Reaction to Spurs defeat by Monaco in the Champions League has been mixed. For supporters, it quickly became one of those signpost matches, not just an uneven performance but one that pointed towards deeper issues faced by the club both on and off the pitch.
Cogitating on the way home – pleeeeenty of time for that in the queue for the tube – and on social media is an exercise in understanding loss. Reactions cover the whole spectrum of football analysis, from being outclassed through to being unlucky or inept, whichever you prefer. From being not good enough to not trying hard enough, from being inspired by the occasion to being over-awed.
I’ve heard them all and there’s truth in most, although truth is hard to find because it feels like many are coping with defeat by projecting existing views onto this one game. If you believe the players are soft then you said they did not try and were over-awed. If you like Spurs being at Wembley, you were moved by the record crowd, if you don’t then the antiseptic bowl sucked the life out of the occasion.
I was moved by it all. Can’t fail but have a lump in the throat at kick-off choking back a few of the words of ‘Oh when the Spurs…’. But that feeling of anti-climax has only just disappeared 36 hours on. So…
Team selection was a bigger hindrance than the venue. I admire the attacking approach but for me, Lamela and Son don’t belong in the same starting line-up. Both can change the game, win it sometimes, both do not make enough of an impact enough of the time. In a game that was always going to be tight and where a solid start to the group was important, too often they were peripheral.
I don’t buy the ‘not trying’ argument. This lot try harder than any team in my fifty years at the Lane. What they lacked was authority. They did not impose themselves on proceedings until the start of the second half, by which time it was too late. Monaco had their lead and were supremely well prepared to keep it. We made and missed chances but for the most part it still looked as our opponents had a better sense of what they were about.
Authority is about presence. A midfield with Dembele and Sissoko has that, plus more experience. Neither were fully fit. Dembele made a huge difference in the second half, promise in the games to come and Tottenham deserve credit for lifting ourselves in a rousing twenty minutes in the middle of that period. Plus we needed some nouse, players who had been there before, to dictate the tempo and take control. Spurs went at the game with the naïve enthusiasm of kids when some caution and stability was required. Spurs play well when they keep the tempo high yet the first half was decidedly flat, the early goal puncturing our balloon.
Our game going forward is founded on the attacking axis of Kane, Alli and Eriksen. For different reasons this functioned only sporadically. Alli is needed further forward, not lying deeper. Eriksen found plenty of space but his passing let him and us down, three occasions in the first half passing to the opposition when he could see the openings perfectly well.
But in the end, two mistakes, two goals given away. Lamela taking insufficient care as we moved out of defence, everyone therefore in the wrong place when he gave the ball away. A cross not won fell straight to a French player. Could have gone anywhere.
Above all, despite it all, chances made and missed. Son early on, Lamela half a chance, Alli inches way first from a through-ball then with a shot well saved. And Harry, straight at the keeper. What were you thinking? In the media he is convincing himself that nothing is wrong, but there is tell-tale hesitation in everything he does. We know you, H, we can see it and feel your pain, but oh Harry, we’ll take care of you.
And the future? It doesn’t show Spurs are not good enough. It shows we have to learn to adapt our game to this level, and manager and players have lessons to absorb. This is the elite. For long periods we weren’t up to it, yet one less mistake, one taken chance and the outcome would have been different.
Spurs did everything possible to make Wembley feel like if not home then a place where we were more than just passing through. For the players, the home dressing room looked very familiar, while in the build-up the team trained on a Wembley replica pitch and on matchday their routine was identical to that of a home match. This is what Pochettino’s fabled attention to detail looks like in reality, and there’s no doubt his attitude filtered through to board level too in their negotiations with Wembley.
The banners and the ‘game is about glory’ message around the top tier were appreciated by everyone I spoke to but in the end it is the supporters that make a ground home. The pre-match buzz became a crescendo at kick-off. The noise was deafening. The passion must have conveyed itself to the team. For us, we told ourselves that we were there, we are Tottenham, that Tottenham had come to Wembley and the Champions League and we would make this place ours.
That many have dismissed the record attendance figure says more about modern cynicism and over-weening expectations that anything that took place at Wembley. Sure we all would have preferred to have been at the Lane but this was something special in itself. To forget our history is to lose a huge chunk of our identity, of ourselves. Even the glory days of swaying flat-capped terracing couldn’t match these numbers. Never. Ever. And the Spurs did it.
Any Spurs fan not moved by the torrent of white streaming back to Wembley Park after the game must have a heart of stone. It flowed endlessly, that all-time attendance record brought to life more than filling the ground did. Scaling the stairs to the station entrance and turning to gaze back at the throng became a ritual for successive waves of fans and will be the memory that many will share in years to come, rather than the game itself sadly.
Trouble is, it was a Herculean effort to get to that point in the first place. Defeat, rain and the Wembley tube queue equal one of the Twelve Labours. It stayed dry but problems with the Met line – of course there were – came on as a late substitute. It takes time to shift 85,000 people and I’m used to the wait but don’t recall comparable delays in the station itself waiting to get on to the platform.
It will never be as good as White Hart Lane because it isn’t White Hart Lane. The old ground means so much, the heritage, the ghosts of victories past, the tight enclosed stands. More than anything, it is ours and nothing will be the same. Supporters self-regulate over time to sit where they feel comfortable with, by and large, the people they feel comfortable with. It creates a culture that does not transfer well to a bigger stadium with a different shape, as West Ham fans are finding to their cost. Those things we take for granted, friendships, pre-match drinking holes, the fans who start the chants sitting together, all split up. We’re beginning to learn the lessons of moving to the new ground already.
You can hear Martin Cloake and I talking about A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur here on the Tottenham Way podcast with Tom and Dan, or me flying solo on the BBC London Radio sports show for Wednesday, recorded by the Bobby Moore statue no less, here around 7.20 pm