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Tottenham Hotspur: 2015/16 Season Review

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Daniel Magner of Beautiful Game 15 has been a Spurs fan for 20 years. In that time, it’s fair to say he’s seen more bad than good from his side. This season was so very different. Follow his account of the season just past, and for more from Daniel check out the Beautiful Game Facebook page.


If you had spoken to any Spurs fan five minutes before kick-off on the first game of the season and offered them third in the league and Champions League football (and that’s guaranteed, mind. No having to qualify by playing some juvenile-named team from Switzerland, only to nearly fuck it up, and for the unlikeliest of heroes Roman Pavlyuchenko to score a vital away goal, and also no chance of the blue lot from up the Kings Road ruining the party) they would have bitten your hand off, in fact they would have bitten both hands off, in fact you might have to arm yourself, because we would be close to being overrun in a Walking Dead-type scenario.

Many aspects of the season just gone were verging on the farcical with the traditional ‘top four’ spending most of it languishing in the doldrums. The pinnacle of oddness this season though were a small team from the East Midlands, who finished top of the table with a whopping ten point lead. A team with little pedigree or history of such achievement, a team made up of players who were perhaps most well known for who their father is, or for racially abusing a Japanese man in a casino. But ‘team’ is the key word. Eleven players, forged into a solid, free-scoring, blue bodied, red tailed, Premiership title winning machine.

For a Spurs fan though who once watched Ramon Vega score against Chelsea at White Hart Lane, and thought “right we might just pull this off, this year” only to go on to lose 1 – 6,  a Spurs fan who for twenty years has watched a revolving door of managers – Hoddle, Gross, Jol, Villas-Boas – a revolving door of talent shine in white and then leave – Bale, Carrick, Modric – as well as a revolving door of those who have far from shone – Rebrov, Paulinho, Zamora – a Spurs fan who at the start of every season thinks this might just be our year, only to end up 6th,7th,8th, or to think it may be our year for a cup run only to lose a semi-final at Wembley to Portsmouth, it is hard to come to terms with the fact that this season we were genuine title contenders.

It’s fair to say it’s mostly down to a vision forged in the mind of an Argentinian who, perhaps for the first time in all my years watching Spurs, has created a tangible ethos, a plan. He has started to build something I can identify with, and even in his short time at the helm the turnaround has been miraculous. One can only hope that better is to come. 2015/16 feels like the starting point, the start of a shift, a concrete shift, not a toe-dip to see how the other half live or a Champions League cameo when we sparkled against some of Europe’s elite and Macion had a nervous breakdown, but a consistent and permanent shift in mentality.

This however, is not about the future. This is about what has passed, my reflection on what might have been the most extraordinary, tear inducing season as a Lillywhite.

Domestic Cups

Not a lot to report as far as the the League Cup was concerned. A 2 -1 defeat in round three by our neighbours from up the Seven Sisters road, which sadly was the first of a few cannon-shaped spanners they chucked in the works in the months to come.

The defeat was down to two things, firstly the only appearance of ‘The Great Khali’ otherwise known as Fazio, the man who makes an Easter Island head look like a future Ballon d’Or winner, and secondly the unlikely goal scoring prowess of a biochemical entrepreneur, Mathieu Flamini, who managed to score two of his ten Arsenal goals to make for a thoroughly depressing September evening.

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A bizarre stunner from Flamini knocked Spurs out of the League Cup

For those people who were ‘glad’ or ‘happy’ that we had gone out of the ‘worthless cup’ so we could concentrate on the ‘more important’ things, they should remember that were it not for the League Cup, we would not have seen Alan Nielsen lead ten men to victory against Leicester or what might replace Gazza’s goal against Scotland as the finest ever scored at Wembley when Woodgate’s face scored in the final against Chelsea.

The FA Cup on the other hand was a little more fruitful, in that we didn’t go out in the first round, thought it was close. Some late fortune against Leicester at home took the tie to a replay, which proved to be a comfortable win at the King Power Stadium, and our only win from four attempts against Leicester this season.

After a 4 – 1 win over Colchester United everyone was asking ‘can Spurs end their 25 year wait?’, people were dusting off their 1991 rosettes, and that Ricky Villa goal was on a constant loop, but don’t be daft, you didn’t go and get your hopes up like the rest of us did you? Of course we went and lost 1 – 0 at home to Crystal Palace, which not only added another defeat at home to the ‘teams we should’ve beaten’ column, but also meant in some very small way, that Spurs are responsible for the Alan Pardew dance on the Wembley sidelines. A mark that will forever tarnish this great club I love so much.

Europe

Spurs have a long and illustrious history in European football, dashing around the continent, all in white. It has become somewhat of a cliche amongst Tottenham fans that there is not much better than a night under the lights at White Hart Lane, which I can attest to myself. So you would think that the opportunity to be playing in the Europa League, the UEFA Cup’s strange mutant half-brother, would be something Spurs fans would relish. But if the League Cup is a little bit Marmite – you either love it or hate it – then what are Thursday nights against FK Qarabag or Anorthosis Famagusta? A bee sting when you’re allergic and don’t have your EpiPen? I’m not sure a competition has ever polarised a club’s support more, but I don’t get it. I love rushing home from work on a Thursday night to watch a 17:00 o’clock kick-off somewhere behind the Iron Curtain.

