Tottenham have been on the brink of major success for years now.
This weekend, Spurs will face Chelsea in their third FA Cup semi-final since 2010. Both previous times in that spell came under the stewardship of Harry Redknapp, both times they finished fourth in the league, and both times they fell at the final hurdle. Both times Chelsea won the cup, too.
Tottenham’s last appearance at a domestic final, though, came in the League Cup in Mauricio Pochettino’s first season in charge at the club when they lost in final to Chelsea, but their last trophy was in the same competition in 2008, coming from behind to beat Chelsea after extra time. In 2012, Tottenham’s fourth place didn’t see them into the Champions League as the Blues won the big trophy themselves.
As well as a traditional history, then, there’s also a recent one between the two clubs. Not only are they title rivals this season, but apart from that 2008 final, Chelsea have something of a hoodoo over Spurs. Every time they seem to threaten the Premier League’s super-elite, Chelsea smack them down – somehow.
Perhaps that’s the biggest thing about this FA Cup semi-final. For the first time in all those meetings over the last few years, Chelsea and Tottenham come into this game as equal rivals. And yet Spurs – given they’ve won only one trophy in the 21st Century – have a barrier to break.
Two genuine title challenges, a League Cup final and (at least) an FA Cup semi-final since Pochettino’s arrival are dents in that barrier, but no more than that just yet. The free-spending nature of other clubs in the Premier League sort of puts Spurs into a category below those teams. The Manchester clubs and Chelsea appear to be a cut above when it comes to financial power, and even though Spurs have spent hundreds of millions of pounds since the arrival of Pochettino, the sale of Gareth Bale in 2013 was a big chunk of cash in the kitty.
When it comes to spending, though, it’s not true that Spurs have built strictly organically. Players like Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll, for example, have come through the academy ranks only to be sold on to other teams instead of making the Spurs side, whilst other players have come in.
But there’s more to the story than spending wisely, or even spending at all. When young players come through at Spurs and are sold on, they see to be sold on for quite a fee. Mason became Hull City’s record transfer, and that was only a few years after Jake Livermore became the Humberside club’s record signing himself. Clearly, replacing those sorts of players with the likes of Dele Alli from MK Dons or Eric Dier from Sporting CP for half the price is incredibly good business, but it shows that Spurs’ thinking is joined up.
On one hand, Dan Levy’s frequently vaunted negotiation shrewdness balances the books and usually keeps them tipped on the side of profit, whilst Mauricio Pochettino clearly feels that he can mould a certain type of player.
Indeed, over the last few years, it’s the more expensive ones who have flopped under Pochettino – the likes of Moussa Sissoko and even Heung-Min Son, who took a season or so to really get firing. It is they who have provided the manager with the biggest problems.
All of this makes you wonder, though. If Tottenham are to beat Chelsea this weekend, win themselves a trophy, and break into the hegemony of the shining English elite, will Pochettino really be able to turn Spurs into a club of stars? Or will his method always revolve around actualising potential?
It’s not a problem if he can’t, in many ways. If he can fashion a trophy-winning side from nothing, then so be it. But Spurs have been on the edge of glory before – it’s just this time it feels different.