GREAT teams define eras.
Tottenham’s progressive head coach Mauricio Pochettino mentioned a couple of them when he reflected on a triumphant Champions League night against Borussia Dortmund.
He said: “I laugh a little because the expectation when people watch Tottenham is not only for us to win, but to perform like the dream team of Barcelona with Cruyff, or the Milan of Arrigo Sacchi. Sometimes, people underestimate us.”
Spurs have a way to go yet before they can be compared with the greats, but Poch’s commitment to marry entertainment with results commands total respect.
Barcelona mastered their art under Cruyff, adopting his principles and refining them on the way to their European Cup win at Wembley in 1992.
The names of Pep Guardiola, match-winner Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup and Hristo Stoichkov still trip easily off the tongue, nearly 30 years on from lifting the trophy against Sampdoria.
Those players would be first picks in any team today.
Sacchi’s Milan side, featuring Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Franco Baresi, were another breathtaking, eclectic bunch.
They dominated the European scene, echoing the success of the famous Milan side from the 1960s whey won the European Cup in 1989 and 1990.
Everybody marvelled at Sacchi, with the great man creating an enduring identity that is still felt in the sport today.
Tottenham, with their expressive and welcoming approach, are feeling the love after their blood-pumping 3-0 win over Dortmund.
Son Heung-min, Harry Winks — exceptional and particularly influential against Dortmund — and Christian Eriksen are creating their own piece of history.
In the absence of some stellar names, such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli, those three made the magic happen at Wembley.
Poch, operating without the same financial resources and the history of Manchester United, is on the way to creating something unique with Spurs.
They are there to be enjoyed, to be admired for syncing their stylish football with these head-turning scorelines.
Nobody at Spurs craves for a year “ending in one” any more — in the distant hope of emulating the achievements of the 1961 Double-winning teams, the 1981 or 1991 FA Cup, or the 1971 League Cup.
Those nauseating days are behind them, mercifully.
Beating United 3-0 with their continental approach at Old Trafford, the 3-0 over Dortmund, the 1-0 over Inter, the 1-1 draw in the Nou Camp that took them through to knockout football are becoming the norm.
No doubt they would love to convert it into something tangible, to finally walk up the steps inside a stadium to lift some silverware.
If it never happens, it does not mean that this team cannot be appreciated.
The final, reflex argument of the desperate man is always about the trophies.
What do these striking wins over Dortmund or United mean if Poch cannot land some silverware?
Their head coach, nearly five years into the project, is welded to another ideology. Trophies are important, but in 20, 30 or even 40 years’ time, historians will still be gushing with praise about this upwardly-mobile Spurs side.
They have proved it is possible to knit together entertainment and adventure with ambition and results.
Try watching some of the joyless, impenetrable football being served up by some of the struggling teams in the Premier League.
CARLO ANCELOTTI once said that the working environment at Chelsea was intolerable.
He did the Double in 2009- 2010 with the Blues and yet the Italian still found it difficult to meet the expectations of a club geared towards success.
Right from the very top, the demand and the order from Roman Abramovich is to have a winning mentality in every area of the club. Chelsea is no place for the weak or the meek.
It explains some of the dressing room discord down the years but that culture is not helping Maurizio Sarri to win his players over.
They are used to being dragged over the finishing line to win trophies but Sarri, fixated with his own firm views on how to play the sport, does not share the same mentality.
Clashes between the clubs fighting for their lives at the other end of the table is very often a joyless, miserable experience.
In another era, when tribal rivalries could be put to one side for one afternoon, Spurs would be the neutral’s first choice in English football.
They are the team to watch in the Premier League, acting on a responsibility to play the game with a bit of style and panache.
Tottenham are committed to it.
Poch should be congratulated for that because he has achieved it by playing in a borrowed stadium, handicapped by a move away from White Hart Lane.
They will be back there soon enough, transferring this compelling football to their new 62,000 super structure.
When Spurs finally get there, they can become giants of the sport.
THE DECISION to swap countries will always provoke debate and create a little bit of hysteria.
Declan Rice’s defection, walking away from the Republic of Ireland to commit to England, fits snugly into that bracket.
In a world where families often settle in countries outside of their own birthplace, the question of heritage will become a frequent issue for Fifa.
Rice’s situation is complicated as he was born in England, yet chose to represent Ireland at youth and senior level, qualifying through his grandparents.
A young man, making his way in life and uncertain of his long-term prospects in the game, should not be denied the opportunity to play sport at elite level because of some archaic qualifying criteria.
The answer is to encourage development by allowing young players the opportunity to represent their country of choice until they are no longer eligible for the Under-21s.
Or have been selected to play in the senior set- up, whichever comes first.
WITH so many impromptu player-of-the-year polls being bandied around, Mo Salah is a remarkable omission from many.
Salah, who scooped the PFA Players’ Player of the year and the Football Writers’ Footballer of the year in 2018, is quietly going about his business again this season.
The Egyptian has scored 17 goals in the Premier League, joint level with Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero.
When it comes to shortlists, Salah’s name should be on every one of them.