Did Champions League Defeat Hit Spurs Harder Than Anyone Imagined?
When Divock Origi drove the ball low and hard past Hugo Lloris to put Liverpool 2-0 up with three minutes left in the 2019 Champions League final, it felt like a dagger in the heart of every Spurs fan.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men had endured a rollercoaster of emotions in their thrilling quarter-final and semi-final matches against Manchester City and Ajax, with many finally invested in the belief that glory was written in the stars.
On the night, however, it was as if Spurs had nothing left in the tank and Liverpool took full advantage of their complacency to land their sixth European trophy.
A little over two years later and the Champions League seems like a distant dream for the men in white. Their 2018/19 Champions League knockout stage opponents (Borussia Dortmund, Man City, Ajax, and Liverpool) all feature in this year’s competition.
As it stands, according to the football betting markets, PSG are the leading favourites with odds of 11/4 to be crowned the champions, whilst the likes of Manchester City (7/2), Bayern Munich (7/1) and Liverpool (17/2) are second, third and fourth-favourites, respectively.
Meanwhile, Spurs are only in Europe thanks to the introduction of the third-tier UEFA Conference League. This league is set to run from 2021-2024, and it's only a minor consolation that Spurs will have the opportunity to prove themselves.
Looking back, the Champions League defeat hit the club harder than anyone could have imagined. Pochettino looked physically drained by it all and the players struggled to pick themselves up the following season. The toil and emotion that's required to maintain that level isn't something Spurs have been used to in recent years.
Consider this in contrast to that of Liverpool whose European experience allowed them to bounce back from similar heartbreak, when they were defeated in the 2018 final of the Champions League, and go all the way again. This is the kind of mentality it takes to succeed at that level and it can only come with experience.
A Knee-jerk Reaction?
The club’s hierarchy believed that a fresh start was the best way forward, however, in hindsight, sacking the manager just six months after reaching the summit of European football was maybe a harsh decision.
There's a case to be made that the coaching staff and players should have been allowed more time to process the experience, learn from it, recover and go again, even if that took a full season. As soon as the changes were made, that shared experience that linked them was gone. A bond was broken.
Instead, Spurs tried to bring in that experience from an external source in the form of Jose Mourinho, a man who's been there and won it all. Yet, that sense of adventure that had driven them before was slowly eroded away under the new regime. The gamble backfired and Spurs now find themselves outside of the elite level, looking in.
Back to Square One
The appointment of Nuno Espírito Santo feels a lot like when Daniel Levy hired Pochettino. Here's another promising coach who has done a solid job with a mid-table side but who has won nothing in terms of major silverware. This is a full reset back to square one and you can’t help thinking that the club would have been in a better position now if Pochettino had stayed.
The Argentinian set such a high bar for himself and the club that when they eventually fell short, the fall was mighty. Let’s hope the journey under Nuno can lead to a more satisfying conclusion.
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