Goodbye 2015 and thank you.
We've come a long way. When I look back and remember how I might have questioned the slow brooding, stuttering progression, it's easy to appreciate today that every step was an impossible-to-avoid necessity. If you're going to change the culture at a football club and instil ethics and methods it's not going to happen over night. It never does and we can't be blamed for being cautious and protectively pessimistic. Some more than others. Yet most preferred optimism, an emotive gamble that might just be paying off.
For once Spurs have said no to fantastical magic beans and have instead made a giant leap by cultivating with due care and attention. Plant the seeds, watch them grow and blossom. I doff my hat to our landscape gardener, Mauricio Pochettino. Off the pitch we might not have laid a brick for the new stadium, yet on it we've got ourselves more than just a muddy faceless foundation.
For once Tottenham Hotspur are doing it the right way. Understated and calm without marquee showing off. It can be unnerving at times. It's unlike our prior attempts at aiming high, usually dizzying adventures concluding in the single money shot rather than holding back for multiple explosions. There's tangible improvements and indicators of future-building and less of the fragile and superficial short-term side-steps.
From removing the deadwood to increased fitness levels. To the togetherness and team spirit, Spurs are playing for each other - as a unit - and not floating around in a comfort zone of acceptable mediocrity. The players fight for the shirt. After inheriting the mess from the previous cursed tenure, rather than attempt to get the best out of the players, he worked towards slowly understanding which ones had longevity. What players had the ability to fit into the famed philosophy that Pochettino desired. No obsessive fandom and reliability on superheroes. Avengers disassembled with civil war amongst the impatient and frustrated Spurs fanbase (and the odd few in the dressing room) whilst our identity crisis was still very much an agonising reality. How would Spurs work if Spurs couldn't work with £100M spent?
The unwanted incapable players left in the summer. We had a very underwhelming almost non-existent pre-season (in terms of games played as opposed to where the real work was being implemented - in training). We questioned the lack of commitment in the transfer window, making assumptions (on paper and on previous form) that what we had wasn't good enough, or rather the depth wasn't bolstering confidence.
We signed new blood but one of the arguments was 'how do they improve us?' with many citing the fact they made up the squad rather than walked instantly in the first team. And that's exactly how Spurs make it work. By refocusing dependency from traditional rebuilds akin to a solitary Atlas holding the world on his shoulders to an all-encompassing team. Think Hercules cloned eleven times and working together to complete the tasks ahead. No Greek tragedies please.
The constant of consistency was Pochettino, unwilling to panic and with utmost faith that the manner in which he had prepared the players would strength us in time. Why place a deadline on something that has so often been crippled by the failure of completing by said deadline?
Even if the team ethic is to sacrifice and work for each other, the standard of training must be high and so encouraging for players to retain their competitive streak that individualism still manages to shine through. Players find that extra level and offer something that wasn't in our mindset of analysis previously.
Did you expect Eric Dier to become the beast he's become, bossing it in midfield? Or for Mousa Demeble to be sat on the fringes and then come out of nowhere and display decisive and influential traits that impact games so much more than he ever has before. Erik Lamela has reinvented himself as an all-action all-pressing poster boy of the Poch push and run. He's lively, eager and focused. He was untidy early on but now has settled into a role that allows him to perform with the discipline the coach asks but also spike with creativity and confidence. How ironic that the player was a mistake in terms of him not being suited to the Prem but has battled hard to make sure the Prem now fits him.
Dele Alli and our crop of Academy players, always citied as ones for the future or not quite good enough, yet in they came and made their role one of undeniable inclusion. Alli has been a revelation. He might have stormed the Championship (edit: drunk blogging, not the Champ, League One - makes it even more remarkable) but to then settle down so quickly in the top flight? Mature beyond his age and with exquisite (if raw) talent, we've got ourselves a top drawer box to box midfielder that can do a bit of everything and do it all well.
Harry Kane chewed up and spat out the second season syndrome question and proved just how gifted he is - not just with his stature and goal scoring prowess but his grey matter and determination to go from misfiring spitter at Old Trafford to England international and leading man at Tottenham. He had a tough early season, his troubles over-hyped by some as focus appeared to centre on him rather than other struggling-to-score forwards. He dug deep. It obviously got to him as he lost his instinctive edge, but he persevered and exploded towards a record breaking tally for Spurs in a calender year.
