Over the summer many column inches were written about how this could be the season when Spurs and Pochettino finally turn potential into silverware. Last season they pushed Liverpool and Manchester City well into the new year and, of course, made it to the Champions League final—a competition they had hitherto struggled in. Bolstered by the confidence those would bring, plus a rare foray into the transfer market, it was not just their fans who were expecting good things. So, what has gone so spectacularly wrong?
Was the Writing on the Wall?
Everything in that opening paragraph is correct. However, it does not tell the whole story. It’s true that at the beginning of the season Spurs were being touted as genuine contenders to push Manchester City and Liverpool even further than last season. As we sit here today, though, the odds of the North London club winning the title have widened significantly, and you would struggle to find many people willing to hand over their hard-earned cash in that direction. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but there were signs that maybe everything was not all rosy at their fantastic new stadium.
People were saying that this was the season that Spurs could (or should) step up. They were also saying that this could be a make-or-break season. If they didn’t perform how they were suddenly expected to perform, then what then? The chance of this squad achieving anything would have gone—shades of 2015/16 all over again. But if one delves a little deeper into the so-called positive signs, suddenly cracks appear. Yes, they made it into a genuine three-way title race as late as February. Yes, they made it to the Champions League final. But they ended the season in fourth place—27 points behind eventual winners Manchester City. They also lost in the Champions League final without putting up too much of a fight. They did spend in the transfer market, but that too could be put down to simply catching up on what should have been done the year/years before. Whatever the omens were, this season has been very poor. It is not the fact that they have been defeated that has been the most alarming, but the manner of the defeats. So, where does the fault lay?
Very much the Marmite of owners, Levy is held up as the template of how a chairman of a top football club should operate as much as he is criticised for hindering his club’s realistic ambitions. There is no doubting his ability to turn a profit from finding promising players who can then be sold on when they achieve their potential. Spurs should be more than that, though. It should be a club that the best players elevate to, rather than leaving as soon as they become world-class. It is practically impossible to do anything on the cheap in the EPL—and it is really impossible to do it well on a consistent basis. Players at Tottenham know that they could walk into a half-dozen other clubs in England and Europe and earn twice as much as they currently do. They are also more likely to end the season with something in their trophy cabinet other than a runners-up medal.
Even in footballing terms, the speed at which the Argentinian has gone from someone Spurs fans were desperate to keep at all costs to being the target of their ire is incredible. He has not done himself any favours, though. Last season he hinted on several occasions that he could leave Tottenham, after taking them as far as he could. His body language this season is not one that would inspire. We do not know what is going on behind the scenes, but even before games he has the look of a defeated man at times.
Far too seldom are the players themselves held accountable. Looking at a Spurs game this season compared with last is like looking at two different teams. The lack of energy, the lack of pressing, and the lack of commitment from the players are startling. You could question Levy for not sorting out the contracts and creating a situation where players’ minds are elsewhere or looking for another club. You can question Pochettino for not motivating the men he sends out onto the pitch. Ultimately, however, the buck must stop at the players, who at this moment are letting not just themselves and the club down, but are also letting their fans down, and that is inexcusable.