Here we go again
Dear Mr Levy,
As I prepare myself for another unmitigated disaster I ask myself a solitary question. Why? Why do we persist with the hope that this time everything will click? That’s click and not tick…like a bomb. Will this finally be the season when nothing goes wrong? What parameters and definitions should I associate for yet another potentially wasted season?
Will it be a slow start? Yet another slow burner that ends in damp desolation? Will restlessness from the home faithful once again fester deep? Will we finally witness some spark from key summer signings from last season’s transfer bonanza? Will Pochettino be the coach we all wished Villas-Boas was? A high line and pressing accompanied by functional and fluid movement from midfield to attack allowing for a more suitable style of play demanded by our traditions? You'd think that would be the case, especially with the logic of signing defensive players to compensate for the promise of attacking expression and commitment.
Do we allow ourselves time to reach peak performance or jerk at the knee if it’s still fledgling by Christmas? Is it acceptable to still be fledgling by the end of the year or do you (and our supporters) believe we should be steam-rolling with immediate impact rather than be steam-rolled with familiar dejection?
I asked a solitary question and yet have a 1000 repeated ones.
Our new man at the helm has inherited not only the imbalance of the previous tenures but also the accumulated weight of expectancy that has broken our backs on more than the single occasion.
How do we prepare for the challenges ahead? Do we whimsically dream of a top four place and fight against the wordly depth of Manchester City, the possibly rejuvenated might of Manchester United? The eternally annoying perseverance and luck of the franchised broken children from South London? The sometimes special Chelsea? And then there's Liverpool, this time with European football but without their talisman and with several new players that appear to fit into the squad rather than look like pieces from a different puzzle.
Or do we seek substance of a historical nature and aim to appease adventure over the ills of modern football objectives? Cup runs and finals, memories and moments that mean more than aiming to simply finish up as a pretender with the bonus of a grandeur gift. Do we dare to go deeper and rediscover the purity of why we suffer and support a club crafted by Rowe and Nicholson and Burkinshaw, with all the highs and lows and genius and imperfections by embracing the football above and beyond the pressures of the result?
We lost the '87 cup final in glorious fashion against a side that gloriously defeated us against all odds. Yet 1987 with its lack of silverware was as Tottenham as you could get (what with the lack of silverware). Brilliant yet ultimately heart-breaking. The football, the players and those wonderfully inane imperfections. At Wembley, we couldn’t even get Holsten printed on all our shirts. Spursy before we even knew it.
The early to mid-80s, the patch in the 70s and the truly defining 60s along with the birth of push and run during the early 50s where it all kicked off from. Pockets of exhilaration and glory glory nights. Every decade punctured by pomp and pleasure of a Lilywhite colour, usually with ribbons on a cup.
Every supporter, every club wants the same thing. But comparisons are no longer relevant. We can’t live in the past. We can however endeavour to create new chapters of vibrancy that echo them. We still have to appreciate the hardship required to attain these moments. I'm not sure we do. It's tends to be a more do or die philosophy, a far more fatalistic existence, to the decrement of creating a legacy to match those aforementioned defining decades.
The role of a perpetual pretender appears to have out grown us even if its been a part of our identity for such a long time. It was once a strength and now it's seen as a weakness. There's glory in failure but it isn't the glory we desire. Dreams are wonderful, right? Then you wake up.
Is all this yet another delusion of romanticised ideals that stand no chance of surviving in the far harsher reality we exist in? Yes, probably. But I’d rather retain what made me fall in love with Spurs in the first place than continue the obsession with success as defined by Sky Sports and UEFA as the priority. Why? Because what is the point of simply desiring the result without achieving it with distinction that can only be tagged by Tottenham and our almost forgotten lust for iconic invention and flair?
I got emotional when we defeated City 1-0 at Eastlands to qualify for the Champions League. Utterly embarrassing when compared to getting emotional to all those FA Cup runs and wins. We are the kings that have abdicated our throne. I'm nothing more than a jester. Although I guess a lot of the joy was because of the impossible final push that saw as conquer demons to finish up with the elite after years of mid-table mediocrity. That in itself was an achievement because we overcame the fragility - in mind and body - that stopped us from doing so in previous attempts. You're the underdog, you're going to react like the underdog finally claiming his day. But just how long can you be the underdog before the very essence of the chase becomes all you will ever amount to?
So is it glorious to aspire and chase a dream and never quite get there or is it insurmountable failure that never sees you as the centre of all attention? Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. A really ugly bridesmaid. Or perhaps simply one that prefers the excitement of one-night stands than anything with lasting love.
