‘Everyone in the club talks about fourth, you know, wake up…’ Oh, Tim Sherwood, your legacy at Tottenham is that you leave us feeling so grateful for where we are now. Your point, as much as it was hard to confess, had some substance. Borne out of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea in March 2014, it was rational to say that Tottenham were nowhere near the Champions League.There was, and still is, a peculiar sense of confusion and discrepancy surrounding the club’s ambitions. In 2014, Spurs were a club in disarray and the pseudo-top four ambitions were just a pointer towards desperation. All that remained was the hope that the club could ‘maybe’ pull something out the bag one year.
A couple of Pochettino years later, Tottenham are in a much securer position, so secure that even the most troubled of Spurs fans would find it hard to avoid the palpable positives. Their lofty ambitions had, for once, been realised. It’s a sentiment so foreign to the club. This ‘project’ we hear of so habitually is something that, for now, the fans can cling on to. It gives them a rare sense of security and a safety blanket for failure, as demonstrated when Spurs so miserably finished third in a ‘two-horse race’. Misery you say? ‘We would have taken that at the beginning of the season’.
Unlike the epochs of Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, players are so actively aboard. ‘Tottenham Hotspur’ the brand, whether you approve that aspect of football or not, is spectacularly appealing globally. England’s best striker, Harry Kane, has pledged his loyalty to the long term future of the club while Eric Dier has bluntly warned his ‘media buddy’ Dele Alli not to become ‘just an asset’ at another club. When new contracts become part of the weekly schedule, when reminders of the new stadium are stapled across social media per development and when players are so outspoken about their commitment to the journey, it feels like one perfectly executed PR stunt, but there are legs in this Tottenham movement.
Their next hurdle? Building the actual foundations for success; the football. Losing to Liverpool was yet another blip in a strange season. Despite being in third position, Spurs have been, to a certain degree, looser, less structured and any opportunity to compound a true advantage in the race with the top six has nosedived. Two points better off than they were last season, the atmosphere remains marginally twitchier. That blame lies at the feet of ambition; perhaps what is becoming their own worst enemy.
Eric Dier’s insistence on claiming that Tottenham can still catch Chelsea to win the title had echoes of last season. It’s noble, of course, but staking such claims carries with it a bundle of preventable pressure. Candidly speaking, Pochettino et al were embarrassed by an array of public illustrations of their ‘ambition’. Harry Kane posted pictures of lions after their best performance of the season in Stoke, fans chanted ‘Leicester City, we’re coming for you’ and indeed, Tottenham ended the season losing 5-1 to already relegated Newcastle. Labelled ‘bottlers’, a common cliché in the world of football cynics, the club struggled with a reputation that has haunted them for years. Still, the fans and club remain immensely proud of their progression in such a short span of time.
‘Spurs have set our sights so very high, so high in fact, that even failure will have in it an echo of glory’
A more poignant exemplification of Spurs’ dilemma comes from the revered Bill Nicholson, the honourable member of Tottenham’s great past and inspiration for the future. He, by the way, had a more elegant way with words than Tim Sherwood. Setting the bar so high last season was breath-taking, never did any Spurs fans below the age of 50 truly consider they would see their club challenge for titles so valiantly. And yes, in those relative failures lingered echoes of glory, namely Champions League football.
This season is hastily becoming about know-how and experience in the topmost positions in the league. Champions League football is gone but seemingly, the players are still grasping onto a tentative title challenge. Tottenham should look to employ a different approach to this season. Targeting Champions League, with consideration, feels sensible. The core of the squad is one that rightfully matches up with Europe’s elite, but you would struggle to find arguments to suggest that Tottenham have the title-winning attribute that Chelsea have moulded so rapidly under Conte in just one season: consistency. The real dilemma with lowering the bar is the psychological repercussions that follow. Having crumbled so desolately towards the end of last season, Tottenham risk repeating similar errors in challenging for lesser purposes.
Amidst a period of wellbeing and positivity driving the club, loosening the standards becomes a catch 22. Publically announcing title ambitions fits neatly with the club’s vision for the future, but with that, performances close to those in Liverpool and Manchester become that much more unacceptable.
Reasons for concern are legitimate amongst the Tottenham fan-base. A sincere challenge for the title seems all but gone and that has showed in recent away performances. While the players vocalise their aspirations, the similarities with last season slowly wither away. No season is the same and the sooner Tottenham accrue these experiences and games that mould the ‘perfect’ footballing mentality, the more rational they will be with their ambitions.
Always set your standards high, it’s the Tottenham way, but once that standard is no longer attainable, seek other avenues for glory.