Cycles are shorter but, if you dare, you can punch your way into a fight and quite possibly land the knock-out punch that writes you into history
Tottenham are the sixth most successful club in England, in history*. Nowhere as prolific as the teams above them, but nonetheless, a team with a firmly cemented legacy for their achievements and tradition. Say what you want, but we know what we are. Shirts tucked out, socks rolled down: ultimate pretenders, eternal contenders and still history makers (be it in black and white). Always with the flair and the swagger and the swashbuckle. Be it a bit crap or almost great, we love to do it with a flourish (and the seasoned trademark capitulation).
*If two clubs did not financially dope themselves, we would be 4th.
Of course, in the past twenty years, the tally is far less impressive. One single cup whilst the rest of the ‘big boys’ have won aplenty. We have had this discussion many times. The Sky Sports era bloated their success and the ability to retain it, for them, not us and the rest of the chasing pack. It was not until 2006 that the gap started to close, be it slowly. Countless semi-final losses later and the memes persist. Thankfully, football was not created 20 years ago. But history is history. I would not mind us living it within our lifetime, occasionally.
As much as we would worship a dynasty (lol, chill out m8) or even a pocket of sustained success, I honestly do not believe most of our fanbase could hack it. They can barely handle the pressure as it is. Perhaps that pressure is because we aspire to be greater. They call us dreamers but there is something inherently romantic in dreaming.
Modern football suggests that sheer dominance by a club is not likely. The 1970s and 1980s are bygone eras that exist outside of the realm of possibility today. So, a dynasty similar to what Alex Ferguson created at Manchester United is something we are unlikely to see again. Football today is about getting the most out of a finely tuned squad of superstars, with utmost immediacy. Doing so, at the very top, means spending untold millions. What we all endure is the monopolisation of trophies by a small select group of teams. The same teams we have been chasing with genuine intent since 2006.
To compete and challenge, you need to be acquiring quality to supplement quality and not limiting your potential from within. You might find yourself fighting obstacles created by a reluctance to facilitate every aspect of eradicating weakness and amplifying strengths. I am not saying it is self-sabotaging, but perhaps on a subconscious level, you could argue, it is. It’s something Daniel Levy is often tagged with.
If you get it right, in-house, and you find the required edge to shoehorn yourself in the record books, there’s still no guarantee it will last longer than three years before a ‘rebuild’ or further fine tuning is required. Be it burn out or another club eclipsing you with greater momentum (and more depth of quality in the transfer window). The moment even the best team in the country dips in form a little, there is someone else that is playing the football of their lives that will claim top spot. You create your own luck right? Until it’s no longer luck, but sheer tenacity that others crumble under.
Cycles are shorter but, if you dare, you can punch your way into a fight and quite possibly land the knock-out punch that writes you into history, with an extra number next to the trophy column. The fact is, today, sustained success is any ilk of success, as showcased by three, sometimes four clubs in England that dominate the wealth. The caveat here is that you are always dancing in the upper echelons, there or thereabouts, rather than say constantly sat in mid-table and then winning a domestic cup. Sustained in this context simply means others look over their shoulders. Or in Tottenham’s case, we ‘put the pressure on’.
Personally, I think this important distinction between a single cup ‘out of nowhere’ and a cup because you’re good enough to be competing on all fronts is important to highlight.
Look, we can still win a cup and it will still be a wonderful chapter in our history but if you want more, to be there or thereabouts, you must aim higher. We must play Champions League football. We must be in the mix, in the top four. It is a statement of ambition. A body of evidence. Because how else does a club compete with the established bourgeois?
Even with the dips, it is still the usual suspects that set the benchmark and share the spoils. Can you even look beyond Liverpool and City right now? Yet because of the dips, you can’t afford pacing issues. Their mistakes will count for nothing if you match them with your own.
I do not want us to win a single cup., in isolation. Like 2008 or 1991.
I mean, of course I do, those victories were majestically brilliant. In the moment, it meant everything to us. The difference then was that we perhaps did not have what it took – as a club – to compete properly. There really is no excuse for it now. Football, especially back in the very early 90s and the 80s was a different beast altogether. Domestic cups especially, were prestigious. Even iconic. Not so much today. Imagine football was more like basketball. Just the single competition to win. I wonder how supporters and owners would perceive the criteria for what constitutes success.
So, I do not want one single cup as an afterthought or because one of the better sides decided to sacrifice a game and rotate their entire starting eleven. Although even rotated teams of a certain pedigree find themselves winning, say the League Cup, with relative comfort. Hello Manchester City and the aforementioned monopoly.
If you want to aspire for more, then the league and the form and momentum you can generate has to remain the architectural template that is continuously micro-redesigned and implemented.
Our only true success was in the 1960s and 1980s. Was it sustained? In a way yes. The same manager, the same set of players with new ones coming through. This is robust for the modern age. That would also be enough for me today and the immediate future. We must aim to compete for more than a single season in isolation. It really is not as easy as we’d like it to be, but the paradox is that we’ve made it look possible, at times. So, are we doing something right?
Perhaps. Perhaps not enough.
More than ever, Spurs need to be centric and focused and not just exist in those upper echelons as an irritation. We need to be the itch nobody can scratch. The ‘Pochettino Era’ can now be a benchmark for what building a team with an ethos can be and the harsh lessons learnt can be the blueprint for the avoidance of repeating mistakes.
We have never been in a better position in our history, despite requiring a reboot and a new philosophy. The infrastructure, the brand, the stadium… it now must be matched with relentless, aggressive, obsessive desire. The football must drive the finance so that the finance can drive the football. A philosophy needs to come from the chairman, one that does not revolve around worldwide branding and the NFL and concerts.