I’ve often championed qualifying for the CL because of the power it blesses (corrupts) you with when it comes to signing top tier players. Qualify, attract the players, build on it, get stronger, retain CL and turn from pretender to contender. Works fine outlined here, not quite as plausible out there in the wild. Take note of our neighbours, equally starved by their own unique expectations, giddy as schoolgirls at a boy band concert for winning a cup that was once simply a nicety for them. All those years in the CL did keep them competitive though, just not at the level they once performed at, but always in with a chance even if it was flawed. All the revenue and attractions of the highest level can still leave you hollow. It just all depends on how you wish to see things.
Such is the emphasis on CL, we continue to rationalise its importance. It is important for the much maligned modern game but it should never be as important as enjoying that sensation of giddiness when seeing your team win something that will be long remembered beyond a standing in the league that isn't first place. We choose to be hollow because we choose to prioritise the wrong objectives. Even the Europa League is stained with the newly formed gateway to CL qualification above the glory of silverware.
My guilt rambles on.
I, in a moment of desperation, did in fact rationalise the necessity for patience and experiments when we laboured with an identity crisis of confusion and frustration. I was misguided. I wanted the ideals to work so much so I chose to ignore the suspect cracks in the wall. The want for patience is always the key element that is left behind time and time again. The continued arguing over whether we are under-achieving or over-achieving is ill-fated when comparing to those around us that have more wealth to feed into their own frenzy for finesse.
There is so much I despise about the game and far too much I dislike about my own club that I’m continuously deflected from what I should be immersing myself in. The distortion is made worse because I’m not distracted enough by the football. The politics reign supreme. And when the football suffers, this is when the enjoyment is sucked out of the experience completely.
Are things really that bad? Have they been that bad? No. I never said they were. Our expectancy is also, for the most part using hindsight, on the money (even if we don’t always speculate above net spend) regarding whereabouts we'll end up each season. We have, in some impossibly perverse way, managed to retain competitiveness when we should – on paper – always be blown out of the water. We stay in touch but never long enough to acquire the measure of genuine contenders.
The gulf is no longer separated by a canyon. There’s a bridge. We just have to stop running across it blindly and falling off. For all the clout others have, it can sometimes feel that we've made it easier for them to get away from us. Because of this, that expectancy is always skewed, making us feel even more dejected at another lost opportunity. We compete and then fall back yet always pose a question asking what if? What if Defoe poked the ball in and we beat City 3-2 in that other Eastlands encounter? What if, what if...
That very same expectancy is so high that it adds to the despondency of what we now see as failure (finishing 5th). Yet still we accept the lack of cup wins with less derision. We are doing well for what we have but perhaps don't display enough bravery to improve further. And there is room for that improvement. Hence why the despondency has credence, even though some tend to spend far too much time dwelling on the negatives rather than pushing for the positives. I might be accused of that myself.
That winning mentality is always defeated from within. There is nothing wrong at all to aim for those highs and add the less than glamorous fortitude and tenacity to our game that might not have been an associated ingredient in the past. We’ve done that with conviction. We have changed. From Jol to Redknapp and even AVB. All giving us extra dimensions. Be it pride and belief. Freedom of expression. Spirit on our travels. From our own unique position, it’s not as easy for us to break in as it is for those seasoned performers to retain their own consistency.
So will we tick or click this time round?
Jol was sacked during a football match. Redknapp hit a break wall tactically, with many wanting us to push up a level in astuteness but was also a victim of his own vanity. Villas-Boas was a calculated risk, but ultimately a failure and one that allegedly walked away – possibly by mutual consent – thanks to the degradation of relationships inside the club and his own epiphany of acceptance that it was over. All three consumed by politics and ego and mistakes purely of a managerial nature. Not forgetting there have been too many unresolved complexities as to why the same outcome is achieved no matter the assurance that 'this time' it's going to work. Those that have taken the helm have had to mould into the shape the club has demanded rather than the opposite. The problem is, the club doesn't mould, it crushes.
You and the supporters might argue the politics are fuelled purely by football ambitions. We are shrewd and clinical because ‘we’ want the very best of the best. If we need to cut our losses or evolve, we do so. Every time we've done so. We make changes because Tottenham Hotspur Football Club stands above everything and everyone.
Yet here we are. Another new dawn. Another new face. Another set of soundbites about the Tottenham way with philosophical rhetoric and shared visions of the future that are defining a new set of expectations on what we'll be watching as the season unfolds. Is the nature of the game to chop and change for that quick fix? That boost of stature? Is the reality closer to the fact that a club of our standing can only hope for cameo's with both silverware and CL because of our place in the hierarchy? Or is this very thought process holding us back?
And that rhetoric is mostly music to my ears (even if I'm far less likely to swallow it) yet it's never quite applied.
Does the club, the owners ENIC (you and the the bloke in the Bahamas with the impossible to spend pension fund), prefer instead to side with self-preservation, and allow this looping existence to continue as they profit by signing young talent and selling them on as marquee players in an almost unbreakable and robust business model that screams black and never red?
