Big but not ‘big, big’: The football media struggles to come to terms with Tottenham’s narrative-busting success

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Twenty minutes before Spurs took on Manchester City, Sky Sports aired an interview with Dele Alli, in which the young midfielder talked honestly about the ups and downs of the past year for club and country. Asked what his plan was for the next 12 months, Dele had no equivocation: “To win the league.”

Cutting back to the studio, the anchor invited Jamie Redknapp to offer his opinion on the player.

“He could become one of the best midfielders in the world,” Redknapp Jr said, pausing ever so slightly in that way he does, the flicker of calculation betraying his affected Proper Football Man brogue. “He could play for a big, big club. I know Tottenham fans won’t like to hear that, but a big, big club.”

Funnily enough, I didn’t like to hear that, especially not the tone in which it was said. The Redknapp family vendetta against Spurs has grown tiresome, and everyone bar the Redknapps themselves have moved on from it in the years since ‘Arry’s departure from White Hart Lane.

But the comments were an example of the awkward position the lazier sections of the footballing media find themselves in with regard to Spurs.

Last season, the prevailing narrative was to lump Spurs in as a fluke candidate alongside Leicester City, and when it needed spicing up, build Spurs up as the least convincing bad guy since Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Before the 2016/17 campaign, just one of the BBC’s 33 (!) pundits tipped Spurs for the title — ex-Spurs player Chris Waddle. Jermaine Jenas was alone in tipping his former club for second, although in a bold and timely column before Sunday’s match, he threw his support behind Spurs to win it all.

Awkwardly, Spurs are confounding the expectation that’ll we’ll return to our rightful sixth place. Spurs are the only unbeaten team in the league after turning over Pep’s City comprehensively, and sit in second, a point behind City and a point ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal.

“If Liverpool are being touted as potential title winners after their fourth successive Premier League win at Swansea City on Saturday, then it is positively insulting to Tottenham not to elevate them to the same bracket after this pulsating performance,” wrote the BBC’s Phil McNulty, in the awkward manner of someone having his own quotes read back to him.

The king of football narrative, Henry Winter, summed up the dilemma even more acutely.

“The title race may be more open than anticipated,” he declared, as though the idea of Spurs winning the league this season was utterly unfathomable up until this point. “Tottenham are definitely in the race.”

Thanks, Henry. Do you need me to sign anything to make that legally binding?

If Jamie Redknapp wants to take shots at Spurs, fine. You expect it at this point. But in his post-match podcast, Gary Neville, a pundit at the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of quality of analysis and balance, made an almost identical point.

After heaping praise on Spurs, in particular the strides made by the two fullbacks, he turned his attention to the magnificent job that Mauricio Pochettino has done since taking over in 2014.

“This isn’t being disrespectful to Spurs,” Neville said. “He deserves one of the biggest jobs in the world. He’s giving the best dress rehearsal possible.”

It’s like pundits run out of superlatives with Spurs, and the only thing left to say is that everyone should leave.

For Neville, you know he means Barcelona and Real Madrid when he is talking about “the biggest jobs”, but deep down, you know he’s also thinking Manchester United when Jose Mourinho flames out. I can understand how, from his perspective as a pivotal figure in the Sir Alex Ferguson era of dominance, United will always be a step up from Spurs.

Sure, United have more money, a bigger stadium, a larger global fanbase and dozens more sponsors. But what Neville doesn’t understand, yet, is that this will forever be intertwined with Fergie himself and in all likelihood peaked with him. Whoever follows in his footsteps will, at best, extend United’s dominance a little longer, or come close to matching what Fergie achieved.

The opportunity at Spurs, with the world-class academy, the new stadium and a young, hungry team with a strong homegrown identity, is bigger than that offered by United for Pochettino and players like Dele Alli.

It’s not about continuing a dynasty, but instead building a whole new one. Neville only needed to turn his head to the right and look through the gap in the northeast corner of White Hart Lane to see the potential of Spurs.

There are no guarantees, of course. In the past five years, Manchester United have a net transfer spend of £393 million, compared to £5.5 million for Spurs (Manchester City have a net spend of £403 million). Yet Spurs have finished above United two of the last three seasons, we’re in the Champions League while United slog around in the Europa League periphery. We’ll finish above them again this year, you watch.

I was going to ask what it will take for Spurs to shake the footballing media out of its mental cul-de-sac, but I think the answer is obvious. It’s just to keep winning, first match after match, then title after title. Just like the only way to shake the “selling club” tag is to not sell pivotal players over a prolonged period (three years, evidently, is not enough).

Neville is getting closer to understanding what Spurs can be, as his brilliant Telegraph column from last year demonstrated (some of which he repeated in his podcast). The fact that, in the heat of the moment, he still finds himself reaching for his old preconceptions shows that old habits die hard.

But we’ll know Spurs have really made it when we see Jamie Redknapp, legs splayed, hair immaculately natural, tight suit shimmering under the Sky studio lights, declaring us a “big, big club”. Either that or hell will have frozen over.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

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26 thoughts on “Big but not ‘big, big’: The football media struggles to come to terms with Tottenham’s narrative-busting success

  1. Dom

    So true. You get the sense these fools are frustrated that every title from here to kingdom come hasn’t already been shared out among United, Chelsea, Liverpool, City and Arsenal. They just reflect the media’s general tendency to fawn to wealth and power.

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  2. Russell jones

    Great article, well put. It’s always like as soon as we win a big game pundits can’t wait to dismantle us! Poch is building something special no egos just a club going in one direction. The pundits keep on about us not strengthening as the only model they know is buy buy buy. Unfortunately pundits and journos who write about football wouldn’t score too highly in any IQ test.

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  3. Marc Bennett

    “Big, Big Clubs” have a sustained history of winning “big big trophies”.
    To become one, will take 5 years, 2 Premier Leagues and a Champions League….not out of the realms of possibility for a club who have the right foundations in terms of both new stadium and player development.

    Great blog.

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  4. Neo

    Great article, spot on! Just a reminder back to the beginning of the Fergie era, both Gazza and Lineker chose Spurs over Man United because we were considered a big big club. Why can’t we become that again?? The fanbase is there and so is the potential…

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  5. Pastor Yid!!!!

    I feel like I’ve written this article myself! This author’s views are spot on to a ‘T’!!! The jealousy towards my beloved Spurs from these pundits is unreal! It’s almost like they can’t handle the reality of Spurs potentially winning a title! What gives them the divine right to say that only five teams are worthy of winning the EPL? In some ways ‘IF’ we win the title this year, it will be sweeter than the opportunity we had last year as all the so called big dogs will have NO excuses for failure like last year! It’s almost as if the pundits feel that we don’t deserve to have the players OR the manager that we have. All of em’, Neville, Redknapp, Carragher, Henry and Merson can ALL go and do one! Spurs are the future mate, make NO mistake about it! The current squad is frightening, let alone the revenue we will generate when the new stadium is complete! Poch is in a perfect place right now to build his OWN legacy at Spurs and THIS my friend is why the future is bright and COMPLETELY Lilywhite!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Yo ma

    Pisses me off how it is believed that football is completely established as if the United, city , arsenal and Liverpool are the only teams that Should be allowed to win the league and the past winners will be future winners and the losers will still be the losers bs but if pochetino was at a so called “bigger” club 🙄, United is only attractive now because in truth it has an incredible history but wtf does the give a **** for rn ?Nothing. Also the Liverpool team is amazing to watch hate the club with a passion tho but LFC is the only club I feel that worries me in the title race vs Spurs

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  7. Mike Pinner

    A very accurate and interesting article. Everyone keeps saying last season was a ‘blip’ and that the usual suspects would take their place at the top table this time. No one seems to notice that holding onto your best players can be better than spending millions on new ones, yes they may eventually be winners but it takes time for players to settle into this league, even if they’ve cost £89m!

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  8. dubaispur

    Great piece, mate – was very impressed by the eloquent manner in which you made your point. The Chelsea game last season, and its aftermath, remains a perfect reminder to Poch and the team that the media don’t give a f*ck about them or the club as a whole when it comes to spinning their narratives (went from ‘young, talented Spurs still growing and improving’ to ‘ pathetic also-rans in the year of beloved Leicester’ in the blink of an eye) – hopefully they’ve picked up on the lessons from that experience, and don’t get themselves get carried away when Neville and co. turn their disingenuous praise our way again.

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  9. Marc Williams

    Great article. Spurs are a big club and are growing into a massive one. All that is missing is trophies recently. Which can be said about some of the “bigger” clubs. Everyone can see that Tottenham are heading in the right direction and We are close to those elusive prizes. It is a great time to have anything to do with this club.

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  10. Robin Z

    Tottenham are not a big big club. They are hardly a big club. 25 years since they last won anything? And 50+ since they won the league? The big Clumsy in England are Manchester United and Liverpool. And possibly Arsenal. That’s it.

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  11. Russ (@spursfandom)

    Great post.

    On the whole, the standard of punditry is really poor. Lazy, cliched and generally half-arsed. There is also the tendency to big-up their mates. Listen to them all pronounce Wayne Rooney as undroppable. Jamie Redknapp’s shameless promotion of his best friend and business partner Tim Sherwood. But we are talking about a guy who tells us that when Joe Hart holds up 4 fingers it means he wants 4 players in the wall.

    There are some exceptions. Jermaine, Jenas, Gary Neville, Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher are pretty decent. If these JJ and Souness are the ones I rate the highest. On the radio Chris Waddle is pretty good, as are many of the 5Live commentators.

    One of the big changes in the modern era is that pundits and journalists have a team and give an opinion from that point of view. Previously they were inscrutable about this and considered it unprofessional to be partisan. Brian Moore supported Gillingham and David Coleman Spurs but they kept it very very quiet.

    When I watch football on TV I always fast forward through the punditry and just watch the game.

    And I like the fact they ignore us. Let’s keep our magnificent club to ourselves for a bit longer.

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. Mark Langton

    I despise the gutter media and expect nothing from them, however, what have we achieved in recent seasons??…only improvement but no trophies.
    I love what Poch is doing and hope that he stays to finish the job and beyond!

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  13. keithwikle

    On the whole, British media is invested in ensuring that a meta-narrative of their beloved Man U and Liverpool get the most talking points. Man City this year are getting a ton of press too due to Pep. Chelsea maybe a distant third or fourth unless their manager is in meltdown. The scum are there for laughs to talk about how weak they are, and how “Wenger out” chants start in August. Spurs are sadly still a punchline to them. Everything boils down to whether we will dent someone else’s chances of winning the league, not on consistently showing how the club is actually headed in a very, very, exciting direction.

    Talksport, BBC, Skysports, and even most of the non-mainstream media after a Spurs victory against a beloved “big, big, club”, will mention how hard Spurs worked. But they will then talk about how the other team could’ve coped better with our press. Not kidding if you actually measure the talk time on these shows, 1 minute “Spurs were great, Dele Alli phenomenal”, then 12 minutes of analysis on how Pep could improve Manchester City.

    Neville did give us press, but then talked about how Pochettino should get a better job. The rest of the media would happily spend the rest of this year talking about how Wayne Rooney should/should not start for his club, and for England. With all due respect Gary, f#ck off. Huge stadium coming, players re-signing contracts, best manager in the premier league. The future looks pretty Lilywhite.

    After Leicester did the unthinkable, I wondered to myself if with the new managerial ins outs, and big money would the football dominance of years past return to mean. Would the Manchester clubs be duking it out with Chelsea to win the title.

    Last year proved a few things to everyone.

    1. Superstar players individually don’t win titles.
    2. Superstar coaches with big egos can self-destruct.
    3. Money doesn’t necessarily buy success.
    4. Work ethic and drive can win the title.

    In this premier league challenge, I would pip Spurs to prove all of those things true again.

    We do not exist to provide other clubs with players or managers. When your previously beloved top drawer options implode, we are not there to strip for parts. We can challenge for the title, and if we win, it won’t be a fluke, but because we’ve outplayed, and outfought everyone, most likely including the British press.

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  14. Michael John Behde

    Winning the title in ‘Leicester’s Season’ would have come with hollow plaudits. Win it this season now ‘the BIG BOYS are back will be so much sweeter and the perfect antidote to the anti-Spurs bias that is prevalent in this social media age. We are contenders and they just can’t understand it…….

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  15. Daniel Negus

    Really nice article.
    How I would love to ram a premier league title down the throats of these elitist pundits, who think success should be reserved for LIverpool, Chelsea, Utd, City and arsenal

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