At the time of writing this, Spurs have just lost yet another North London Derby to their bitter rivals Arsenal at the Emirates. The result itself although frustrating, was not surprising when you factor in Tottenham’s record at Arsenal. This stands at a paltry 1 league win in close to 28 years. What was more alarming however, was the actual performance of the team on the day. A 2-1 loss felt like a 3-0 defeat. This was off the back of three consecutive league wins. The most recent victory over Crystal Palace gave a glimpse into Tottenham’s ‘revamped’ attack, but after such an abject display against Arsenal it makes you wonder why we are now so limp against better opposition.
This is not a rant about the North London Derby though. This is my humble opinion on Tottenham. Tottenham have established themselves as a consistent team in terms of performance in the Premier League. A stark contrast to their performance as I was growing up. I won’t dive too far into the past as I don’t want to bore you with my harsh reality. However, I’ve often questioned both the confidence and mentality of the players that make up our first team.
My main points start with mentality.
The last decade has seen Spurs grow steadily into one of the best sides in the land. Further evidenced by our inclusion within the Premier League’s ‘Big 6’ clubs. That being said, if you want to be the best of said six and consistently compete for trophies, you have to have the right mental capacity to handle the rigours that come with a pursuit of glory. This also requires an element of risk taking.
Tottenham, since the turn of the last decade, have reached a total of eight semi-finals. Spread across various competitions, the EFL Cup (3), the FA Cup (4) and the UEFA Champions League (1). This highlights the zero in seven semi-finals appearances in which Spurs have featured in the Europa League by the way. Of the eight semi-final appearances Spurs have managed to reach three finals. Two of those finals are in the EFL Cup, with the second of the two to be played against defending holders Manchester City later in April. The other, a 2-0 loss to bitter rivals Chelsea who were managed by current manager Jose Mourinho at the time. The third final was the most recent – a Champions League final against Liverpool in which Spurs also lost 2-0.
You can choose to view Tottenham’s decade in one of two ways. Option one; largely a mid table team during the 90s and 00s, has made great progress and continues to grow. Alternatively, Option Two, in a great position to kick on to the next level but have found themselves wanting. I find myself at Option two with multiple factors determining my decision.
ENIC-ing a living
Within Option Two – I focus on the board as my first problem. Whilst ENIC have rebuilt Tottenham into a reputable club on and [mainly] off the pitch, success in football at the end of the day, is about a club either competing for or winning trophies. Making up the numbers or making Spurs a cash cow should not be enough. Yet, it seems to be for the powers that be at board level. During Pochettino’s tenure, many players had either reached their ceiling, needed real competition or started to regress badly. The board’s way of dealing with this? Make the manager’s job harder with with no signings for 18 months.
This led to injuries to key players across several parts of the squad. One of the side effects of this combination of chaos – nine months without an away win! I believe Spurs were lucky to finish fourth during the 18/19 season yet there was still a chance for glory. Tottenham made history by getting to the Champions League final against a Liverpool side which could be attacked. Despite the loss, optimism was high going in to the next season with the general view that we could compete for silverware. We signed Ndombele, Lo Celso, Sessegnon and Clarke, yet for me, it felt like a glass half empty. Our defence was falling apart yet no defensive additions were made. Remarkably, we entered the season with no recognised defensive midfielder or backup striker.
By November 2019, Spurs looked a shadow of themselves, sitting 14th in the League. Our best ever manager (arguably) during the Premier League era was sacked and replaced with Jose Mourinho.
The team is on its knees yet again with injuries, poor form and the response? Selling a want-away Eriksen with no replacement and recruiting Gedson Fernandes and Bergwjin in January. The end result? 6th place finish with no genuine attempt at a trophy win. You see the running theme here with ENIC right? Fast-forward to the summer of 2020. We are still on ENIC! They go out and sign seven players during a global pandemic with Bale, Reguilon and Hojbjerg among the notable names.
ENIC seemed to have done well enough to appease the fans however, the weakest part of the squad still had ageing Alderweireld as its best centre back. Playing a failed centreback in Eric Dier in the position he failed in. Davies, Aurier and Sanchez were now prominently featured in Spurs’ senior backline, largely as starters despite being error prone squad players under Pochettino’s tenure in
Spurs were also lacking a leader in that backline with Vertonghen released, Alderweireld not as vocal on the pitch and Lloris not as commanding in his area. In other words, Spurs were left with no leader in the back line. We chased Skriniar all summer and even considered Ruben Dias. Cue the risk averse nature of ENIC and the random £11m Rodon signing. Rodon looks a decent centre-back with potential but he currently isn’t the transformational ready made starter centre back we desperately needed.
