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, had all worked with their players for far longer, while Pochettino pointed to his club’s financial disadvantage.
Agreeing both he and Pochettino needed a trophy on their CVs to be considered among the very best managers in the world, Sarri suggested the pressure on the Spurs man was more immediate.
“He is a very good coach, one of the best at the moment,” said Sarri. “I agree that he has to win a trophy, I hope not this [the Carabao Cup].” Asked if he must also secure silverware, Sarri added: “Yes, it is the same. Of course, Pochettino is in Tottenham from four years ago and I am here from six months.
“Here, in the first season, it is really difficult – for everybody, for Pochettino, four years, for Klopp, four years. It was really hard in the first season also for Guardiola. So, here it is really very difficult to build up a very important team, I think you need time.”
But, without knowing about Sarri’s claim, Pochettino later said: “When you build a stadium and you have limitations, people demand you win, but you don’t have the same tools as other clubs. When Daniel Levy and Joe Lewis called me, they said ‘Mauricio, we need to prepare and help the club, so when we arrive in the new stadium we have a team that can finish in the top four’. We are in advance, no? That’s why I laugh when people say we need to win a trophy.”
This is Pochettino’s fifth season in charge of Spurs and the club have lost one final, the Carabao Cup to Chelsea in 2015, and two FA Cup semi-finals during that period.
But they have qualified for the Champions League for three successive seasons while spending less than all of their rivals, which is why Pochettino is adamant he is ahead of schedule before the move to the new stadium.
“If I arrive at Tottenham and Daniel says you have £300 million to spend, it is my responsibility to win,” added Pochettino. “Come on, if I was to spend £300 million and then say the project is to build step by step and be in the top four or maybe win something. Come on, it’s not normal, this.
“At some clubs, it is only about winning. If they sign a manager, it’s about titles and the top four. For us, at Tottenham, the objective was different. After nearly five years, the club has reached another level. But how we operate doesn’t change. That’s the point. People talk about winning titles. One thing is to reduce the gap and fight with the big sides. But afterwards if we want to win titles, we have to operate in a different way. At the moment we operate in the same way as five years ago. Maybe we can win titles, but it’s going to be tough.”
Pochettino used Manchester City’s goalkeeping situation as an example of how his rivals can operate differently. But he could have easily been talking about the way in which Chelsea have quickly ditched big-money signings such as Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi, while he has stuck with the likes of Moussa Sissoko and Erik Lamela.
“The first season, when Guardiola arrived, who was the keeper of Manchester City? Joe Hart,” said Pochettino. “Then he says ‘I need a keeper to play with their feet. Who is the best? [Claudio] Bravo’. After one year, it is Ederson. With money, that is how you build a team.
“That is the difference, you are building to win. Like Chelsea, Arsenal, City, Liverpool, United – and us. But when the people put us in the same level of expectation, it’s so unfair.”
Pochettino even drew a parallel between his challenge and the one Arsene Wenger faced at Arsenal, when Tottenham’s fierce rivals moved into the Emirates and could not compete financially.
Despite FA Cup success, Arsenal fans eventually lost patience and Wenger left at the end of last season. Pochettino said: “All that Arsene Wenger gave for Arsenal, to finish in the way it finished was a little bit unfair. Only I hope, if I have the opportunity to talk with him, is to ask ‘was it worth it?’ I don’t know what he would say, I would like to ask one day.”