Spurs' Pochettino does Europa U-turn
Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino has had a change of heart on the Europa League ahead of his managerial debut in continental competition.
The former Argentina international took over the reins at White Hart Lane in May, signing a five-year deal after leading Southampton to their best-ever Premier League finish last season.
So impressive were Saints, in fact, that the prospect of Europa League football looked a genuine possibility as the season entered the home straight.
That was a prospect Pochettino was far than enamoured with, though, calling it a "competition for teams that are not good enough to be playing with the best" and warning that it could "kill" teams' league hopes.
The former defender made those comments just six months ago, but dramatically changed tack on the eve of Tottenham's Europa League playoff against AEL Limassol thanks in no small part to the competition's restructuring.
"The Europa League is now a different competition," Pochettino said. "Why? Well, if you won it last year you basically got nothing. Just a trophy.
"Now the Europa League gives you the opportunity to play in the Champions League. That is a big challenge for us."
Bigger challenges will follow should Spurs make the group stage for a fourth successive season, although overcoming AEL Limassol will be a tougher ask than some are suggesting.
The Cypriot runners-up started this campaign with a 1-0 home win against a Zenit St Petersburg side managed by former Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas, only to lose that Champions League third qualifying tie 3-1 on aggregate.
Heat and humidity compounds matters, as does a poor pitch at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, for what will be Pochettino's first taste of management in continental competition.
The 42-year-old did not manage previous clubs Southampton and Espanyol in Europe, although did, as fate would have it, make his bow on this stage as a player with the latter in Cyprus 18 years ago.
"In 1996 we played against APOEL Nicosia," Pochettino said. "We drew 2-2 in the first leg and we won 1-0 in Barcelona.
"What a coincidence - not that I remember much about the games.
"I remember it was very hot as it is now and that we drew the first leg here in Cyprus before winning the second back in Barcelona. I would settle for the same outcome this time."
The play-off legs with AEL Limassol come either side of Sunday's clash with QPR, managed by former Spurs boss Harry Redknapp.
He was far from sold by the Europa League but, while accepting they need to be "more clever in our analysis", Pochettino believes they have enough strength in depth to cope.
"We have a very strong squad and we have plenty of players," he said.
"The only thing now that was difficult was the World Cup and we need to manage this squad. But I think and we believe that we have a very strong squad."