The ambitions for Tottenham every season from the premier league days has been two fold. Beat Arsenal in every North London Derby (NLD) and break into the top 4 which was a strong fort held by Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal for the past decade. In 2010, Spurs beat Arsenal in the premier league after a gap of 20 years, in a way ending whatever little challenge Arsenal could mount to win the premier league. Arsenal duly collapsed and ‘Arry’s army spurred their way into breaking the top four fortress. The casualty to their uprising was Liverpool, for whom it took another four years, millions of money on top dross like Carrol and Downing, the severe loss of reputation of accomplished managers like Roy Hodgson and King Kenny, allegations on racism and reversal of reports on Hillsborough and a total change of philosophy to be back in Champions league.
The point to that the Liverpool story highlights is how difficult it is to get back to the coveted Champions League (CL) spot once you renounce that. The second half of 2010 was season new for Spurs. They were playing in CL and all was well for ‘Arry’s Tots when they beat Arsenal in October with a great come back from a two-goal deficit and a late winner to earn the spoils of the NLD. They had not outscored Arsenal in the league since ’99 and here in 2010 they did it twice, in the process also avenging an early defeat in League cup to Arsenal.
But there was something amiss. As the campaign raced towards the end, Spurs could not find enough legs and goal scorers in the team to fight both CL and PL. Despite a hard-fought win over Milan, Spurs got trounced 5-0 in aggregate by Real Madrid in the CL. Their league form faltered and they could not capitalize on the poor run of form of Arsenal who managed to cling onto the 4th place when the big spending ManCity broke into the top-four, a place they would retain hence.
The Tottenham resolve would not die, however, and they loaned in Adebayor (Enemy’s Enemy = Friend) to get back that top four spot. It worked! With a late header, Tots drew first blood by winning the first NLD. Now, not beating Tots in the league was a streak that was put back on Arsenal. By the dawn of the New Year, Tots’ first campaign in Europe had ended in a disaster and any hopes for the season once again focused fully on the top 4 spot. A misfiring Chelsea would slip out of the Champions league spot that year. The spurs did a spot better tofinish in 3rd place and be back in CL by early February.
And then the second NLD happened. A few minutes before half time, Tots were running Arsenal ragged with Adebayor stabbing in a penalty to give them a 2-0 lead. But by half time Arsenal pulled back both the goals and ‘Arryhad lost his composure . The second half was a bad change in fortune for Tots as they reeled into a 5-2 defeat. The score line almost had an unbelievable ring to it. It shattered Tots and they succumbed to two more immediate league defeats against Man United and Everton. Tots were pushed from 3rd to 4th, which, with their terr’fic and fan’tstic manager was a position they would cling on to.
Tottenham were back in CL, or so they thought. But like those unbelievable turn of events in the NLD, the fourth place amounted to zilch as Chelsea was reinstated in CL because they had won it. Back to Europa league it was for the Spurs. In the meantime, disagreements with ‘Arry resulted in the ending of another dream. New Boss Andreas Villas Boas was welcomed with a touch of déjà Vu in the North London derby, as the Gunners beat Tottenham with that unbelievable scoreline of 5-2. (This time, while leading 2-0,Adebayor decided to go two footed against Santi Cazrola to give Arsenal the impetus.) The bizarre scoreline followed a bizarre season, where Tots’ most successful manager pulled Tots out of early season doldrums, nourishing a world class player in Gareth Bale. Tottenham reversed the derby result winning at the Lane, but Arsenal edged past them on the last day to get to the 4th spot. Despite being the most successful manager of Tottenham and despite bringing in 100Mn in transfer sales, AVB would not last at Tots in the next season.
The inability to stick to a philosophy and the obsession to do better than Arsenal made Tots spend all that money gained on the Bale sale on otherworld class players. Almost all players who were thought to be good for Arsenal were bought in. Eriksen, Lamela, Chadli, Paulinho, Soldado, Capoue. All names that a year back would be considered worth a punt. A year hence, they sit on the pile of underachievements and poor results. In the 2013-14 season, Arsenal beat Spurs in all three matches they faced for the first time. (Twice 1-0 in the league and once in their opening draw of FA cup, a competition which Arsenal would go out to win, thuswinning a trophy since Tots had last won one.)Once again, Tottenham could not benefit from a churn in top 4 as Manchester United dropped out. Bizarrely, they then faced competition in 4th place, finally surrendering it to a late Everton surge.
ForTottenham fans, beyond the reasons due to which the last few seasons havebeen lost, what needs to be in their minds is that there was a dream which was extinguished midway. That dream cannot be achieved with inconsistent faith and doing the exact opposite of what Arsenal do.
Tim Sherwood, despite having a better record than ‘Arry, was sacked for Pochettino, a man who has been known for a philosophy and ability to set belief in teams. The way he has worked in Espanyol and later at Southampton being ample proof of that.From now on Spurs fans have to believe. The million plus signings of last year are still there. In Pochetino, they have somebody who knows what attacking football is. In Adebayor, they have a striker who has come to realise that he can never be wanted at a big club because they have egos bigger than even him. In Eriksen and Lamela, they have raw talent which needs to be channeled into goals. Chiriches and Lloris are still one of the best in their respective positions. Pochettino known for his development of talent will hopefully turn Holtby, Townsend, Walker and Rose into worthy players to take over from the inconsistent performances of Lennon, Dembele and Dawson.
For their 2014-15 campaign, you see a bunch of players who are eager to put their past behind them and look forward to theseason with a clean slate. The scarred history is theirs to forget and every match is theirs to fight for, since the opposition has after all just got stronger. Every team which has got into the top 4 had one outstanding performer who punched above others in the team. Tottenham has a lot of players who can be that candidate, and together they can bring out a sum greater than its parts.
At the start of the season, top 4 spot for Tottenham looks a dream which is full of hurdles in the shape of an overtly boosted Chelsea, an ambitious Liverpool, a record-spending North London rivals and a fox of a manager who gets the best out of resources in Martinez. Add to the mix the fight of Manchester United and the marathon specialists Manchester City, and it is easier to give up on that dream just about now. But like I said earlier, the Spurs fans have to believe in their team performing collectively in each match. The focus should not be on beating Arsenal in the NLD, but on realizing the potential within and bringing out the best in all those acquisitions. We will find out how long the Spurs fans stick to that goal and side with Pochettino in September as the first NLD rolls on.
– Suvid Velayudhan is a Sports Analyst with the Football Galaxy at Sportz Cosmos. You can reach him at gmail id: sportzcosmos