Tottenham Hotspur will play in the Champions League final on June 1.
This is not breaking news. It was confirmed more than two weeks ago after a genuinely thrilling triumph over Ajax in Amsterdam. After falling 3-0 behind on aggregate, a Lucas Moura hat-trick earned his side safe passage to Madrid, where they will face Liverpool. His third goal came in the final minute of injury time and sparked wild celebrations in the away end and in north London.
Of course, it must be said that Mauricio Pochettino has done a terrific job under difficult circumstances; Spurs have not signed a single player since January 2018, when Lucas waltzed through the doors at Hotspur Way.
The question now, though, lies in what comes next.
Spurs will be playing in the Champions League again next season regardless of what happens at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the Spanish capital, thanks to the top-four finish they secured via a 2-2 draw with Everton on the final day of the Premier League season.
But can they yet again afford to close the chequebook and sail through on the squad they already have? One fears that the answer is no.
Yes, they have Harry Kane, the word’s best pure striker and the England captain, along with the likes of Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min and Jan Vertonghen, but there are doubts over Toby Alderweireld, with his £25million release clause, Christian Eriksen, the attacking midfielder wanted by Real Madrid and, now, over Hugo Lloris, coveted by PSG.
And then there’s the Pochettino situation; he has suggested that he could walk away if the club win the Champions League final. There are debates to be had over whether that would be the right thing to do but one thing is for sure: if he becomes available, European super-clubs will be tripping over themselves to appoint him.
Chairman Daniel Levy, then, faces a defining summer.
Tottenham have never really been in this position before, certainly not under his stewardship. He took over in 2000, after ENIC bought out Sir Alan Sugar, then before the knighthood, and the progress of the club has been steady ever since.
They have won one trophy – the League Cup in 2008 – under their stewardship but it has been the marriage of Pochettino and Levy that has produced the real magic. All of a sudden, Spurs have been challenging for the Premier League and, now, they are one game away from European glory.
There are still cracks to be filled though. Spurs need a new back-up striker; a couple of midfielders, with one set to finally replace Mousa Dembele and they probably need at least two new full-backs. That is before the exits are considered.
The likes of Kieran Trippier, Ben Davies, Victor Wanyama, Erik Lamela and, yes, Fernando Llorente (even despite his Champions League heroics) are not good enough for a team chasing European glory. That they could all be on the pitch in Madrid is a testament not to ENIC’s investment but Pochettino’s incredible coaching ability.
Levy, then, should give him the best tools to work with. Now, of course, Spurs cannot match Manchester City in the transfer market. They are, quite literally, backed by a Gulf state. Liverpool, too, have finally managed to tap into some previously unforeseen resources.
But they can be clever. They can operate in a way that encourages the acquisition of players who are “nearly there”. The likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Crystal Palace and Max Aarons at Norwich City have been mentioned as targets, along with Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon, Jack Grealish at Aston Villa and, potentially, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha.
These are players who can fit into Pochettino’s philosophy instantly and become genuinely superlative footballers under his watch. While Liverpool have splashed the cash, they have also brought in the likes of Andrew Robertson from Hull City and Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke City; both have played key roles this season.
It can be done. But the money has to be made available otherwise this is all just whistling in the wind.
Spurs aren’t going to spend £80million on one player this summer and they probably shouldn’t, but they should be looking to smash through the £100m barrier by bringing in four or five talented young players who can be moulded into exceptional Premier League players.
It is important, after all, that Levy shows he believes in what Pochettino is trying to do. He has worked wonders, all the while bringing through the cream of Tottenham’s youth crop; the likes of Harry Winks, Kyle Walker-Peters and Oliver Skipp have all been given chances under his management. Walker-Peters even started against Barcelona in a game Spurs could not afford to lose. Nine times out of 10, Pochettino’s decisions are right – Spurs drew 1-1 in Spain.
Had they lost, they wouldn’t be preparing for the Champions League final now. But next season, they need to take the next step and they need to decide, ultimately, what they want to be.
Do Spurs want to become challengers? Do they want to be among the elite in English football? Do they want to actually win the title?
Or are they happy with fourth, and finishing above Arsenal?
One feels Levy knows the answer. Now he must produce the goods to back it up.