“Spurs did a Spurs, Jose did a Jose. I’m not even upset”
I said this post game, tweeting when making the slow walk back to Wembley Park whilst pockets of violence broke out between arrogant United supporters and Spurs fans that didn't think the gloating proximity was acceptable. Of course I was upset and still am. In the tweet I was simply referencing that all too familiar feeling, that not so unexpected conclusion to the afternoons action. We're surprised but not really that surprised. It's one thing losing when you're a calamity but it's far more distressing when your team is worth so much more than this.
It's the eighth time after-all. This one hurts the most because unlike most of the other occasions, we most definitely had the capabilities of winning the game and yet here we are again. Defeated.
Defeated in body and mind.
We don't win the big games they say.
They would be right*.
*We do win big games, we do excel (Chelsea away? Madrid) but you and I both know what I mean by big games.
Of course, it's harsh to say this with the same type of conviction that would suggest we are somehow broken and without opportunity to repair. A ten minute spell against Juventus was a learning curve that taught us the value of ruthless experience that can be executed by players of word class quality. There is no shame in this but there are valuable lessons to be learnt. You get schooled for a reason.
I think it's easy to scapegoat individuals or the manager. It's perfectly fine to look for answers to all the questions posed because they're wholly responsible for the outcome. We switched off, lost momentum, surrendered the tempo. At 1-0 with the pressure that followed I said to myself and to those around me 'we have to score again' because that would have killed them and galvanised us further.
Football is so often a game of confidence and self belief. A game of inches and hyper sensitive spatial awareness. Clinicality in the moments that define a moment. What shocked me was the gradual decline that saw us back peddle, giving the ball away, making mistakes and allowing them to equalise. The finesse, that swagger we've so often displayed with natural flair was vanquished. Not because of anything United did at that time. Just because...er....because Tottenham.
This isn't the Spurs of old, the capitulation isn't comparable. It's a new problem or rather an obstacle that we can't seem to get past. It's one that has to be conquered. Otherwise, we're always just about there but not quite there yet. We're not even the bridesmaid at this point, more so one of the birds on a hen night, puking in some side street next to the club, failing to pull because she looks a mess.
I'm not going to re-watch the game. I remember patches but I'm not revisiting. We all know the names of the players that didn't perform. We all saw the mistakes. I think we know we've been deeply let down by all concerned. It wasn't even a masterful performance by United but it was enough for them because we didn't have enough in the way of a response. Having the ball at feet, playing it around their penalty area, unable to break through the congestion. It was all too ominous. Painful. I won't even start on the officials for one or two dubious decisions either. We have nothing to blame this time other than ourselves.
It's amazing timing, to have gone on such a solid run and then to come unstuck, to lose shape and fluidity in the past three games at this point in the season.
Y u do this to us Tottenham?
The reaction to this slump on the pitch is all we have left which has to translate to consolidating a CL place and finishing as high as possible. By the time we play next there might only be a two point gap behind us.
The reaction long term (into the summer) is that to truly progress we (the coach and chairman) have to be brutally honest and understand that perhaps to win these ilk of games it's time to accept that we lead with the football and not the pragmatism of football business.
'We can't compete with City or Chelsea money' is the popular sound-bite we churn out and yet we can compete with them on the pitch but whilst we do so hitting the ceiling, they have lofty room to engineer success at higher levels. It's because of that money. It's not an excuse, it's a reality. If we could, Toby would be a fully fledged full time first teamer. We'd be able to target finished article players and not just raw gems. Instead we operate outside the boundary where within, the end product has ribbons dressed on it.
We have a superb set of players, many of which have grown into the men they are today. We are in desperate need for upgrades and improvements that will give us an edge we too often illustrate we don't possess. The debate is whether Poch 'got it wrong' or can't quite fathom the inspiration to see us through games like this or if it's down to the players not being able to apply themselves thoroughly when required. Bit of both? Probably.
The benchmark is one we create ourselves. We don't have anything in recent memory to compare to. But that doesn't mean we accept the other rich clubs will always get their way. We accept, we might as well give up. You graft, you improve, you go again. If it's meant to be, it will happen. If it doesn't and the cycle ends fruitless, we go again. Everything will change aside from the one constant in all this; us.
What manager and chairman can't ignore is just how close we are. That the manner in which we've achieved this state, and have thus received so many plaudits for our over-achieving competitiveness, shouldn't be a reason to think it's enough to sustain it. Good on us for doing it organically without the fiscal doping but what next? Is this as good as it gets?
The question here is one pertaining to whether we've peaked with the current core squad.
We discuss the above at this point in any given season to be fair. I'm not going to give up or start cutting myself because of one defeat even if this defeat is pretty much the advertisement for our shortcomings. We need to make changes and we have to be loyal to what we want to become rather than retain loyalty to players we hope might reach the standards we need. We have to make sacrifices.
We can't beat them in the sense of achieving the silverware they attain because we need that extra bit of quality, that extra dimension. Some of the players have perhaps reached their best level. Which means collectively, we are at capacity in terms of our mental and physical synergy when trying to find that extra gear or regain the tempo when lost.
As much as I appreciate the journey to maturity, we have to consider how fragile modern football is and how quickly all progress can be wiped clean. I honestly think our first season back in N17 will be the one, for better or worse that finally makes or breaks it all.
This defeat has to be the instigator for change.
United find a way. They always find a way. That would be thanks to near thirty years of success, an undeniable fuel of experience and expectancy that guides them forwards. We are still left searching for that breakthrough, that catalyst. Poch might claim winning the FA Cup doesn't change our evolution but I can't help but think he's deflecting, protecting his team with dismissive comments focusing on the longevity of it all rather than the here and now.
It doesn't sync with the fans. However, regardless of the element of truth in his statement, there is no way to argue that winning this cup isn't something to be celebrated. It solidifies progression and the work the team have produced. Winning after-all is a statement that what you're doing is working. No final (again) means something still remains lost in translation. Would there by a psychology push if he presented a war cry pre-match saying "We have to win it"?
Winning it might not change the course of work required to truly challenge for the league but my word do I want to see these players - my players - hold aloft a cup that has meaning to all of us. After-all, I'm sure most will agree this is the best Tottenham (side, club, identity) that we've had for decades.
I'm not fussed by the over-reaction of Poch's ambiguous post-match statement about Tottenham's future with or without him. I liked some of the other comments, the self-awareness (from Dele) suggesting the players know they let everyone down and did themselves a massive injustice. Yes, I know from their perspective they'll state we were dominant in patches and that United sucker punched and contained. Much like Juventus but rather than doing so in a short ten minute spell they frustrated us over a longer stretch of time. So to still endeavour and fail to find a way back into the game, it makes me doubly despondent. The effort might have been evident but there was no blood and thunder win at all cost mettle on show. No inspired bastard like demeanour. We just kept doing the same thing and it wasn't enough.
Still, here I am. Sat here remembering the last time I was at Wembley to see Spurs win an FA Cup semi-final back in 1991. We won it that season for an eight time. It's gut wrenching that we've missed out a further eight times to add to the tally.
The business end of the season is upon us. It's hardly a consolation for missing out on the final but the league games left are now cliched cup finals themselves. All games remaining are simply undeniably important.
Rise up Spurs and reclaim some self pride. It's all we have left.