I’m knocking up the commemorative t-shirts. ‘7-2 I stayed til the end’. Is it the worst home defeat in 137 years? I was there. I’ve seen Spurs come a cropper before now. 7-0 at Liverpool, shipping six at City under AVB, 5-0 at home to Arsenal, but this is the first time I can recall seeing Spurs or any side for that matter lose 7-2 after being ahead and then arguably the best side for the opening half hour. Colchester and Bayern in 8 days is some feat.
Post-match, Pochettino was honest enough to say out aloud what we all knew. By the end, we had given up. It’s hard but possible for a team to get over the impact of a defeat like this. Harder to overcome is rebuilding individual and collective self-respect, which lay in tatters, trodden underfoot in successive gleeful German goal celebrations.
Gnabry trotted over to the Shelf after one of them, don’t know which, I lost track and was beyond caring by then, and mimed a fishing rod, reeling us in. It’s probably the best match summary you’ll see. The beating was so bad, nobody had the energy to abuse an ex-Gunner in return.
I was past anger into numbness. Deep breath, wait a few days, stay away from twitter, no rash judgements, now write.
History is a series of events joined by a timeline. The significance of each moment, every potential tipping point, along the way can be judged only by looking at what preceded it and what happened subsequently. The Champions League final defeat marks not the beginning of a new era but the end of phase one of Pochettino’s rebuilding of Tottenham Hotspur. He knew he had to move the team forward, win or lose. This next rebuilding phase presents a different set of challenges. So far, Pochettino has still to find his way and his players look lost. reality is brutal and he has nothing but hard work ahead if he is to turn this around.
He’s worked wonders at the club, instilling an ethos of hard work, attractive football and teamwork, without the wholehearted financial backing of his chairman. Fans and team have not been as close for decades. Every player in the squad is better than they were before and they should be eternally grateful.
So what’s next. Firstly, he now must manage the demands of key players who also saw the Final as a tipping point, in their case that it was not going to get any better than this at Spurs and to seek employment elsewhere. Eriksen wants the sun on his back, while Jan and Toby by all accounts want a last big payday. There are unsettled players at every club. The trick is to manage this without creating undue disaffection. Poch can’t get rid of them, as he did with Lennon, Kaboul and others who did not sign up to his ethos at the time, because we rely so much on them. Whatever he’s said, there are too many rumours of dressing room disharmony to ignore them.
New phase, new players. This should have happened the summer before last. Clearly Levy did not deliver, which I said at the time was short-sighted. It’s hardly the manager’s fault that all his buys have been injured. However, if they had come at the beginning of the window, he would have had the time to get them fit and strong, ready for the season to come. N’dombele is a star in the making, an increasing influence on matches now that he starts regularly, but he’s not been fit enough to last the whole game or play two in four days, as we saw to our cost on Tuesday night. N’dombele on the boil, Spurs on top. He fades early in the second half, the Spurs midfield disappears, out go the lights.
New players to bolster the existing squad. Except key players who should be reaching their peak can no longer be relied upon. I say this with no pleasure whatsoever, but Wanyama will never regain the strength and power that made this mighty proud warrior such a force in our midfield. I’m seriously worried about Eric Dier, who appears like a rumour every now and again to lumber around aimlessly, his mind taking him into the right positions, his body lagging five yards behind. Poch has not enabled youngsters like KWP and Skipp to play any competitive football, so their progress has stalled. Trippier has gone, so the problem of a lack of squad depth that has dogged Spurs’ development has not been solved. In fact, with the glaring problems at full-back, it’s worse. Trippier’s sale without a replacement is a self-inflicted wound. Maybe Poch wanted someone, maybe Levy wouldn’t pay, not for the first time. But it’s avoidable. Full-backs are so important to Poch’s style. Spurs had the chance to be a top club (without thinking I opted for the past tense there, let’s leave it for now). That costs. Any system in any field is only as strong as its weakest link.
All managers make decisions that from the outside are puzzling but I wonder how Poch is seeing the abilities of some of these players. Against Leicester, he brought Wanyama on, presumably to protect the defence. In reality it had the opposite effect. Leicester were able to seize the momentum of the game. Also, going back to the City game, he brought on Skipp right at the end. He had to mark Laporte for a corner. Outgunned, the ball went in, only to be disallowed. We got away with it but it seemed unnecessary, based on an inflated view of Skipp’s defensive abilities.
Maybe that’s going too far. Criticism of the diamond formation used against Bayern and others is justified. Spurs gave up long before the end, giving the ball away at will. It was unforgivable, and desperately sad to see Pochettino’s thrilling side reduced to a disorganised, unmotivated rabble. However, to find out the real problem, look at what happened around 30 minutes, when Bayern took over after we had arguably been on top and certainly should have scored more than one goal.
The diamond is a shiny, beguiling jewel but be wary of being seduced by it. It plays to our strengths, allowing Kane and Son to do their brilliant thing and frees up Dele or Eriksen in the attacking point. However, it also exposes our weaknesses. It can leave big gaps, especially if the two wide players are not fit enough to cover huge amounts of ground and skilled enough to both defend and attack. N’Dombele is not fit enough to be one of those for 90 minutes.