Instead, we now see ourselves relying on players we shouldn’t. Some are either sadly past their best or have never truly convinced when starting. This is best emphasised by the visible drop of heads almost every time we concede.
Poor Squad Planning
That’s the exhausting ENIC problem explained. Now let’s focus on my next main concern – players. Most issues in any organisation start from the top but this does not mean excuse the people paid to get the results. Whilst it is a manager’s job to get the best out of his group of employees or squad in this scenario, a football manager should not be held responsible for a player’s individual mistake. Not too long ago, I saw a stat which highlighted Spurs had dropped 10 points from winning positions. Individual errors and set pieces make up 87% of goals conceded this season in the Premier League alone.
Take everything I just said onboard as I take you to December 16th 2020. Spurs are top of the league. What on Gods green Earth is going on here?! Has this club finally turned it around? Are the players finally capable of maintaining concentration for 90 mins?
Flattering to Deceive
In the lead up to the Liverpool game, the main topic of discussion wasn’t the fact that Spurs were getting results but how they were doing it. It was mentioned in several articles or live on air by pundits that the football was negative, it could not continue or that players would eventually be unhappy with how they were asked to play. Our style of play was apparently negative due to our counter-attacking approach and was not the “Tottenham Way”.
The so called “Tottenham Way” took us us to four finals, nine semi-finals, six top four finishes and would you believe it, a whooping one trophy in 13 years! The “Tottenham Way” can find its way to the bin if that the return it gives us as fans. I believe our new tactic under Jose is implemented to protect the incredibly weak defence. Anyway, I think you all know how the game at Anfield ended. Another loss at a ground where Tottenham had tasted victory only once in the last 11 years.
What happened next has happened many times down the line as a Spurs fan but the current iteration was arguably the most dramatic. A loss at home to Leicester City at home the following week, a draw against an impotent Wolves side, conceding a goal in the last 10 mins of the game. A familiar theme of our season. Wins against a care-free Leeds team, bottom of the league Sheffield Utd and second-bottom WBA all sandwiched in a schedule which saw a draw at home to Fulham followed by losses to Liverpool (again) and Chelsea both at home. There were also losses to relegation threatened Brighton, Man City and even West Ham all away from home.
The fragility of this team’s mentality resurfaces yet again. This was, after all, the same team that managed to draw 3-3 at home to West Ham earlier on in the season, despite being 3-0 up at the 80th minute mark. In the home fixture against Liverpool, there were seconds left on the clock approaching half time. Yet, a ball goes over the top, Aurier switches off, Mane crosses, neither Lloris or Dier take control and Firmino taps home. The best in the game have the right frame of mind to prevent these situations from occurring.
Time and time again as a Spurs fan I’ve seen individual errors set us back. However, being 1-0 down should not completely kill the confidence of a team striving to improve. This season, I’ve seen Spurs concede immediately after the break on three occasions – Liverpool, Man City and West Ham. It is unacceptable to be so lackadaisical and proves any switch-off in concentration at this level will be punished. I don’t expect every player to have spectacular mentality or confidence but, we have to look at the make up of this squad. It’s a breeding ground for errors and even the Oxford dictionary knows – just search the previously used word – lackadaisical.
A mental block?
Our best 11 consists of 11 international players, all of which are either starters or at least in the mix for a starting spot. With this many international players in one squad, you’d expect concentration to be at an all time high for Spurs considering the team has players that have featured at major tournaments under greater scrutiny. Sadly, even the England captain in Harry Kane isn’t enough to raise the focus and mentality of this team. From my perspective, we have too many players that seem to lack the mental toughness needed to deal with whatever happens on a football pitch.
I do attribute some of this to the current era of fans that can now directly attack players through social media and also think it would be naive to expect players to just shrug off abuse directed at them and not let it affect their game on the pitch. What I will say though is once you’ve obtained a professional contract, that for me is your employer saying to you that they think you’re worth the money and position. Just like in any job you have to deliver and sadly for far too long, a number of Spurs players have just not delivered.
This season poses as the truest test of this squad’s character and mentality. Wins against Burnley, Fulham and Crystal Palace took us up to 6th place before the recent defeat to Arsenal dropped us down to 8th place after the rotten 2021 run of form mentioned earlier. Top 4 is not impossible for Spurs, albeit unlikely. It took us three straight wins to get back in contention so it’s always a possibility. A Cup final against the best side in the land awaits us as does the Europa League. Tottenham can still possibly make a success of this season but it remains to be seen whether the players apply and maintain the focus and mental fortitude required to do so. Unfortunately, I see another joyless end to the season in store as a Spurs fan based on that nightmare showing at the Emirates.