That Tottenham is still there, then, its breath on the necks of Manchester City and Liverpool yet again, is a remarkable feat. And yet, just as with Messi, it does not always feel as though it is celebrated as such.
Pochettino, like Messi, has changed the parameters of a conversation. He has made the extraordinary ordinary. It was previously unthinkable that Spurs might be title contenders. Now, it is not just accepted but almost expected. Indeed, the question more often posed to Pochettino is whether his team is falling short because it does not yet have a trophy to show for its progress.
There is some validity to that question. As the Sky Sports commentator Jamie Carragher pointed out earlier this season, when this Tottenham team comes to be remembered, fans will not take into account where it played its home games or how much was spent to reinforce it; they will simply ask what it won. But it is hard to avoid the feeling that its relevance is overplayed.
Soccer, like all sports, is about the creation of collective memories. That is why England continues to hold its twin cup competitions in such high esteem, though winning them is often not enough to save a coach’s job or build a player’s reputation or slake a fan’s thirst for success. It is why Pochettino’s bullish disregard for them — in words, if not always in actions — strikes such a discordant note among many commentators.
But soccer is also about pride, and status. What Pochettino has done is restore both to Tottenham. That is not some meaningless intangible: It has concrete consequences, both in the stadium the club is building, a monument to its new reality, and the players it will, at some point, be able to attract there.
Pochettino has not won anything, but he has created a club that expects — and is expected — to do so in the future. He has fundamentally altered the fabric of the place that he found. He has made what was once unthinkable entirely feasible, and he has done it so often that his brilliance has become mundane. It is easy to be fooled into thinking this is normal. It is not, and the best measure of how extraordinary it is may well be how ordinary it seems.