Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur dazzled but the biggest challenge is to end trophy drought
Pochettino has imbued Tottenham Hotspur with an energy to express themselves. Now, the 45-year-old’s job is to ensure that his ideas do not lose their power at the Wembley stadium.
In the Tottenham Hotspur dressing room, there’s a strong energy that bounces about before games. The roof is low, so low that you could touch it. When the players put the music on, the compact surroundings makes them feel stronger and closer. They rouse themselves up, ready for the contest at hand. In times like now, it only feels more special.
So, of course, Spurs decided to break it down. When the squad returns to the same venue for the 2018-19 season, the stadium would have expanded to 61,000 seats. Perhaps, the dressing room will be bigger too. But the energy, well, that may remain the same. Because without that, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs is nothing.
After the final game at White Hart Lane—which brought a 2-1 win over Manchester United—club chairman Daniel Levy said that everyone “should take a moment to look around and recognise the momentous and poignant occasion of which we are now part”. Indeed, he spoke for many as Spurs embark on a new adventure. The players can touch the ceiling in the dressing room but it is time to break past and set new trends.
It helps that Pochettino sees an upward trajectory for the club. “We’ve improved, mentally we’re tougher. Our level is now higher and it’s a good platform. Now we must move on, try to improve the squad and challenge to win trophies next season.”
The absence of silverware aside, this was a league campaign full of glitter for the North London side. Spurs finished with the best attack (86 goals), best defence (26 goals conceded) and the top goal scorer (Harry Kane). There was to be no collapse this time around once Chelsea’s superlative form won the league. Spurs scored 13 times in the final two games.
“We’ve finished the way we want to finish – fantastically. I’m very happy for Harry, it’s an amazing achievement and we’ve shown we’ve learnt from last season”, said the manager. Indeed, Spurs were 16 points better this season; the threat of another St Totteringham’s Day was staved off with ease too – Arsenal finished 11 points behind in fifth. Despite the impressive numbers, it was the spate of draws early in the season — six in the first eleven games— which eventually hurt the Lilywhites.
But as Spurs leave the Lane after 118 years for a season, the club’s talismanic manager is going nowhere. As long as Pochettino is in charge of this young, energetic side, a piece of major silverware will not be far away from their grasp. However, the shadow of a season at Wembley looms large.
Spurs did not entirely convince observers when it played its European games at the grander venue. Pochettino’s men won only one out of its four ‘home’ games in continental competitions this season and the victory arrived in a dead rubber. Spurs also lost its FA Cup semifinal to Chelsea there.
Pochettino explained the failure of his players by claiming that they could not adjust to playing home games on two venues. According to the Argentinean manager, the unfamiliarity of Wembley had its say. Pochettino, however, contends that it will not be a problem next season as Spurs will play all of its matches in one place. He also discussed the issue of pitch dimensions.
“It’s also funny how things have changed. When I arrived at this club I made the mistake of saying that the (small) size of the White Hart Lane pitch maybe didn’t help us in the way we want to play. I received a lot of criticism for that. But now it’s: ‘Maybe Wembley is so big.’”
Of course, Spurs’ comforts at the Lane further skewed the issue. The North London side was the only Premier League team to stay undefeated at home all season. In the 1960s, spectators brought cockerels to matches at the White Hart Lane as a nod to the club’s badge. The crowing sounds would distinctly impact the aural atmosphere; of course, it would not be possible in today’s times but maybe Spurs don’t need it either. The players at the Lane were the ones with their tails up this season and the fans crowed in delight.
Indeed, such was the quality of Spurs’s displays, one wonders if the squad can be improved. After all, even when Kane went missing due to injury, the club drew only three of those nine matches and won the rest. (As an aside, isn’t it remarkable that the striker won the Premier League Golden Boot for the second season running despite missing nearly a fourth of the campaign?)
However, defensive reinforcements may not be the worst idea for Spurs. The club suffered when its first-choice pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld was not available. In the absence of even one of them, Spurs’s win rate dropped to about 50 per cent. Pochettino would do well to sign a reliable centre-back as backup to the Belgian duo.
However, the manager’s biggest challenge will be to ensure that the club maintains the upward trend it has built in his three seasons there. The logical conclusion to this growth curve would be an end to the trophy drought at Spurs. Although the squad has mentally toughened up, it may take some more convincing before the players see themselves as winners. After all, Spurs has won only the League Cup (once) in this century. No cupboard is constructed to remain bare.
During the Second World War, football games would stop at the White Hart Lane only when a bomb crossed the skyline above. The stadium doubled up as a morgue to aid the war effort but there was no World War I-like shutdown. However, as Spurs enters a new era, football will finally have to halt at the Lane for the first time in over a century.
Pochettino felt emotional when he bid goodbye to the stadium, after the win over United. Spurs, though, will hope that he will return on the new, overlaid pitch. The manager’s work with the young brigade is not yet done. Pochettino has imbued Spurs with an energy to express themselves. Now, the 45-year-old’s job is to ensure that his ideas do not lose their power at the Wembley stadium.
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