This is a bittersweet day that, sadly, had been coming for quite a while. This is not the time to attack or defend the club’s transfer policy—the truth is that the same players that earned Top Four placement and quality for three and a half years running had regressed.
Badly, since our league form was barely above relegation level since January. The Champions League was a mirage—fueled by one improbable away result after another, until the clock struck midnight in Madrid. The fact that our manager openly discussed leaving before that game was proof enough that some instinct of his—and perhaps shared by the Chairman—was saying that five years were enough.
So what did it mean? He was the best manager this club has seen for 50 years—yet never won a thing. He made a talented but unproven group of players into a real force—contenders for the title twice, worthy of European elite status, a swashbuckling style of play—until, as if in a Flowers for Algernon sense, they all began to recede, almost at once.
Think of the decline in form of Lloris, both the Belgian center backs, Davies, Tripper (before he was let go), Rose, Wanyama, Dier, Dele, Eriksen and even Kane. Some of it was age, and some of it was injury—but some of it, truth must be told, is that the manager’s magic had worn off. The formations made no sense, the selection was inconsistent, the play tepid.
And yet we’ll always have Amsterdam. Fernando Llorente and Lucas Moura. The last in a series of improbable results that had Spurs climbing to the brink of club football’s highest peak. But then there was a quick handball on Sissoko (another proof of Poch’s magic, you know) and in barely a minute it had all gone poof.
What about those big cup games against the likes of United and Chelsea? When somehow Mourinho or Conte got the better of our gaffer? Or the inexplicable losses to Palace, the Hammers, Colchester and the like? As great as he was, in the biggest of games, something was always missing. If it was a failure of the players to grasp for the next height, well that reflects on the manager. If it was a failure of the manager to outscheme his opposition (Son as Left Back? Really?), well that reflects on the manager too. If it was the diffidence with which he seemed to regard those Mickey Mouse Cups while striving for the two that really mattered, well that was a strength, not a weakness. I for one agree(d) with him.
In terms of the league, the best chance came a year too yearly, in Leicester’s miracle season. By all rights Spurs were actually the best team in the Premiership then—ill fortune and a series of inexplicable 1-0 wins for the Foxes denied us the title. The next season—three full years ago, mind you—was our best team, but not quite as good as Chelsea, with a wondrous final stretch of games at the Lane. And in the next season we continued to flourish (who can forget those two pulsating games v Liverpool: 4-1 at home and the wild 2-2 draw at Anfield) and were arguably at our best in Europe, winning a group that included Real Madrid and Dortmund and only losing to Juventus because for about 10 minutes at Wembley we switched off. But that’s how it goes.
He took Harry Kane from loan obscurity and shepherded him to become one of the world’s great goal scorers and perhaps England’s all-time record holder. He gave voice to Erik Lamela, to Harry Winks, to Moussa Sissoko. The spare parts of Llorente and Moura—some of our only pick-ups in the final two seasons—gave us some of our most glorious moments: the escape at City, the 3-0 win at Old Trafford, the miracle in Amsterdam. Dele became a world-class footballer, until he didn’t. So did Eriksen, until he no longer wanted it. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were the scourge of England fullbacks before anyone knew of Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. Dier had his moments, Wanyama too. Lloris was mostly solid at the rear. And Heung-Min Son, who probably thought on numerous occasions about leaving, became one of our most effervescent players in recent memory.
But it ended. Sometime in the last 10 months, not today really. This is the way of the world in professional sports. Alex Ferguson and Bill Belichick are the exceptions. Five years was a godsend. And to the club (or country) lucky enough to get him next—well I will say this about our Mauricio.
He’s magic. We Know.
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