Heurelho Gomes missed out by just five days. His Tottenham contract ended in May 2014, less than a week before Mauricio Pochettino became manager. And yet he still raves about the softly spoken Argentine and his impact on one of England’s most perplexing clubs.
Pochettino constructed something special during his time at Spurs and former Lilywhites goalkeeper Gomes hopes they can return to that level. As he speaks to The Set Pieces, it becomes clear almost immediately he feels nearly everything impressive on Spurs’ recent timeline was etched onto the wall by Pochettino himself.
The ex-Southampton coach is a long way from Tottenham now — coaching Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain. And Spurs are a way off the level they reached under him. No wonder current boss Antonio Conte publicly ponders whether his long-term future is in North London after every passing match.
It’s been an inconsistent couple of years for the club. Three permanent managers and one caretaker manager have overseen a turbulent transition away from Pochettino. Yet Gomes feels there are signs Conte’s Tottenham are beginning to click through the gears.
“I think they are playing better now,” says the Brazilian. “In the past few years, we did see a better Tottenham side. They are playing better now than they were playing at the beginning of the season. I think he [Conte] is on track to achieve the things Mauricio Pochettino did.”
Even for Conte, that would take some doing. Pochettino turned Tottenham into a thrilling young side. They finished 5th, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd and 4th under his guidance, and reached the 2019 Champions League final. That fairytale run saw them conquer Manchester City and Ajax, before falling to Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool at the final hurdle.
Pochettino worked with an honest group of players whose talents he maximised. His side were powered by an irrepressible front four of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen and England’s brightest young talent at the time, Dele Alli.
“He transformed Tottenham,” Gomes explains. “The Tottenham I played for is much different from the Tottenham after Pochettino. Conte is on the right track to help Tottenham qualify for the Champions League and to fight for trophies.”
That’s what Tottenham fans want more than anything else; a trophy to show for a famous decade in the club’s history. It’s been 14 years since Spurs got their hands on silverware of any sort and captain Harry Kane has come to be the face of that continuing barren run. Gomes is desperate for the England striker to stay at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but fears that might be a fanciful wish.
“Every summer he always tries to leave Tottenham,” jokes the 11-time Brazil international. “The best for the team is for him to stay. Players like to achieve for themselves, but they like to achieve as a team as well. Unfortunately, that is not working for him. I don’t know if he’s going to try to leave again.”
Gomes admits leaving might satisfy Kane’s personal ambitions of lifting silverware. “If he wants to achieve better things, he needs the support of the team or he needs to go to another club,” Gomes adds. “Even if the club signs massive players, you never know if that’s going to work. If he wants to win something, I think he needs to leave.”
Undoubtedly one of the club’s greatest signings over the past decade was Hugo Lloris from Lyon in the summer of 2012. Gomes spent his final two years at Spurs as the French stopper’s understudy. Having seen Lloris close up, the Brazilian was in no doubt that the club’s first-choice goalkeeper was a supremely talented player.
“I think he [Lloris] is one of the best in the league,” Gomes says. “I remember when we trained together — he’s a top-class goalkeeper.”
And yet the departures of key defenders of the Pochettino era, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, aren’t the only factor in why the defence has become more erratic. A few costly mistakes from Lloris have also crept in.
“I don’t think he [Lloris] is the same at the moment,” Gomes comments. “I don’t know what’s happened with him, but I don’t think he’s the same.”
If not Lloris, then who does Gomes rate as the Premier League’s greatest goalkeeper at present? One name sticks out.
“At the moment, the best goalkeeper in the league is David de Gea — and I can put him as best goalkeeper in the world as well,” says Gomes. “He’s having a great season. Most of the points that United are getting is thanks to David. He’s the difference for United.”
Gomes played 130 times for Tottenham and believes he saw progression in that six-year spell. And he feels that, bar the odd lull, the fans are still witnessing progression.
“They are a better side now,” he says. “We qualified for the Champions League in 2009-10. I believe we had a great team, but I believe Tottenham now have a better squad than we had when I was there – they can now match the big teams.”
That’s quite a statement given Gomes played alongside Gareth Bale and Luka Modrić at Spurs. But with a strong squad behind him, perhaps Conte is on his way to emulating Pochettino.