First Touch

Spurs On The Slippery Slope

A couple of weeks back, you could accuse Spurs of no more than just a sluggish start. Not now though, after they were schooled by Bayern Munich.

A couple of weeks ago, Manchester United and Arsenal were under the microscope, as we wondered if either club might think in terms of moving out their manager and swooping down for Max Allegri instead.

The dismal 1-1 draw the two played out at Old Trafford not long afterwards made it clear just how far both sides have fallen from the pinnacle and how far behind Liverpool and Manchester City they lag. Arsenal’s Emery earned some respite with a win over Bournemouth but Manchester United’s grim defeat at Newcastle only adds more fuel to those flames.

Dave Bowler author logoBy Dave Bowler

Into that mix of misery, we now have to throw Tottenham Hotspur too. A couple of weeks back, you could accuse them of no more than just a sluggish start, perhaps a bit of a hangover from that Champions League defeat to Liverpool back in June. Not now though, not after the complete schooling they were given by Bayern Munich in their new, state-of-the-art stadium last week.

A 7-2 humbling, their worst ever defeat in Europe, followed by a 3-0 thumping at Brighton where they rarely even competed, suggests that things are not going to solved by a strong dose of Alka Seltzer.

In the context of that defeat, the fact that, a week earlier, they slipped out of the League Cup at Colchester United looks worse yet. Ordinarily that could have been shrugged off, one less competition to worry about etc. But given that the accepted wisdom both around the club – Harry Kane said so in a BBC interview at the start of the month – and the wider game is that this year, Spurs must win a trophy for the first time since 2008, that loss takes on greater significance.

Spurs Challenge

Given that on the evidence of the last couple of seasons, if they want to win the Premier League, they would now probably need to win 28 out of their remaining 30 games, so barring something quite miraculous, that competition is already beyond them.

The League Cup is gone too. Though they could – quite possibly will – still qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, winning such a ferocious competition is always a very tall order. Which means, here in mid-October, with seven months of the season remaining, virtually all of Tottenham’s eggs are placed in the FA Cup shaped basket. That’s not how their brave new world was supposed to look.

Particularly not since even their hitherto expected top four finish looks a little less certain than it did too. Again, given the issues at Arsenal, United and Chelsea, Spurs could still come through, but even then, that’s the kind of consolation prize that Arsenal fans spent years berating Arsene Wenger for achieving.


Clearly all is not well at Tottenham, with Pochettino talking about players having different agendas and the squad lacking the togetherness of previous years. That much is evident, the sagas over Eriksen, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose et al having dragged through the summer without resolution.

That in itself is a reminder that however good or valuable a footballer is to you, if he genuinely wants out – rather than one who is just trying it on to get a better contract – get him gone, because little good has ever come anywhere from retaining an unhappy footballer.

It’s also a reminder that really good footballers are in short supply and, especially if you are a club on the way up, of how incredibly hard it is to keep hold of them because there is always a bigger club that can offer more money and medals right now.


Spurs found that out years ago with Luka Modric for instance, just as Leeds did it in the early years of the century, just as many other emerging teams have down the years. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United, Juventus or whoever is big at that moment will always be a more attractive option than a club trying to fight its way to the summit.

How many more years can they keep Harry Kane happy if they don’t give him the trophies he could likely collect in Barcelona, Milan, Munich or Turin?

The scale of the job facing Spurs and Pochettino should not be minimised. Looked at in any historical context, to take a club from being on the fringes of the top four in England to the final two in Europe was a huge achievement. But if getting there was tough, as the vultures circle, staying there is tougher.

New Stadium

Tottenham’s biggest problem, even including any internal unrest, is that it all looks a bit stale. The real genius of Sir Alex Ferguson in those imperious years at Old Trafford was the ruthlessness with which he would pick off those who no longer had the absolute focus and send them off elsewhere. Nobody was too big – Ince, Beckham, Keane, Van Nistelrooy, they were all put on their way when the time came, to be replaced by leaner, hungrier footballers to ensure that United kept on winning.

Spurs’ inability to do that is in part the result of circumstance. The building of their new stadium has clearly choked off funds for new players in recent times and in that position, they were right to keep hold of the top players that they had.

But that has meant that over the last couple of years, there has been no new blood to stimulate things, bring fresh dimensions, increase competition. Spurs didn’t buy anyone last season and though there was more activity this summer, thus far only Tanguy NDombele has made any impression. The summer of 2019 is now looking like a catastrophically misjudged few months.


Pochettino has been working with pretty much the same 15 or 16 frontline players for three seasons now and while they have produced some of the best football seen in the Premier League in that time, familiarity can breed, if not contempt, then stagnation.

He was clearly keen to move more players on and bring fresh ones in this summer, recognising that need, but when Daniel Levy is in charge of the shop, he has a value for each incoming and outgoing. If those aren’t matched by the other club, the transfer doesn’t happen. That iron control has served Tottenham well in the past but perhaps this summer was the time to be a little more flexible.

There’s certainly the feeling that one or two players have passed their peak or are in need of a change of scene. Before his horrible injury at Brighton, Hugo Lloris, for instance, has been betraying the signs of many a World Cup winner of yore – once you’ve won the biggest trophy there is, how do you motivate yourself to just keep getting better and better? At 32, would it have been the moment to cash in on Jan Vertonghen?


Just what has happened to Eric Dier? What Spurs need is some pretty substantial surgery and it should have happened this summer. Thanks to the transfer windows, they are now eight months away from trying to do the bulk of that job again. This might be a painful season ahead, though paradoxically, complete concentration on the FA Cup in the new year might be their salvation.

Having had no real opportunity to freshen things up in two years, Pochettino deserves the opportunity to do so, to revitalise the Tottenham project and to try to keep them on the upward trajectory he has masterminded in his time at the helm. But unlike at Arsenal and Manchester United, the real question isn’t whether the club has got the right man. It’s whether he wants to tread water for a year before starting to climb the same mountain again.

Scroll to Top