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Five Years - published 16.11.2019

Five Years – an essay about THFC 2014-2019

Mention 9-11 to just about any person around the world and one massive tragic event which occurred in New York in September 2001 comes to mind. Transpose the figures to indicate the 9th November as used in the British style of abbreviating the calendar and I can show you two more recent events relating to our beloved Spurs which occurred on the same day five years apart. These two football events were not of course tragic, but both were very depressing for Spurs fans.

The most recent was last Saturday’s home draw against Sheffield United on 9th November, 2019. Exactly 5 years previously (although it was a Sunday in 2014), Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs lost 2-1 at home to Mark Hughes’ Stoke City.

Mauricio had been appointed by Spurs in May 2014. The week before we lost at home Stoke, Mauricio feared his job was on the line until Harry Kane stepped up to score from a deflected free kick at Villa Park to give us a 90th minute 2-1 win.

In my match report of that Stoke defeat I wrote some scathing comments about our still new manager, which started as follows:-

"He picks the team; dictates the tactics and formation; takes overall responsibility for training and coaching the players and decides on the team's strategy for any given situation."

A later comment ran:-

"Pochettino generally adheres to the modern standard 4-2-3-1 formation, where possession is key, even if that means passing predominantly sideways or backwards.

Like Thursday's opponents Asteras Tripolis, Stoke looked much more incisive when breaking out of defence, or going forward, passing accurately, and moving with urgency and control. In their own half, Stoke closed us down, and tackled effectively too. Spurs, under Pochettino seem incapable of such behaviour, allowing opponents too much freedom and space."

After that Stoke defeat, I very quickly became embarrassed by my criticism of our manager. We stood 12th in the league table after that game, and our current 14th is our lowest position at this stage of any season since.

2014-15 became the season in which Harry Kane established himself as a 20 goal a season striker, performing the feat for four consecutive seasons. Harry also made his senior England debut that season, scoring within two minutes of coming off the bench against Lithuania. After this week’s game against Montenegro, Harry has moved up to sixth in the all-time England goal-scorers’ list with 31 goals. He scored his third England hat-trick and became the player who has scored more goals than any other England player as captain.

Back to Spurs in 2014-15 and Pochettino guided us up the table to fifth place securing a place in the Europa League. We reached a League Cup Final but lost 2-0 to Chelsea. It is interesting to note that we made hard work of conquering Sheffield United in the two-legged semi-final of that competition.

Christian Eriksen scored 10 Premier League goals for us that season, and both our goals in the away leg of the tie against the “Blades”. One of those goals was direct from a free kick. Until this season, despite regular criticisms from some quarters, (especially with regard to hitting corners over the first man!) Eriksen has consistently scored goals and provided plenty of assists.

In January 2015, we snapped up Dele Alli for £5 million and loaned him back to Milton Keynes before in his first two seasons he would emerge as one of England’s brightest midfield stars ever. At the turn of 2016-17 Dele scored two goals in three consecutive games. He went on to have a better goal-scoring record as a young man than such players as Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard.

We had two of England’s best full backs in Kyle Walker and Danny Rose.

In 2015-16 we took an early exit from the league cup (at home to Arsenal). We also lost at home to Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace in the FA Cup and were beaten at home and away in the Europa League Round of 16 by Borussia Dortmund. However we were the last real challengers to Leicester City for the Premier League title, although we lost our tempers at Stamford Bridge and stumbled at the end of that campaign, which ended in an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at relegated Newcastle when we finished “third in a two-horse race”. We did qualify for the first of four consecutive Champions League seasons.

The Lane - The Finale

We were title contenders again in 2016-17 (up to a point) and finished runners-up to Chelsea. That was our highest position since the early sixties, and we finished it with two massive away wins – at Leicester and Hull. The best we did in any of the cup competitions was to reach an FA Cup semi-final in which we were beaten 4-2 by that nemesis side Chelsea. We disappointed in the Champions league and were knocked out of the Europa League by a moderate AA Gent side.

