Spurs are without a trophy in 15 years and their style of play is not in keeping with the club’s traditions. Along with some silverware, THFC need to rediscover their identity…
What are Tottenham Hotspur? What do they want to be? Spurs suffered another disappointment on Wednesday night as they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship side Sheffield United. It is now 15 years since the club won a trophy. Under Mauricio Pochettino, they came close. There was also a strong connection with the fans and the football was mostly enjoyable. But since the Argentine left in 2019, Spurs have lost direction. And it’s not much fun any more.
Audere est Facere. To dare is to do. Clubs love a slogan, but what does that motto even mean at Tottenham these days? Since Pochettino’s exit, Spurs have had three full-time managers: José Mourinho, Nuno Espírito Santo and Antonio Conte. None of those could be described as purveyors of attacking football. Far from it. It’s mostly drab, defensive, counter-attacking, reactive, pragmatic, passive play – not at all in keeping with Tottenham’s traditions.
“The game is about glory,” Spurs’ legendary midfielder Danny Blanchflower once said. “It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” There hasn’t been much of that in the last few years.
Spurs supporters in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s grew up with entertaining teams. Even in the dark days of the late 1990s, we had David Ginola. Later, there was Luka Modrić, Gareth Bale, then Pochettino’s exciting team. But it all just seems a bit soulless now.
Before appointing Nuno, chairman Daniel Levy said in a statement that Tottenham were seeking a coach whose values would “reflect those of our great club and return to playing football with the style for which we are known – free-flowing, attacking and entertaining”. So much for that.
It would be alright if results were better. Pochettino’s biggest mistake at Spurs was not valuing the smaller trophies. “Winning the FA Cup wouldn’t prove anything,” he said. But it would have meant so much. And it would have created a culture of success, possibly leading to bigger prizes down the line. The importance of a trophy to Tottenham at this point cannot be understated. Look at how Manchester United celebrated their Carabao Cup win at Wembley on Sunday. For the fans, a trophy would be everything. This needs to be transmitted to everyone at the club.
Many have focused on the decision not to start Harry Kane against Sheffield United. But with the right attitude, Spurs should have been strong enough to win anyway. They would have been strong enough. Tottenham paid big money in the summer for Richarlison, a proven Premier League player, to take some of the burden off the England captain. But they still seem as reliant as ever upon their great goalscorer.
The win over Arsenal last May seemed like such a big moment. From there, Spurs overtook their north London rivals and beat them to a place in the Champions League. It felt like the beginning of something exciting. But nine-and-a-half months on, it is the Gunners who are the top of the Premier League, with Tottenham in a scrap for fourth place once again.
It is also more than that: Arsenal have an exciting young team and a progressive coach; they play stylish, attacking football. The Gunners are what Tottenham should be. What Spurs once were. Under Conte, the project has no long-term feel and no real substance beyond results. Without huge spending, it is hard to see the team challenging for the Premier League or the Champions League any time soon. That is why Wednesday’s FA Cup exit was so disappointing.
With Pochettino in charge, Tottenham did challenge for the biggest prizes, but he was not backed in the transfer market when they needed to push on and that is where the problems began. The new stadium, though potentially transformative to the club’s finances in the long term, is only a part of it. “Everyone says you have an amazing house, but you need to put in the furniture,” the Argentine said.
During Pochettino’s tenure, the feeling was one of unity between the manager, the squad and the fans, even if there were some difficulties with the board. That connection has been lost, results remain up and down and the football is uninspiring. Tottenham may yet finish fourth, but that is no longer enough. Be it with ENIC in charge or potential new owners, what Spurs desperately need is to win a trophy – and more importantly still, to recover their identity.
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