LONDON: In and around 1960 Tottenham in England and Real Madrid in Europe set a standard for both entertaining and winning football that succeeding teams and players and managers have found difficult to emulate writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
They both play in white – Tottenham wear blue shorts in domestic competition but all-white in Europe – and both spend heavily on players. Indeed, two of Madrid’s more expensive signings of the last two years, Gareth Bale (£95m) and Luka Modric (£30m) both came from Tottenham.
But here their paths divide. Madrid have kept on winning at home and abroad. Last May they secured a record-extending 10th European Champions League Cup. Tottenham must look all the way back to 1961 for their last league title and to 1984 for their last European trophy (and that was ‘only’ the UEFA Cup [Europa League precursor]).
A majority of Spurs fans were not born when the legendary team captained by Northern Ireland halfback Danny Blanchflower became, in 1961, the first English club in the 20th century to win the long-elusive league and FA Cup double.
March of the managers
Yet the ‘Glory, glory’ traditions live on and breed an impatience in not only fans but owners and directors. Chairman Daniel Levy has been in charge, on behalf of Caribbean-based billionaire Joe Lewis for 13 years. In all that time he has gone through 11 managers.
Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino, lured from Southampton during the summer, is the latest. Like all previous managers he has been promised long-term security. Like many previous managers, after merely four months, his future is beginning to appear questionable.
The seeds for the current failure to match expectations were sown in early 2012 when Levy and then boss Harry Redknapp fell out because the then manager had his head turned by the possibility of taking over England from departing Fabio Capello.
Levy replaced Redknapp with Andre Villas-Boas and brought in Italian Franco Baldini Bandini as sports director. Bandini spent all the Bale inheritance largely on players Villas-Boas did not want. Predictably spirit and results were erratic and ‘Mini Mourinho’ was sacked midway through last season.
Now Pochettino has been entrusted with picking up the pieces and trying to make a pretty picture out of jigsaw which baffled Villas-Boas.
International players abound: in defence England’s Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, Younis Kaboul (France), Jan Vertonghen (Belgium), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon), Vlad Chiriches (Romania) and Federico Fazio (Argentina); in midfield Paulinho (Brazil), Nacer Chadli and Mousa
Dembele (Belgium) plus Nabil Bentabel (Algeria); and in attack England’s Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend, Roberto Soldado (Spain), Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo), and Erik Lamela (Argentina).
Yet the only player of the proven class which wins trophies is France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and the only player of significant potential is Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen. How long Tottenham can keep them, amid doubt over the prospect of even repeat qualification for the Europa League, is questionable.
The traditional north London derby with Arsenal lost its bite long ago. Arsenal are in the Champions League season after season. Spurs just dream, season after season.
Arsenal accomplished a smooth across-the-summer transition from old stadium to new back in 2006. Spurs will not have their own new stadium until 2017 and, even then, they will have to spend the previous season ‘borrowing’ someone else’s ‘home’ ground.
Currently Spurs – at Aston Villa on Sunday – are 11th, three points behind fifth-placed Arsenal and 12 points adrift of leaders Chelsea already.
Of course only nine rounds of a 38-game season have been completed; Spurs have time to gain the match-winning understanding which brings victories and momentum and the confidence to inspire even more.
But while Levy and the fans wait for this turnaround, with customary irritated impatience, so the light-years chasm which separates them from the likes of Madrid grows ever greater.