We finished third in 2017-18 but were miles behind 100-point winners Manchester City. In the Champions League we beat Dortmund at home and away, and the highlight was to beat Real Madrid (Ronaldo and all) at Wembley in November two years ago. To be knocked out by Juventus in the Round of 16 was disappointing, but no disgrace. There was yet another FA Cup semi-final, but this time Manchester United put an end to our hopes of silverware.

Last season ended in a historic Champions League Final, but of course a sad defeat. We had been the beneficiaries of VAR at The Etihad with a marvellous quarter-final win, before we enjoyed the sensational Lucas Moura second half hat-trick in Amsterdam to beat Ajax on away goals. We were never in the title race, and in fact with poor league form in the latter part of the season, just managed to stumble over the line to qualify for the Champions League in fourth place. We enjoyed beating Arsenal away in the league Cup quarter-final, but Chelsea put paid to any further progress.

Our first three games in our state-of-the-art new stadium were wins, before we scraped home against Brighton (Eriksen scored the 88th minute goal). Then, horribly, West Ham became the first visiting team to win at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Ajax beat us in the first leg before we took them by storm in their home a week later. We struggled at home to Everton.

The fact that to this day our last away Premier League win was as long ago as January at Fulham, and then thanks to a very last-minute goal by Harry Winks is only too well known.

And so we come to the current season, which is 17 games old so far for Spurs. It has been one of so few highlights, which we must count as a storming first half against Palace at home, and two high-scoring wins against Crvena zvezda. We are favourites to join Bayern Munich in the Round of 16, but the chances of playing a fifth consecutive Champions league season are extremely thin, if not already next to impossible.

Spurs v Crvena zvezda - 22.10.19

Mauricio Pochettino indicated early in the season that this had been the most unsettled time for his squad. For the most part, it has been left to us to surmise what is wrong, and why we have suffered such a dip in form. It looks as if players such as Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Eriksen will be running down their contracts, and now Danny Rose has piped up and said he won’t leave Tottenham and will run down his contract until 2021. Remember, Danny was left at home for the pre-season trip to South-East Asia to try and find a new club.

Until the end of last season, I was of the view that both Alderweireld and Vertonghen must be offered new contracts, but we saw at the start of the season Vertonghen was left out – apparently not meeting Pochettino’s required levels of fitness. The Vertonghen-Eriksen rumour was squashed at source, but Toby Alderweireld has also missed a higher proportion of games than usual. In the modern age one has to accept that pace is so, so essential to being successful in the Premier League, along with the required level of football skills of course! Perhaps I have to accept that age is not on the side of our number one and two centre-backs.

As for Eriksen, he has become a weak and pale shadow of his former self. He has always been a “bottler” when it comes to the idea of a crunching tackle in midfield, but his lack of interest has become disturbingly evident, despite that fact he came off the bench and changed the first game against Villa.

And so we come full circle to last week’s game against Sheffield United. The “Blades” legitimate goal followed a spell of a full minute and a half during which the promoted club was simply allowed to proceed forward with a sequence of uninterrupted passes and no challenge from our players front to back. Remember my words from 5 years ago, quoted earlier in this piece – "Spurs, under Pochettino seem incapable of such behaviour, allowing opponents too much freedom and space".

My headline after the 1-0 home defeat by Newcastle was “Something is seriously wrong in the state of Tottenham” and that remains the case. We ordinary mortals don’t know what it is, but we need the solution(s) to be found and enacted as soon as possible.

My intention regarding this article is not to offer an obituary for Pochettino’s reign at Tottenham. Only a week ago last Wednesday in Belgrade Spurs fans chanted “He’s magic, you know” when “Poch” and current hero Son walked to greet the away end.

It seems a new era is required at Spurs, with new players. Perhaps that can be achieved with Pochettino at the helm, but more actively and positively supported from above. Pochettino’s recent comments about his title of "manager" not being correct, because some of the decisions are not his to make, could be a big clue regarding the true state of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

On Tuesday 19th November, 2019, Spurs announced the departure of Mauricio Pochettino. Early next morning they announced the appointment of Jose Mourinho as our new head coach

· Astounded, but not astounded. My interview with Sky Sports News 19.11.19

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