A debate has been raging over the last year and a half about two managers and two clubs. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur. Both clubs are on the up, the football is exciting and the fans are generally happy. Both clubs have two of the most exciting players in the world in Salah and Kane backed up by sensational supporting casts.
The big question is: “What do they have to show for it?”
Some will say for both teams, the product on the pitch alone is worth celebration. Some will say consistent Champions League participation is enough. There also those who say that this period of stability is an accomplishment. To understand the last point, let’s remember where these clubs were before their current managers.
Spurs have come out of the dark ages of Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) and Tim Sherwood’s reigns. Yes, Sherwood had a decent win percentage but he was NEVER, EVER going to succeed and the club was a joke under him (Chadli and Sigurdsson double-pivot, anyone?). The less said of AVB and his band of merry men lead by Roberto Soldado, the better. Under Pochetino, Spurs have finished 5th, 3rd, 2nd and 3rd in the league and reached back-to-back FA Cup semi-finals.
Under Klopp, Liverpool have finished 8th, 4th and 4th in the league and runners up in the League Cup, Europa league and last year’s Champions League. Prior to Klopp, Liverpool finished 7th twice, 8th, 6th and 2nd, the latter being more of an aberration than a sign of how good they were.
There is one group of observers that I left out earlier. The one that Klopp and Poch hate the most. Those of us who believe it’s time for them to win a trophy. Specifically the league or the Champions League. Of course we’ll take the FA Cup as a trophy but those first two are their aim so let’s judge them on that. Don’t believe me? Here are Poch’s own words:
“My ambition is to win the Champions League with Tottenham or the Premier League. That’s what puts you in a different level.”
This was his response when asked if winning the League Cup or FA Cup was important to him, and I agree with Poch. The bigger two trophies have to be top of his list. That said, as Fergie, Mourinho and Guardiola have shown, winning even the little trophies helps builds character and it gives players the belief that they can and should win the bigger prizes. So, perhaps talking those trophies down isn’t the best idea. Even the players are tired of not winning things. Here’s Harry Kane:
“The main thing [for next season] is a trophy,” he said. “It’s been about four years now that I’ve been playing at this level and we’re yet to win a trophy.”
That last line clearly tells us that it’s not been good enough. Enough potential, enough “progress”, let’s win something. Winning the FA Cup or even the League Cup is a definitive sign of progress. Mostly because you have to go through a Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City or Chelsea to do so. It proves you can win when it really matters. Kane wants that assurance.
Klopp had this to say:
“But do I have to? That might be what people remember but what I have to do is make the best of the things the club is offering me, that is what I believe in. If people say the Champions League campaign last season was not a success because we didn’t win the final then I cannot change that. Was it the most successful? No, but the ride was brilliant. I enjoyed it a lot.
Ultimately he is correct. You have to enjoy the ride, you have to embrace the journey. That said, if you get 90% in an exam your parents will likely ask you “What happened to the other 10%?” (at least the Nigerian ones did). So yes, enjoy the ride, but develop a plan for domination so you’ll have no excuses next time. Mohamed Salah agrees:
“My target last season was not only to break the [goalscoring] record but also to win something with the club,” he told Sky Sports. “We were very close in the Champions League final but this is football, we have to accept the result. This time also I can’t say my individual one but my target now is to win something for the club.”
The good thing for Liverpool fans is, Klopp has improved his squad and tweaked his tactics. Liverpool are favourites to win the league right now and they have as good a chance as anyone of winning the Champions League. You’d also have to say they have a decent chance in the FA Cup if Klopp takes it seriously. Yes, we’ve heard this story before for Liverpool but it does feel different this time.
In Spurs’ case, it’s unlikely that they will win the Champions League and though they have put up a good fight so far, I can’t see them lifting the Premier League. So, Pochettino might want to go for the League Cup, for which they are in the semi-finals and maybe turn their back-to-back FA Cup semi-finals into a cup winning final. Winning one of these might help satisfy his bigger players and convince the squad of its ability to challenge for higher honours.
Of course, there’s the caveat of the new stadium that is restricting transfers. How long will these restrictions be in place? We don’t know. If their rivals Arsenal are an example, stadium debt could make big bids for their stars tempting for club and player. How long can the Spurs project hold on? Hopefully it can endure but if anything this should show that there’s no better time than now.