Winks is not the player to leave at the base of the diamond. In my view, any one player is not enough because our defence is not strong enough to be so exposed. We give teams too much room in front of our back four, whether it’s Bayern. Palace or Leicester. Bayern shifted bodies into that space and we were two down by half-time.
This isn’t about a sophisticated tactical analysis. It’s about getting bodies back to stay secure and about getting the ball back and getting it forward quickly. Winks is one player essential to that aspect of our play – he’s more than good enough, but he can’t do it on his own. Bayern targeted him in possession and isolated him, three or four men rushing to him as he tried to turn defence into attack. We made it too easy for them. Instead of battle-hardened CL finalists, we looked naïve. Managers and their teams have to evolve, you can’t stand still, I can see absolutely why Poch feels he has to try something progressive, and why he thinks he has the players to do it, but it’s not working.
And this is so obvious, but the players must all take responsibility to be the best they can be again. None of this is an excuse. On the contrary, they have to look deep inside themselves to say, never again. Contract disputes mean nothing on the pitch.
On the tube home, I was giving off such powerful signals of ‘do not under any circumstances interact with me in any way’, it would have been less obvious if I had hung a neon sign round my neck flashing ‘naff off’. Nevertheless, the bloke next to me felt compelled to dig me in the ribs to share his disgust with Eriksen. The conversation wasn’t entirely wasted because he also shared the fact that Brian Murphy from George and Mildred lives in the cottage opposite my son’s house. Frankly, it didn’t lift my mood. My suspicions that he’d been drinking were confirmed when he said he was staying on the tube until Clock House – which doesn’t have a tube station. He had the right idea, though, having a few to dull the pain.
Eriksen’s mind is halfway between north London and Madrid and his form has suffered but it’s wrong to blame individuals for poor team performances, although in Aurier’s case I might make an exception. We know the truth, that Spurs have been off-colour for the best part of a year, and that Levy’s investment is not enough for Pochettino to compete. Maybe the surprise is that it has taken this long for the cracks to turn into chasms.
I write this after visiting a foster carer as part of my working life. Foster carers are remarkable people who willingly face challenges I would walk away from in a heartbeat and pressure 24/7 because they know the child deserves the best possible life. They too look beneath the surface. The chances are, an angry child has good reason to be distressed and uncertain because of what led up to their being looking after.
This carer is extraordinarily insightful and patient. They’re also knackered and who can blame them. I asked what kept her going. She replied, “tomorrow is a new day.” She loves the children and proud of every little success. A proud, dedicated man, Pochettino is angry and uncertain too. He has to find a way forward. Sissoko’s four year deal could be a significant change of policy with regard Seeto experienced players. If so, it could lead to big offers to Jan and Toby. Eriksen apparently already has one on the table. I’ve repeatedly said this is sound investment, because CL qualification pays for the contracts and much more. We need them onside.
The true of any side is the way they come back from adversity. They got right on it against Southampton, but versus Brighton they have a bigger gap to bridge. Perhaps in the future, we’ll look back on Brighton away as the start of phase 3.
Out now from Amazon, this is the story of Spurs’ Champions League campaign last season, told through newspaper match reports, the memories of supporters and the authors’ reflections. I’m not going to review it because I’ve been quoted a few times, and I make a point of writing what I think rather than responding to social media guff. So this is what the book is about. Judge for yourself if you want to buy it. Easy, isn’t it. All part of the service.
It’s a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any Spurs fan because the campaign is placed in the context of the club’s heritage. Playing in Europe has a special place in our history. Also, it analyses extensively how Pochettino embraces the club’s traditions of trying to play attractive, expansive football to take us into the top four and to Madrid.
This book is authentic, bringing out the way supporters became intoxicated on a heady mixture of excitement and disbelief as the run progressed. This isn’t about destiny or entitlement. It’s about fans who were surprised and delighted as their team punched above their weight, about supporters having a good time, about fans and team being together on the journey. About loyalty. Which is what being a football fan is all about, isn’t it?
If you think you know how it ends, prepare to be mistaken. Part of being a fan of any football team at any level is crushing disappointment. One Step From Glory celebrates the journey but doesn’t glorify defeat. The book concludes with an honest appraisal of what might have been and what the future holds. No tub-thumping here, rather an insight into prospects on and off the pitch as Spurs get used to the new ground and the income it brings. Having written extensively about north London football and business, Alex Fynn provides unparalleled depth and authority to these later chapters.
One Step From Glory is written by two professional writers, one a Spurs fan, one not, and it’s published independently, not by the club. It therefore gives both the sense of involvement, how it felt to be part of it, and a professional detachment. This, plus using newspaper match reports that in my view downplay the quality of some of Spurs’ football, means this readable account rattles along without ever becoming cloying or gushing. It’s part of our history and an insight into what the club means for so many supporters all over the world.
And if you’re still with me, look out for two other must haves – Julie Welch has updated the new edition of her Biography of Tottenham Hotspur, which should be out soon, and Adam Powley has written the biography of Steve Perryman, one of the all time greats, published by Vision. Christmas is coming…