AS Tottenham slunk out of the Champions League with an embarrassed shrug, the old flame was burning bright.
Fans sang for Mauricio Pochettino and the Argentinian who led Spurs to their only European Cup final certainly wants an emotional return.
GettyMauricio Pochettino wants a Spurs return… but that doesn’t mean it will work out a second time[/caption]
AlamyAntonio Conte looks to be on the brink of leaving Tottenham[/caption]
Meanwhile one of Poch’s key players, Danny Rose, popped up on Sky Sports to sing the praises of his former boss and criticise chairman Daniel Levy.
In his post-match interviews, after a 0-0 draw with AC Milan sealed a 1-0 aggregate defeat, Antonio Conte was pretty much inviting an early sacking.
The Italian, who has dealt with ill health and grief in recent months, seems in need of an immediate break.
Irrespective of personal traumas, Conte is out of contract this summer, with neither manager nor club keen to extend.
Conte, 53, and Spurs were never a good fit. The Italian is a seasoned title winner who has often spoken as if the Spurs job is beneath him.
He has frequently preached “patience”, yet shown little of that virtue himself.
Does Levy part ways now, knowing Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel are both available?
Or does he allow Conte to limp on until May — and let Spurs scrap it out with Liverpool and Newcastle for the final Champions League spot?
Pochettino wants the job but Levy is wary. And rightly so.
There is much truth in the old warning “never go back”. The beguiling idea the past can be recreated often ends in tears, in football as in life.
Whoever succeeds Conte faces a huge rebuild, almost certainly without Harry Kane, who has carried the club for years.
Pochettino has been chastened by his experiences of the past three years — a spell with the filthy-rich basket-case of Paris Saint-Germain and a failure to land either the Real Madrid or Manchester United jobs.
It is difficult to gauge what constitutes success at Spurs. We all point to 15 years without silverware but, in the last 30 years, Juande Ramos and George Graham are the only Spurs bosses to win trophies, both League Cups, and nobody saw them as successful.
Under Poch, Spurs were Champions League and Premier League runners-up, plus finished ‘third in a two-horse race’ as Leicester won the 2015-16 title.
Despite the ‘oh so nears’, fans were consistently entertained. There was hope and joy — but that was a certain time.
Kane was emerging as a world-class player, Dele Alli was promising to join him. Rose, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier were England’s three best full-backs.
Hugo Lloris was at his peak, like Belgian central defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
POCH’S BUILDING BLOCKS
Pochettino moulded it — a demanding workaholic with a largely youthful team open to his methods. But is there any such core of players at Spurs now?
On Sky, Rose claimed the success rate of Spurs’ signings has been criticised, adding when he made a similar point — in an interview with this newspaper in 2017 — he was fined two weeks’ wages.
Despite their superb new stadium, Spurs have regressed.
Five months after losing the 2019 Champions League final Poch was gone — and it was a mutual parting of the ways. The Argentine sounded as frustrated with Levy as Conte does now and Jose Mourinho did in-between.
Rose gave excellent insight into Pochettino’s methods — how he was ahead of his time videoing training sessions, leaving “no hiding place”.
But perhaps what Spurs need now is not Pochettino but a version of what Pochettino was when they hired him in 2014 — young, hungry and willing to accept the club’s financial limitations.
Tuchel is not banging the door down to go to Spurs and Levy can’t keep recycling old Chelsea bosses, after Andre Villas-Boas, Mourinho and Conte.
Fulham’s Marco Silva, Brentford’s Thomas Frank and Steve Cooper of Nottingham Forest have been linked.
Many Spurs fans with delusions of grandeur might sneer at them, but where have celebrity bosses like Mourinho or Conte got them?
To an FA Cup exit against Sheffield United, which Kane — benched for that match — claims felt like ‘a dagger to the heart’.
There are better ways of curing a broken ticker than climbing back into the arms of your ex.