Stuck in limbo: What next for Tottenham Hotspur?
For Tottenham fans it will be probably be as fresh and vivid in the memory as last night’s tea, but the Peter Crouch goal that brought Champions League football to White Hart Lane was scored over five years ago. The 1-0 victory over Manchester City secured a fourth place finish for Harry Redknapp’s talented side and paved the way for the club’s first adventure in the top European competition since 1962.
Half a decade and three managers later, the club has generally spent the last five years stuttering and flittering –suspended between the top four and lower reaches of the table’s top half. Last season Pochettino led the club to another respectable fifth place finish and recorded some memorable results on the way, and with the new season already less than a month away, the club will have its gaze cast on the top end of the table and a sincere assault on the top four in mind. However, as long as Daniel Levy’s style of chairing continues and the club remains a junior force in the market, it is difficult to envisage a short-term future for Tottenham that offers anything other than a Europa league finish.
The white side of North London is stuck in footballing limbo. Proven producers of superstar talents yet unable to attract them from elsewhere, Spurs face a huge challenge in becoming a top four side once again as long as continue to be a stepping-stone club. With the big(ger) boys already circling around striker Harry Kane, one would not be surprised in the slightest to see the destiny of the young Englishman follow a strikingly similar path to that of previous wonder-kid Gareth Bale. Daniel Levy is renowned for playing hard-ball yet the games he plays usually produce the same outcome – Tottenham losing their most precious player and having to rebuild once more. In Lloris, Vertonghen and Eriksen too the club has three hugely important players who currently have no real reason to remain at the Lane if bigger clubs come calling – something that could well unfold in this window if not the next.
Here lies the elephant in the room: in the context of the market, Tottenham Hotspur is not a top four club. The re-investment project that followed the departure of Bale was able to guarantee quantity but fell short of providing quality – with many of the incomers making very little to absolutely no notable impact on the pitch. Again, this can be traced back to the club’s status. The sale of Bale gained a remarkable amount of money but nothing was altered in regards to the prestige and allure of Tottenham Hotspur. The recent acquisition of Toby Alderweireld is certainly a handy signing but like others in the past – such as Dier, Chadli and Davies – he is a player absolutely tailored to Spurs’ de facto status as a Europa League outfit and nothing more. The club isn’t making forward strides, however, isn’t shuffling backwards either. Instead it adheres to formula whereby a top eight finish is all but guaranteed yet no convincing ascent towards the glamorous end of the table is forthcoming.
If this is the case, then how much can a manager realistically expect to achieve at today’s Tottenham? Pochettino has quickly earned his stripes as a promising young manager and enjoyed a credible debut season in North London but will he be able to the team to the next level? The current squad certainly won’t reach that level, and unless Levy pulls a dozen or so rabbits from his proverbial hat then Champions League standard players probably won’t be coming through the door two by two. Perhaps a more pressing and intriguing question is what does Daniel Levy expect of Pochettino? Tim Sherwood was shown the door despite boasting the best win percentage for a Spurs manager in the Premier League era, and Villas Boas suffered the same fate despite recording a relatively-successful win rate of nearly 54 per cent. If Pochettino fails to build on last season’s finish and take the team closer to the top four will he receive the same punishment? The six point margin that separated Spurs and fourth placed United last season isn’t likely to narrow while Van Gaal continues to bring in international talent and as Chelsea, City and Arsenal continue to recruit with intent it is difficult to suggest where a route into the top four for wannabes to exploit will become available. In reality, Spurs’ current business lies with jostling for position with Liverpool and Southampton rather than bringing Champions League football back to the Lane.
So, what is next for Tottenham Hotspur? The cynic will suggest more of the same: Kane to be sold for big money in the next few years, the re-investment to be made on a bunch of largely forgettable names bar the odd exception and the club to be enjoy another five years of life as a comfortable top eight team at arms-length from the top four. This forecast may not fill the hearts of Spurs fans with optimism and joy, but given the cyclical nature of the club’ recent history, the line between cynicism and realism is incredibly fine when it comes to the fortunes of their club.
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