You’ve got to be careful not to overdramatise things in football. The mainstream media do enough for that for us, normally not warranted or without applying perspective.
BUT!!! I am not exaggerating fellow Spurs fans (and everyone else) when I tell you this next two and a half weeks for Tottenham Hotspur are absolutely huge. Massive. Monumentally important to the point where the next 18 months could virtually depend on it.
Let’s look at our recent history, we know how small the timeframe is that the window of opportunity is open to make a step forward as a football club, and when it closes how long before it opens again.
Miss champions league by a point – failed objectives – best players likely to leave – manager gone – start again- new players struggle to bed in – miles away for a season…
And repeat the above cycle. Which usually takes two seasons.
You’ve got to believe that Tottenham want to be a club that are capable of challenging for big trophies one day on a domestic level. Don’t ask me how long before that is…. I can’t answer that. But how I can be so confident that, that is the ambition, is by looking at the continued investment in the football club in between these cycles of near misses – to complete failures.
To get to anywhere normally requires a progressive step or a cycle, for Tottenham to ever challenge for big trophies they need to first finish in the top 4, probably in back to back seasons. Then comes the chance to attract the better players that meet your ambitions and the wages that attract them combined with the platform to perform that their talents and egos crave.
Spurs have never given up on achieving the initial champions league objective. Not since 2006 and lasagna gate have the club ever aimed or been prepared to settle for anything less. I’d describe the club as desperate over this period to make the step that is integral to their long term aims. That’s why managers have gone, some popular managers, some talented managers, a manager who delivered a trophy. There’s been managers from abroad, managers from within the club, personalities, man managers, tacticians. You get the point here, in the desperation to succeed the Spurs owners have tried everything. Literally everything.
Some questionable decisions made along the way? Yes. Desperation can do that to decision making at any level of sport. Backwards step is phrase used a lot. Is that True? No. Not a backwards step at all, just the recommencement of the cycle when the previous one ends.
It’s not the participation in the tournament that bothers me as a fan, making up the Champions League numbers every season like most clubs before getting a harsh reminder of how far adrift the premiership is when facing a decent side, is not something I care about one jot. Honestly. It’s more that I realise how important a step qualifying is on the journey to somewhere than caring about ever playing in it, it’s a very example of the media overdramatisation referenced in the first sentence of this piece. By the time the tournament gets genuinely interesting most premiership sides have long since departed.
During the decade since the day lasagna got the better of us, there has been vast improvements, near misses, and some quite outrageously unfortunate circumstances. Chelsea somehow winning the thing and eliminating Tottenham in 2012 the cherry on that particular cake. Lionel Messi & Arjen Robben missing penalties along the way making up some of the sponge. What has been consistent over the 10 year period though is the continued desire and hunger of the powers that be at the football club to chase the ambition. I’ll always be grateful to Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy for this, and whilst they receive criticism in some quarters it would be wrong to overlook the way they continue to try when it would be easy to give up and cash in. This has been backed up with investment, and not just words. Investment off the pitch more so than on it sometimes, but that adds further fuel to my beliefs that the club are genuinely sighting a serious spell of challenging anyone domestically in the not too distant future. Half a billion pounds on a new training and stadium are not actions of a football club wanting to finish 4th instead of 5th I wouldn’t say. I mentioned not cashing in just now, and the selling of the clubs best players would spring to mind of anyone wishing to put a counter argument, but the facts are this. Every club sells their best players, all of them. Man United sold Ronaldo for gods sake, Suarez, Robben, Fabregas, Vieira, Henry, Nasri, Torres, Van Persie. All gone. All but one of those players above were in the Champions League had they stayed with their clubs. Only salary keeps players and nothing else, Chelsea and City have kept their big names in recent times and that’s only due to the unlimited resources their owners have at their disposal. I’ll be sure even then that at least one of Hazard, Aguero or Silva will be on the move in the near future.
The money brought in at Spurs for sales has been re-invested in the playing staff though. A net profit over the last five years can be attributed more to the inflated prices the players have sold for and the trimming of a huge squad, more so than the lack of incoming transfer activity. It’s a myth that Levy doesn’t get his chequebook out – he does. Just so happens that some of the players have inexplicably flopped and some of the scouting has been on occasions questionable. Sure Levy drives a hard bargain which has cost various targets, but it is just living within the clubs means as he chooses to prioritise the infrastructure investment ahead of the squad. That’s what he has identified as the more important piece of his jigsaw to get right. There will always be another season on the pitch, there can always be another cycle. If you can’t buy the dream like City and Chelsea, then you need to systematically build it and within your means the way Manchester United did, the way Arsenal are trying to rebuild themselves as serious challengers. Leeds United is what happens when you step outside your means. If Levy thinks a stadium is more important than a 300k a week centre forward then I’m not going to argue with him because like I’ve said I firmly believe he has genuine big ambitions and no matter what he will leave this football club in an unrecognisably better position that when he took over in 2001.
