Mauricio Pochettino looks like a weary man. At just 46, his once russet-replete beard is now tinged with an ever-spreading grey and his face sags with the exhaustion of expectation.
It now transpires that his Tottenham side, once lauded as the future of English football, aren’t all that they were first cracked up to be. Stumbling their way into the season, Spurs are showing the world why their status as the eternal bridesmaid has hampered their existence for so frustratingly long.
For years now, the Lilywhites have been billed as an exciting, promising, fresh new force in English football. They have a young, brainy manager, an ‘English core’ – whatever that has to do with anything – and a promising squad of stars not snatched from fellow big boys for millions, but bought cleverly to gel into a squad pulling in the same, ambitious direction.
Spurs, compared with other faltering big sides, have become the sexiest club in the country to exalt over a craft beer from mouths hidden by genuinely russet beards. It’s a bit different, lauding Spurs. After all, they haven’t won anything in ten years, so who’d be daft enough to back them? ‘Ah,’ a groundbreaking football critic might purr in response, ‘but they’ve got an exciting squad, young manager and clear playing ethos. Success will follow like the lamb to Bo Peep. Learnt that proverb building wells in Mongolia.’
Sadly, however, for all the praise heaped onto Tottenham and every prediction of pending glory, they haven’t lived up to expectations.
They still haven’t won anything, are a long way off the talent exhibited at Manchester City and Liverpool – despite having had their manager for longer than both – and are now preparing for the humiliation of facing Barcelona in the Champions League this Wednesday.
They can’t compete in Europe’s top tier and they can’t compete at the top of England’s. So the question really is this: when will Tottenham’s time playing second fiddle to the world’s better teams come to a halt? And, more importantly, how will it do so? Will they eventually break out of the rut and storm to success or will things head in the other direction: a slump down the table to vie for Europa League spots with the other underachievers?
Having made no signings at all this summer, Daniel Levy has made his plan clear: to be financially savvy – even frugal – and build a club for the long-run that operates on all levels as a successful business. The new stadium, reluctance to spend on a player and staggeringly low wage-bill all highlight a club predestined for a long, stable future. But not one heading for success any time soon.
While Levy’s model may be disciplined and beneficial going forward, it’s not one that will rack up points in this country.
As has been shown, to win in England, you have to spend big. Manchester City’s record signing? £60m. Liverpool’s? £75m. Tottenham’s? Just £42m.
And it may be this that’s slowing them down. Sustainability is all well and good if it’s sustaining fulfilled potential. Tottenham Hotspur are smart, perhaps embodying the future of modern football (just check out the new stadium’s amenities) but what they’re doing is simply maintaining their position as a top six club; not a top six club who want to win anything.
Their potential is going unfulfilled like a stroppy Will Hunting and it’s time that things kicked up a gear.
Harry Kane seems ever-poised to be stolen by a bigger, more attractive European club and then where would Spurs end up? Their use of pacy, attacking fullbacks has been cottoned onto by the world and his wife and without Kane firing on all cylinders, they look somewhat impotent going forward.
The smart, young manager with the vibrant, exciting squad is fine and promising enough. But Mauricio Pochettino is running out of time. There’s only so long that getting by means success in the Premier League and Spurs have exhausted that period. Perhaps, then, they – and Pochettino – just aren’t as good as we all once hoped.
Only time will tell, but qualifying for Europe and making it to a Wembley showpiece game once a season doesn’t stand as achievement. Not in England, not even for Spurs.