Tottenham’s mission impossible at the Camp Nou shows how far Mauricio Pochettino has taken his team
Ever feel that you need to be in two places at once? As we sat high up in the Camp Nou, watching Barcelona and Tottenham play out a 1-1 draw, eyes were stuck fast on updates from the San Siro. It was like watching Tony Blair’s nervous smile in Sedgefield in May 1997 while Michael Portillo grimaced in Enfield. All you needed was to splice yourself in half. Was that really too much to ask?
High up in the stadium, thousands of Tottenham supporters had the same wish. Even their equaliser, when it eventually came, could not be fully enjoyed in case pride came before almost-instant fall. Their joyous news arrived via a final whistle sounded hundred of miles away. As the stadium announcer decreed that the away support must remain after the end of the match until instructed otherwise, they greedily accepted her request. They would have stayed all night if they could.
Do not underestimate the guts, cojones, heart and as many other body parts as you can care to name that Tottenham have displayed to achieve this mission improbable. Ernesto Valverde may have rested players to give Spurs hope of a result, but this was no team of stiffs. Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele alone cost almost twice as much as Tottenham’s starting XI.
In reserve lay surely the best list of substitutes in the game’s history: Ter Stegen, Alba, Busquets, Messi, Pique, Denis Suarez, Vidal. Those seven players, kept in reserve by Ernesto Valverde, share 535 senior international caps, 42 league titles and 13 Champions League trophies.
These are the moments, the nights, the house that Pochettino built. As the players and management embraced in the centre circle of the Camp Nou pitch, they should have taken a step back to appreciate what a job this manager has done and just how high he has increased the ceiling of potential. What once were dreams are now within arm’s reach.
Pochettino re-entered the fray ten minutes following the final whistle to a defeaning applause. In pockets of the stadium, Tottenham supporters who had cadged a ticket in the home end grouped together and saluted their hero. An ‘I was there’ moment in an ‘I’ve been there’ stadium.
The cult of the individual, enforced by the magic of Lionel Messi and relentless achievement of Cristiano Ronaldo, sometimes threatens to overtake the team aspect of football. But it is on nights such as these that football is its most spellbinding and its most brilliant, and that the true meaning of the game is hammered home in repeated tingles.
Messi’s warm-up and introduction did indeed receive its customary cheers, and it is always an honour to watch him play. But for the final ten minutes of this glorious Champions League night, the best player the world has ever seen was nudged to the side of the stage. Instead our protagonists were Tottenham, marching onto the Champions League knockout stages for the second successive season. There will be few Blaugrana who would argue that they did not deserve it.
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