Richard Buxton: Tottenham aspire to be Borussia Dortmund
Tottenham have still some way to go to achieve German outfit's achievements despite financial constraints
Borussia Dortmund are the utopian vision which Mauricio Pochettino may never realise.
|TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR||BORUSSIA DORTMUND|
Their renaissance is everything the Tottenham Hotspur manager craves but, crucially, cannot emulate.
Boxing clever has allowed Lucien Favre's side to ascend to the Bundesliga's summit and go deep into the Champions League's latter stages without being financial heavyweights.
Given the Lilywhites' inability to break their own glass ceiling, Pochettino would do well to heed that lesson during his side's Round-of-16 clash tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Against Juventus at the same stage last season, the next step beckoned Tottenham before supreme confidence led to an all-too-familiar resting of their laurels and ensuing capitulation.
Pochettino's players took their eye off the ball and started dreaming about who they would face in the next round instead of beating what was in front of them. In turn, the Old Lady's experienced charges took full advantage of their hosts' preoccupied young guns.
Slow and steady ultimately won that race as Juve's Tortoise overtook Tottenham's Hare.
A repeat of that pattern of downfall, and indeed their group-stage double over Dortmund last season, is unlikely and Pochettino already knows it with an emphasis on getting his excuses in early.
Devoid of Harry Kane and Dele Alli through injury, there has been little other choice than to hide behind dubious claims, such as the Bundesliga leaders having a 24-hour advantage ahead of the first leg due to the timing of Spurs' game with Leicester City last weekend.
That would be more plausible if Dortmund had not been taken to a penalty shoot-out by Werder Bremen in their German Cup exit during midweek while his own players were resting up.
But even in a winning position, sitting five points clear in their country's top flight, it is clear Dortmund are still beset by a fragility that Wembley's current residents can self-identify.
As Pochettino's side successfully kept pace with Manchester City and Liverpool in the English Premier League's three-horse race for the title, their next opponents lost further ground on the home front by surrendering a three-goal lead inside 12 minutes against Hoffenheim.
Favre may have fashioned a team capable of playing some of the most exhilarating football presently available on the continent, but the "Spursy" trait is not exclusive to north London.
The absence of a talismanic Marco Reus is likely to have a greater bearing on proceedings for the visitors than Tottenham's loss of both Kane and Alli in recent weeks.
Pochettino has further reasons to be optimistic after winning all of his previous four league games without the England captain at his disposal and largely aided by Son Heung Min's irrepressible form, which has produced 15 goals and eight assists in 25 domestic appearances.
Dampened expectations also stand in Spurs' favour, not least after taking four points off reigning holders Real Madrid around the same time as they scalped Dortmund last term.
Since the turn of the year, however, Pochettino has routinely attempted to argue against his own silverware shortcomings, claiming that trophies merely swell egos and only become an obligation if you are able to spend in the region of £300 million (S$525m) on transfers.
Dortmund's exploits debunk the Argentinian's theory.
If he spent more time taking note than hiding behind excuses, Tottenham may finally be able to make that much-touted next step.
Dortmund’s English teen Sancho relishing homecoming
Jadon Sancho has been bombarded by ticket requests from family and friends for his London return tomorrow morning (Singapore time), when Borussia Dortmund face Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in the Champions League.
The 18-year-old England winger says he has requested "about 30 tickets" from his German club for the plum last-16, first-leg tie in his home city.
"Everyone was messaging me saying, 'I need a ticket! It's big'. I'll be playing in front of my family, which is something I've always wanted to do since I was a young boy.
"It's Wembley. I can't wait."
As he has done all season, Sancho shone on Saturday, scoring the opening goal and setting up his side's other two in a 3-3 draw for the Bundesliga leaders at home to Hoffenheim.
The match against Spurs on Wembley's hallowed turf is a homecoming for Sancho, one of the stars of an impressive Dortmund team seeking to dethrone Bayern Munich this season.
Ahead of the match, he has been exchanging banter with Spurs' 23-year-old midfielder Harry Winks.
"I'm good friends with Harry. Obviously he feels they're going to win. We feel we're going to win," said Sancho with a smile.
Sancho learnt his trade on the streets of Kennington in south London.
"It's how we were brought up from the start - it's street football. Everyone just expresses themselves, you fear no one because you have nothing to lose and you are just being yourself," he said.
Sancho joined Watford's youth set-up aged seven, but left home aged just 11 to board at the club's Harefield Academy when travelling across London became an issue.
His performances attracted English Premier League giants Manchester City in March 2015.
He caught the eye of City manager Pep Guardiola with 12 goals, creating four more, in 14 games for City's Under-18 Premier League team in 2016/17.
However, Sancho was dropped from the senior squad in July 2017 after refusing to sign a new contract due to a lack of assurances over playing time.
Dortmund stepped in and Sancho signed a five-year deal.
He is clear about why he joined the Bundesliga giants.
"It was about the youngsters here getting opportunities," he added after starting 14 of 21 league games this season.
"I couldn't thank them more."
He admits struggling to learn German and being so far from home can be tough.
"It hasn't been easy. I've had to work for this," he said.
"German will be always kind of hard to me and you learn new things every day, but I am getting the basics right.
"I know what the manager is saying in training sessions, which makes it easier.
"Me being so comfortable abroad is due to the fact I've always been away from home since I was young.
"The first couple of years were very tough and, as I got older, people told me 'it's either this or going back home'. I always loved football, so chose the hard option. I'm just happy that's it's all working out."
Out of sight does not mean Sancho is out of mind for England manager Gareth Southgate.
"Last time I spoke to Gareth was when I left, but (England assistant coach) Steve Holland came over recently and told me what the plan was with the Nations League coming up," said Sancho.
Having made his England debut in October as a substitute in the goalless draw against Croatia, he'll no doubt soon be swopping Dortmund's yellow and black for the white of the Three Lions. - AFP