Friday 24 November 2017

Aidan O'Hara: Spurs’ honeymoon period won’t protect them for much longer

Pochettino's men are having an excellent season - but spotlight will shine harshly if they finish up empty-handed

Tottenham Hotspur's Dele Alli applauds supporters after the final whistle during the Emirates FA Cup, Semi-Final match at Wembley Stadium, London. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Dele Alli applauds supporters after the final whistle during the Emirates FA Cup, Semi-Final match at Wembley Stadium, London. Photo: PA
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

One of the most remarkable things about Leicester's title triumph was that it came with a group of players that could have been signed by any other team but, also, they had so little difficulty hanging onto most them once they had won the league.

There was Arsenal's bid for Jamie Vardy, enquiries about Riyad Mahrez and, crucially, the loss of N'Golo Kante but nobody was going to beat the door down waving a blank cheque and insisting they are not leaving without the signature of Danny Drinkwater.

For Tottenham, both this season and last, that isn't the case. Their rise is similarly impressive given that each member of their squad probably wouldn't be there if the riches of Chelsea or Manchester City wanted them. Unlike Leicester, however, everyone wants those players now.

Having worked in the Liverpool academy, the then-MK Dons manager Karl Robinson did almost everything bar driving Dele Alli to Melwood but, Liverpool decided not to follow up. Tottenham then found £5m in pocket change and signed Alli on a five-and-a-half-year deal to pull off one of the great bargains of recent years.

Harry Kane could have been lured away cheaply a few seasons ago; Southampton almost had Toby Alderweireld before Spurs nabbed him and while, at £22m, Son Heung-min didn't come cheap from Bayer Leverkusen, it was still £10m less than Michy Batshuayi who hasn't started a league game for Chelsea.

The next step in Tottenham's progress, however, has to be beating off rivals for a player who than can turn the early-season draws into wins.

A win in next Sunday's North London derby will ensure that 'St Totteringham's Day' won't be celebrated this season. For anyone who doesn't know, that's the Arsenal feast day which has been marked every year in Arsene Wenger's reign at the point when it's mathematically impossible for Tottenham to finish above Arsenal. It is, mostly, a bit of fun albeit a bit small-time for those who take it a bit too seriously.

Were Arsenal to fail to reach the Champions League, however, Tottenham should be able to offer a potentially better option for players Arsenal are looking to sign which could finally ensure the shift in the North London balance of power, which seems to have been written about for about the past five seasons.

Arsenal were only able to get the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil because they were unwanted by Barcelona and Real Madrid but if Tottenham were willing to put the money up, players in a similar situation like Arda Turan or James Rodriguez could push them to the level of getting out of the Champions League group stage while sustaining a league challenge.

If they can't, however, they don't have to look too far to see what happens when players get their heads turned by the opportunity to win trophies and, incidentally they will say, double or treble their salary. Over the years, Arsenal have had plenty of games like Tottenham's on Saturday where they walk off with praise in their ears despite having lost. Eventually, for Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and others, the gratitude for what the club had done for them was superseded by the reality of always being the bridesmaids.

Against Chelsea, Tottenham showed marvellous energy and verve, beautiful passages of play and goals from a couple of young English internationals in a game that was shown on BBC and will have had terrestrial TV viewers dreaming that, England can win the World Cup with Kane and Alli to the fore.

Again, however, they lost because of something as basic as not having a player defending the edge of the box on a corner which allowed Eden Hazard to score Chelsea's third.Because they are new and vibrant, the word "yet" rather than "still" is used when the question comes about why they haven't won a trophy but unless Chelsea falter, this will be another trophy-less season.

Finishing second in the league would be a superb feat but in this era where context isn't given to anything beyond winning, such an over-achievement becomes the yard-stick by which the club, manager and players are measured and dipping below that brings recriminations rather than talk of potential. Next season, obviously, two of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham will finish outside the top four and, it's unlikely that their players will stick around for Thursday nights in the Europa League.

Camaraderie

Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino remain very much in the honeymoon period as members of the league's elite where articles appear in national newspapers, such as they did on Saturday, about them eating breakfast together, shaking hands before training sessions or WhatsApp-ing each other to show their camaraderie. It won't take long without a trophy for that to spin in the opposite direction.

The first signs are already there with Tottenham being unfairly accused of choking in certain quarters but the reality is that, in order to choke, a team has to be in a position to win in the first place.

Last season, after Leicester drew with West Ham, Harry Kane posted a picture online of a group of lions to subtly suggest that Tottenham were a chasing pack hunting down the leaders but even after they beat Stoke the following night, the gap was still five points with four games to go.

This time, the gap is four with six games to go, which is closer but still speaks of a team coming with a great run where they have nothing to lose, which brings less pressure than being up there all season. At the level to which they aspire, inquiries come fast and harshly about why a team that has lost fewer games, conceded fewer goals and scored more than Chelsea can't quite manage to get ahead of them. Unlike on Saturday, there might be hard questions asked if they again come up empty-handed.

Irish Independent

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