'...if you gaze long enough into an abyss'
Back when the season was only a handful of games old, we were maligned rather than mesmerised when talking about Tottenham. Most of us were still caught up in a underwhelming summer of transfers. Everything is underwhelming in comparison when you've recently spent £100M on players. A lot has changed since those early weeks. Yet two things remain prominent: Strikers and Expectancy. One is constant the other constantly changing.
With expectancy, one of the most difficult things to embrace is that change is happening. We live through it and perhaps because we're so immersed it doesn't appear to be positively dramatic enough from one game to the next. It's only later, when you've stood back, that you can see it all and how the learning curve and development has moulded the present day. In fact 'we' are masters of underplaying all of this (equally so, overstating it...*waves*).
It's not unusual to be impatient and divisive. It's the mainstream way to protect your senses from overload and heartbreak. Don't build up hopes because the fall will leave you shattered if you've climbed too far ahead. Some aren't scared of the fall because they believe they can fly.
The perfect examples concern the fact we've only lost three times (in the league), have an outstanding goal difference (compared to 99% of most other seasons), a superb defensive unit, a team that has found an identity from within rather than one assembled by marquee and millions. Mauricio inherited a house of cards and replaced it with bricks and cement. We're a loft conversion away from reaching out and touching the stars. Yet even though everything is screaming THIS IS A YOUNG SOLID TEAM we find seasoned comfort in pointing out the cracks. Which is fine because there's a wall here and there that can still do with a lick of paint.
To suggest it's all just a mathematical illusion proved by the fact that Manchester United are supposedly having a 'mare, yet remain as close as you are to your missus when you spoon her, is part of that defensive mechanism clouding reality. The truth is we're achieving as well as we possibly can based on the transition from last season into this one with the squad we have. Other clubs underachieving or overachieving is a personal template for them that they'll have to uphold or improve on. We can't control that.
All the 'problems' we have (like too many drawn games) come down to limitations with rotation and selection. They're only perceived as limitations because of how much stronger we'd be if we imagine removing the cracks rather than covering them up. Maybe having limitations has allowed certain players to find their place and for the team to bind together with spirit and guile.
We've not been outplayed or outclassed just out-lucked. We know where we need to improve our depth (mostly up front). The fact is this seasons performances as a whole should be commended on the fact that there is tangible progress. There's a team, a style and commitment to each other and the coach. There is consistency, be it imperfect. But it's there and it allows us to grow and mature. That's very unlike anything we've had before. It's not a preference for those that yearn the swagger and swashbuckle of a more catalyst inspired Spurs side with a galvanising player in there to help hold the rest up high. That brand of Spurs doesn't function too well in the modern game, having a short life span before it's all plucked away from us.
There's almost a very subtle siege mentality at play, not against the rest of the football world but against what our fans and players previously believed (the fans still do). We're gonna Spurs it up again. It goes back to what Pochettino discussed about faith and the desire to achieve. In daring to achieve. It's a mind set that isn't going to work, obviously, without the coach and players backing it up. But it remains a key stage in working towards the end goal.
Self-loathing will only help with accepting the frailties that might destroy us so we can have a laugh about Spursing it up. It's like switching your pc off at the mains after another blue screen of death and smiling at the inevitability of it. You know it's going to reboot no matter what. I'd rather stick two fingers up and tell everyone to go to hell whilst we push on - win, draw or lose. Because no matter what - we're Tottenham and it actually matters that we're not the same old Tottenham regardless of what the little voices in our heads whisper. And why should we play up to being the quintessential caricature of what everyone expects Tottenham to be? It's got far too meta and it's distorting our experience.
Instead, we still seek to flirt at the edge of the abyss. We stand close to it because it's where we go every-time we set out for the promised land. No matter the direction we take, we gravitate towards it. If we look hard enough, the abyss isn't always there. It's a conjured trick of the mind to pull us back to a place we expect to be rather than the one we wish to go too.
We still compare ourselves to others and former incarnations as a means to prove that not a lot has really changed and the most likely of changes is the one that remains responsible for anchoring us to that common stagnating stance. The one where we wait for Daniel Levy to **** it all up. That's the ether speaking there, not me personally.
Manchester United are not having a good season based on expectations and pressure that the media and disgruntled fans push with might. Sure, their football is drab and they have a right to expect more flair and power after feasting at the bosom of Alex Ferguson for twenty-five years. The players they've signed should be able to produce more quality under the guidance of the experienced Louis van Gaal.
Yet all of this is because - social media, fanbases, journalists - stipulate a time-line for how success should be gained and nurtured. United fumbling towards the top four when they're not playing well sounds like a good foundation to spring towards something with more spark. Half a season being compared to twenty years of near dominance is a broken perspective. Then look at us. What have we got to compare? Season 2010 into 2011. That's two seasons that have completely broken our own perspective. If United win a few more games then 'they're back in the mix' and the entire narrative shifts and pressure of failure is then realigned to another club.
We find ourselves in an age where we have to process every potential outcome and likely eventuality before it happens. I'm not sure if this is because every single one of us has a voice that influences the entire spectrum of football in some way or another or whether we just think it does. The hyperbole it generates is the currency we all buy into whether we're aware of it or not.