In the aftermath of the previous tenure(s), we've been left scratching our heads over why the relationship is always strained and without transparency. Why we still never quite know or understand what the actual goal and aim is from chairman and board to coach. Is patience always destroyed by the disconnection that is abhorrently evident every time we sack a manager? At least this time round I actually believe the players being signed are ones the coach unequivocally wants. Mostly.
Pressure is undeniably vital to make sure momentum is encompassing. Yet the one question that is never convincingly answered is – how long do we have before the next change is considered? Or maybe that isn’t the question that needs to be asked. Maybe there's no need for one. Maybe we should stop asking them and lead the way with the old virtues of faith and a heart in mouth mentality. We can never control those around us but we can nurture what belongs to us. Live in the moment instead of trying to second guess it. Yet it’s so much easier to be angry and point the finger of blame. It’s so much easier to direct the responsibility to others and not admit it’s yours. It's so much easier to just give in and hit the re-set button.
I guess hitting the re-set button is a reflection of this fast-food generation of football. Everyone is in a hurry, be it players, fans, coaches and chairmen. Consumption and regurgitation is at an all-time high and hypocrisy and contractions rule the roost.
We are a culture of supporters with a self-loathing complex hidden behind self-deprecation because it’s easier to laugh than it is to cry. We are the self-fulfilling prophecy, swept in disappointment because we value the simplicities of the game so high yet choose to ignore them. Even failure will have an echo of glory, right? Yet with us it plays out differently. We want the glory but spend too much time forcing the failures. We never seem to grasp the balance and direction to get across that bridge.
We want to be entertained. We want excitement. Swagger, swashbuckle. The complexities arise when we strive for a winning mentality and to be able to consistently beat those seasoned clubs above us. Do that and it's a genuine game-changing transition. Where it all falls apart is when being entertained isn’t enough for some and just being Spurs is perceived as a handicap not a potential super-power.
The result becomes the important element, how we get it becomes less important. Football at the top isn't always a master-class of style. Space and time is usually congested and battled. But just how much of the style gets sacrificed just to say 'we won'? AVB sacrificed so much of it, in the end, we became a phantom side with pestilent possession. Incapable of attack because of the constraints of defence. Redknapp sacrificed too little and by virtue of that expansive freedom, we lost it when opposing sides worked out how to nullify us.
That middle ground is not half as easy as we'd like it to be. Pochettino has already remarked we have to aim for fourth to be able to then aim for first. But this is pragmatism that doesn't need to be embedded as the be all and end all. It's logical. It's not an ethos or a mantra that should give us an identity as a set of supporters. How we journey to these destinations will.
If this season is just another bomb that goes off I won’t shrug too despondently. I’ll accept that our soul is tainted, cursed not because it is but because we give credence to believing it is. We’ll always underachieve if we aim for something that’s above a level we’ve yet to reach. Even honesty and clarity are muddled here. Perception is nigh impossible to agree on. The tribe is no longer one and the leader can’t quite find the promised land (it’s that bit of almost deserted land next to White Hart Lane) whilst the people get restless, waving their treasure maps and pointing to the x.
If the tick turns to click then rather than think of that next level, that next step up, simply look to enjoy it. Embrace it. Make it our own. Obviously we have to hope Pochettino’s style is a more refined and spectacular version than AVB’s effort, claiming points and sticking smiles on our faces. The promised land itself is at times an almost impossible combination to consider. That doesn’t mean we default to expecting the worse during the initial learning curves. I’m preaching to the masses and to you Mr Chairman. Ask yourselves, what do you desire? Truly desire. Think about the answer and not what you believe others expect you to want.
If we’re going to swap coaches every two years because we’ve not achieved Champions League then we are playing a game of chance rather than aiming to cement longevity. Yet a game of chance sounds like an adventure so maybe stick with the coach, buck the trend, and let’s build character through the disappointments to make the good times mean something so much more. Maybe celebrating that 1-0 at Eastlands is exactly what it's all about. The more days like that, the closer you edge to upgrading rather than going through another reboot.
I'm spiritual and romance driven. I’m not alone. There’s plenty more deluded and drunk on Spurs out there. I've had it with team-sheets and stats and deadlines stamped down from the stands and social media. So for once in your tenure, preside over an answer rather than the repeated questions. Let us rule our own destiny and not adhere by the ones that have persistently damaged our prior efforts. Focus on the journey - the destination never changes. Give us a clear indication that this is more than a continuous financial loop that gives ENIC an investment boost.
I also hope our fragmented fan-base unite as one and reclaim that almost long lost formidable, intimating atmosphere. Am I still lost in fantasy and fallacy? Regardless, on I go because the risk of surrendering every strain of emotional upheaval into the process of believing makes the entire experience worth it, no matter the explosions at its conclusion.
So save me from another cynical cyclone of catastrophe. I'm not sure I can write another version of this letter two years from now.
With battered old patience,