The end of January brought two cup exits in four days for Tottenham, a likely nadir in their season. However, this type of low-point has become an all too familiar outcome for the expectant and now increasingly frustrated Spurs fans.
During the now five seasons of Pochettino’s reign, Spurs have lost two FA Cup semi-finals (2017/2018), a League Cup semi-final (2019) and a League Cup final (2015). This despite being one of the most consistent teams in England during the last half decade, yet, Potchettino still remains trophyless.
His comments after these two latest cup exits were; “We are going to create a debate that to win a trophy is going to help the club,” he said. “I don’t agree with that. That only builds your ego. In reality, the most important thing is being consistent in the top four and playing in the Champions League. That is going to help the club to achieve the last step”.
Pottchettino has consistently stated that the Premier League and Champions League are the only trophies that matter. However, I am sure Tottenham fans would disagree with him; as the backlash following the FA Cup defeat to Crystal Palace illustrated – with some fans even crazily calling for him to go.
Similarly as strange is the raft of pundits that agree with him and defend his lack of silverware to the hilt, citing where Tottenham was when he took over. There is no doubt the job he has done is nothing short than outstanding; however, if a football clubs over-riding objective is not to win trophies, particularly, a club the size of Spurs, then really what is the point?
This antithetical punditry is exemplified by Rafa Hoginestien, who recently stated on the Totally Football Show podcast that the finance Spurs receive from Champions League qualification (last season around £55 million) compared to the prize money for winning the FA Cup (Chelsea were thought to earn around £7 million for winning it last season) makes Champions League qualification far more important.
This is a highly logical argument if you’re Tottenham’s accountant and yes they have a new stadium to pay for and lack the deep pockets of Man City and Chelsea’s owners and the global reach of Man Utd and Liverpool, but nonetheless, it’s a short-sighted thing to say…
Firstly, there are the players! Harry Kane has stated several times his passion for silverware. Just two weeks before these catastrophic cup exits (of which he was injured for) he affirmed – “the aim of the game is to win trophies and that’s what we’ve got to try and do… We want to win a trophy somehow and the FA Cup is a competition we’re looking at to do that. It’s always been a fantastic competition.” Kane hardly echoes the view of his manager.
Neither does the club and World Cup-winning captain Hugo Lloris who told Sky Sports; “but we have to run after trophies. they are the most important thing in football – it’s the only thing you remember when you retire”.
His sentiments are echoed by former Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov, who was in the last Spurs team to win a trophy, he stated; “This is the better team when I was there…But the irony was that we won a cup when I was there but they are yet to win a trophy…On a personal level, you need to show up and say ‘I’m a great player’ but what did you win in the end? You go home and think, ‘am I going to win something?’
Then there are the fans; Tottenham have a proud tradition, particularly in the FA Cup and their fans are starved of silverware. Tottenham have won one trophy (2008 League Cup) in 28 years. Their current run of 11 seasons without a trophy is their biggest lean period since the Second World War.
Pochettino notes the Champions League and Premier League as trophies are required but he’s nowhere near that at the moment. Tottenham have not won the league since 1961 – the two occasions they went close under Pochttino’s stewardship were 2015 (when Leicester won) and 2016 (when Antonio Conte’s Chelsea won). Although Chelsea only trail Manchester United in Premier League triumphs, the 2016 win was their first in six seasons. Before and after they’ve never got close again. So those two times Spurs have challenged late in the season for the league title, they lost it to teams and players that weren’t serial title winners.
In addition, Tottenham’s record in Europe is checkered, they have never won the European Cup and never won a Champions League knockout tie. In fact, Pottechino has only ever won one European knockout tie at Spurs (against Fiorentina in the Europa League, 2016).
Furthermore, a domestic cup is often the gateway to challenging for the two bigger trophies. For example, Manchester United’s 2006 League Cup victory was seen as pivotal. They had not won the league for three seasons and had finished the season before trophyless, their rampant successful team had started to break up and a host inexperienced and young players were introduced. The years after that League Cup win brought five of the next seven Premier League titles and three Champion League finals, winning it in Moscow in 2008.
Two of the players that played in that final were recent signings, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra and they became key players in the subsequent trophy-laden years. Ferguson recounted that “I saw an ideal opportunity to give Evra and Vidic a taste of the game. They were my final substitutions. I’m going to give these two lads a part of the game. They were going to get a touch, a smell of winning something with Manchester United.”
Evra agreed with Ferguson’s assessment; “That (League Cup success in 2006) was a very important trophy for us. We went on to win many more after that one. It’s one we always want to win. It doesn’t matter who plays, whether it’s the senior players or the younger players, Manchester United always wants to win. From that day you start to be a winner. You want to win more. You are hungry for more.”
Manchester City’s progression has a similar trait and maybe closer to Tottenham’s trajectory. They weren’t a club used to winning trophies. However, their first title in 2012, came after winning the FA Cup the season before. Spurs and Pochettino would do well to learn from these examples of recent history.
Lastly, and most importantly what the comments from Pochettino and the pundits defending him like Hoegistein seem to forget is that it’s not a binary choice. It’s not a top-four finish or the FA Cup. Last season, Tottenham were eight points clear of dropping out the top four with only four games to go when they faced Man Utd in the FA Cup semi-final.
They had rested players the week before at Brighton and despite it being a neutral game, they had basically a home tie, with the game staged at Wembley where they had played the majority of their home games that season and some home games the season before in Europe.
Yet, despite all this and taking the lead they lost, to a Man Utd side that was starting to fall apart under Mourinho. This Spurs side is one that requires a trophy and Pochettino’s comments are clearly defensive ones as his record in knockout competitions both domestically and European is pretty poor, especially in comparison to how they’ve performed in the league.
His comments aren’t likely to ingratiate two of his next likely employers; Real Madrid and Manchester United. He is favourite for both jobs, but they are big clubs that continually win trophies. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer; currently Pochettinos biggest rival for the Old Trafford manager’s job reacted to his comments following Spurs cup exits by stating; “That’s, not the dream, to be top four. We’re Manchester United, you should always aim to win the league…we can’t just say top four and that’s it. We’ve got to look at as can we win something this year?”
Despite Pochettino’s success at Spurs, there is a mentality that big clubs require. David Moyes did not have it when he went to Manchester United and failed. If he wants to go to one of the mega-clubs or take Tottenham further surely he must accept the failure of these perpetual cup exits and look to learn from them, not brush them under the carpet citing the priority is two trophies Tottenham are currently nowhere near winning.