The Prem, the Champions League and the FA and Milk Cups
Someone recently pointed out to me we should be aiming higher. Higher than 4th spot. 3rd or even 2nd. No mention of a cup.
I understand the sentiments.
Modern football at the top tier is no longer about domestic trophies of the cup variety. They are simply deemed nice to haves. A day out. It’s prestige lost, drowned out by all the unnecessary music, fireworks and pomp. I remember growing up, swelling with pride when citing the amount of FA Cups, League Cups and European trophies we had won. Okay, not as many in total as Liverpool or United (at the time we did lead the way in FA Cups) but those finals, they meant something. A badge of honour. Days of glory.
We now live in a footballing society that is geared towards the Champions League and that without entry to this elite competition we cannot progress to the next level and we cannot attract the right calibre of players to do so. Winning a cup remains a bonus, one that is still usually picked up by the very top sides, other than the occasional anomaly.
So, what to do? Only one tangible option. Don’t look back.
We’ve only been in the CL the one time. We’ve only very recently become contenders for the ‘competition for 4th spot’ after the degradation of the monopoly that made it practically impossible for anyone other than Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea to finish in any of those fabled positions. The reason we (and the media) even refer to it as ‘the battle for 4th spot’ is because even though the monopoly is no more, the teams above us still possesses that extra bit of quality and experience which means on paper it’s still not looking like the seasoned regulars are about to be knocked off their perch.
But much like it was never viable to knock one of them out of the CL places completely (and now it is) the same thing can quite easily happen for 3rd spot. And so on. As witnessed this season and last. The Prem continues to remain in a state of subtle flux.
If you consistently finish top four and partake in CL football then you’ll grow into a side strong enough to mount a title challenge every season. In other words, you push for top spot (even if it’s out of reach by five to ten points) and regardless of the outcome you’ll find yourself to be good enough to never fall further than fourth. Which equates to the ilk of stability that will turn you all powerful and evil (you'll shudder, part of your soul will die, but you’ll have been corrupted by then and won't notice).
It’s going to be difficult for all involved if we along with one or two others sustain our progression in the right direction. Six teams into four positions doesn’t work. I don’t believe we’re on the verge of a new monopoly either. Just some fancy musical chairs as we all dance to the tune of ambition. It might be something we have to settle for, a time-share with perhaps only the same two teams guaranteed CL football and the rest fighting for the remaining two slots. There’s no way of knowing how it will all play out across the next five years.
All we can do is aim to improve.
I know that’s wishy washy, but unless you have a spare flux capacitor it’s hardly feasible to point out the team(s) that will experience a devastating end of cycle life run, and drop several places. The Sky Sports era of the 90s and early turn of this century has cemented certain clubs at the top who can survive just fine without being at the peak of their powers.
So yes, all we can do is improve and aim to better ourselves first before looking to better the team just above us.
Aiming for 4th spot is that initial step required to understand what represents the minimum requirement. It's not a failure to finish in 5th spot. It just doesn't amount to the same thing as finishing above 5th. As we all know after the heroics of the 2010 season.
Discussing this so matter of fact is still sometimes surreal considering how we (and others) laughed off any claim we’d compete for CL football five years ago. It’s taken a long time and the reality is that we no longer day dream, we endeavour to push on and the disappointment when we miss out hurts. But once more, don’t look back.
The ugly truth is that a transitional season is always a season away. Managerial appointments and players personal targets are short term which means, with the best endeavours, we can be disrupted in a blink of an eye. To sustain and build further on the foundations you simply have to be involved in europe’s elite competition as it feeds you the power and the money to bully the rest domestically.
It’s sad, compared to the competitiveness of the 80s and the lust for domestic cups we all had back then. But it’s just how the mechanics of the game are oiled these days, fuelled by money.
At the most fundamental level, I want Tottenham to always embrace their traditions. Swagger and swashbuckle. But now that we have a spine and a taste for something bigger and bolder, we can hardly look back and return to the darkness having caught some colour out in the sun. I’m not asking for a decade of dominance. Just another beautifully scripted slice of history that can sit proudly alongside all the defining moments that have blessed us across so many decades. It’s what any fan desires of their team. It’s what the players representing the fans and the club should desire too.
We all know what’s at stake if we don’t finish in the top four next season. This summer alone is going to be dramatic and tiresome with rumours of potential bids for our key players and frustration as we await to see who we might sign. Stripping away all the intricate details of how best we line-up and tactical conundrums, we’re left simply with this: Audere est facere.
And in pragmatic terms?
We have to aim towards being competitive in every match we perform in. Momentum breeding a winning mentality and a hatred for losing. We are lacking a cutting edge. We can’t stand around wasting time wondering if the others around us will fix their own issues or drop further in form or improve. It’s always going to be in our hands. There are no complaints if you are the best you can possibly be yet fail to achieve your dream. Echo’s of glory, right?
At this given moment in time, there is very little in it. A few more home wins and...well, what hasn’t happened hasn’t for a reason. Those intricate details that need looking at are key to avoid a repeat. The learning curve won’t be so forgiving next time round. Others might be better placed thanks to their stable foundations and experience, but there are cracks in the wall. But once more, it matters not if we don't build something as durable over time that we can one day look back at with pride whilst the rest crumble.
As for the CL itself, it’s made for us. Our nature to attack and the knock-out element of the latter rounds. Shame we lacked a similar ethic domestically, leaving both cup competitions early were low ebbs in a season mostly made up of giddy highs. Distracted was the excuse, but it’s hardly a valid one. City have won the FA Cup and finished 3rd along with playing a fair few games in the Europa League. Perhaps débutantes (in the CL) are simply not strong enough in terms of experience to handle the pressures unlike the seasoned pros. City might falter in the league next season. We don’t know and who cares about something we can’t control?
Fact is we didn't appear to have the time or inclination to bother with the FA Cup and Carling Cup.
I’m not dismissing silverware with this modern footballing culture marginalising it. With all my rhetoric about the importance of the league, it’s still something tangible (Carling Cup might not mean much in relative terms, but try to deny it didn’t when we beat Arsenal in the semi then Chelsea in the final). If it’s good enough for the ex-monopoly to win cups and play CL every season then it has to be good enough for us. That shouldn’t be the reason behind wanting to. We need to recapture some of that old fashion spirit and look to add to our honours tally because that's what history remembers.
Football is still about the moments. Having such a moment is better than having none at all. I can't be alone in wanting us to reclaim our mantle as cup kings. Younger fans hardly remember the tag.
Perhaps the art of balancing our progress and maturity and focusing on the league equates to an altogether different type of transitional season(s) as we continue to grow. Perhaps for now, sacrifices need to be made.
Either way, don’t look back, look forward. But you'll be forgiven if you do happen to reach out to the past to inspire you. Ricky Villa dancing through on goal will live longer in memory than finishing fourth. You'll be happy to replace that memory with one of Modric dinking through midfield as we write a new chapter.
We have to be more astute on and off the pitch with our focus and squad rotation. The Europa League is not ideal in set-up and the winner of the competition should really be awarded CL qualification rather than the whole thing appeasing the teams that get knocked out of the CL early. But we should still look to progress in it as far as possible. Same with the domestic cups.
The league, the Prem, much like it is for Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and now City...will always be the priority. Times have changed for us. So, if we’re truly hungry, its bread and butter on the menu with a cup of whatever you fancy to clench our thirst.