In the interests of generating nuggets of shareable online content, as is the modern parlance, the Virgin Media Sport Twitter feed regularly puts out little chunks of video — goals, bizarre incidents, dollops of punditry, etc.
The current top three most-viewed clips in reverse order are as follows: at number three is Brian Kerr’s little jig of delight while watching Tottenham beat Ajax in the Champions League semi-final, which reintroduced the phrase “ye little dixie” into the lexicon; second most popular was Graeme Souness forcefully insisting that desire was more important than tactics in football, which included that most cherished punditry trope, the thrown pen; and topping the charts with a whopping 650,000 views was a clip of a Schalke fan walking while balancing a pint on his head.
This data may or may not be revealing about what drives the modern mind. What does the Schalke pint man say about us as a society? Has he revealed inner truths about pint transportation? Do we need to have a conversation about how we carry our pints?
Of a slightly less esoteric nature was the debate that Souness’s trenchant views kicked off. For some this was the roar of the dinosaur, ignorant of the increasingly systematic nature of modern football. Others thought he was launching truth bombs at the snake oil salesmen, the corporate-speak merchants stealing a living in today’s game.
On a deeper level, he could have been celebrating the daily human struggle at a time when our lives are ever more given over to algorithms and data-analysis – championing heart and soul over laptops and spreadsheets. Or maybe he was just hungry.
The Champions League final between Tottenham and Liverpool is, in a sense, a sound vindication of his views, pitching as it does two managers for whom the harnessing of emotion are central themes of how they work.
Tottenham’s dismal display in the first half of their semi-final first leg against Ajax was what provoked Souness’s much-shared comments. They came in response to a post-match interview with Christian Eriksen in which the Spurs midfielder rejected the notion that a switch from a back three to four-man defence inspired a second-half improvement, claiming instead that the players’ attitude had been wrong.
In this view Eriksen was only following his master’s voice. Pochettino focused on feelings rather than formation in the aftermath of that game.
“Ajax weren’t better than us but they were when they showed more desire than us.
There’s no doubt that Pochettino, along with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, has built a thoroughly modern football club, cleverly and prudently run, with world-class coaching and support systems and the best training and stadium facilities.
But the Argentine is also simultaneously partial to all kinds of weird and wonderful airy-fairy mumbo-jumbo. He keeps a bowl of lemons on his desk, which, he claims, soak up the bad energy from people who come into his office.
“I think universal energy exists,” he said recently when asked about his team’s favoured all-action style, sounding like Deepak Chopra in a Nike tracksuit.
“The problem is if you are open to receive that energy. Always it’s about having that belief some energy exists that is more powerful than us. And, of course, you need to be connected with this energy.”
Less mystical and sitar-jangled was his response to people who come to visit Tottenham in search of coaching secrets of their success.
“They believe that it is about some tactical work or it is because we use some system or have changed to another system of three at the back or four or five. But that is nothing. For me, the key is how we support and how we work together. How important everyone feels in the club. It’s that we want to work to give our best to help the team move on and achieve not only our individual dreams but our collective dreams. That is the key.”
In this view he is at one with his opponent on Saturday. Jurgen Klopp may be more Metallica than Ravi Shankar, but he shares that belief in the needs of the collective over the individual. The Liverpool manager has spoken often about his left-of-centre views, his dismay at the fractures within today’s society and how the values of the city in which he currently works chime with his own.
More than that, his football philosophy depends on these things. The hard-running, gegenpressing style demands collectivity; from early in his reign he challenged the Anfield crowd to feed his players the noisy energy to fuel their intense play, creating a virtuous emotional feedback loop between pitch and stands; and he always celebrates the team over the individual, best seen in how praise for Mo Salah’s astonishing 2017/18 scoring season was always accompanied by references to the work of his team-mates.
Liverpool are a clever club too — they have the savviest transfer policy of any at their level, based on data and the search for value. But like Tottenham they have the understanding that none of that stuff would be worth the hard-drive it was stored in without the emotional energies that their passionate and, at times, really rather bonkers managers are able to harness within their squads.
“Everyone is expecting a tactical battle, but emotions will be the deciding factor,” Pochettino said last week. “We’re two teams that know each other well, so no tactics are going to be a surprise. The emotional side is going to be fundamental.”
Will Liverpool channel the frustrations of their 2018 final defeat and remarkable second place Premier League finish? Will Spurs be emboldened by the indefatigable spirit of their Champions League run and crown the Pochettino era in worthy style?
This weekend it’s the emotions Champions League final — you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you might end up with a pint on your head.