Time for Tottenham to prove character, says Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino is urging his Tottenham players to stick together and be brave as the pressure of the title race hots up.
Time for Tottenham to prove character, says Mauricio Pochettino

Spurs sit second, two points behind Leicester with 11 games to go, and their credentials to be champions are set to be fully tested in the next four days as Pochettino’s men face West Ham tonight and then Arsenal this weekend.

Both London rivals will be eager to put a dent in their neighbour’s title ambitions while Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has said Tottenham should now be considered favourites to lift the top prize in May.

It means Spurs will need all the spirit and resilience they can muster in the coming days, two qualities Pochettino has been desperate to instil in his young squad since being appointed head coach 21 months ago.

Andros Townsend felt the Argentinian’s wrath earlier this season when he momentarily stepped out of line while a number of players were sold last summer as Pochettino kept faith only with those he felt would comply with his beliefs.

“They are now not my rules, today we share the rules,” Pochettino said.

“We share the rules, not just on the pitch but out of the pitch too. Maybe from the beginning we feel they were rules but today the players share the values.”

One routine Pochettino introduced involves all the players shaking hands with each other every morning before training, a ritual he believes promotes camaraderie and togetherness.

It is understood the squad’s response was so immediate that one day Pochettino was having breakfast with Daniel Levy when six players came up and greeted both him and the chairman with handshakes, leaving Levy taken aback.

“Every morning we shake hands with everyone,” Pochettino said.

“Maybe this means this was a rule but it wasn’t a rule, just respect to each other and showing how you feel in the morning when you meet.

“It is just small things but it means a lot to create in the end a real team.

“You feel your team-mates, you feel your people. It shows you’re interested in people when you shake hands. It shows you’re interested a lot.

“Things like this are important in the end to apply so we can show the team are ready to fight for each other.”

Much attention has been placed on the inexperience of Pochettino’s squad – the youngest in the Barclays Premier League – in handling the kind of pressure a title race can bring.

His players’ character will certainly be given a stiff examination under the floodlights at Upton Park, where a hostile crowd has not seen their team lose at home since August.

“To show character is to take the ball and take a risk in the way you play,” Pochettino said.

“To be brave is not to kick someone. It is to take the ball and play. We cannot forget we are playing football, we are not playing rugby or boxing.”

Spurs, however, are made of sterner stuff than in previous campaigns and they are also enjoying the full support of their fans, whose enduring optimism was noticeable during the team’s comeback victory over Swansea on Sunday.

“I think we start to feel we are a real family,” Pochettino said.

“For me it is key because always the supporters are very important. For the players they are very important to feel the support from them.”

Meanwhile Hammers boss Slaven Bilic could welcome back striker Diafra Sakho after three months out injured. But defender Sam Byram is suspended so winger Michail Antonio, last weekend’s goal hero in the win over Sunderland, may have to start at right-back.

Antonio’s Homer Simpson-style celebration against the Black Cats raised a laugh - but Bilic insists that is where the comparisons end.

“I’m a big fan of The Simpsons but I wouldn’t connect him with Homer Simpson,” he smiled. “They are completely different. Homer is lazy, Antonio is a workaholic.”

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