I know it’s not got the glamour of the Champions League, I know people have got it in their heads that playing on a Thursday then a Sunday apparently doesn’t seem to suit English teams, even though Spurs debunked that myth this season, and I know that it adds a considerable amount of fixtures to an already bulging calendar, but progress through all 75 games  and the chance of watching ‘Super Jan’ lift that monster of a trophy and win a place in the following seasons Gazprom Cup must be worth bash!

The league stages were relatively straightforward, the round of 32 win over Fiorentina was a nice bit of payback, but it all came to a crashing and quite resounding end, not an ‘ohh we nearly did it, well done chaps, stiff upper lips’ kind of stuff, but a crushing and life evaluating two-leg, 5 – 1 aggregate defeat to them from the ‘Yellow Wall’, Borussia Dortmund.

It had felt like an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s elite, second in the Premier League pitched against second in the Bundesliga, a chance to see if we could replicate some of that domestic form up against a Champions League regular. However, when we saw Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll line up in central midfield at the imposing Westfalenstadion, I think many of us knew this was not going to end well.

Perhaps for the first time this season many questioned Pochettino’s choices. Up until then I think he could have played Michel Vorm up front and we would’ve all gone along with it, such was our faith in him. Some justified his selection with the fact that many were being rested for our assault on the league, but I think seeing a ‘second string’ line up against the likes of Aubameyang and Reus made it a bit of a head-scratcher.

The League

How long have you got? For all our dalliances in cups, trinkets and trophies home and abroad, the League was by far the most compelling part of 2015/16.

Yes we have won some things in the 20 years I have been a Spurs fan and yes 2010/11 in the Champions League was mesmerizing and heart-poundingly wonderful, but this year felt different. In the words of Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’ we were “contenders”, but having not quite done it, I don’t feel down, I feel like I can’t wait for next season.

Three draws and a loss in our first four games stirred the ‘Poch’ out’ brigade who were raiding their Mums’ linen cupboards and readying their brushes for a bed sheet banner or contacting the local aerodrome to see if they could do a flyby in N17, but good things come to those who wait, and what followed our slightly lethargic start to proceedings was a ten game unbeaten run which saw us flatten the likes of Manchester City and West Ham 4 – 1.

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A season highlight: thrashing Manchester City, 4-1

I’m not one to focus on the negatives but it would be remiss of me to ignore them, and this season has had its fair share: too many draws, some very ‘Spursy’ (I’m far from a fan of this expression, but it does so perfectly encapsulate a result or performance by Tottenham that only they are able to perform, and unfortunately have done in all the years I have followed them) performances.

You could spend all day trying to pinpoint when the title challenge became a title chase, which ultimately became a failed title campaign, losing to Newcastle at home, a looping square headed goal from Robert Huth which saw us drop points at home to the crispy ones, losing our heads at Stamford Bridge and two draws with Arsenal, when for the first time I can ever remember we have never deserved six points more.

For me, however, the season is punctuated with little highlight reels, YouTube montage videos than I can play over and over, moments of pure joy, and even of tears. The sight of Kane tearing off his Phantom of the Opera mask after scoring a blinder against Arsenal reduced me to a blubbering wreck, and if not for a Alexis Sánchez equaliser, he would have been immortalized in bronze and placed proudly outside the new stadium.

I’m not sure how many times I said to myself, or anyone close enough to hear ‘if we win this one, we will win the league’.

Alas that was not the case. In the end a 5 – 1 loss to an already relegated Newcastle meant that Arsenal were able to leap frog us into 2nd, and they were able to have their ‘St. Totteringham’s Day’ yet again.

Despite the last day of the season meltdown, this season has still been a remarkable one, one of growth, of stability, of defensive security and the emergence of young, exciting creative talent, some homegrown, some from Milton Keynes, but all playing for Spurs with a passion to bed down, mature and win.

The positives far out way the negatives and you would be mad to think this season has been anything other than a resounding success. I’m not usually one for a stat because people have a habit of fiddling them to suit their argument, but these – provided by Spursstatman.com – speak for themselves:

  • Top goal scorer

  • Highest ever Premier League finish

  • Youngest average squad

  • Best defence in the league

  • Real Madrid (452) and Bayern Munich (417) are the only sides to have created more chances than Tottenham (405) this season.

  • Only Real Madrid (577) and Bayern Munich (530) have had more attempts at goal than Tottenham (529) this season.

Trying to pick player of the season is just too hard. So many can be considered: Alderweireld for making us Berlin Wall solid, Dembélé showing us his elegant steamroller qualities in midfield and becoming the player so many knew he could be. Rose blossoming into an international regular and becoming so much more than that kid who scored that screamer against Arsenal. Kane, what else can be said about Kane? Alli, the 20 year old wunderkind, with all the fight and spite of Mackay, married perfectly with the flicks, tricks, skill and poise of Hoddle.

The next few years are going to be bristling with change. The old stadium is going, a new one is being built. Hopefully there won’t be as much coming and going with the playing staff, and certainly not the manager. There is a combination of rigidity and flare in this current squad which, if it continues to be nurtured and improved in key places, quite frankly means it could take on the world.

Related

Manchester United 2015/16 Season Review

Liverpool FC: 2015/16 Season Review

Southampton FC: 2015/16 Season Review

Norwich City: Klose but no cigar

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