Too often we have failed to consolidate and strengthen our momentum. We can no longer rely on the misgivings of others to get an advantage. To have that edge, we need to sharpen up.
Take a gamble. Take the risk.
Sign that game-changing player. Protect and solidify the spine. The club needs unequivocal leadership – starting in the boardroom. But equally important is that we bind ourselves to the hope and ambition and fuel them forward with sheer belief.
I loved the taste of belief that Poch and his side served us with. It was not an illusion. It was your mind and heart fusing together in the realisation that something might happen.
Spurs might retain that pretender tag. They might consistently be there or thereabouts. I will always belong and I will still immerse myself in the moments. But we have come this far, from midtable mediocrity to, for a time, making rival fans shift uncomfortably in their seats, considering the possibility that we might win the league and even the Champions League.
Still, you do not get a medal for trying or being ruddy brave, so we keep going.
Enjoy the f**k out of it if we do make the positive steps forward. Do not bemoan what could have been. Know when it finally does happen, nothing will feel as great in that moment of absolute singularity.
I know, this is a bit muddled. This is what I do. Fight my own doubts whilst scribbling them down to make you consider your own perspective in comparison.
Me saying ‘one cup’ is not enough. It is more than enough if it is a steppingstone to more of the same. That is the distinction. And it is pivotal. I want us to be successful. Doesn’t every fan of every club desire the same thing? If you can dream, with even a hint of realism, then lucidity can be achieved and fly you will. If you can’t dream because you know you are so far detached from the possibility, then that can be fairly depressing. You shift your priorities as a supporter and a club. But we’re in a blessed position. Which is why we collectively share a hunger for that next level of play.
In amongst the sense of belonging is the reality that right now, what we have is not comparable to the peak Poch ascendancy. That the desire to just win something, anything has birthed a desperation for a serial winner that is producing football barely reminiscent of our traditional pomp. Of course, it’s too early to be dismissive. Afterall, Poch himself took a while to change the culture at the club and instil swarming, pressing football.
In a twisted, perverse way, I would rather the peak of Poch than a stumbling, boring march towards Europa League ‘glory’. Not that I am dismissing the necessary step in progression, in winning something, what with winning breeding that much sought after winning mentality. But there must be soul and prestige to it. A togetherness, not a mirage. Right now, the Mourinho appointment feels like an afterthought. A professional transaction of emotional hedging. Win something, not as a step to something grander but rather as a consolation to what was.
Football is complicated. It is often influenced by other cycles ending, new ones birthed. You could have the absolute best intentions to achieve but your absolute best won’t quite be good enough. I am referring once more to the monopolised nature at the very top of the Premier League.
I have often been guilty of accepting the gulf between us and those above. But it is no longer a gulf. There is no longer an excuse to not make it the defining priority. Those peak seasons, the reason we did not consolidate our football, style and desire is because we still behaved like a club that was trying to catch up and not like a club that wanted to get ahead and stay ahead.
Of course, an altogether different opening 30 seconds in the Champions League final might have led to an altogether different 90 minutes. Different coloured ribbons on the cup too. That might have been it, the one piece of silverware. No sustained success or potential dynasty. But something so beautifully unexpected and ridiculous, would have been enough of a hit to have us chasing the dragon for the rest of our lives. What a one-off that would have been. Had that happened, we would not care about what followed. I would probably retire from investing so much time in unravelling the very fabric of my ego, writing deeply existential blogs.
(lol, as if I would)
So, I guess, winning one cup of that magnitude is the pinnacle (as opposed to a League or FA cup). Beggars cannot be choosers, but I would argue that the CL Final, a win on that night, would have been the unexpected reward for the five seasons of graft. So therefore, fitting.
Blueprint wise, if you build for short term longevity (another paradox) you will more likely attain the competitive edge to win something that allows you to harness the experience and then win something better.
Spurs have too often stumbled accidentally into the promise of success. There is no real blueprint beyond the growth of the business and brand. Even if that helps the finances of the club, to spend more money on players. But we are in a perpetual state of this. We are always trying to keep up and not get ahead.
We have to evolve our state of mind. We have to be obsessive. How is that done exactly? Not with ease. The variables must align. You can, if you are sadomasochistic, use Liverpool as an example (but not as a comparison because their history and culture is unique to them much like ours is – so the variables in question are only prevalent to ‘your’ team). The Poch era, forever tainted with error at the most fundamental level, its player acquisitions. And wages.
For it to happen, we need to ignite it. We need that universally agreed moment. The butterflies in the stomach. The hairs standing on the back of your neck. The spark that brings fire. Liverpool have had 30 years to rediscover their own fire. We have struggled, mostly banging together two pieces of flint stone. Perhaps what Poch did and failed to do and the subsequent appointment of Jose Mourinho will be the spark. Perhaps Liverpool’s spark was the 4-1 thumping we dished out to them.
Our reality is that the alignment between club (and business) philosophy and that of the coach/manager has never synced. Even Poch and his appointment felt like a method to instil a sense of progression with a coach that did not necessarily require hundreds of millions of pounds to splash out on finished articles. What the Poch era showed us was that sometimes, you get lucky but when you do so, turn that luck into rocket fuel otherwise you will never reach the heavens.
And if it does not happen? If we keep repeating the same mistakes?
Or if we just steal the occasional cup like a midtable team does whilst sharing Champions League qualification with others fighting to become elite?
Then it means we are still in the place we currently find ourselves in. A purgatory. And whether it is a single moment of success or the promised land of sustained glory, we keep on doing what we do. Shirts tucked out, socks rolled down…swaggering the Spursy way, because no club does echoes of glory as good as we do.