If Tottenham lose against Liverpool in the Champions League final, we can expect the usual helping of ‘Spursy’ comments. But it shouldn’t be that way, as Ben Snowball explains…
“This means nothing if at the end of the season we haven’t won a trophy.”
No trophy arrived, it was all for nothing. At least, that’s according to Mauricio Pochettino, who delivered the stark warning deep in the bowels of Wembley Stadium after Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen had helped scalpel Real Madrid in 2017. But it turns out he wasn’t quite right.
While they remain trophy-less for 11 seasons, every small step since Harry Redknapp’s “two points from eight games” interview bingo has pushed them closer to this moment. There was Younes Kaboul darting down the right flank at the Etihad, allowing Peter Crouch to nod home and send Spurs into the Champions League in 2010. There was Gareth Bale at the San Siro the following year, a futile hat-trick but one that made the club believe they belonged on the biggest stage. There was Harry Kane’s peach against Arsenal that propelled Tottenham to the Premier League summit in the ‘as it stands table’.
But each of those moments was swiftly followed by despair as the word ‘Spursy’ was born. Crouch collected two yellows inside 14 minutes as Spurs were crushed 4-0 in the Bernabeu. Bale alone could not salvage the resulting AVB era, with the club again drifting into punchline status under Tim Sherwood. Kane’s goal was followed by a Hugo Llorisfumble that prompted a DVD mock-up commemorating their stop at the top.
Now, Tottenham have the chance to banish all that pain in a single encounter. It seems odd that 90 minutes, potentially a handful more, can define a club. But it will.
In our binary world, people are so quick to condense ideas into a single word. Got a double-barrelled surname? Privileged. Voted leave? Xenophobe. Tottenham Hotspur? Bottlers.
It’s rarely that simple. While trophies are the ultimate desire, they are not the only markers of success. Only five are available to English teams each season, discounting one-off curtain-raisers. Only two of them truly matter to clubs who want to rank among the global elite: the Premier League and the Champions League. It’s no shame to go without them for Spurs, especially given their lack of interest in flirting with the boundaries of financial fair play. Or spending money on the squad at all.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino celebrates during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg match between Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur at the Johan Cruyff Arena on May 8, 2019 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.-Getty Images
How many times has the ‘Spursy’ bandwagon been fired up this European campaign? Their three-letter record after as many games: LLD? Spursy. For immediately conceding against Manchester City in the quarter-final second leg? Spursy. For going 3-0 behind against Ajax. Spursy.
And yet the jibe ignores the real story: a side once plagued by fragility is proving it’s now amongst the mentally toughest. Needing to beat PSV, Kane scored twice in the final 12 minutes for a 2-1 win. Needing to beat Inter, Eriksen struck with just 10 minutes remaining. Needing a point at the Camp Nou, Moura fired home. And that’s just the group stage.
Borussia Dortmund arrived at Wembley and battered them for 45 minutes. By full-time, Spurs had practically sewn up the tie. When City streamed forward in pursuit of a late winner in the quarter-final, a makeshift Spurs somehow resisted – a City side containing five players that eclipsed Tottenham’s transfer record, and another two on the bench. Even if VAR hadn’t intervened in Raheem Sterling’s celebrations, you couldn’t attack Pochettino’s side for it. There is no shame at wilting under pressure from Europe’s most unstoppable force.
Llorente (Manchester City – Tottenham)-Getty Images
Then came Ajax. With 35 minutes remaining, Spurs had to score three times. It still looked a forlorn task when Moussa Sissoko hoofed the ball into the Amsterdam sky, but Fernando Llorente believed, Alli believed, Moura believed and Spurs were in the final.
Sadly, only a trophy parade next week will end the cheap remarks. But it shouldn’t be that way – Pochettino has transformed this side and injected a mentality matched by few, enabling an above-average-but-not-great side to be within touching distance of football’s biggest prize. Not chokers, not bottlers, not Spursy.