James Regal is a Spurs fan living in Barcelona and the man behind ‘Mes que un Cock’, the utterly brilliant tagline for his Tottenham supporters’ group @BarcelonaSpurs, who welcome residents and tourists to watch Spurs games with them in the Catalan capital. Here he reviews the Lillywhites’ season that managed to be both groundbreaking and disappointing:
Is there a more confusing predicament in football than a Spurs fan watching our club glide to second in the league, with two games to spare no less, but somehow feeling disappointed? And yet here we are, not sure whether to be completely ecstatic with the feast of football Pochettino’s men have treated us to this year, or pining for what glory might have passed with just a handful of additional points.
Most Spurs fans will be aware of the great Bill Nicholson’s utterance about the importance of aiming high so that even failure has an “echo of glory.” That quote has perhaps never been more appropriate than at the conclusion of the 2016/17 Premier League season.
But have Spurs really failed at all this year? That certainly seems to be the narrative in some quarters, with accusations of bottling the league title and coming up a little short once again. But casting our minds back to August and the expectations levels at that time, this assessment is about as accurate as a Moussa Sissoko 30-yarder.
At the start of the season the world was lead to believe that 2015/16 was a blip. ‘Expert’ pundits told us the bigger clubs would never suffer such an embarrassing slump again. They had recruited managers with the highest of reputations in the game. They’d invested hundreds of millions in world class players with winning pedigrees, some of them even had their own emojis, hashtags and cool haircuts. How could Tottenham’s young team of upstarts possibly compete with that?
Rather well, as it turned out.
Spurs started the season positively, if not quite roaring out of the traps. An away draw at Everton followed by a win and a draw against Palace and Liverpool was the beginning of a 12 game unbeaten stretch that included an immense dismantling of Guardiola’s Man City, who had won all of their first 6 games and were looking like champions elect in September.
However, that undefeated start for Spurs also included far too many draws against the likes of Bournemouth, West Brom and a struggling Leicester. With Kane and Alderweireld out injured for several weeks each, and the travails of a Champions League campaign to contend with, we consistently failed to score from open play and at one point had won one game out of ten in all competitions. If you want to see where Spurs lost the title race, it was at the early point in the season where we didn’t even realize we were in one.
And what of that Champions League run? That whole adventure can be summed up in one word –underwhelming. From the very Europe League-looking group to the strange line-up rotations and blunt performances, we failed to make the kind of electric impact on the competition that we had witnessed in 2010. Some blamed playing our home fixtures at Wembley, which may have been a factor. But in truth the performances from both the manager and the players left a lot to be desired. The squad was not deep enough to fight on so many fronts against quality teams.
As December rolled around Spurs suddenly clicked into gear. With a change in formation to a fluid 3-5-2 cum 3-4-3, Pochettino managed to unlock the devastating talents of his two number 10s, Dele and Eriksen, who finally began to feed Harry Kane with the service he required. For the rest of the season you could count on one hand the number of below par performances – Liverpool, Sunderland and West Ham away in particular. Beating Chelsea 2-0 at home to end their hunt for a record breaking winning streak seemed to represent a real coming of age for what is still the youngest squad in the league. Both players and fans alike seemed to now believe what we were seeing was no longer a false dawn, but the real deal.
At times this season Spurs were merciless in attack, stubborn in defense and an absolute joy to watch. Pochettino’s blend of beauty and aggression, forged from the philosophy of the great Argentinian sides, is something that I had never witnessed from a Spurs team in 25 years of support. Spurs were like the guy you worry about running off with your girlfriend. Attractive, talented, a skillful and sensitive lover who could also kick seven shades out of you if you ever tried to confront him.
At the denouement of the season Spurs had the best attack, the best defence, the league’s top scorer and enough points to win the title in nearly half of previous Premier League seasons. Many of us were left scratching our heads wondering just how this side didn’t win a single trophy.
So where did it go wrong?
Perhaps the biggest miss was the summer transfer window. Victor Wanyama proved to be a revelation in central midfield, but the recruitment of Moussa Sissoko, Vincent Janssen and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou did not give us the options we needed in tough times. All three now face an uncertain future at the club. In fact it was another home grown youngster, Harry Winks, who turned out to be the other best new addition to the match day squad.
As fortunate as we were with injuries last season, 2016/17 saw Spurs miss key players for several long spells. Disregarding long-term absentee Erik Lamela, Pochettino was rarely able to field what could be considered his full strength first eleven. Compare that to Chelsea, who were somehow able to utilize the same core of 15 players for the vast majority of their campaign. Once you find a winning formula, consistency in selection is of the upmost importance.
Although the manager is rightly adored by the fans, his approach to team selections in the cup competitions has been a source of frustration. Albeit that Spurs could count themselves a little unfortunate to lose an FA Cup Semi Final to Chelsea despite dominating long periods of the game.
But despite the lack of silverware, no Spurs fan could argue that 2016/17 wasn’t immensely enjoyable and provided some truly historic moments. I was lucky enough to attend the final North London Derby at White Hart Lane and have never experienced an atmosphere like it, as at last Spurs cancelled the 22-year long St. Totteringham’s Day commemorations . ‘The Lane Finale’ game against Manchester United was another poignant episode in our evolution. Spurs teams of old may have blighted an occasion like this with an inept display on the pitch, but this side stood strong and went on to complete a remarkable unbeaten season at home, dropping just four points in 19 games, allowing us to see off our spiritual home in style.
The spectre of a whole season playing home games at Wembley looms large for next year. However Poch and his men continue to surpass our expectations and next season should be no different. What’s vital is that we keep the current squad together and make some better additions in the summer. Do that, and in 12 months’ time glory could well be more than just an echo.