The Spurs Way. What is it? Some are saying it's a fallacy. A chronicle of mediocrity over several decades. This fantastical ideal with shirts tucked out and socks down towards the ankles whilst rolling over teams playing with pure flair and exhilarating football. Well it's not quite that unless you embrace exaggeration.
The Spurs Way at its finest (aside from the foundations of the 50s and 60s) was what we got during that patch in the 70s, the early 80s, 1987 and the early 90s, 2006 along with 2010-2011. A sense of pride and identity and the odd spectacular moment of magic thrown in for good measure. Those teams and players are the Spurs Way, with all the flaws accompanying the good stuff. The quotes from Danny Blanchflower and Bill Nicholson are not just fanciful words, they mean something more. How can they not when everything we've ever done has been an attempt to emulate their achievements? There's glory to be had right there as romanticised and deluded as it might appear to be, this is the tradition of the club. To aspire and dream of better days. It's why we all feel so utterly alive and hassled by Spurs because we are never short of melodrama.
We shouldn't belittle any of this to appease modern football's harsh templates for success but at the same time it doesn't all translate from the echoed poetry of the past to the petulant pomp of the present day.
I wrote this back in October 2013, questioning 'what do you want?' with regards to weighing up between choosing success or style of football, because at the time (much like now) it seems to be a choice of one or the other with many of our supporters.
Another typical entertaining home performance from the mighty Tottenham. Okay, so remove entertaining and perhaps strike-out mighty and we'll be closer to the truth. The truth that has more or less been with us through out the league campaign so far.
It's hardly been exhilarating and it's not got anywhere close to epitomise the Blanchflower and Nicholson ethos. Then again, that ethos took ten years to solidify into silverware and its accompanying iconic glory that is still being spoken about today. From push and run in the early 50s to the double in the early 60s. Don't fret, not comparing our currently slow brooding pedestrian evolution to conclude with such epic glory, but patience still retains its importance. If a fix for every given problem can be found and implemented then it would. But our progression is going to have to be measured in tens of games and not from one to the next.
Remember when Andre Villas-Boas first started out at the Lane? Some fans wanting him gone within a handful of games? Difference between then and now is that we win games. Even the ones that are won ugly count. We hardly ever lose games when comparing to any Spurs side from the past 20 or so years. We are hard to beat. Sure, we find it hard to beat one or two and have to rely on ye old penalty to save the day.
God forbid we forge a winning mentality as a foundation to allow for more expressive and expansive football later on. Spurs might not be as free-flowing when that eventuality happens (I'm confident it will) but they will possess the ability to contain and to frustrate teams perceived stronger than us in the chase for top four/the title.
That ethos, the Spurs way of playing football; Can you place your hand on your heart and seriously say you would be content to say play it but always end up as pretenders not contenders?
Just think about that for a moment.
Now personally, hand on heart, I'd support Spurs in any league playing any brand of football but like you I'm most content when we are all flair and trickery. It's our identity. It's our tradition. It's what we love and adore. From teams to individual players. But as much as this is part of our history and synonymous with our club, so are those other footnotes. The ones we prefer not to linger on too often. The calamitous defending, the choking, the unnecessary off the field dramas. When we get it right, it's glorious when we don't it's heart wrenching. But then that's also part of our identity. You know the one, the one about how the bad times make the good times feel ever better.
Fact is, since that taste of Champions League football, actual tangible success has became a reality. If you expect that potentiality to become reality, don't expect it to happen over night. Why? Because it took us long enough to taste that single season of adventure in Europe's elite competition.
I'm not being apologetic here. I'm not saying we - players and the coach - should not be above criticism or that the things that are wrong now should not be pointed out. Football is all about opinions and perspective and most of the time we watch the same game but see different things.
We need to be more than just a side with style. We need substance. Since Jol, hiccups included, we have been on the up. I still see us looking up now. There have always been very organic reminders that something has to change. Under Redknapp our collapse in form was the hint that he had taken us as far as he could. Under AVB, there hasn't been such a fatalistic conclusion because we are still at the very beginning of his tenure.
Overly dramatic? That's Spurs for you.
This is what happens when you aspire to contend. When a coach attempts to instil a new philosophy and culture. We can't play the 'Spurs' style and challenge for the title. We've been trying to do that since 1961 and have failed. I guess you could say there is nothing wrong with that. Echoes of glory, right?
No wonder we're so confused. We want the best of both worlds and have no time to find somewhere accommodating in-between.
A healthy mix of rationalising and confliction, no? Was I downsizing the necessity for the free-flowing swashbuckle Spursy stuff to fit the then coach and his more pragmatic approach? Or was it a more generalised admittance you need to mix it up and be astute with strategy to get the better of the bigger teams that might seek to suffocate space in games?
I state 'you can't play the Spurs way and challenge'. That still rings true for me (in terms of the requirement of having substance parallel to the style) but I'm not saying the Spurs Way is a fallacy and should be sacrificed for a new identity because it simply doesn't work.
