We Need To Talk About Tottenham
What’s surprising, in some respects, is how quickly it feels as though it has unravelled. For the last couple of years, the joke was precisely that Tottenham Hotspur hadn’t changed. Their inertia in the transfer market over the course of three windows was, depending on prejudice, parsimony on the part of the chairman, a show of belief in that group of players, or only likely to push the manager towards the exit.
Last season, however, chancing their way to the Champions League – and, for all the derring-do, the drama, and outrageous quality in so many of their performances in that competition last season, there was an element of luck to the way they stumbled to the final – seems to have papered over quite a few cracks. In the Premier League, Spurs ended in fourth place in the table, qualifying for this year’s tournament, but this came about more on account of an implosion on the part of Arsenal than on account of anything they did.
So the signs were there, but they’ve accelerated over the course of the last few weeks, with a home defeat at the hands of Newcastle United, throwing away two goal leads against both Arsenal and Olympiakos, getting absolutely humped at home by Bayern Munich and getting knocked out of the League Cup by Colchester United all jostling for position as lowlights over just the last five or six weeks or so. Laugh if you want to, complain if it helps, but we all have to admit that when Tottenham Hotspur do implode, at least they do it in style.
Over the course of less than fifty days, Spurs have managed to comine every sort of unfortunacy that a club could pack in. They’ve been humiliated at home by a European giant and dumped out of a cup by a lower league team. They’ve thrown away a winning position against a local rival, had a touch of bad luck, looked limp against one of the worst teams in the division, and even offered the occasional false dawn. On the whole, though, Tottenham Hotspur have, over the last few weeks, been a Chinese buffet of the things that football supporters dread. And now NFL has arrived at White Hart Lane, too.
Yesterday lunchtime at Brighton, they were a mixed bag again. On the one hand, the early injury to Hugo Lloris at the same time as the Spurs goalkeeper made a horrendous mistake, dropping the ball at the feet of Neal Maupay, was a confection of self-inflicted bad luck, both literal and metaphorical pain. And all after three minutes. The very best that could be taken from such a calamitous few seconds would be that the team would might acquire a feeling of inner resolve from such a sequence of events, and roll their sleeves up to put right the wrong.
There were no grounds for such an optimism at this point, but Spurs couldn’t even lose this match particularly gallantly. Brighton & Hove Albion put in an excellent attacking performance, particularly from nineteen year old debutee Aaron Connolly, who marked his full Premier League debut with two goals and was otherwise a perpetual thorn in the side of the Spurs defence. For all of this, though, the Spurs response to going a goal behind and losing their captain to an injury of his own making was… feeble. They looked defensively ponderous throughout, getting easily swamped in midfield, and their forward movement as though it was being played between strangers.
Their last false dawn came last weekend, with a narrow home win against Southampton in the Premier League. A corner turned, it was said (and not for the first time in the last few weeks.) By the end of Tuesday night, when Bayern Munich came to town and walked away with a bracket after the number of goals they scored, it was impossible to say whether this particular result was just a one-off freak or a sign of something far more troubling. By close of business on Saturday, those who err towards the latter end of that particular spectrum were feeling increasingly sure of their convictions.
So if this a fin de siècle for Tottenham Hotspur, what follows? The stakes are high, because that new stadium cost of a lot of money to build, and ongoing Champions League football must surely be a part of the plan if the club is ever to achieve what it hopes in the medium to long term. Mauricio Pocchetino retains goodwill, but that now seems to be evaporating at an increasing rate, and no-one exactly knows how much more there is.
And then there’s the small matter of the players themselves. Harry Kane is currently one of Europe’s best strikers, but for how much longer would he be able to justify staying with the club if offers started coming in from elsewhere? If this team has lost crucial degrees of both psychological and physical edge over the last twelve months or so, the first team squad will either need to be thoroughly overhauled or slowly redeveloped whilst holding up a joker card with “TRANSITION SEASON” printed across it.
If Pochettino does go, who replaces him, and how would this be an improvement? Spurs can’t afford to take any gambles at the moment, but not doing anything might be a gamble as well. For the time being, though, this certainly feels like the end of an era, an era which peaked somewhere between two and three years ago. The club’s new stadium is now home, the financial burden to be paid over the next few years. The last few weeks have seen the team fluff their lines in so many different ways that it’s almost difficult to know where to start on what might need changing without starting to sound like an advocate for scorched earth policy.
Rumour and counter-rumour will swirl around over the next couple of weeks, with an international break likely to lead to a spike in throwaway stories about who is “fuming” at whom whilst “sources” and “pals” tell stories, 90% oh which will not come to anything. But Spurs can only break this tail-spin with positive results, and there have been precious few of them recently, and the economics of modern football don’t allow for failure which lasts for very long. The period during which change was something that happened for other clubs is coming to an end, for Tottenham Hotspur. The question is: what comes next, and when?