Hot-Take Monday: The Unexpected Leaders

by | Aug 30, 2021

It should go without saying that, had you told most Spurs supporters that their team would be two points clear at the top of the Premier League after three matches a couple of weeks ago, they would have laughed long and hard at your excellent sense of humour. Few other clubs at this level of the game have had such an uncertain summer. For the majority of it, Spurs had no manager and the creeping feeling of inevitability that comes with knowing that a petro-club is sniffing around your most valuable player. It’s no exaggeration to say that few Spurs supporters would have been able to accurately predict how this season would even begin, never mind how it might end.

When taking in how far this journey has already come, it’s important to recall what an impossible job this all looked like just a few weeks ago. Nuno Espirito Santo was hired into the manager’s job at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as something like the club’s 43rd choice. His position over the last couple of months has been uniquely challenging. He’s spent most of the last couple of months fielding questions about a position that was not of his making with as much dignity and humour as anybody could muster. It hasn’t felt so much as though people have been willing Santo to fail, as that people simply felt as though success under him couldn’t erven considered a possibility.

And then there’s the Harry Kane saga, which finally reached the end of its first volume at the end of the last week when the player – with a hint of sheepishness, though there could be an element of projection going on there – confirmed that he would be staying with the club after all, when it turned out that Manchester City didn’t love him quite as much as he might have hoped. Fans will all have their different ways of reacting to this volte face, but it seems as though it would be somewhat counter-productive to just continue booing him for the sake of it. Kane has tarnished his reputation amongst the supporters, most likely permanently – my personal policy here is to keep all footballers at arm’s length; not so much “never meet your heroes” as “just don’t bother having heroes in the first place” – and how he will be trying to win back their affection (or whether he will even bother) will be interesting to watch, at least.

Yet after three games, Spurs sit at the summit of the Premier League. Few people – if anybody – believe that they will stay there for any substantial amount of time, but they’re top of the table on merit, with three 1-0 wins that have had a distinctly different feel to those so frequently ground out under his predecessor. The defence looks assured and secure. The midfield, featuring a rejuvenated Delle Alli, is starting to look more creative. Son Heung Min has scored two in three, while his strike partner will be expected, considering everything, to back in amongst the goals very soon. There have been few thrills or spills so far, but even that feels like something of a blessing after months and months of pratfalling from one calamity to the next.

This is all accentuated, of course, by what’s happening just up the road at Arsenal. Schadenfreude may be fashionable at the moment, but their current travails feel, as they always do, like a temporary blip. With the bigger clubs, when they’re doing badly it always feels as though they’re only a step or two away from fixing it all. Arsenal haven’t been out in the transfer market hiring the first eleven people they came across in the streets. They have lavishly paid and extremely competent footballers, and the suspicion remains that they’re only ever one really good managerial appointment or player signing from turning everything around and sailing back toward the top of the Premier League table.

No matter what the signs of Arsenal’s current decline might be, no-one believes they’ll be at or near the bottom of the Premier League table for very long in exactly the same way that they don’t expect Spurs to be at or near the top for very long. And for that reason alone, Spurs supporters will wake up every morning for the next couple of weeks or so with a spring in their step. When you support a team that doesn’t find itself in this position very often, the wisest policy is to savour every moment, to breathe it all in, to enjoy it while it lasts, because it probably won’t last very long, and it certainly won’t last indefinitely.

More importantly than anything else, though, it feels as though Spurs supporters have been geting a little bit of the heart and soul of their club back, this morning. It wears you down, the constant jeering from elsewhere, especially when you know in your heart of hearts that so many of the reasons for that jeering are ultimately self-inflicted by the club itself. This is, after all, the club that sacked its most popular (and successful, even if that didn’t quite result in the club’s trophy room needing its cobwebs to be cleared) manager in years and years to replace him with a meme who was acting as a pale facsimile of who he was fifteen years ago, just months after he got them to a most improbable Champions League final.

When you’ve been a comedy stooge for so long that it long ago started to feel like a piece of performance art, you seize these tiny moments of happiness with both hands because you know they can be fleeting and that they may never even return after they end. So Spurs supporters go into the international break in something of a daze, looking at both ends of the Premier League table with bafflement but also with the understanding that we have to breathe this all in right now, because who knows what inventive ways the club will find to make a hash of it in the fullness of time? This is Tottenham Hotspur, after all.