What makes Tottenham the club we are is personified by our style of play. There were moments even when we were abject (Gross), ordinary (Graham) or just plain ridiculous (Ardiles) where you could still see our traditions shine through the dark brooding thundery clouds. We like to play football. ‘Attractive and entertaining’ is how it’s usually labelled. Arthur Rowe, innovator, redefining the game and giving football push and run. Bill Nicholson with a side that won the title in black and white with elegance and flair and power and yet will probably still be revered long after other Technicolor and HD teams are long forgotten. We've witnessed a dip or two but we’ve still managed to add our ribbons to silverware in each decade since the 1950s. Jack Jones and wife of Morton Cadman would be proud. But more importantly, we’ve held onto our ethos, even if at times we’ve done so with the tips of our fingers, in the absence of a hearty grip. We are Tottenham because we like to do things in style and with a flourish.
What we’ve lacked on so many occasions in the past is a spine. A backbone. A growl of tenacity. It’s been a culture of comfort, with pillow fights and daydreams rather than looking into the eyes of a Balrog in the Mines of Moria muttering 'come at me bro'. We’ve had our echoes of glory but the harsh reality is that for a long time competing to become one of the elite was beyond our reach. The intent to play was there but the execution has mostly resembled a guillotine with feathers instead of a razor sharp blade. Flattered to deceive, delusions of grandeur, misplaced expectations and confused entitlement has left us with the unwanted pretenders tag. A tag that’s sometimes been undeserving because pretenders don’t sit in mid-table mediocrity. But times have changed.
In terms of upholding traditions and aspiring to play the game in the way the likes of Rowe and Nicholson would love to see it played, we've always aspired to such glory but to be truly glorious you have to be more than just a pretty footballing team. You need fortitude and belief. Even hard boiled grit and intent, the type that is befitting a true contender, is still not enough if you can’t see out the execution and chop the heads off the opposition without an ounce of remorse.
We've had plenty of mediocre days where our hearts were bigger than our brains and we dreamt of impossible dreams but came nowhere near fulfilling them. We’re not that football club any more. Sorry, we are. We still dream, but they're far more lucid. Our awakening is upon us. Times have changed. We’re most definitely not comparable to any of the sides that languished during long spells in the 90s and early 00s. Those particular sides from the past, they have no actual relevance to us carving out a sparkling new future. They were teams that were mismatched, broken. We've outgrown that particular anchor. Their problems, their issues, they belong in the past. They're not comparable to any of the new challenges ahead of us so we shouldn't concern ourselves with inheriting them.
However, the immediate past, of this current side, is important. We're working our way through a learning curve, evolving the current squad. The days of Rowe, Nicholson, Burkinshaw, Pleat (87) along with Jol's side are simply examples of us upholding our traditions with substance. Something Redknapp picked up and Villas-Boas will seek to continue.
We know we have intent and the ability but we under-performed last season when considering the projected potential of the current side. We failed because we’ve not quite mastered that last level of the playing field. The one that when reached sees you move onto the next tier where experience of success allows you to grow stronger. You win a title, you understand what it means to win a title so next time you’re prepared for it because you’ve already fought through the fight. If you missed out that first time you’ll still be prepared for the next battle because the mistakes made will make you stronger. In our case, titles are not in our sight just yet. But if we wish to push on we can look to the immediate past to improve the immediate future. Titles are not in our sight and yet for one brief moment last season, if it wasn't for an inch or two...
We still need to jump from that last level onto that next tier. We didn’t attempt the jump last time of asking, we bottled out of it, lucked out too, in the run up.
Belief and desire, it’s an absolute given at this level. For us, it's no longer about attaining that because without it we won’t be where we are today. In a solid position. One that Villas-Boas understands and one that is appreciated with the work achieved by our previous coach. Our football will hopefully become a more robust beast under VB. Shrewd, measured and disciplined. Players will need to raise their game so that the team can rise to the occasion and execute the opposition. Leaving us with a clear run up to make that jump.
Intensity. Relentless intensity.
We have to be bullish and kill teams off. We also have to be assassins, last men standing, when least expected. This is something we've seen in recent times, mugging teams. Not playing very well but coming away with all three points. But what is missing is that drive and committed focus to keep that instinct going from the first game to the last. It's not an easy task and last season was a harsh lesson, a reminder that we have to improve. A winning mentality is one thing, but one that is aggressive and progressive and punishing is the difference between fourth spot and first place. That's where the coach truly earns his keep, with guidance and balance.
All the basic foundation work is done. Our away record is decent, one key thing you can compare to those darker days because we are performing with consistency and confidence on our travels. Our home form also retains strength. But it comes back to that extra edge, that extra something, to really push us onwards...we still need more.
Tottenham have rarely been cut-throat killers. We’ve turned it on and brushed teams aside but we can still choke up with indecisiveness. That cutting edge, tactically (to change a game) via the bench and projected onto the players on the pitch is an area that we have displayed evolution that compliments the squad at our disposal. But it's not perfect. And at times it's suffered, it's been stale and unimaginative. That extra edge can only be birthed from the failed attempts that come before it. Our mistakes, our shortcomings from last season are sacrifices that have to make us stronger. Otherwise our evolution stagnates.
Villas-Boas will only be as good as the players are in translating his instructions. With better players alongside our best players improving further, we'll find that extra edge. We were very good under Harry Redknapp but when we were found wanting it was because we had no answers to some of the questions being posed. We lacked depth, physically and mentally.
If we’re going to improve and impose ourselves on the league, more so than last term and in a more sustained style we’ll have to want it more than the next team, at all times, training pitch and on field. We're going to have to get it right off the pitch, with transfers, before we can really shape up for the battle on it. That much maligned conundrum, the search for a striker or two, will be most telling once the season starts. It's a defining moment that will play out between now and the end of the transfer window.
A lack of focus and astuteness cost us dearly but equally so did the simple fact that as good as our team was on its day and as good as we looked on paper, from one man to the next in our starting eleven we didn’t pack enough punch and fizzled out when it mattered most.
This is as good as we’ve had it for a long time, no argument there, but that is no accolade. It's no historic page in the next edition of The Opus. It’s no badge of honour. It's not a piece of silverware. It's just a factual statement based on league performance and statistics. It’s just an obstacle we’ve found our way through. It's not tangible history defining success. It's simply a pin in a wall chart chronicling our progress. Stop for the acclaim and you’ll stop yourself moving onto the next challenge.
So onto the next one we march. And we don't look back.