Spurs proudly display in their stadium that the game is about glory. Most supporters know that Danny Blanchflower expanded on his famous line and said “it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”
That seems natural to the squad when trophies feel within reach and even the best teams are looking up at you in the table. That’s what Spurs had in the first half of this past season, a flourish to their game.
It was on the counterattack and not quite what fans expect from the Lilywhites, but a flourish nonetheless.
Then things unravelled over the early months of 2021, followed by the Super League debacle and Mourinho’s sacking—and then the flourish was gone.
Spurs were outgunned in the League Cup final, but they looked listless—bordering on embarrassing—at Leeds, had a dismal first 45 minutes at Wolves, a disgraceful effort at Villa, and then beat Leicester by two goals and still seemed the worse side throughout.
Those are four winnable games on paper. But to paraphrase Brian Clough, the games were all, unfortunately, played on grass.
This is not about systems. It’s not about individual quality. It’s about the team getting energised and focused when they pull on the shirt and take the field in the best league on Earth.
The shirt isn’t magic, though, and the Premier League itself isn’t transformative. So where does the style, the flourish, the desire for glory come from? Where can supporters hope to find it next year?
The first place to look is, naturally, the manager. Sure, a positive system can help with this, but the man motivation is key.
Pochettino was excellent in this regard. On the field, the players never looked short of energy, and off it, they committed themselves to the club, the collective striving for glory. Mourinho never got players to buy in this way.
If there is reason for optimism, though, supporters can remember that Levy got it right with Poch, and so he might again with his next appointment (which, according to rumours, may, in fact, be a Poch return).
Anyone who doesn’t have hope about this impending hire is forgiven as it’s hard to have faith in anything ENIC right now—it may in fact be the hopeful who need forgiveness.
The gaffer, however, isn’t everything in this respect. Players motivate one another as well, and Spurs have been lacking here.
While Lloris deservedly wears the captain’s armband, a keeper is inherently restricted in his on-field influence, though I suspect he’s a massive figure in the dressing room.
Kane and Son can’t be faulted for their efforts on the pitch, which are almost always 100%, but neither player seems the type to confront his teammates in a way that brings them up a level.
Who throws the teacups after the debacles against Leeds and Villa? Who can confront Alderweireld after he lazily leaves his foot out to trip Vardy and concede a penalty? Who’s talking to Lamela every time the Argentine takes two or three more touches than is necessary and kills an attack?
Sometimes the manager, yes, but the players have a responsibility to lead too. Without that leadership, there’s still quality, but no glory.
Højbjerg exemplifies this on the pitch, but it’s not clear whether he does it in the dressing room or on the training ground. Rodon plays the right way, but is too young. Moura never had that attitude. No one else even comes to mind…
Right now, there’s no one like Roy Keane was for United or like Steven Gerard for Liverpool.
The best analogue for Spurs may actually be in Italy: Roma. Like Tottenham, Roma is a big club that hasn’t kept up with the mega clubs of the past 20 years. Nonetheless, they’ve won a few trophies in large part because of a player whose genes are yellow and red: Francesco Totti.
Totti had all the quality you could ask for, and leadership spilling over his collar. He led Roma to silverware, including the Serie A title. If there’s a kind of player Spurs need, it’s a Totti. Skill, leadership, and commitment to the blue and white part of North London.
Pair that kind of player with a top manager, and everyone on the squad gets better.
So Spurs need more quality, yes, but they ought to be better than seventh place as is. They need key men to remind everyone to play with flourish to find the glory in the game.
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