This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Well, well, well.
After years of suffering ridicule and dog’s abuse from fans – who loved to make a banner or two calling for the boss’ head as The Telegraph shows here – and the Sky Sports panel alike who slammed the Frenchman after a defeat to Monaco (amongst other copious examples), it finally appears as though Arsene Wenger’s words of wisdom are being looked at with different coloured spectacles.
The Frenchman didn’t help himself with a lot of things when it came to his honest admissions. After all, his ‘I nearly signed (insert player name here)’ shtick – as humorously detailed by FourFourTwo – certainly didn’t aid his cause amongst increasingly disillusioned Arsenal fans.
But speaking back in February 2012 after his Gunners side had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland, Wenger said the now infamous words: “The first trophy is to finish in the top four”.
Rather than taking a step back and retracting his comments, Le Professeur knuckled down on his observation.
Months later at the club’s annual general meeting, he added that qualifying for the Champions League out-ranked winning the FA Cup and League Cup.
For years on end, the club were endlessly mocked for Wenger’s words – The Independent‘s trophy cabinet joke being a prime example.
Memes, memes and more memes, too. But fast forward seven years later, and the narrative has completely changed. What once was considered extreme foolishness and admittance of failure is now seen as a major success.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side have failed to win a trophy since their League Cup success in 2008 against Chelsea. Such is the kind of fan rivalry that exists, both a Twitter account and website dedicated to counting the numbers of days since the north London side placed their hands on a piece of silverware exists on the internet.
However, despite that relative ‘failure’, there’s no question that Spurs have been on the up in the past few seasons under their Argentine manager.
Pochettino has helped them reach the Champions League final and compete for the Premier League title, all whilst having his hands tied behind his back in the transfer window – Spurs made no signings in the two transfer windows before the summer, and the former Southampton boss was left “disappointed” with the lack of incomings back in February.
Watch how to cross the road like a boss with freestyler Ben Nuttall in the video below…
Such is the kind of top-heavy nature in the top-flight now, the discrepancy between the ‘big six’ and the rest is as significant as it ever has been. They earn the most, they have the biggest followings and they occupy those top spaces in the league pretty much year-in, year-out.
As such, it is as competitive as ever, and finishing in one of those lucrative Champions League spots perhaps means more than it ever did.
After Pochettino’s first campaign in charge of the Lilywhites saw them finish fifth, the former Southampton boss has led them to third, second, third and fourth. Four consecutive years of finishing in the top-four, and thus dining at the top table of European football.
Playing on the grandest stage of them all is what all players must dream of doing. To paraphrase a Jamie Carragher quote, no one wants to grow up and be a Europa League footballer. They all want to be testing themselves against the elite, and so pointing to the trophy cabinet and saying ‘look, we’ve got a shed-load of Carabao/Carling/Worthington/Mickey Mouse cups’ isn’t quite going to cut it.
Tottenham’s top four successes allow the club to attract the most high-profile of players. As Wenger suggested back in 2012, whether there is Champions League football on offer or not can be a transfer-deciding situation.
How much money could you make busking for a week as a freestyle footballer? Find out in the video below…
Spurs pulled off a major coup in signing Lyon’s highly-rated Tanguy Ndombele and were then later linked with Juventus superstar Paulo Dybala. Would that even have been imaginable had the north Londoners not finished in the top four last season?
So when it’s all said and done, Wenger’s prophecy back in 2012 is finally beginning to get the accurate reflection it deserves.
No longer does what the Frenchman said look ridiculous. It speaks the truth. Spurs fans may disagree, and wish there really was a trophy to point to over the past decade. But their achievements over the past few years are giving them a far bigger and better platform for future success than if they had won the FA Cup or League Cup here or there.
Winning trophies doesn’t define ultimate success, and Wenger got it spot on far before anyone had even sussed.