Mauricio Pochettino interview: Refreshing the Tottenham project

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Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Mauricio Pochettino explains his excitement about the injection of young talent that he believes will refresh the Tottenham project.

When Tottenham reached the Champions League final in June, there was talk from Mauricio Pochettino himself of this being the end of a cycle. But on a fresh August morning on the eve of the club's game against Newcastle, the Tottenham manager has a spring in his step after stopping Manchester City's winning run last weekend.

A new cycle is beginning now.

For the first time in a long time, the Spurs squad has been replenished with top young talent. Ryan Sessegnon, 19, is a player of huge potential. Pochettino's gifted countryman Giovani Lo Celso, 23, is eager to make his full debut too. Tanguy Ndombele, 22, has already made an impact. The ages are worth mentioning because they are significant.

"It is always exciting to work with young players," Pochettino tells Sky Sports. "It shows our project and our philosophy here. It is how we operate. We have identified good players with the capacity to prove that they can play here for Tottenham and help the team to regenerate with that energy that you always need if you want to regenerate a team."

His eyes light up and a broad smile beams across his face. Pochettino is clearly in his element when working with young players. This was how he made his name as a coach in this country in the first place. Following his arrival at Southampton in January 2013, half of the next 30 new England internationals were players who had worked with Pochettino.

Lo Celso 1:09
Giovani Lo Celso is training well but is still 'so far away' from being ready

What had been his trademark at Espanyol and Southampton has been the catalyst for Tottenham's rise. In each of his first three seasons at Spurs, his team had the youngest average age of any in the Premier League. The players bought into his ideas and the ideas were good. Pressing football. Effervescent, energetic, high tempo football.

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Continuity has been the key to sustaining Spurs among the Champions League elite for each of the past four seasons but the knock-on effect of keeping the group together is that they have grown that little bit older together too. In a break from Pochettino's traditions, ten teams in the Premier League had - when measured as an average age - a younger starting line-up last season.

The average age of Tottenham's starting XI has increased during Mauricio Pochettino's reign

For a coach who is at his best - and at his happiest - when developing young players, the need for a refresh was obvious. Pochettino wanted signings but he was not desperate for ready-made stars. He was after new talent that he could hone, recognising that this is how he gains his edge on the rest. It was an aspect of the job he had missed more than he knew.

"The circumstances of the club meant that for a while maybe we could not regenerate," he explains. "For different reasons, we decided to keep our players. Of course, every season they are one year older, one year older. But now it is the start of the regeneration with the signings of Sessegnon, Lo Celso and Ndombele as well as bringing through our own players.

"They are the two systems that we use to refresh the squad, sometimes young players from outside and sometimes from the academy. When you have an unbelievable academy like we do, you can always refresh it in training and refresh with the energy and the motivation of players such as Troy Parrott. We are trying to regenerate that energy and to start again."

Some of this squad are established stars. Harry Kane is perhaps the best all-round striker in Europe. It is about maintaining his level now. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are top-class defenders but with both having turned 30, the same goes for them. Perhaps it's why Pochettino is just as excited about Davinson Sanchez's potential to improve.

For Tottenham to improve, he must improve others and take them to the next level too. It means goodbyes. It is why Pochettino doesn't want to fall in love with his players - he saves the love for his wife, he says - he just wants to get better. So Kieran Trippier is moved on at the right time and Kyle Walker-Peters steps up. A chance to impress. A chance to grow.

It is all part of the process, one that he hopes will ensure that Tottenham do not lose what makes them special. They are savvier now but they cannot lose that exuberance. Even as he himself grows in experience and moves further from that age bracket, Pochettino does not want an old team. He wants young players and the appetite that they bring.

Pochettino did not like the suggestion he could 'experiment' against Newcastle

"I still prefer to work with younger players," he says. "I love it. We have the platform for them to be successful here and we are brave enough to give them the responsibility to show their quality. I love working with all players and we do have the capacity to work with experienced players too but we have the massive capacity to develop younger players."

Man-management is a huge part of Pochettino's success. Kane calls him a friend. Former midfielder Ryan Mason went further, telling Sky Sports that the Argentine improved him "as a human being" and changed the way that he "looked at life" during their time together at Tottenham. Does it get more difficult to maintain that connection as the age gap grows?

"Young players are different now," he adds. "The advantage that we have is that we have kids. We have our own family and we learn from them. It is about adapting and being aware of change. Keep your eyes open because they learn so quickly and you need to keep up with them and have the same knowledge. It is not easy but I want to learn. I want to improve."

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Pochettino might be a little older and wiser, the connection with young players something that he has to work that little bit harder to develop, but he has not changed his core beliefs about the game. The work ethic remains. He still wants his teams to press and he still believes that young players have a higher ceiling with his help.

But what has changed is that, having been at the club for so long, for the first time in his managerial career there is now a group of experienced professionals in Kane, Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and many others, whose ideas about the game have been shaped by his influence. These are Pochettino players, ones he has moulded to play the game as he sees it.

They have the shared experience of those iconic triumphs in Manchester and Amsterdam as well as the near misses. His hunger is their hunger. It is why he has spoken openly for the first time of a top-four finish not being the limit of his ambitions. He wants trophies now.

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There is a sense that he is better placed than ever to achieve it because the balance is there. He has the old heads who he trusts, players in their prime. And now he has that fresh input from a new group of players. Young players. It is a boost to the team and a boost to him.

"It is going to be difficult because last season we were in the top four and the final of the Champions League but we want to be better every season and in every area," he says. "That is our objective. Our vision to achieve it is that we can improve the same players who are here but also add to the quality with the young players who are coming in.

"We love that challenge. We love to try to be better every season and we are working hard on that. We are settling the team, trying to find the best dynamic in the group. It is a natural evolution and we are looking to find that balance. This season looks like it will be the one where we will start the regeneration of the squad. This is a new cycle."

It has not been an explosive start to the season by Pochettino's Spurs side but a win over struggling Newcastle on Sunday will take them into next weekend's north London derby with the opportunity to make it their best start to a Premier League season under him. Mauricio Pochettino's regeneration of Tottenham Hotspur is under way.

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