Tottenham Hotspur are the ultimate bridesmaids. Unable to even hold onto second place last season and so often finishing just outside the top four, the North London side have deserved their tag as the club that always falls short. Mauricio Pochettino is the latest manager tasked with changing that pattern and he, in many ways, has taken the Lilywhites onto the next level.
Last season for Spurs was a surprise to many. A young, talented squad took advantage of the shortcomings of the other top six clubs and were Leicester’s greatest challengers for much of the season. Pochettino has received the expected plaudits for his masterminding of Spurs’ improvement over recent seasons; and rightly so.
Ultimately though, they fell at one of the last hurdles. A bad-tempered performance at Chelsea saw their hearts broken by a moment of Eden Hazard magic, which was made all the more hurtful by the Belgian’s poor performances throughout last season. Even after their title challenge was crushed, they slumped further. Eventually finishing third behind their bitter North London rivals, what could have been an historic season for the Lilywhites became what is really only a marginally above par campaign.
This where the unquantifiable comes into it: ‘winning mentality’. A phrase used regularly across the footballing world with endless synonymous phrases used in equal measure. Spurs are criticised for lacking that mentality, it has been so long since they were regularly successful that it is not engrained in the club. Trophies, titles and domination are not associated with Tottenham Hotspur.
Whether ‘winning mentality’ is a thing or not, there is evidence to suggest that trophies breed further success. Chelsea lifted the League Cup in 2005 as they built a double title winning team and set up foundations to become stalwarts at the top end of the Premier League table. Manchester City lifted the FA Cup in 2011 before one of the most dramatic title wins in history the next season. As City came from behind in 2011/12 to lift the Premier League trophy, how much influence did their FA Cup success have on getting them over the line? That will never be fully measurable, but the evidence is that teams often need a cup victory as a leg up towards further silverware. The shared team experience of victory fosters a bond.
There is no doubt that Tottenham have a squad capable of winning trophies over the coming years. With one of Europe’s best defences and a number of attacking players who are yet to reach their peak, Pochettino is in a position to set Spurs up for long-term success. Until their limp defeat at Anfield, they looked to be Chelsea’s closest competitors in the league this season, now they have fallen into the midriff of the chasing pack again. Something must change in Tottenham’s approach if they are to increase their chances of trophies further.
With the FA Cup and Europa League still on offer to Pochettino’s side, they must target cup success. Although they were poor in the first leg of their match against Gent, they should still be able to overturn a 1-0 deficit. Should they beat Fulham, they will be in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. While the league has been their priority earlier in this season, the pair of cups on offer should now be their main aim. In other words, this Cup game is huge not just for Tottenham’s season, but for their development of this talented, yet still raw, side.
To shake off this ugly tag of nearly men, Spurs must focus on silverware rather than solely aiming for a top four finish. They have the potential to build a team capable of challenging at the very top, but they must prove to everyone else and themselves that they can win trophies.