Leeds United have been covered, but then there is Aston Villa. Aston Villa is what happens when you don’t have bigger ambitions than just wanting to play AC Milan and Real Madrid once only so you can say you’ve done it.
It was Villa who were the most likely to ‘break into the top 4′ finishing 6th for 3 consecutive seasons all under Martin O’Neil from 2008 – 2010. When Spurs first qualified in 2010 Aston Villa were only 6 points behind, they boasted players like James Milner, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, Stylian Petrov & Brad Friedel in the sticks. Gareth Barry had already departed as the first of the big players to leave the club.
The ambition to follow up that near miss was not there at the club had a mid-table finish the year after. Villa ever since have been a side just waiting to be relegated. This year it is going to happen, they will go down to the Championship. Completely unthinkable 5 short years ago. They hoped they’d break into to the champions league, but never really wanted it, not properly, not the way Tottenham do. When people and pundits and even their own fans criticise Tottenham’s ambition I wish they’d think a bit before speaking.
I’ve rambled on. If Spurs didn’t hold the ambitions I believe they do, the board and the fans, then we’d be midway through our 3rd relegation battle in front of thousands of empty seats.
Back to the present day and the ginormous 16 days ahead for the club. Tottenham sit in 5th place, 3 points behind 4th having never been in the top 4 at any point in the season. Despite this are on an unbeaten run dating back to the first game of the season and look the part whilst the squad is quite thin and lacks regular goal scorers to supplement Harry Kane. Look up and you won’t find Chelsea, look down and you’ll have to look further, the champions are in a mess. Man City are Arsenal aren’t exactly robotic in how they are going about their seasons but you’d think they won’t have to worry about their top 4 status and will probably occupy the top 2 positions come May. With Chelsea not looking like recovering who else is there? Manchester United are awful, machine like in grinding out wins but without the forward line to maintain it and you’d think they’ll drop plenty of points between now and the end of season while Van Gaal tries to bore us all to death. Liverpool are not very good besides a vibrant front line and are going to drop a whole load of points. Their defeats to Newcastle and Crystal Palace aren’t going to be isolated no matter how highly I think of Jurgen Klopp. He’s not Harry Potter and that side is not good enough this season to back with any confidence.
Then there’s everyone’s second favourite team Leicester. Hate to say it but they can’t maintain the form shown surely? They will drop away as the fixtures get tougher and more frequent and the defensive frailties will outweigh the attacking vibrancy over the season. So in short, unlike past years there isn’t 4 good teams in this league. There is not 4 teams better than Tottenham, not a chance. Everton may have a case for feeling the same.
In the 16 days coming Spurs have matches, just like their rivals, and where December is known for points being spilled Tottenham have an attractive set of fixtures comparatively. Newcastle at Home, Southampton, who have been struggling a bit lately, away, Norwich at home, Watford away. It’s hardly frightening and no reason why the unbeaten run can’t make it through to the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
The unbeaten run which I’m getting a bit tired of hearing about is only going to have been worth all the trouble if something comes at the end of it.
Maintaining the unbeaten run over the Xmas period could mean 4 points or 6, or 8. Spurs need to take advantage and return 10 or even 12, the team is more than capable and might need to be more daring as games peter out towards a draw. In the 2010 season where Aston Villa were 6 points adrift they lost two games fewer than Tottenham, but a third of their results (13) ended in draws, and that is proving to be Tottenham’s biggest threat.
The results in these next 4 games can build the platform that can put Spurs closer to the teams at the top than the teams coming from behind, and if so Levy might choose to add to the squad in January bringing in the players we’ll need to maintain the form we’ve shown over 38 games. The targets will have been identified and their agents will be aware of Spurs’ interest. The two weeks ahead are a shop window for the club, a chance to end the month firmly in the driving seat to provide champions league football whilst putting in some of the energetic performances that we have seen at times this season, the type that make a prospective player itching to be a part of. Without some re-inforcements I fear Spurs could drop away.
So that’s it, this is more than just 2 weeks of football, this is the chance to prepare for the next step of that all important cycle, and drive Levy closer to impossible dream. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and sometimes, start again, and again. This is the latest opportunity. Spurs really can’t afford the time it costs to waste it.