After looking at the players, thought I'd throw some thoughts together on:
Bread and butter league
Style and philosophy
I've covered some of the above already in previous blogs, so I'll try not to duplicate too many expletives.
We've been spoilt for several seasons (up until the very recent past). I remain haunted by the 1990s and often find myself wondering how we never got relegated. Our away form was so abysmal, when we won a game on our travels it felt like Christmas. Which was great because December into January was devoid of festive spirit as it was generally where our season ended.
We've contended with so much more drive and application since our rebirth. Those fantastical days of Harry Redknapp. Whether it's been the dramatic and always soul destroying chase for the Champions League or the potential (pretence) of a more sustained challenge (power shift anyone?), we've been hungry for it. For the most part, we've shown up. Just that, as per the seasoned script, when you think you're in touching distance you're pulled away from it. The damning truth is; Spurs at our peak best (in what was a renaissance of hope) wasn't good enough to get ahead of rival clubs that were arguably levelling down rather than up.
The team that continues to steal a living in North London having moved from the South of the city just kept on mugging us at the juncture that would make or break us. We offered them the chance to pluck those dreams from our hands. Too often we raced ahead and gave up the lead and buckled on the final day(s). It's physiological and also has plenty to do with experience (or lack of).
From mid-table mediocrity to that single journey into the Champions League, I feel that even though anything more than fourth is traditionally a big task, it's hardly impossible. It's just not easy. Of course self-implosion doesn't always mean 'them lot' got lucky. It can also mean we simply were not up to finishing the job off.
We are a club that aspires for more. The teams above us are consistently more robust. Ruthlessly efficient and masters of professionalism. You'd expect that when comparing wages/player targets to our own squad. Quality shines through.
So what of this perpetual challenge?
We need to forget about generalising our own ambitions into boxes labelled 'Fourth Spot'. Get the fundamentals in place, one game at a time rather than just pray we gain enough points from the sheer expectancy that drives most supporters (up the wall).
Our home form is poor. Sure, we lost to plucky 'small' teams even when Redknapp's THFC entertained us but we've had runs at the Lane where it's been a fortress (ignoring the occasional raid). Our away form has been outstanding (historically) in recent seasons. You do the math. Get that grit and killer instinct back in N17 and it breeds confidence, momentum. Sure, the reality is we don't have a team fluid and cohesive enough to produce that type of mentality with consistency - but it's a target that exists in the real world. Tomorrow, not the end of next season.
If you can see it with your eyes, if you feel inspired and passionate about the team and the way they play then that means we're getting it together. A club at our level can then seriously consider that next step up (unlike say a Swansea that might play pretty football but not have enough substance for more). All down to that spine once more. Spurs need heart and brains in abundance.
The 2015 season was a transition. Don't deny it. Lessons learnt all-round for Pochettino and his staff. We now need to see progression now. With player acquisitions for sure, but also with the style and identity of the team. If we know what we have, we know what we'll be getting - which means it makes it a lot easier to tough it out when it gets hard. If a supporter has no emotive connection to the football being played, it creates a detachment, a resentment.
Let's not be setting another '4th or die' mantra when we should be seeking redemption with the purest of all: the football itself. Redknapp's side was ultimately flawed due to the lack of astuteness when it came to breaking down times that wised up to our cavalier attacks. Football itself has evolved and you can't expect to be that free and expressive. Hence the possession play. The pressing. The idea is there. The personality is lacking. For now.
Cups are usually the way to appease the masses and perhaps had we not beaten Chelsea 5-3 at the Lane we might have got one over Jose and co at Wembley. If Poch and his players surprised all in that epic league match, in the cup final Chelsea suffocated the game with their imperious class and left us dejected. Would you have judged the season a success had those ribbons been our own brand of white and blue?
I think many supporters these-days see the cups as afterthoughts. Then again, there's something wrong with you if you don't live for days out at Wembley. It's the memories people forge in the midst of booze and singing that live on forever. Associations made with the game - be it before, during or after. You can't devalue a cup final. But then try to tell me that winning either the League or FA Cup retains the same magic as it did decades back. It doesn't. Maybe the youthful generation disagree, maybe the old guard are the minority. For me, both cups are tainted because their importance was devalued by the money machine that birthed the unofficial super league of the Champions League*.
*Sorry, you know this is the eternal crutch I'll always go back to. Deal with it.
When the Sky Sports Top Four were in their element, they were pretty much untouchable. The difference between them and everyone else was they all had world class players whilst the rest of the league resembled pig farmers. No one stood a chance, so much so, that the FA Cup become what you won if you didn't win the league (although occasionally they won that along with the league).
Take a look at cup winners before Sky and then take a look at winners after they won the football rights. I think Everton managed to puncture the domination the single time during a period of 18 years (till little Pompey won it). How poignant that we last won it ourselves in 1991 (although we did reach and choke untold semi-finals).