Under Pochettino we might be a more compact team, one that doesn't suffer from ego and vanity but by having players excel and perform it's led to our identity being rediscovered. I personally went from a supporter that struggled to connect with the football and the players to one that is utterly in love with the fact the players look utterly in love with the club. Yeah, yeah, sentimental over the top romanticisms mean little and footballers are money lusting monsters but take a look at how we've embraced form, a winning mentality and produced leadership where it never existed before. There are players from top to bottom that I'm proud to call Tottenham. Mix them together and then witness solid, effective football with a never say die attitude then you've pretty much got the ingredients to sink your teeth into. We just need the icing on the cake.
It's not perfect. We still need depth in key areas. Another striker or two. We've been proved wrong with the screams for a holding midfielder since the summer to the present day. Our defence has been incredible (the first main area Poch worked on to settle into robust adaptable back-line) and can still improve (we sometimes struggle with crosses/set pieces). Hugo Lloris has been Hugo Lloris which has helped. We've had the occasional in-game downtime that has proved costly - perhaps burn-out or just a rare off day. Earlier in the season (Stoke at home) it was mostly down to the slow start learning curve as we aimed to settle.
We've recently conquered the 'second killer' goal conundrum and bounced back from a disappointing defeat to prove we have backbone. We won't know until all 38 games are done just how much more we need to improve or rather just how good we actually are. We'll always have to upgrade areas, that's the nature of football but to finally have a base to work from, that hasn't been Spurs for a long time. I know it's early days and there's so much more that's required, but as I've said on countless occasions - the chase and the adrenalin it generates is by far the most enjoyable part. The money-shot is ecstasy, it's the best part but it's nothing without the build up.
I firmly believe that Poch and everyone at the club know this isn't just a reach out and grab desperation attempt. We have a plan that sees us working towards a place where actually mounting a serious challenge is something we can set before the first game is played. It's a difficult task considering how much the business side of the football club has sometimes ruined the playing side. Selling our best players being the main crux of our inability to make something stick for the long haul.
The fact is, nobody expected us to be where we are right now, back at the start of the season. I'm not talking about positional presence, I'm referring to how well the players have responded and played and gelled. Sitting in the top four with the best defensive record and goal difference might say a lot about the inconsistency of others but the club must also appreciate that football is about daring and reaching out and grabbing something, not in desperation, but because it calls out to you.
Aiming higher isn't going to hurt us, it's another essential learning curve in our growth. We're in a good place. These players will only get better and with the right acquisitions, so will the squad and those foundations to keep on building. If we fail to grab it, it's going to be because we're not quite good enough. Echoes of glory are fine but I can't see us accepting them as medals of honour, shrugging with acceptance. Maybe I'm drunk on the fumes but this side and this coach appear to be hungry for more than just being footnotes in history. What's happened around is a lovely touch because it gives the players, the club and the fans an extra buzz. An extra push. Which itself can be a very powerful fuel to lift us further than we'd otherwise expected to be lifted.
So thank you Tottenham, thank you for;
The epic 5-3 against Chelsea and Harry Kane's powerful goals out of nothing.
The Harry Kane brace in the North London derby 2-1 which was a nigh perfect majesty of brilliant narrative.
Harry Kane full stop.
The 4-1 against Manchester City because we got to see how punishing and ruthless we can be when we turn it on (regardless of quality of opposing side).
The 4-1 against West Ham United (because beating them should always be this way).
Dele Alli placing the Premier League in his back pocket.
Erik Lamela's reinvention, almost sold/loaned out, like Gareth Bale finding a place and making himself an important part of our progress.
Our awakened consistency in strength and mind. The term 'Spursy' can now perhaps return to its original meaning that associated itself to flair, dapper looks and taste and the moves to dish out a norty slap every so often.
Eric Dier for becoming the player we might have spent £25M on.
Mousa Dembele for becoming the player he always threatened to be.
Toby Alderweireld bringing calm to the centre of our defence.
Poch and his ethic, re-birthing the lot of them, a philosophy that has become more than a soundbite, with it all finally beginning to pay off.
And finally reclaiming that lost identity.
Happy new year lads and ladies x