With his Espanyol team fighting relegation and seemingly out of luck, Mauricio Pochettino stuck on a backpack and hiked 12km to Santa Maria de Montserrat, the monastery in the hills above Barcelona and home of the Black Madonna statue.
Back in the Catalan capital this summer following Tottenham’s heartbreaking Champions League final defeat by Liverpool in May, he turned to Jesus instead. Jesus Perez, his assistant manager.
‘We talked every day to find the reason,’ the Argentine says in his first full interview since that miserable 2-0 loss.
‘Always you try to analyse, but in the end the analysis is different. It’s the small details that make the difference.’
Perez helped to heal the wounds, as did supporters of Liverpool and the arrival of new training kit at Hotspur Way. Belting a few golf balls did not do any harm, either.
Almost two months have passed since the bubble burst. It still hurts. ‘Yes, it was difficult,’ Pochettino says, before adding he did not see the defeat coming after the miracles in Manchester and Amsterdam that had seen Spurs reach the big one.
‘The three weeks to prepare were unbelievable and then you are massively disappointed in the way you lose,’ Pochettino reflects. ‘Then you need to go home — I took a train from Madrid to Barcelona the day after.’
He can now smile at the memory.
‘I spent 10 days in my house and didn’t want to go out,’ he explains. ‘It was so tough because we nearly touched glory.’
At the driving range, where you could imagine the balls took quite a whack, the road to recovery was kickstarted.
‘I tried to play golf after a few days — not to play, to swing,’ Pochettino says. ‘I was focused with my son to try to hit the ball perfectly but it was impossible. My family tried to lift me, but they were in the same situation as me. Then I started to move on.
‘The people that appreciated our job also helped. In Spain, English fans in restaurants in Madrid, also in Ibiza, people from Liverpool, people from Tottenham, different football people said: “Fantastic Tottenham”. That started to build happiness again because people recognised our job was fantastic.’
Back in London, packages of new gear from the kit room finished the job. ‘When you start a season, new kit, new everything,’ Pochettino adds. ‘It’s good because it changes. Now all is new; new colours and, of course, new motivation.’
The wounds, however, remain raw. Pochettino, speaking on Spurs’ tour of Asia, rates the Liverpool defeat as the most painful moment of his managerial life, on a par with his worst as a player, when he tripped Michael Owen in the penalty area in Sapporo 17 years ago.
‘Very bad!’ he says. ‘I compare it with the summer of 2002 when we were beaten by England and drew with Sweden in the World Cup group stage and went out. They are the worst moments in my career.’
You get the impression the manner of Liverpool’s win, aided by a controversial early penalty, still rankles. ‘I thought we were better than Liverpool,’ Pochettino reflects. ‘It wasn’t a great final but small details made the difference.’
There is little time to dwell on that with a new season — Tottenham’s first full one at their magnificent new home — around the corner following this week’s trip to Munich for the Audi Cup.
‘Winners move on quickly,’ Pochettino says. ‘Maybe 10 days like me, or 15. When it’s holidays it’s worse because every day you are thinking the same, but when you start to train you put the bad things in the past. The moment you move on, the fire inside starts to appear again.’
At one point on the tour, which saw Tottenham beat Juventus before losing 2-1 to Manchester United, Pochettino was irked to be asked if his side could use Liverpool — who ended last season 26 points ahead of Spurs after finishing two behind them in 2017-18 — as motivation.
Did he feel that was disrespectful, given the disparity in spending?
‘I don’t know who is interested to include Tottenham in this group,’ he says.
‘Compare our net investment with (City, Liverpool, Chelsea and United). It’s in the history, in the last 10 years, all the money they have spent to arrive where they are now. We are far away from that.’
The 47-year-old feels that, financially, Spurs are not in that bracket. That may well change. At Shanghai’s plush Waldorf Astoria hotel, chairman Daniel Levy provided an off-field highlight when he signed a new eight-year shirt sponsorship deal with AIA worth around £360million, which lifts Spurs into third place in that table behind the Manchester clubs.
Levy suggested that now the stadium and training ground are built, the focus can switch to football and the commercial side. It felt like a key moment, perhaps the dawning of a new era.
On the day Levy spoke, Sportsmail reported Spurs, who have already spent a record £65m on Tanguy Ndombele this summer, had been in talks with Juventus over an audacious £80m bid to bring striker Paulo Dybala to north London.
Before the transfer window closes a week on Thursday, there may be a different perception of Tottenham, but for now, the manager thinks their more frugal ways should be celebrated.
‘It’s not fair to compare and say Liverpool are going to be an inspiration for us,’ he says. ‘No, it’s the opposite. Tottenham are an inspiration for the rest of the teams in the Premier League because, with less in everything, you can fight.
‘That is my idea. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the people who say compare us with Liverpool or City are right.
‘Of course, we are not the best in the world, but in our circumstances we try to work and never be a big team. Always be brave and play with a lot of young players.’
He pauses, then emphasises the point. ‘Maybe in the end we can get a trophy or not, but we are very close,’ he adds. ‘With less we are doing a lot more.’
He may not have to put up with less for much longer.Daily Mail