Are Stagnant Spurs Stuck in Premier League Mediocrity?

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Wednesday night’s Capital One Cup defeat to Arsenal brought with it a multitude of disappointments in an already underwhelming beginning to the season for Spurs. As one of perhaps two cups that Spurs could realistically harbour hopes of winning this year (maybe three depending on how seriously they view the Europa League) has already disappeared, a worrying sign of regression given they finished runners up to Chelsea in the same competition last year.

That the loss should come to their most hated rivals of course exacerbates matters. Granted both sides fielded somewhat weakened teams but there is a sense that Spurs missed a real opportunity to inject some life into their campaign with a win in the first North London derby of the season. Two wins in six premier league games representing a meagre beginning.

However it was the manner of the defeat that would be most disappointing. Spurs actually played quite well in patches, creating chances that you can’t help but feel last season’s Harry Kane would have dispatched with aplomb. Having said this, was there ever a more ‘Spurs-like’ way to lose a game? Mathieu Flamini’s inclusion in the Arsenal starting eleven was met with widespread derision, perhaps most of all from his own fans. Despite this, it was Flamini; a man seen less frequently at the Emirates than a José Mourinho handshake, whose brace secured Arsenal’s place in the next round.

Tottenham Hotspur are a club whose entire Premier League journey seems to be in the form of one step forward followed by two steps back. Few White Heart Lane regulars would claim that Spurs have improved over the last five years. Of course, key departures of players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale have not helped but neither has the apparent lack of a long term strategy from board level.

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Attention must be focused on Daniel Levy, a man who seems to change his philosophy with the frequency of a student on their gap-year. It seems particularly odd that Levy is garnishing a reputation for a quick trigger, given his love of protraction in the transfer window. The hiring/firing of Andre Villas-Boas followed by the extended trial period under Tim Sherwood shows the lack of a clear plan from the board, as both managers are the complete antithesis in style and approach to managing a team.

Mauricio Pochettino’s remit as manager still remains a little fuzzy too. Of course, there are still the continual murmurings of the top four, but they seem to be more of a whispered pipe dream than a declaration of intention these days. Instead, Pochettino’s time at the club seems to be something altogether more janitorial, cleaning up the mess left behind after the infamous expenditure of the post-Bale period. The majority of those brought in to help strengthen the squad following Gareth Bale’s move to Real Madrid have been allowed to leave under Pochettino, including two £20 million players in Roberto Soldado and Paulinho.

While Pochettino may be pleased to trim the squad of its costly excesses, the fact that only two of those brought in to replace them can be considered genuine improvements to the first team (Heung-Min Son and Toby Alderweireld) show that Spurs are still facing down the long tunnel of transition; something again not helped by Levy’s almost pathological obsession with brinkmanship.

Tottenham’s shambles of an attempt to sign Saido Berahino was almost amateur, deliberately offering way under West Brom’s valuation before offering a frankly derisory structured payment for the player on the final day of the window. Levy has long been praised for his ability to drive a hard bargain when clubs come calling for his players, yet seems unable to cope when negotiating tables are turned. The Spurs chairman’s panic on deadline day displays all the calmness of a man trying to bid on an Ebay item at the last minute, only to find his computer frozen.

Spurs fans can be forgiven for feeling cursed. Just when they felt their protracted search for a striker seemed to be solved by the emergence of Harry Kane in the second half of last season, this campaign has seen the Englishman fail to score at all for Spurs. Even more frustrating must be that his international record continues unaffected. There is some optimism building around the creation of a new stadium, however the expected £400 million cost has led to Levy’s talk of ‘Pragmatic Player Trading’ and importance of low net spend. This only goes to highlight the fact that any hopes of a rapid return to the Champions League may have to be put on hold, coming at a time when the new TV deal means Premier League clubs are spending money and improving squads like never before.

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Looking back on last Wednesday’s Arsenal defeat, an image perhaps even more poignant than 31 year old Mathieu Flamini sinking Spurs with a volleyed second stands out. Arsenal fans in the top tier tearing down the placards that proclaim the now immortalised words of Danny Blanchflower; “The Game is about Glory”. It may be a while before those words are repaired, both on and off the field.

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