Pochettino drops hint about future as Spurs prepare for Ajax showdown

Amsterdam (AFP) –


Mauricio Pochettino dropped a tantalising hint that his work at Tottenham Hotspur might be done if they can come through their Champions League semi-final against Ajax on Wednesday and go on to win the trophy for the first time in their history.

Spurs must overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit when they take on the Dutch club in the return of their last-four tie in Amsterdam, with a final against Liverpool on June 1 the prize for the winners.

"It would be a fantastic way to close a five-year chapter and go home," said Pochettino, appointed coach of the north London club in 2014, at a press conference at the Johan Cruyff Arena on Tuesday.

When asked to clarify if the Argentine meant he would be willing to walk away if he were to deliver Champions League glory, Pochettino said his comments were "not a joke".

"To win the Champions League with Tottenham in these circumstances, this season, maybe I need to think a little bit about doing something different in the future, for sure, because to repeat this miracle, you know..."

Tottenham have already made history under Pochettino this season, reaching this stage for the first time since they got to the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1962 before losing to Eusebio's Benfica.

Donny van de Beek's goal in the first leg separates the sides, but Tottenham come to the Netherlands boosted by the return of Son Heung-min, who was suspended last week.

Now they are dreaming of a first European final since Keith Burkinshaw's team beat Anderlecht on penalties to lift the UEFA Cup in 1984, before any of those set to feature on Wednesday were born.

"We are living a dream. Five years ago when we arrived it was to reduce the gap to the top four, and then to have the possibility to play in the Champions League," Pochettino said.

"I think nobody would believe we would be playing in the Champions League three seasons in a row and competing at this stage."

- Stumbling -

However, his side are stumbling badly towards the finish line with a depleted squad, set to finish in the top four in the Premier League mainly thanks to the failings of the teams below them.

Harry Kane is out, and Tottenham have been beaten five times in their last six games, nine times in their last 10 matches away from home.

The exception in that run came on their last trip to the continent, however, against Borussia Dortmund in the last 16, and now they arrive in Amsterdam with Son available after sitting out the first leg due to suspension.

Jan Vertonghen is in line to return too after coming off with a head knock last week.

"You wouldn't believe at the start of the season that Tottenham would be in the last week of the season with the possibility of being in the final of the Champions League and to be in the top four," Pochettino added.

Liverpool await the winners after their stunning comeback against Barcelona, and Ajax are hoping to see through their first-leg advantage, unlike the Catalans.

The club of Cruyff and so many other great names are in sight of a first Champions League final since 1996 and remain in with a chance of a treble, something they last achieved in 1972 when the man after whom their stadium is now named was starring on the pitch.

- Treble dream -

Erik ten Hag's team secured the first leg at the weekend when they beat Willem II 4-0 in the Dutch Cup final, and they are top of the league in the Netherlands with two matches left.

They are aiming to carry on an incredible European run that began in the second qualifying round on July 25.

Defender Daley Blind, who returned to the club from Manchester United just before the campaign began, admitted that celebrations after the Cup final were "a bit timid" due to the proximity to this match.

"Most of the celebrations were on the pitch and afterwards we celebrated in the stadium with the fans," he said. "We knew what was coming, it is clear that this match was in our thoughts."