After six games without a win and with a North London derby looming against an Arsenal side in red-hot form, Tottenham Hotspur fans could be excused a familiar sense of dread as they head to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. Former midfield great Osvaldo Ardiles, however, believes that in fellow Argentine Mauricio Pochettino Tottenham boast a manager who can banish the inferiority complex they have suffered against the Gunners since Arsene Wenger took charge 20 years ago.
Ardiles is uniquely qualified to offer an opinion.
His mercurial midfield skills lit up English football after arriving to a ticker-tape welcome alongside Ricky Villa in 1978 — etching his name among the all-time Tottenham greats during a decade at the club which saw the 1981 FA Cup final song “Ossie’s Dream” become a club anthem.
Managing the club proved beyond Ardiles though and he was sacked in 1994 after an experiment to field a five-man attack including Juergen Klinsmann and Teddy Sheringham backfired.
Eleven full-time managers have attempted to restore the glory days since but apart from the odd Cup run and three top-four finishes in the Premier League, there have been mostly false-dawns at White Hart Lane.
Pochettino, now in his third season, has instilled a new sense of identity at Tottenham though, according to Ardiles, and the disparaging term “Spursy” for a succession of sides who were good on the eye but folded under pressure can be put to rest.
“He has changed the philosophy of the club and the atmosphere, transformed the club” Ardiles told Reuters at the launch of the book Down Memory Lane in London this week.
“When he arrived he had a tough job on his hands. A lot of players were not ‘Tottenham’ players and he got rid of most of them and created a team that is now competing for honours.
“He qualified for the Europa League, then the Champions League in the second season. Now people are expecting more and more. That’s exciting and a great challenge.”
Tottenham pushed surprise champions Leicester City hard before a late collapse saw them finish third last season — below Arsenal for the 21st season in a row.
Pochettino’s side are undefeated in their opening 10 Premier League games this season but since beating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City a succession of draws has seen them slip back.
Their Champions League hopes are hanging by a thread after a 1-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday. Ardiles says Pochettino will lead by example to get them back on track.
“His formula is pretty simple,” Ardiles said. “He is a guy that demands of himself 100 percent. He always demands 100 percent so any player only giving 95 is not for him.
“Doesn’t mean they are bad players or bad apples, simply they are not into the work ethic that he demands. You go to the training ground you can see it’s a family.
“There is an air of confidence and togetherness now at the club that I’ve not seen for a long time.”
Ardiles said players will run through brick walls for Pochettino because of the impact he can have on their careers.
“He has transformed (Danny) Rose and (Kyle) Walker into the best left and right backs in the country,” he said.
“Harry Kane has been transformed too. Dele Alli has benefitted tremendously by what Mauricio preaches. Alli has an air of arrogance on the field but I like that, Eric Dier too.”
Ardiles says victory at Arsenal on Sunday would give Spurs the platform to mount another title challenge which would inevitably put Pochettino on the radar of other clubs.
Some reports said Manchester United were keen last season.
“Mauricio came to me last season and showed me a paper saying his agent was in talks with United,” Ardiles recalled. “He said ‘Ozzie I haven’t even got an agent’.
“He’s a solid guy. I would say leaving doesn’t cross his mind. He’s happy at Spurs. He’ll fulfil his ambitions there.”