TOTTENHAM fans of a certain age will have a sense of deja-vu at the latest crisis enveloping the club, as rumours of unrest in the dressing room and training ground are leading to disharmony on the pitch, a conclusion it is difficult to dismiss considering their past two performances.
Spurs went out of the Europa League with whimper not a roar on Thursday night, and the way they played in a 3-0 defeat seemed to shock everyone except the perennially pessimistic who follow Tottenham.
It followed another surprisingly lifeless performance when they lost on Sunday in the North London derby, one of those games that is supposed to ignite passions on the pitch as well as off it.
Instead of a rebel-rousing call to arms followed by the statement win their fans hoped for, Tottenham were as meek against Arsenal as they were to be four days later against Dinamo Zagreb, hardly one of Europe’s powerhouses.
The fall-out from a bad week has been appropriately seismic. Jose Mourinho is said to be in the last-chance saloon, with only an unlikely top four finish able to save his job, according to rumours.
Fans have taken to social media in their droves to voice their dissatisfaction with Mourinho, the players and the club’s owners ENIC, headed by Daniel Levy. Some supporters lay the blame firmly at the feet of the players, for failing to show the ability and attitude required to convert a 2-0 first leg lead into a place in the quarter-finals. Mourinho pretty much said the same thing on Thursday night, congratulating Zagreb’s players on a fighting spirit that his own charges lacked.
But then many fans blame Mourinho for his mindset and tactics, suggesting the negative style he adopts by default against the so-called bigger sides is also employed too often against teams that Tottenham should expect to beat, whether a ‘defence-in-disarray’ Arsenal or a Croatian team whose manager had, in the week between first and second legs, been given a jail sentence for fraud.
However much the manager says he told his players to go out in an attacking mindset in order to get the one goal that would have put the tie out of Zagreb’s reach, they fell on to the back foot just as they have done so many times this season, whether against Manchester City or Fulham.
Then there are those fans who deride two decades of ENIC’s ownership marked by a cycle of boom and bust, with managers and world-class players coming and going, but without any discernible plan or change in culture at a club that may be called underachievers if you are being polite, or bottlers if you are a gloating rival.
Certainly there has been little silverware on show since 1991, when Gazza, Lineker and Terry Venables won the FA Cup, for a then record eighth time. Few football fans born in the past 30 years can reasonably be expected to understand why Tottenham were always considered one of England’s biggest clubs in terms of tradition, style and success.
It looked like Mauricio Pochettino had finally brought back to Tottenham the Glory Glory days that Danny Blanchflower epitomised and summarised when the sixties era Spurs blazed a trail in Europe and England.
Pochettino’s team were young, hungry and had an attacking bravado that made them spectacular for spectators and successful – up to a point. A series of near misses in the Premier League followed by a Champions League final two summers ago, just as the club was moving into their billion-Euro state-of-the-art stadium, should have been the catalyst for greater things, but that 2019 final looks like it was the high-water mark for the club. While their opponents in Madrid that night, Liverpool, turned left and into greater success by winning the Premier League, Tottenham turned the other way, and into a right old mess.
Pochettino talked about “a painful rebuild” and cried out for investment, but restructuring the squad was too little and too late, with Levy hamstrung by huge overspending on the stadium.
Hugo Lloris, Pochettino’s captain and confidante, warned after the final that the club was at a crossroads, and a few weeks later predicted a difficult season, alluding to problems off the field. What he couldn’t say publicly was that Pochettino was losing heart, and his players were following suit. Results nosedived, and the Argentine was gone by November, with Mourinho appointed the next day. Levy was seduced his reputation as a winner and supporters were assured trophies would follow. But it has not happened, despite an early season run that took Tottenham to the top of the table and a place in the League Cup final. Few now expect Spurs to beat Manchester City at Wembley on April 25, and not many expect Mourinho to be in charge next season.
Lloris was revealing again in his post-match interview on Thursday, hinting at a fractured spirit, poisoned by the unhappiness of those fringe players whose involvement is intermittent. There have been stories swirling for weeks that some players are unhappy with Mourinho’s methods, both on the training ground and in matches, and now rumours are leaking from above him that it is a question of when not if he will be sacked.
Candidates to replace him include Julian Nagelsmann, who is expected to leave Leipzig in May,
and Brendan Rodgers, who has been on Levy’s wishlist before. But changing the manager will not necessarily change the culture at a club that cannot help making a drama out of a crisis.
One of Pochettino’s most significant strides forward came a year into his reign, when he cleared out the deadwood, those players he no longer wanted. A succession of bad signings was sent on their way – Vlad Chiriches, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Younes Kaboul. Instead Pochettino promoted young hungry players who would run through brick walls for him – Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Christian Eriksen and Kyle Walker. Some have gone, some remain, and some are in limbo.
Perhaps it is time for Tottenham to have another clear-out, whether under Mourinho or whoever replaces him. Invest in a mixture of proven performers and hungry young players, or Tottenham’s wheel of misfortune may just keep spinning round.