When Tottenham tried to make a real title race with Leicester City at the tail-end of the 2015/2016 Premier League season, they lost gas when it mattered most.
The 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion before the 2-2 draw with Chelsea made their final fixture against already-relegated Newcastle United a dead rubber. In the end, Tottenham lost that one,+ 1-5.
But although the table standings never lie, Tottenham had put up an impressive show for much of that season. It has been the same story this season. Their 2-0 win over a table-topping Chelsea side that had won 13 successive games was incredible, yet you cannot help wondering whether they are just flattering to deceive.
However, while it may be easy for Tottenham to be fired up for the big one against Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, the fortitude to withstand the pressure moments may still elude them. It is on that premise that Mauricio Pochettino will be judged. While Tottenham’s Argentine manager has proved to be tactically smart, he does not seem to have the aura that can bring fear into the opponents. It is a disservice to his team.
Each time he has spoken to the media, and he is asked about their title ambitions, he never speaks with conviction. He sports a demeanour that suggests that bullish talk that his team is a real title contender, is only privy to Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola because they have won before.
The element of fearing to fail, or fearing to say things that could be used against you, is what Pochettino represents each time he speaks. In fact, not much has changed from his days as Southampton manager. But the danger in this is that it has a psychological deterrence.
In other words, players remain fixated in self-doubt, which inhibits progress. Even the likes of Manchester United or Arsenal were once like Tottenham before they could win. But believing in the adage that winning is a must and losing is not an option is what has brought them this far.
Pochettino reminds me of Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea, even though he guided Leicester to league success without being any different in character. Even when Chelsea competed with the more established title contenders under Ranieri, they always came short, leaving the same question every season then, why?
The answer was one: The players needed their manager to keep them believing that they were as good as any, if not better, to win. That was exactly what Mourinho did when he arrived at Chelsea. He just got into his players’ psyche, making their mental strength unbreakable.
That Mourinho effect changed Chelsea for good, which is why in their mind of minds, they are a giant team. So, whichever manager/coach they hire, knows too well what is expected of them, as are the players he finds. The seed of being a giant is like a bamboo tree, which withstands the harshest of weather conditions.
People always wondered how Sir Alex Ferguson won with Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher, yet they were not the most talented of the lot around. It was all about the ‘X’ factor he had inculcated in his team of feeling invincible.
That is what wins titles, as opposed to just the form and adrenaline, something even Burnley can muster and steal a point at Old Trafford, as they nearly did to Arsenal before Laurent Koscielny robbed them. That Burnley thing is called giant-killing.
Tottenham have got to be past that phase, as the statistics suggest. For example, they have conceded only 14 goals in 20 league games and are third on the log ahead of Arsenal and both Manchester teams.
However, they must keep in mind to showcase the efficiency they showed against Chelsea, when Arsenal and Manchester United visit in the season’s final bend. That is Pochettino’s task to prove they are indeed giants, at least in the formative stage, and not just giant-killers.