With Spurs, the issue of expectancy is the fact that we have been guilty of not consolidating when we should have. My perspective is that in the past that consolidation was vital because it felt like a final option out of sheer desperation. As if we are the boxer, behind on points, that can only win with a knock-out. It was always tinged with finality. Perhaps that was because we were over-achieving or simply playing at the absolute maximum we could.
Maybe I'm over-stating how much better we're set up today compared to previous seasons. Time once more will prove us right or wrong. Pochettino talks about building a dynasty and how good our academy is and even I, with a rainbow for a hat, shift uncomfortably when looking that far ahead. They're nice words but an incredible amount of work and circumstance has to slot into place for it to all piece together. A lot of it is dependent on inches, on the pitch. Winning games. Lots of them.
Then there's the second issue, the one about the fabled 'second' striker. I'm going to lean towards letting the coach and club decide what is right or wrong in terms of valuation and longevity. Even though we need to consolidate our momentum to protect our form. I'm doing my own defensive mechanism jig here, preparing for a possible apologetic conclusion to the transfer window.
The reason for my risk of leaning towards (and potentially accepting/living with no new player/s) is because at the start of the season I didn't think we had a midfield and now look at the state of it: Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli. Whether that's just good fortune or calculated coaching, the result is the same. However, there was a basis to warrant that Pochettino might get something out of the players we had. Where would he find a striker in the existing collection of fringe and youth players? We've already been there and done it with Harry Kane (replacing a £25M failed import).
What I find fascinating about the search is the fact that we've been searching for so long. We had a devastatingly good forward in Emmanuel Adebayor. A player more likely to be erratic than anything else. He fell victim to the new regime that doesn't tolerate anything that isn't unified with the clubs new philosophy. No matter your ability and talent, there's no room for distributive ego. An ultimate sacrifice in cleansing the squad (whether you're Ade or an academy player) to remove the remnant pieces of the culture of comfort. Spurs have too often been soft in the centre and equally soft with management.
So where do we go? Is there a shortage of forwards available in the UK and Europe? Is it a case of continental targets being too risky (Roberto anyone?) and English players being vastly over-valued in transfer fees? How does one manage to pick up a midfield Dele Alli and not a striking version of Dele Alli? For seasons we've dithered to refine an important area of the team. It seems we've all deemed this area to be the pinnacle of the system, the Holy Grail. It shouldn't be this daunting a task considering how rich we've had it up front when you go back to the days of Keane and Berbatov and further back since forever.
We signed players to strengthen the defence and then players to bolster the midfield. Perhaps not quite the right choices for the flanks, yet up front we've got a kid that turned into a man that might yet be king. Many of our signings in the past couple of years have not been obvious first team starters (it's turned out differently in time). It's been a slow process of discovery and an alternative new build to the director of football frenzy we've become accustomed to. Yet our intent going forward - in the market - remains tentative. We've made plenty of mistakes in the past with acquiring the wrong player(s) so maybe the club are seeking the perfect solution to this long standing problem. Or maybe we're all over-thinking it and we should just sign someone that knows where the goal is.
Strikers and Expectancy.
I see it though. I get why some supporters are defensive and restrained. Why they refuse to commit to faith. It's because of those quirks, those little things that need fixing. As close as we are to understanding what is required we remain distant until we force those changes. It's the easiest thing in the world to say sign X and play him in X position. The application in doing so is what separates contenders from pretenders. For us right now, it's simply about improving on what we have so that things don't burn out or go stale. We don't need the all conquering superstar up front. We've got one already. We need a supporting cast member that could easily steal the show on his day.
We're on the up and looking down reminds us how far we've come and how deep the drop is. That isn't really a concern, dropping down, because we've been fairly competitive for several years now. We just seek that next level. In common tongue, that's finishing 4th or 3rd instead of 5th. The closer to 2nd we get the closer we are to being a truly serious threat.
Everything ahead is new but not unknown. How we define it all will always settle back with expectancy and which variant you accept as favourable to the present and future. Many are outspoken against the push for Top Four because it represents little satisfaction historically in comparison to silverware and creating moments that will last forever in memory. Those wanting Top Four see it as the next step towards being stronger to attain the silverware and other European challenges. Others will still see it as a glorified fallacy. This is just a single example of how fragmented expectancy can be from one supporter to the next. There's those that change according to what the modern game is telling them to think and those that fight against it.
The basic fundamentals remain clear as day. We need another striker. We need to be ruthless during the periods of games where we dominate possession and pressure the oppositions goal. We need to accept that we're far from the finished article but a little refinement will be enough to push us further this season which will help the next.
A new player in a key area gives us an extra layer to our in-game personality. It's something fresh and different. It instils new belief and improvement for the ones preferring to see evidence of effectiveness rather than just dreaming of it. Not signing one means we're left with what we have and hoping for luck with (no) injuries. That's where expectancy comes back in. We didn't expect to be this involved in the league at this stage of the season. The fact we are means we really should be looking to retaining this lofty position - regardless of how much more work is needed over the next year or two. If Poch is asking us to believe, then we can do so with far more confidence (pragmatism too) by making statements of intent that need no translating.
Strikers. Expectancy. Both are intertwined. They can make us, they can break us.
"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
- Friedrich Nietzsche