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THE FINISH LINE

Pochettino has more than earned his Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur manager is determined to get pre-season tour off to a winning start by beating Italy's Juventus on Sunday

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Pochettino (in black) celebrating with his team after Spurs beat Ajax Amsterdam in the UEFA Champions League semi-final in May.

AT the start of the 2018/19 season last August, Tottenham Hotspur created a piece of unwanted history when they became the only professional football team in England - as well as the only club across Europe's top five leagues - not to sign a single new player. The North London club also had to play nearly all of their "home" matches at Wembley, as construction delays meant the Lilywhites (Spurs' nickname) played just seven times in their spanking new 62,000-capacity stadium when it finally opened in early-April this year.

With so much disruption and distractions to deal with, not to mention lengthy injuries to key players like Harry Kane, it was a surprise to some that Spurs still ended the season in the top four in the English Premier League (a point ahead of rivals Arsenal and five more than Manchester United, no less) and also reached the final of the UEFA Champions League for the first time.

"In some ways, you could say we overachieved," said Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino in an exclusive interview arranged by the club's official timing partner IWC Schaffhausen. "Few people expected us to finish where we did, but we never stopped believing in ourselves. In the end, you could say we achieved the impossible."

The 47-year-old Argentine - who is visiting Singapore for the first time - was speaking to BT Weekend at the Mandarin Oriental hotel where Spurs are based during their stay here. To kick off their pre-season tour of Asia, Spurs will play Italian champions Juventus on Sunday in the second of two International Champions Cup (ICC) matches at the National Stadium. The first game will see Manchester United take on another Italian team, Inter Milan, in front of over 50,000 people at the same venue.

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This is Tottenham's first match in the Lion City in nearly a quarter of a century. The last time they were in town was in May 1995 when a Spurs team led by England international Gary Lineker were beaten in a penalty shoot-out by a Singapore national team captained by Fandi Ahmad. The match had ended 1-1 at full time.

When told of this result, Pochettino was visibly impressed and he vowed to put on a good show for the club's supporters on Sunday when they face a Juventus team that could feature Cristiano Ronaldo and new defender Matthijs de Ligt. "Hopefully, we can change history and get a different result after what happened 24 years ago. Beating Juventus is important, both for ourselves and for our fans," he added.

Pochettino, who has been at the Spurs helm for five years, admitted he is still busy getting his players back to full fitness, with a handful still on break after playing for their countries in various tournaments. Spurs have also added a couple of new faces, including French midfielder Tanguy Ndombele who signed for a club record £53.8 million (S$91 million) deal.

Pochettino bemoaned the fact that some players still had to take part in the UEFA Nations League finals, which took place in Portugal from June 5-9, just days after Spurs lost the Champions League final to Liverpool in Madrid.

"This is a summer without a World Cup or European Championship, so we try to give a good rest to our players, but then some of them still had to play another tournament that I would not consider massive or important," he noted. "It's a little bit weird, but we have to accept it. The players are not machines, but today football is a big business, the business is crazy, and sometimes the balance is not in the right place. So we had to delay the start of our pre-season preparations, in order to let our players finish their rest and their holidays."

With many clubs turning their attention towards cultivating their fan base in Asia, Tottenham are stepping up a gear in this area too. Pochettino is aware of the level of fanaticism that fans in Singapore and Asia have for EPL teams. One estimate shows that Tottenham have about 80 million supporters in Asia, with more than half that number in China alone.

"We know that we have a lot of fans in Asia. And in the pre-season when we go on tour, it is also a time for us to repay these fans for all their effort and support for us over the years. It's important for the club to keep this relationship close," said Pochettino.

One of the many events the Argentine was involved in was to grace an event on Friday at IWC's newly-opened boutique at Marina Bay Sands. Pochettino's timepiece of choice these days is an IWC Pilot's Watch Timezoner Chronograph.

Before their big match on Sunday, some Tottenham players will be at the Sports Hub's OCBC Square at 2pm for an event organised by AIA, the global principal partner of Tottenham and the presenting sponsor of this year's ICC. There, a group of 100 people will attempt to set a Singapore record for the fastest consecutive football passes with the players.

* Tickets for the Manchester United versus Inter Milan game are sold out as of press time. Tickets for the Juventus vs Spurs game are available at www.sportshubtix.sg. Both matches will be telecast 'live' on toggle.sg.