I'm just bitter that we have left our iconic relationship with the FA Cup back in the 80s and early 90s. Synonymous with the cup was Spurs. It's hardly inclusive to the top tier these-days, you only need to look at the recent winners. So there's no excuse. You don't prioritise cup competitions. You f***ing well look to win them ffs. Even if they have less magic than a comatose Paul Daniels, it's still the cup. Even if it's got a God awful sponsorship tagged all over it, it's still the cup. Just for those memories if anything.
Europe is a paradox. Bill Nick says we are nothing without it. With it we lose Saturday games. With it we struggle to win any game that follows a Thursday game. With it we lose momentum because of rotation. With it we lack a believable edge. At no time have I truly believed our players when they have claimed the desire to win it.
The group stage doesn't help. I almost hoped we missed out so that the league could be focused on as our sole mission to better ourselves. Is it possible in modern football to take all competitions seriously in terms of playing your best eleven? Probably not, but then if your squad is tight and there's duplicated quality in key positions - it becomes more than possible if you want it.
The Europa has always looked disparaging. Hearts not quite in it. Fringe players on show. Fans disinterested. Then you look towards the continent and see how seriously other clubs take it. Again, it's a cup that has lost its prestige thanks to the CL (more so because of how CL teams fall back into this as a safety net - which makes you wonder if winning the EL and gaining CL access automatically was another safety measure to appease the super rich). It still gives us away days in Europe. Not the best of destinations, but they are still away days. There's silverware at the end of it. You just wouldn't believe that at the start of the season.
Are we good enough to play fringe players, muddle through? It's stop-start but almost all our managers have rotated in his fashion. We're just about good enough but once the opposition goes up a level, we struggle. I'll believe we can take this cup seriously and win it when I believe the players believe it. The only fundamental here is that we need to get the squad balance fixed. The depth has to be there to protect players and avoid burn-out. Rotating might be unavoidable. It's an area of stubborn concern with Poch but that might have more to do with the lack of trust he has in the players outside of the inner circle of guaranteed selection.
Aaaaaand were back to style and philosophy.
I've seen Spurs fans state that the results are more important than the way they're got. They say this is the winners mentality those clubs above us retain season in season out and that if we wish to compete we have be like them. The thing is, we have no patience for it. As flawed as Andre Villas-Boas was, he attempted to hold possession and control games. It didn't work (it might never have) but there was no room to wait to see how it might evolve (sadly AVB showed no signs of maturing with this). Some have already judged Poch and want him gone. Fine, it's good to know when you've made a mistake and good when you seek to cancel it out asap, but bloody hell...exactly what is the criteria for deciding that someone isn't suited to us?
You also can't just switch on and off when it comes to this famed (winners) mentality. Firstly you need the quality to follow instructions. Discipline to hold down tactics. Then add in the mix of class, creativity etc. But to simply sacrifice the way the football looks is a surrender to pressures felt by supporters that has everyone deluded into thinking that success is only measured by winning at any cost - no matter tradition.
The CL season under Harry changed our perceptions and expectancies and since then we've been left wanting more. We are trying (and failing) to achieve it based on very little experience of getting more. Actual tangible authentic success. That's success based on those often excluded memories and moments that live on forever. I'm not deluding myself. Success is silverware. I get that. But I also appreciate that the step up to being good enough to deliver this remains painfully tricky.
The journey is always the best part, it defines you, us. It makes or breaks. It's 99% of everything. How often does a club (outside of the elite) win something? Do we have to become one of them to be in a position to win with them? Do we have to forgo our identity to do this? Win at any cost? Is the desire to be associated with silverware so much that we're willing to ignore that journey and just bask in the glory? What's more important? Words on a page stating you won something in X year or the memories of just how you played to win it? If it's the former, then pray for an oil baron or a US based investment company to navigate Financial Fair Play to appease your dreams.
We might not be able to win stuff playing socks rolled down, shirts tucked out Spursy football - but **** off if you expect me to just become one of the sheep, flocking to the ills of packaged football. Hence why this reoccurring statement about who we are and how we play is vital to our progress.
Get the squad streamlined and capable for what the coaches train and educate. Get the Lane into fortress mode. Continue the decent away form, the team spirit. Continue the youth promotion from academy and beyond. Tottenham need to find themselves again. We need to side step the Fast-Football generation of wanting something yesterday. We know more than most that illusion distorts. We've looked the part so often and faded. If it fails again then the only solution is a brand new board. Right? Still, if that is the solution we'll be arguing over the semantics of what constitutes failure for a club that doesn't have enough punch power to knock out the bullies that rule the play ground.
tl;dr - We need leaders, we need leadership