The Tiredness of Tottenham
As visual metaphors go, it couldn’t have been starker or more savage. A week ago on Monday, when Tottenham Hotspur played Manchester City, the star of the evening was the Wembley pitch, threadbare and covered in the markings left by the previous weekend’s NFL football that it had been subjected to. It’s wasn’t difficult to draw a comparison with a Spurs team that has been running on empty since the very start of the season. This started a run of four matches in just eight days. On Thursday night, they travelled across London for a League Cup match against West Ham United and won by three goals to two, and on Saturday night, in a match rumoured to have been scheduled for this time to throw a spanner in the works of the final of Strictly, repeated that result away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Then last night came a Champions League match against PSV in a group that has already fallen to pieces for them. It seemed as though they were headed out of the tournament when the visitors took a very early lead. Somehow, they need to beat Internazionale. And then Barcelona, in the Camp Nou. Orders don’t come much taller than that. Even this result, though, feels like a summation of Spurs’ season so far. An iron was pulled from the fire, and this was due to a man who is rapidly coming to resemble Roy Race, at times. Harry Kane is at the brink of joining the elite few players at the top of the game on the planet. Two goals, a low shot swept across the goalkeeper with twelve minutes to play, and a hugely deflected header a minute from time, turned the game on its head. A wonderful shot for the first, threaded like a needle through a crowded penalty area, and then a huge slice of luck. And all of that to hang on, for now.
This season has, so far, been a series of disappointments for the supporters of Tottenham Hotspur. At the top of the list of rankles is the club’s continuing presence at Wembley. They weren’t supposed to be here, it’s not great to get to from the areas that Spurs supporters tend to come in from, and it’s not home. Furthermore, they’re there until at least January. And it is starting to feel as though this project might not have been managed as effectively as it should have been. There is, of course, a chance of delays, and this should really be built into any estimate on when such a large construction job should be complete. It’s going to be months late, and there have been disputes over the housing development to take place there. It’s difficult to avoid the feeling that it may have been mismanaged. And that’s on top of complete inertia in the transfer market during the summer, the lack of really appropriate breaks for players coming back from the World Cup finals, and Lucas Moura’s politics. And Hugo Lloris.
On the pitch, meanwhile, the team has gained results and spluttered. In the Premier League, Liverpool and Manchester City were simply too good, whilst Watford had enough about them on the pitch to turn the match around, with Spurs looking defeated from the moment the ball crossed the line for the equaliser. They were completely outplayed by Barcelona in the Champions League, completely outhustled by Juventus, and completely debagged in Milan, with two goals in the last five minutes doing to Inter what Spurs did to PSV last night. But that has to be balanced out, slightly. They’ve won eight league matches and are in fourth place in the table, just five points off the lead. The only problem is, it’s difficult to see when any of the clubs above them are going to drop five points, against anybody other than each other.
But they’re still in the League Cup (although they have to play an Arsenal team that is just rediscovering a swagger, in the next round), they’re still in the Champions League (for now), they’re in a Champions League place in the Premier League (for now), and Harry Kane is sparkling (though fatigue must be an issue). It is a statement about the qualities of the manager that the team can be in fourth place in the table, and still four points above Manchester United (who they beat by three goals to nil at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season, of course) and one above Arsenal. Mauricio Pochettino has been defying gravity a little with this team, this season. Last Saturday, Spurs were hanging on a little at three-two against Wolves having been leading by three goals to nil at half-time.
It’s a feeling that seems to be seeping through the club at the moment. Tiredness. There was a reported crowd at Wembley of 46,588 on Tuesday night, with 4,896 of them being down as PSV supporters. That makes about 41,500 home supporters, and those numbers aren’t healthy. The new stadium will hold 62,000 people, and with the stadium now likely to be costing £600m, they’re going to need to be filling that new stadium for every game, because £600m is a lot of money to be borrowing. It may sound like hyperbole to mention this, but Spurs haven’t got an invtitation to the Super Duper Euro League, and should this ever come to pass in the form recently described in Der Spiegel, that would draw a huge financial line just above Spurs, no matter what else came to pass thereafter.
So, perhaps it’s best to make hay while the sun shines. I’m a Spurs supporter, not always the most enthusiastic of Spurs supporters, but one nevertheless. I was born in the year that Spurs won the UEFA Cup final, but against Wolves rather than against Anderlecht, and this is the best Spurs team that there has been in my lifetime. True enough, they haven’t won any silverware, have a tough League Cup draw against rivals who’d love to rub their noses in it (one suspects that particularly mischievous and confident Arsenal supporters might be regretful that they’re not playing it on an NFL-branded Wembley pitch, but a home match is a home match), that almighty hill to climb in the Champions League and/or the possibility of Europa League football, and the FA Cup, when it’s now been twenty-seven years since they last reached the final of that competition.
But it’s still been a great team to watch. So fluid, so entertaining. And, in an incredibly competitive environment, they have been put together relatively modestly (this shows them as the sixth most expensively-assembled in the Premier League, though it dates back to April 2017 and, considering the source, I’m not going to vouch for the figures quoted there personally), they have been competitive. Beaten Arsenal, of all people, to second place in 2016 in the end, though they were last team to give Leicester City anything like a chase, and then runners-up the following year, but some way off that year’s winners, Chelsea. But there have been a lot of terrific performances against strong opposition and an entertaining team, with even a little bit of shithousery thrown in on occasion for good measure.
And if that spell does have to end of this era, it would be perhaps inevitable that to end in the ham-fisted way possible, with the club up to its neck in debt, a team that might have a chance of winning the league having been sold off and the owners of Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea taking off to their volcanic superlairs to play out matches against each other’s Ultra Clubs in perpetuity. Perhaps the actually getting into the new stadium will shake everyone awake, perhaps they’ll sneak in a trophy or, God forbid, a league title. And if we’re hallucinating them, perhaps we’re more tired than we think.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons.