Those six minutes on Sunday when Spurs brought Manchester United’s house of cards crashing down were pure footballing joy — relief, jubilation, and finally delirium as Erik Lamela stroked home the third.
Cancel the demolition crew at the end of next season — another moment like that and the old roof of White Hart Lane will be lifted clear off.
In many ways though, with the match won and Spurs toying with a beaten United like a cat with a freshly caught mouse, I enjoyed the final 15 minutes more. It had the air of a changing of the guard — a young, ambitious pretender, snatching the crown from an old-timer who has grown tired and complacent after years on the throne. There was a swagger to Spurs in those closing moments, the like of which I can’t ever recall.
In previous years a tight game, such as it was for the first 60 minutes, would have only broken one way. United would have worn Spurs down, the mere presence of Sir Alex Ferguson enough to convince United players that they were going to win, and Spurs players that they were going to lose. The truth about the “Lads, it’s Tottenham” story is that, back then, Ferguson didn’t need to say anything at all — United would have beaten Spurs if he’d danced the Macarena.
Not any more. It was Spurs who found the resolve to win. It was Manchester United who shrunk.
Barring some surprising results, Manchester United are set to miss out on Champions League football, and the millions that come with it, for the second time in three seasons. It appears likely they will start the fourth year of the post-Ferguson era with a third manager, although Louis van Gaal does have a way of clinging on.
All about the club, there are signs of dynastic decline. The owners are pure carpet-baggers, shamelessly milking money without even the pretence of putting something back in. The directors failed miserably to recognise that no one man could replace a force like Ferguson, leaving a vacuum of football knowledge and placing far too much pressure on first David Moyes then Van Gaal. Transfer business has been all-but outsourced by arch noodle-sponsorship negotiator Ed Woodward to Jorge Mendes. Even the youth development, a sole bright spot, has had an air of randomness about it, a series of battlefield promotions rather than carefully planned pathways.
United still have an incredible advantage in their commercial reach, but this will shrink like territory on a map as the results deteriorate. They may be able to turn it around, but at this point, it seems far from certain. The stench of institutional drift, the same footballing virus that has laid low Aston Villa and Newcastle, is wafting out of Old Trafford with every week that goes by. “Doing a Liverpool” now seems a distinct possibility — a slow and painful fall from grace, and a fanbase that struggles to accept that the future may not offer the same guaranteed glory as the past.
There exists, right now, an extraordinary opportunity for someone to seize the mantle as English football’s next ruler.
The spike in TV money, coinciding with United’s decline, has created an illusion of a new equality, but all that is really happening now is flux. Leicester aren’t a new dawn, they are a glorious fluke. In the past 40 seasons, Liverpool and then United have won 23 of the titles — this is how modern English football works. One powerhouse, and an ever-changing cast of challengers.
The scary part: Is there a team that is better equipped, across the board, to be the next dynasty than Spurs?
I’ll let that sink it for a moment.
Of course I am biased, but I don’t think this is merely bravado. There’s a chance here, an aligning of the stars, that every Spurs fan has been sensing for the past 18 months. Increasingly it is being felt by those outside the fanbase.
In every facet, right now, Spurs are moving in the right direction.
In Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier, we have the strongest young core of players in the league. In Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, we have found our defensive rocks for the next five years. Hugo Lloris is a world-class keeper in his prime, and the strong leader every great team needs. The academy is producing elite-level talent, with a route to the first-team squad. We have one of the finest training facilities in Europe. There is a footballing identity that will guide recruitment and reduce the buy-low, sell-high crapshoot that has been the transfer policy of the past. The new stadium, once built, will be state-of-the-art.
And then there is the manager. Mauricio Pochettino, in less than two years, has fundamentally altered the future of our club.
In his first year, he won the “Game of Thrones” contest with the likes of Franco Baldini, Emmanuel Adebayor and the Kaboul cabal. This year, he has laid the foundations of his vision for how the team should go about its business on the field. Spurs may not win the league this time — the squad is still missing one or two crucial pieces of a title-winning jigsaw — but we are going to take some stopping next season.
Based on everything we know about Pochettino at this point, do you think, for one second, he is the type of man who is going to settle for one good season, and then take the foot off the gas? Not a chance.
All this — the young team, the stadium, the manager, the training centre — have been built on sustainable foundations. Spurs have never been reliant on a sugar daddy or speculation: Daniel Levy has never had a problem making Spurs profitable. Levy’s issue throughout his chairmanship has been recruiting the right people to execute his vision. He got lucky with Pochettino, having instead wanted to appoint Van Gaal, but you watch him sit back now and ride this stroke of good fortune for all its worth.
At no other club is there such an alignment, across so many aspects.
At Manchester City and Chelsea, their success was bought, not earned. There is no sustainability in that, just the need to keep on pumping in millions after millions, until eventually the owners decide to stop. Chelsea, in particular, are anarchic with Roman Abramovich still treating the club as a plaything.
A Manchester City fan recently described the emptiness at the Etihad (and how he too thought Spurs could be the next big thing). It was in full view on Tuesday night in a limp contest against PSG when the only time the crowd was remotely roused was in the booing of the UEFA anthem. How big a step down are European nights at the Etihad going to feel for Pep Guardiola after Barca and Bayern? This lack of passion and identity inevitably drifts down to the players.
Furthermore, both clubs also face similar issues with their squads in years to come — ageing cores, too many mercenaries, and no clear route for the imported kids lured to the lavish academies.
At Liverpool, the dreams of a second dynasty, and a sense that they are entitled to it, will never dim. In Jurgen Klopp, they may have recruited a future-altering figure of their own, and the owners, despite the flak, put their money where their mouth is. Funds are always available for players, and when it came to expanding Anfield, they just wrote a cheque. But Liverpool rival Spurs in the “false dawn” stakes. There is no consistent proof, yet, that Klopp is able to shape a disparate team to his liking. And where are the young Liverpool kids? Liverpool haven’t produced a Scouse hero since Steven Gerrard.
At Arsenal, the mood is bleak. In the early 2000s, it looked like Arsene Wenger would be the man to break Ferguson’s stranglehold. He built one great team, the Invincibles, but never managed to build another. The 2006/07 squad, the first in the Emirates, is a who’s who of disappointments: Abou Diaby, Denilson, Alex Song, Johan Djourou, Emmanuel Eboue, Mathieu Flamini, Philippe Senderos, Emmanuel Adebayor, Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy. This was meant to be the next super team, Wenger’s vision of a homegrown crop hand-reared in his philosophy, but few made the grade and those that did were sold. The next generation, built around the likes of Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, has also never hit the heights and looks set to be dismantled in turn. Wenger has been forced to go against every instinct and buy stars, rather than create them.
The fan base now is mutinous, losing faith in the manager and unable to process the sight of Leicester (and Tottenham) above them. Nothing stings as much in football as the feeling that you have wasted an opportunity. Arsenal will eventually have to replace Wenger, one way or another, and can only look at the succession-planning debacle at Old Trafford with apprehension.
Can you see what I’m getting at? Spurs may not win the league this season, but for the next five years at least, with modest improvements in the transfer market and a bit of luck, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be challenging. That’s a dynasty in the making, all right.
What could go wrong?
Well, a bunch of things. Real Madrid or Barcelona could come calling, and they are very hard to turn down. Players could get injured, new buys could flop, the team could become complacent. The stadium may be delayed, or over budget, or fail to replicate the feeling of home. The club ownership could change, the youngsters may stop coming through, and worse of all, Pochettino may be tempted away.
There’s also the chance that another of the teams gets it together like Spurs. I fear Man City the most, with Guardiola and an unlimited budget. Liverpool seem like that finally have a perfect match of manager and club.
What comes next will be formidably difficult. Nothing is guaranteed. But you can sense a togetherness and hunger at Spurs the like of which I can’t recall.
Us Spurs fans have been remarkably measured about this season: there is little frustration that Leicester appear to be heading for the title instead of us. That is because we know that this is just the start. But we are Spurs fans, scarred by years of false dawns, and there is a fear of tempting fate by articulating what we feel inside.
To hell with that. Spurs are on the march, and the rest of the league had better watch out.
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