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Are Tottenham in danger of falling apart?

Stadium issues and rumours of Christian Eriksen’s imminent departure have undermined the progress made by Spurs of late.

The Tottenham team line out (file pic).
The Tottenham team line out (file pic).
Image: Adam Davy

THERE IS NO doubt that Tottenham have overachieved significantly in recent years.

In an interview with L’Equipe in 2016, the club’s former Director of Football Damien Comolli heaped praise on chairman Daniel Levy.

“Tottenham must be the club that has moved forward most in every respect in the last 15 years in Europe, and it’s thanks to him,” Comolli said.

And there has been a level of progression even since that interview was published.

The North London club have often been ridiculed in the media and by opposition fans as ‘spineless’ and ‘bottlers,’ but those terms are unfair certainly in relation to recent seasons.

The 2016-17 season was their best performance of the Premier League era. They finished on 86 points, only four points less than Arsenal’s famous ‘Invincibles’ side accrued and seven more than United’s treble winners managed. It was a tally that would have been enough to win the English top flight in 2016, 2011, 2003, 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996 and 1993. Additionally, it equalled the tally secured in the respective title wins for Chelsea in 2010 and Man City in 2014.

If you had offered Spurs fans that kind of success 10 years ago, the once-perennial underachievers would have jumped at it.

While last season was not quite as positive in the league, they did beat Real Madrid in the Europe and only narrowly lost out to another of club football’s best sides, Juventus, having dominated them for the majority of the two round-of-16 legs.

You could even argue that, on the field, this season represents another step forward. It is their best start ever to a Premier League season. Despite some disappointing performances, they are not out of contention in the Champions League yet, with a crucial tie at home to Inter this Wednesday, while they have another chance of silverware in the form of the League Cup, where they are set to face Arsenal in the quarter-finals on 19 December.

But despite all these positives, there is a sense that all is not well at the club. Their building of a new stadium has been a disaster. It had originally been due to open long before now, but the latest reports indicate it will not be ready until early 2019. Furthermore, with the initial cost expected at around £400 million, the latest figures indicate the club will need to borrow another £237 million amid spiraling costs.

There have been signs of frustration within the camp amid this difficult situation. Near the end of last season, speaking about his future, boss Mauricio Pochettino said: “We need to review things, I don’t know if the club will agree,” though it was subsequently announced that he had signed a new five-year contract at the club.

However, this season, the murmurs of discontent have continued. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville claimed last month that the Argentine coach was “laying foundations for a Spurs exit”. Pochettino himself has added fuel to this speculation, recently telling reporters: “The season so far, it’s strange because my feeling is the worst feeling I’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here. It’s the worst. My feeling, but it’s the best start ever for the club in the Premier League. It’s strange, no?

I don’t know, it’s so difficult to explain because many things happen, I am disappointed we are still waiting for the new stadium when the expectation was to be there at the beginning of the season.”

Most of their top players are well aware they could earn far better money elsewhere. Kyle Walker has already jumped ship. Real Madrid are reportedly targeting Christian Eriksen as a long-term replacement for Luka Modric. The likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld are continually being linked with other clubs. They also do not have the squad depth of other big sides — City can lose their most important player, Kevin De Bruyne, for a couple of months and still perform like the best team in the league, whereas it is doubtful that Tottenham would be similarly unaffected by the loss of Harry Kane.

This week, Pochettino urged 26-year-old Eriksen — who has 18 months left on his current contract — to follow his example and turn down the advances of Real.

“He knows and we know what we’re doing and of course we’re working hard,” he said.

“The club is working to try to take the best decisions. And Christian is going to take the decision that is best for him.

I hope Christian continues to develop his career with Tottenham.

“We’re not worried. In football I’m never worried.

“But I prefer that he’s going to sign the new contract and spend a long time with Tottenham. It will be fantastic.”

One of the primary reasons that has prevented most of these high-profile individuals from leaving so far is the belief in the Spurs project.

Yet even finishing third or fourth this season may increase doubts in players’ minds. Pochettino has still yet to win a major trophy, as is the case with many of his stars, and the world-class likes of Kane tend to have an insatiable appetite for success, meaning they will do whatever is necessary to achieve it.

Netherlands: Tottenham Hotspur vs PSV Tottenham star Christian Eriksen has been linked with a move to Real Madrid. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

To have any hope of winning against the big sides, they need to do better in the key matches. Prior to near the end of last season, they had one win in 19 games on the road against fellow ‘big-six’ clubs. Subsequently beating Chelsea and Man United away suggested they had gone some way towards resolving that problem. Though within that period, they have also lost twice to Man City at home and once to Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola’s men’s record-breaking tally of 100 points last season, meanwhile, was part of a wider general trend. In the inaugural Premier League campaign, Man United won the league with just 84 points overall, 10 ahead of their nearest rivals, in what was a 42-game season. Yet in five of the last six seasons, teams have consistently triumphed with 86 points or more. The English top flight is quickly moving towards a scenario where anything under 90 points will not be good enough to prevail. 

This season, Barcelona are currently leading La Liga with 24 points. That tally in England would have them level with Arsenal in fifth, despite the same number of games played in each division.

Spurs are just three points ahead of the Gunners on 27 points and ominously already trail Man City by five.

Overcoming the so-called lesser sides is now seen almost as a given for teams with genuine title aspirations. It looks likely that whoever finishes top come May will be the outfit with the most success in clashes against fellow top-six clubs.

Consequently, while everyone still has 26 matches to play, Tottenham’s clash at home to Chelsea on Saturday evening already feels like a must-win game.

Should they lose, talk of players departing will grow more voluminous, the self-belief that has carried them so far could easily ebb away and with their lack of resources in comparison to other big clubs, the ‘bad old days’ of the 1990s and early 2000s may well ultimately return.

Saturday (all games kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)

Brighton v Leicester
Everton v Cardiff
Fulham v Southampton
Man United v Crystal Palace
Watford v Liverpool
West Ham v Man City
Tottenham v Chelsea (17.30)

Sunday

Bournemouth v Arsenal (13.30)
Wolves v Huddersfield (16.00)

Monday

Burnley v Newcastle (20.00)

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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