Tottenham have been a good news story this season. Unbeaten in the league since the opening day, nine points from nine in September and current holders of the joint-best defensive record in the competition; Mauricio Pochettino deserved last month’s Manager of the Month award.
Such accolades are generally very superficial. They are typically symbolic in the sense that they recognise little beyond a team’s win/loss record and being Manager of the Month can be as much to do with riding a key player’s peak in form as it can any traditional coaching influence.
In Pochettino’s case, that’s not true: his award truly recognises his performance. Tottenham’s positive start to this season has been a real victory for those who are not in thrall to the transfer-window and who stress the importance of the training ground over the cheque-book. True, Spurs’ 2015/16 has to-date been influenced by some very good signings - Toby Alderweireld and Dele Alli being of particular note - but this team is currently adding up to more than the sum of its parts and its virtues are synonymous with its manager’s core beliefs.
There’s something strangely quaint about that. Although coaches up and down the country influence their sides in all sorts of ways, it’s rare for their impact to be as visible as Pochettino’s - and it’s even rarer for supporters of a club to, almost in chorus, extoll the virtues of their technical staff.
Go back six weeks and it was different story. The transfer-window had just closed and North London lost itself under a sulky fog. Where was the new forward they were promised? Who was going to fill the chasm in defensive-midfield?
They were legitimate concerns, but they were born from a failure to understand what the club’s direction really was and, indirectly, what Pochettino was brought to White Hart Lane to do. The Argentinian is a football coach in the purest sense. He was not appointed for his charisma or for his ability to entertain journalists in press-conferences, but for his tactical nous and team-building acumen. His arrival ushered in the era of incremental improvements and the age of the slow-build; he was employed to stretch potential to its limitations.
In an odd way, the toy-chucking melodrama of early September has probably brought the fans closer to their manager and afforded them a more circumspect appreciation for his qualities. On paper, the squad Pochettino led into that month with was not strong enough to humiliate Manchester City and it was neither suitably dexterous nor resilient enough to be as difficult to beat as it has proven to be.
The assuaging of those concerns has not only quelled the slightly-spoilt acrimony, it has also prompted a more diverse level of assessment.
Similarly, without the distraction of a big budget transfer, there’s been a sharper focus on the day-to-day detail at Tottenham. Had Daniel Levy sanctioned the £25m-£30m transfer of Saido Berahino, that move would still be dominating the conversation now. Rather than praising Eric Dier’s quick metamorphosis or recognising Erik Lamela’s obvious improvement, the supporters would likely be engaged in a fractious debate over whether Berahino was worth his fee or what his best position is.
That’s the nature of the transfer-market: it steals attention.
More importantly though, if deadline day forcefully flat-lined expectation, then it has been with the benefit of allowing Pochettino to rebuild optimism in a healthier way. Tottenham, within their own fanbase and beyond, are currently the counter-point to quick-fix mentality. Pochettino’s work to-date is dispelling the myth that holes in a team need always be filled by spending and that squads are only capable of what their collective attributes literally add up to.
Talk to a Tottenham fan at the end of August and he will have told you that it was a necessity to spend £20m on a holding player.
Talk to the same fan now, though, and he might say that - with the right coach and appropriate raw ingredients - gaps in a line-up can be plugged with smart repurposing. He might also concede that, with an adjustment in attitude and with a more fortified structure, assumed weaknesses can be less significant than they originally appeared to be.
It represents a mini-revolution of sorts. In the mind of the fan, the value of coaching has been de-emphasised by the allure of the rumour column. Pochettino, however, is re-emphasising the bucolic charm of the tracksuit manager with the whistle around his neck.
It’s been a very unifying couple of weeks and a period of time which has provoked a real between-the-lines perspective. Arbitrary complaints about net-spending and concerns over squad-depth have disappeared from the discussion and their place has been taken by an awareness of smarter, subtler detail. The growing combinations between players are being appreciated, the team’s improved response to adversity has been applauded and, in more than one place, the squad’s significant physical improvement has been written about and discussed.
It’s a world beyond “hurry up and announce Player X” and it’s much, much healthier.
There’s a caveat here - of course there is. Tottenham’s short-term realities remain largely unchanged and good starts do not necessarily evolve into good seasons. This is still a world in which other clubs can throw vast sums of money at their deficiencies and one in which, until the Northumberland Project is completed, Spurs are still at a disadvantage.
But that’s not really the point. Talk of Champions League qualification remains a naive dream rather than a genuine ambition and Tottenham will still likely finish between 8th and 6th this season. Look beyond those surface details, however, and appreciate the cultural maturation that appears to be taking place: a club who have specialised in tripping over their own feet in recent times are starting to walk steadily forward.
That, for a fan, is deeply gratifying and, for many, is more significant than material achievement. Watching your football team striding towards the light will always carry a reassuring quality and provide a baseline of comfort that the “try this, try that” alternative never really does.
Spurs are starting to represent the game’s organic qualities and, amazingly, theirs is a world in which everything has suddenly become logical. Recruitment is smart and calculated, money is spent as a last resort rather than on impulse, and age-old frailties are being steadily vanquished; all the different departments seem to now be in sensibly-spaced orbit.
And right at the centre of it all is Mauricio Pochettino, representing what a manager’s job used to entail.