Opinion: The cold hard truth

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Jose Mourinho
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They’re better than us and the gap is growing. No one expected a result last night, and in the first half but for Hojgberg’s now expected cheap penalty the team played fairly well. But the attack was toothless throughout—none of our forwards seeming to possess a clue about how to make the break work or how to penetrate the City defence. 

It was so striking that when they got the ball to within 30 yards of our goal the next pass was always either forward or designed to find an opening for a real chance; and inevitably every time we did the same—and there weren’t many, of course—the ball would be sent back to a defender or midfielder now 45-50 yards from goal, and what was he going to do with it? Then Lloris bottled a save from a nice Sterling-Gundogan play and Sanchez was so easily shoved aside by the German on a long ball from Ederson and things ended about as they should. They’re probably the best team in the world at present—and we’re pretty darn mediocre.

Do you want to know how mediocre? Two years ago we were still a strong third place in the league, trailing only the unbeatable duo of Liverpool and Manchester City. Since that time we have played 73 league games—winning just 29, or 40%, drawing 19 and losing 25. We have earned an average of 1.45 pts/game, which translates to 54 points over a full season. In the last five seasons that would put us, on average, in 8th place. Which seems like a pretty good bet for this season, which of course barring a trophy in either of the two competitions we are still competing in means no European football next year. 

When our beautiful stadium will begin to accept fans again—a lot, we hope, to begin to reduce one of the two largest club debts in the sport (the other being Barcelona). In Poch’s last 24 games we won just 6 and lost 11—for a points per game average of 1.04—Jose has been better—23 wins against 12 draws and 14 losses but his points per game is 1.65—under 70 pts for a full season which is rarely enough to reach Top Four status.

Let’s be honest. It’s no longer a question of managers or even philosophy. It’s the players, folks. They are simply not good enough. The only real improvement anywhere on the side over the past several years has been Son—but he is still a one-dimensional player who depends on open space on the break or from the left, and defences have figured him out. Harry Kane has plateaued. Dele and Eriksen before him regressed badly. The additions have not been consistent or healthy enough to make a difference—Lamela, Lucas and Sissoko are limited. The defence is fair to middling at every position at best, except when Reguilon plays and he is a loanee. Lloris is backsliding quickly. Hojgberg, for his strengths, has now given away three goals in two games based almost solely on his mistakes—a rate simply unacceptable for someone in as crucial a position. Winks is going backwards. 

Of course, neither Poch when he was still here nor Jose in the last fifteen months can be absolved of responsibility for this growing failure across the entire squad. They have each failed to win key games or batten down the hatches defensively when it really mattered. And neither have produced a dependable way to score goals over these last two years. But nor can their removal or replacement be seen as the magic bullet with which we will improve. It is as simple as we were really good from 2015-18, improving the entire way, and now we’re not anymore, regressing just as consistently.

The fix is going to take years—I doubt Kane or even Son will be around to see better days—should they even come. There are pretty frightening precedents if the financial situation becomes more dire. I no longer think it fanciful to believe that we could face a relegation scrap in the upcoming cycle—or certainly, be mired midtable until the right new manager and the right combination of players arrives to make things better. It is no wonder why we seem to be going along with the European Super League notion—it might be the only way to keep anything near our current status.

We might as well cling to the Europa league for, hopefully, another few weeks, and a date with City in April, though off of this performance I can’t see how we can possibly find the slingshot to win that game. There won’t be Top Four this season. And now very likely no Top Seven either. Levy has a bunch of tough decisions, beginning with the manager. The money problems are real, and getting worse. If I could find the me of Spurs fandom from four or five years ago, my message would be simple “Be careful what you wish for.”

 

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Paul is a respected U.S. political pollster (Democrat) based in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles. His love for Spurs began when the Premier League games started appearing regularly in the U.S. and an American lover of football had to choose a side. Bale, Rushdie, Adele, Shakespeare, the Spurs faithful, The Lane, etc. were all irresistible attractions and have made Maslin a Spur for life.

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