Tottenham: Time to Take the Long View

I’ve mentioned before on the Coshcast that my Dad – or ‘Old Cosher’ – is a long-suffering Tottenham fan. From the glory of winning the league and cup double in the early 60s to the doldrums of the Taricco-infected 90s, he’s seen it all. After Spurs’ defeat to Newcastle two weekends ago which left him – in his own words – “sick as a parrot”, I asked him if he wanted to write a piece on Spurs’ current short-comings. A narrow, Harry Kane-inspired victory over ten-man Aston Villa may have papered over the cracks for a week, but this piece is about deeper-seated problems. We enjoyed it, and hope you will too. – Alex

Like most Tottenham Hotspur fans and followers of my generation, I can still reel off the names Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, JFootball.-FA-Cup-Final.-T-006ones, (or Medwin) White, Smith, Allen, and Dyson. That was from 1960/61 when Spurs won the then English First Division and the F.A. Cup, with a squad of just 17 players. But for most First Division games we knew who was playing and how they would play.

However, I can’t even recall who played in the Spurs team that lost against Manchester City on October 18, 2014. Obviously, since 1961 everything about the game has changed and a squad of 17 players would now be unthinkable. Nor would I expect Spurs to play five forwards, three half backs and two full backs with Hugo Lloris in goal. Although, that would be fun.

When Spurs don’t play well the fans are accused of demanding a return to the past and playing ‘The Spurs Way’. Boom and bust is the Spurs way although if Spurs lose a game, they should at least do so with dignity, unlike in recent losses.

Why is it that, of the current Spurs squad, the only name guaranteed to be on a Premier League match team sheet and not have a shocker is Hugo Lloris? Let’s hope he stays fit and doesn’t throw down his purple jersey in disgust and leave the club.

Is it too far-fetched to expect an interchangeable, high quality squad that, barring injury or illness, will consistently play well in the various competitions over a period of, say, three years?

We hear a range of excuses for current form, from having no leader and no prolific striker to the home crowd’s negativity, the narrowness of the pitch and everything in between. There are calls for: Levy out! Poch out! Sell Soldado! Kane to start! Kaboul should retire! Sack Baldini! Sell all Baldini’s Buys (except Eriksen)! Buy a defender! One blogger is even calling for Spurs to be innovative and introduce a daily mental training programme for the players. All have some validity. Are the problems down to individuals or are they structural? Would implementing one or more of these options solve the team’s current problems? While every fan, blogger, football writer and pundit has a view, it seems there is no consensus. Does anyone really have a definitive solution?

Spurs fans’ expectations are high and rightly so. Tottenham is described as a ‘big club’. But what are the hallmarks of a big club these days? Would these include consistently high performances; trophies; the size of stadium; crowds at match days and the wider international support base; the amount of merchandise sold; revenues and profits; spending power; and the ability to attract world-class players and managers/coaches? If so, do Spurs make the grade or is being big in today’s terms – and not 1960/61’s – still an aspiration?

The Owners

levyDaniel Levy and ENIC’s business strategy is questionable but, legally, Spurs’ corporate entities are only answerable to shareholders, not the fans. Would ENIC selling to an asset-stripping hedge fund or a billionaire/oligarch simply be a boost for the business or would it bring about better football – or are the two forever indelibly linked? It would take a radical transformation and an absolute fortune to wrest Spurs from the hands of an offshore corporation to be run by a more democratic, grassroots operation if that’s what is desirable or feasible.

The Manager

 Pochettino Spurs.jpgIs Pochettino just an average manager? Yes, clearly, as there are only a few really exceptional managers in world football and why would any of them want to manage Spurs now or in the near future? Daniel Levy’s propensity for changing managers would only bring in another Average Joe or José. So Spurs will have to make do with Pochettino and hope that he can raise his – and the squad’s – game.

The Squad

32b53c46-f3d2-4896-985d-c1c433a73ce2-636x720Does Baldini know what he is doing? Most would say not based on his recruitment record for Spurs so far. So get rid of him. Then what? Is the entire squad simply average and a mass clear-out necessary? Who to keep and who to sell? Is Kaboul the right captain/leader and if not – as many believe – who aside from Lloris could it be? The issue of whether a goalkeeper makes the best captain is another debate. Meanwhile, ‘home-grown’ players Mason and Kane have been a revelation: is there anyone else coming through?

Perhaps a talisman player would help. Think of the impact over the years of players of the calibre of Bobby Smith, Jimmy Greaves, Paul Gascoigne, Glenn Hoddle, Jurgen Klinsmann, David Ginola, Gareth Bale, etc.

However, even if the funds were available, which world-class players would want to join Spurs, now? And is spending vast sums on a few players necessarily the answer? In Spurs’ recent experience it would seem not.

And So

It is no secret that Daniel Levy would like Champions League football sooner rather than later. Right now that seems an unlikely achievement. The Europa League is proving a tough enough challenge so it is arguable whether a Spurs team from the current squad could compete with some of Europe’s best in the Champions League. Playing in the Europa League next year is also uncertain: As long as no English club wins the Champions League this year, Spurs could finish sixth in the Premier league and get into the Europa again. But again, on current form is sixth place likely?

There are, of course, other factors beyond Spurs’ control that affect the team’s domestic and European prospects: Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are all in better shape. Southampton might maintain their current good form or fall away, but they certainly look stronger than Spurs at the moment. Maybe Swansea will be in the race for the top six or seven, ably aided by Spurs reject Gylfi Sigurdsson.

It’s another cliché, but this is a period of transition. Arguably, Pochettino needs at least one or two full seasons to see what he can achieve. Spurs fans will have to just take the long view of progress through the imminent upheaval and beyond.

White Hart Lane will be redeveloped and, for at least next season, Spurs will play all matches away. Then everyone will have to get used to playing in the new White Hart Lane stadium, or whatever they decide to name it. Ownership and the chairman might change; the manager, coaches, might – and some players will – come and go. Yet whatever happens, the one constant is that Spurs fans will put up with the highs and lows and stay loyal. That’s as much part of The Spurs Way as high tempo passing and suicidal defending. Come On You Spurs!

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