There was a somewhat unsettling feeling around White Hart Lane on Saturday afternoon against Leicester City. What was White Hart Lane is now a construction site for Tottenham’s new 2017/18 season big seater stadium. The smell of newly mixed concrete overpowers the match-day favourite pie and burgers. It’s an odd phenomenon, but one that fans are growing used to.
Then there is Wembley for Champions League football. It was wholly exciting at first, but when the tannoy announced that Spurs had achieved yet another British home attendance record against Bayer Leverkusen, the response from the crowd was muted. Why? Probably because firstly, they weren’t playing very well, but second, is this really their ‘home’? The answer is definitively no.
The reality of the next two years is that Spurs are risking their club identity, which White Hart Lane plays a vital role in. With the new stadium comes an array of financial benefits for the club, but perhaps more importantly, the fans will be in a settled home. Nobody likes change, but sometimes it is needed. Spurs have needed to make that step up for a while now.
In the meantime, Spurs are playing a precarious game. A broken White Hart Lane remains their home for this season at least, but they appear to be suffering on the pitch. They’re unbeaten in the league but they look laboured. Whether that has anything to do with a disturbed home is something only the players will know but presently, something doesn’t feel right and there is no real stable short term conclusion.
In the Premier League, draws are viewed by the fans as disappointing, especially when they come against the likes of Bournemouth, West Brom and a fair-to-say ordinary Leicester side who are the shadows of their previous season selves. But by Monday, we look back and we rationalise the point. The Champions League is a different animal and Spurs look like the whipping boys. Pochettino labelled the loss against Leverkusen as ‘embarrassing’ but refused to blame Wembley. Of course a stadium cannot be responsible for the mediocrity of the performance, but what was painstakingly obvious was that Spurs fans were notably distressed by the occurrences of Wednesday evening. Boos greeted the final whistle, Christian Eriksen was bought off to virtually no applause after his continuation of poor form, Sissoko is the new scapegoat. It was a hurtful evening for any Spurs fan, but the players must feel it. At full time, Kyle Walker just stared into the top tier of Wembley Stadium hand-on-hips. To me, that was a potent moment very telling of Spurs’ story this season. He probably wasn’t thinking along the same lines at the fans, but he was markedly upset by the humiliation on ‘home’ soil.
That is what most worries me. Fans are allowed to be upset, wounded or genuinely angry given the performance. But when the players look anxious, that would suggest not all is well with the team either. Walker looked on the verge of giving up. He’s been at Spurs through some significantly humble moments, but this was up there, even for him.
In a Premier League era where remotely successful managers are gold dust, Spurs are risking a lot by unsettling one of the best squads they have moulded in a generation. Pochettino is at the helm of this journey, and should Spurs get knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage and fail to qualify for another year of it, he is probably at risk. Somehow, Spurs have got into a position where they are jeopardising the position of one of the best young coaches in the world. You’d like to think there would be some leeway with the Argentinian given that he has provided Spurs with some of their most exhilarating football in years, but fans will be tireless and the nervous tension will land at Levy’s feet.
Fans know that there is an end. The new stadium has the go-ahead and every time you go to White Hart Lane, it looks more and more like a stadium. It’s a glimpse into an exciting future for Tottenham Hotspur, but there are hazards. The move into the new ground signifies a step in the right direction, but that is so off-track with what is happening on the pitch in the short term. Even the most rational fans think in the here and now and that is the most dangerous part about this transition. Spurs shouldn’t need another transitional period after finishing 3rd in the Premier League, but they are getting one whether they like it or not. At worst, which is not inconceivable with Tottenham, they may end up going into a 60,000 capacity stadium with very little to offer in terms of actual football. What if they don’t have Champions League football? That’s what the fans are thinking about.
It is now the job of Pochettino to galvanise his players; let them know that this short term blip is easily overcome. Barring a few extra names, the core of the side is exactly the same that brought about the joy of last season. Kane and Alderweireld can’t be far away. It may only take a win at the Emirates to completely rejuvenate this lethargic looking side, but also to give the fans something to be excited about.
Debut piece for uMAXit Football, available at https://www.umaxit.com/index.php/articles/spurs-are-risking-their-short-term-success-in-the-name-of-a-long-term-project-stuart-fagg