I'll dip my head into reality for a moment and note that in history successful teams in England have displayed traits not that common with any given Spurs side; a winning mentality, stubbornness, even to a degree a dollop of cheating in that unprofessional professional way that allows for bullying and a culture of arrogance that leads to even more success. Stylish football is superfluous if you're getting beat easily by your peers. More is required if you harbour grander goals of achievement. It's a state of mind as much as it is a passage of play.
At the time (of the quoted article) Andre Villas-Boas was still tinkering and was heavily criticised for his lack of adventure and the controlled possession football in homes games (which gained accolades away from home thanks to the spirited form). In some ways I was conflicted because I expected the football would soon evolve into this promise of aggressive counter attacking play with all prior mental fragilities ironed out - finally giving us the Holy Grail of Tottenham football. Style, flair and a backbone supported by ruthless belief and application.
We all know how it ended and now we seek a new man to replace the interim Tim Sherwood that will give us something back. But this discussion point has returned, with 'the Spurs Way' being dismissed out of hand by some of the faithful. Success v Style, the former more important, apparently, so much so some would sacrifice the style for it.
Not sure people are thinking straight with this. Just about how much are you willing to sacrifice for success? I know I've been guilty of prioritising 4th spot and above because of the foothold you gain with stature and progression that can lead to sustainable challenges for say something far-fetched like the league title. That's not to dismiss an FA Cup or another piece of silverware as being non-important. But as a fan-base we've collectively, perhaps subconsciously become dismissive of the silverware, wishing for that fabled return to Europe's elite competition instead.
It doesn't have to be this draining. It doesn't have to be about having to choose.
Considering how miserable we all are and how connected we have become to moaning about Daniel Levy, ENIC, the clubs financial model, internal politics and so on, we can all do with just starting from the beginning again; enjoying the football. If there is a clear ethos at play that we might gain more in the long term with appointing a Frank der Boer or even a Mauricio Pochettino this can further elevate important emotions such as hope and ambition (short term longevity) as long as we don't seek to abuse it as we have done so quickly in the past. That's when we look to the present and expect the finished article rather than wait for it to arrive in a future we've yet to experience.
The Spurs Way has unfortunately been hijacked. It's been hijacked by those that deem it to be a fantasy of thought, of a style that doomed us to countless seasons of failure in the 90s. It's been hijacked by those that desire it without the control and the 'winning ugly but effectively' methodology that turns pretenders to contenders.
With the 90s, that wasn't the Spurs Way at its best. It was a dysfunctional mess. That was us playing open football with no genuine structure and at times with poor players in key positions. It was exciting because it was relatively ridiculous for the most part. When it was bad it was relegation form bad. We hired George Graham and hounded him out because of style, so it seems the rationalising ongoing at the moment is there to appease the pressures of wanting to be in the top four and wanting to be successful above and beyond how that success is attained.
The fans that want us to play swaggering Redknappesque football tend to forget it's one dimensional play and they are not in any way patient enough to give someone the benefit of the doubt to implement new systems and intelligence to support it (plans b and c) because it might be perceived as being boring for a season or two. However, if it's accepted for what it is (flaws included) at least it's on the right path. Just don't accept anything more with the final end product if patience is not a virtue with you.
Seems the most important factor at this moment for our future is us; how we react and support the new appointment.
I can't believe anyone would be willing to see us give up on traditions. Those that wish to concentrate on the negatives of the past are missing the point of what tradition is meant to be about. Spurs have just gone out there and played with creativity and flair and that was always enough to produce silverware in every decade since the 50s. We have grown in the past 10 years and now our aspirations require a more mature and respectful approach. We can challenge but only if we rid ourselves of the sense of entitlement that keeps halting it.
If you still want the best of both worlds then you have to be sat in the middle of them. It's impossible to expect one thing unequivocally without the other meaning that we - as fans and a club - need to recalibrate our expectancy. If we played like Chelsea under Jose Mourinho would you be accepting? Would you rationalise it as 'hardened Spurs with mental edge' and ignore the blandness of it? I guess some of us did that under AVB, I know I did but I believed there was more to come from the team and that it would take shape once he was able to truly build something to his complete liking. As I said earlier, it ended up being a mess that meant we had to reboot once again. Rafa Benitez would surely ask us to once more question this argument if he was appointed, what with his football being from the school of control (not too dissimilar to AVB's English misadventure, just far more successful).
So in conclusion, ask yourself; do you want your football team to have an identity? If so what identity would you want them to have? Is the result more important than the performance (ignoring the hard fought and the off-days)? If winning is more important than how you win then you're not doing Tottenham correctly. Or maybe I'm doing it wrong. It would have been wrong to move the club to Stratford or get bought out by an oil baron or if we played monotonous football with no blueprint for change to win silverware without an ounce of character comparable to former club legends and cup finals. Surely our identity is everything that has come before today. How can you possibly change what we are when doing so changes the fabric of what it means to be Tottenham?
I'm all in for evolution. A revolution is a step too far.