In the heat of the moment and the midst of disappointment, it’s often hard to not get carried away. And for Tottenham Hotspur fans, sipping from the glass of perennial underachievement is a tipple that they’re begrudgingly familiar with. But this time, underachievement really does feel like a hammer blow. Because unlike your Juande Ramos, unlike your FA Cup semi-finals and unlike your ‘Lasagne-gate’, the taste of real success was closer than ever before. Events in Munich on Saturday may have been terminal for the last few seasons of hard work.
To put it into context, you need to compare this Spurs team with those of recent times. When Martin Jol nearly took the Lilywhite’s to the riches of Europe’s elite in 2006, it was against all expectation. He was, in reality, massively over-achieving with the players he had at his disposal. When Harry Redknapp managed to get there in 2010, it was a hugely exciting time for time for club, but they weren’t quite the team they are today. They most certainly didn’t sit third in the league with a double-figure cushion above their North-London rivals that season.
It’s the potential of this Spurs team that set it apart from the other two mentioned. Of course, much of those who qualified in 2010 are still in the squad, but this season, they are a far better team. Scott Parker, Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor have all since come in, Gareth Bale has since became PFA Player of the Year and Kyle Walker has emerged as one of brightest full-backs in the league. Hindsight may frown upon it now, but this team was considered Premier League title contenders at the start of this year. And with the sort of talents that were flirting with coming to White Hart Lane, such as Eden Hazard; fans were genuinely daring to dream.
The task was so, so simple in principal. Just finish third, keep it in your own hands. The rules have been there for everyone to see since day one- finishing fourth means nothing if a team below you, like Chelsea have done, win the Champions League. Even the dangers of the qualifying round should of acted as enough of a deterrent to finishing fourth; Young Boys anyone? This was supposed to be Spurs’ year.
Third place wouldn’t have just guaranteed Champions League qualification; it would of brought in top-class players and most probably, at least a half-hearted title tilt next season at least. Of course he may not have come anyway, but there is no way Hazard was joining Chelsea if they were heading for the Europa League next season. He looks like he may be going there now. Loïc Rémy, Hugo Lloris and Leandro Damiao are the sort of talents that could turn a good team into a great team. But now Spurs are looking at Adam Johnson and Junior Hoilett. Good players, but not quite up to that next level. Even then, Spurs are now fifth in the que for any player wishing to ply their trade in the Premier League. They can’t offer Champions League football.
Yet ultimately, have Spurs been the architects of their own downfall? Did they ever have the ambition that sets out the winners, the achievers, from the rest of the league? Their transfer activity in the January window may suggest otherwise. Shipping out alternatives such as Pienaar, Pavlyuchenko and Corluka, for Nelsen and Saha was bad business. Spurs were so high up in the table, they nearly had altitude sickness. However much people ridiculed a title push, they simply had to believe their own hype, take a chance and go for it. Their January business was exactly the opposite. It felt as if Harry Redknapp was almost expecting a slump.
The slump didn’t just come and go either, it almost permanently lingered around for a third of the season. But it wasn’t the England speculation, the injuries or the drubbing at the Emirates that was the difference. When Spurs kicked off at Villa Park this season for their penultimate league game, they knew that whatever the result there, they wouldn’t drop out of the top four. Newcastle had already lost to Manchester City and with Arsenal dropping points at home to Norwich, now was Spurs’ time. Despite Danny Rose’s sending off, Villa stuck 10 men behind the ball, sat back and offered absolutely nothing going forward, as they have done all season.
But with the club at stake, the riches and success of the Champions League within touching distance, Redknapp sat back and did nothing until the 89th minute, in which he brought on Scott Parker for Rafael van der Vaart. It is hard to believe Roberto Mancini, Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger would have done that. Tottenham had to believe, had to seize the initiative as successful teams do. That is what separates the best from the rest. Instead, Redknapp was happy to settle for fourth. It’s felt like that now for quite a while.
It’s not the end of the road for Spurs, but it could well be for this team. In all likeliness, Modric and Bale will go, Adebayor may or may not head off into the sunset and they will all be replaced by decent, but not word-class players. But it shouldn’t have been like this. Next season should of seen Bale and Modric stay and top-class talent head into White Hart Lane, as they mixed with the elite in the Champions League and pushed on in the Premier League.
But this was their chance. The two Manchester clubs aren’t getting weaker, Arsenal have already added Podolski and after a Champions League victory, it’s hard to believe Chelsea will go anywhere but strength to strength. It doesn’t matter that Chelsea finished sixth, it matters that Tottenham didn’t finish third. And the ramifications are the unravelling of a team that should have been pushing for genuine success next year and the dilution of four years worth of hard work.
Think I’m wrong and Spurs were just unlucky? Or do you share my pessimism over this Tottenham team’s future? Discuss and follow me on Twitter @samuel_antrobus