The End of Tottenham's Fight for Fourth
The fight for fourth place in the Premier League has become more like a war, consuming the ambitions of clubs in the top half over the last decade, none more so in recent years than Tottenham Hotspur.
Growing up through the Noughties, I saw the Big Four in English football as a dominant and statute force; Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool. Change to the elite was few and far between, perhaps most notably with Everton in 2004-05. The top four clubs in English football remained the same for many seasons, though. The decline of Liverpool, however, saw a vacuum form, and the seasonal battles for fourth place begun.
Tottenham came agonisingly close to breaking the mould under Jol, falling short at the final hurdle in 2006 on account of dodgy lasagna. The 2009-10 season under Redknapp saw Spurs finish above the likes of Arab-invested Man City, Moyes’ Everton and the fallen Liverpool in fourth, and the Big Four had finally been broken. And ever since Peter Crouch’s goal at Maine Road, Spurs have been battling ceaselessly and relentlessly to finish fourth every season.
Since 2010, three managers have been sacked, floods of plastic fans have held up the Lilywhite banners, and the identity of the squad and the club has changed beyond recognition. Coupled with off-pitch issues, such as the rise in ticket prices, inflated transfer windows, and Northumberland Park Project, Spurs fans have been left thoroughly exhausted and deflated by the war.
But the saddest thing, the most tragic fact that angers fans most of all, is that after all this conflict, after years of battles for a top four finish, the only rewards for the club has been Ramos’ league cup win in 2008 and one season in the Champions League. Totttenham’s status as one of the best clubs in English football has been returned, however their European status has not. Fans have been left thinking of what could have been, rather than what was.
A new season is before us, and with it, a new manager. Mauricio Pochettino joins Tottenham after raising Southampton into the top half of the table with attractive, attacking football and excellent man management. Highly regarded for his management philosophy and reputation, Pochettino is expected to change the picture at White Hart Lane, a picture that took many a heavy beating last season.
Tottenham’s squad is looking healthy and fairly well-rounded. Key players, such as Lloris, Eriksen, and Vertonghen, will play under Pochettino, a luxury sadly lost on other clubs. The prospect of Erik Lamela to play a key role this season after recovering from injury and starring in pre-season has increased morale for Spurs fans. And with Levy strengthening defensively, last season’s regular beatings may be at an end.
Expectations in the league, however, are at its lowest in the past five years. The war for fourth place continues, and motivations for success are high; United under Van Gaal are looking to return to their place amongst Europe’s elite, Liverpool are hoping to retain their breakthrough at the top, Arsenal are looking beyond fourth, and Everton under Martinez want to prove themselves as more than just a threst.. After last season, other clubs and their fans think much less of Tottenham and their squad, and rightly so.
All of this is understood by Spurs fans, but hopes of a good seasons should not be discarded. Pochettino will begin integrating his high-pressing, attacking, hard-working philosophy on a more than capable set of players. Our squad depth will allow us to challenge in the cups, notably a Europa League with a place in the Champions League for the winner. League games against the top teams will be more competitive this season.
However, the likelihood of Spurs finishing in the top four this season is low. This will be a season of transition under a new manager, reforming a young squad under Pochettino’s new philosophy. Tottenham will be building a foundation for future success; even the ficklest of fans will refrain from calling for this manager’s head come May.
As surprising as it may be, a season’s respite away from the bloody battle for fourth place will prove a healthy remedy for a broken club, a source of cautious optimism for Tottenham’s future.
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