What’s Gone Wrong at Tottenham?

What’s Gone Wrong at Tottenham?

October has been a nightmare for Tottenham
Hotspur. They have conceded 10 goals in two games,turning a shaky start to the season
into a crisis Spurs look nothing like the team they were
and Mauricio Pochettino is under more pressure than he has been at any other point during
his time at the club. Is this the natural end of a cycle, or has
something gone badly wrong? For years Spurs were a side who gave everything
on the pitch, who would press hard and out-run opponents. But not this season. In August
and September, the story of the 2019-20 had been their surrendering of leads in the second
half: against Olympiakos, Arsenal and Leicester, before the shock league cup exit to Colchester. In October things got worse, as Spurs folded
in the second half against Bayern, eventually conceding seven times, before barely offering
any resistance against Brighton, who beat them 3-0 at a canter. Individual errors and bad performances can
always be used to explain events, but when almost every individual is underperforming
there must be a bigger explanation. And it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that there
has been a collective dip this season. This team was always sustained by the commitment
levels of the players. But when that commitment slackens, the whole structure falls apart.
Pochettino said recently that the main thing he wanted to fix in the team was that they
should “recover this aggressivity” without the ball, a tone which hasn’t been seen
in their pressing for many months. Spurs have not won an away league game since
January 20, the worst record in the division. Their performances since then, both home and
away, have largely lacked the intensity and slickness that were hallmarks as recently
as 18 months ago. They have picked up as many Premier League points in 2019 as West Ham
and Burnley, and fewer than Crystal Palace and Leicester. Their tally of 22 points from
20 Premier League matches since mid-February is borderline relegation form. Clearly some players do not want to be there
any more. Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Danny
Rose have all indicated their intention to leave and Jan Vertonghen is now in the final
year of his contract. But there is a broader issue: the pervasive
fatigue, mental and physical, within the squad after five draining years. Most of the current players have at Tottenham
since Pochettino’s first or second season. And there is a common feeling that they have
very little left to give. Part of this is physical, after years of hard-running
football and attritional training. One long-serving player has complained about the “same old
sessions and messages”. But it is also mental, after years of controlling management and
a relentless schedule, with players also complaining at how few days they are given off. “The place is a regime and they’re sick
of him,” one dressing room source told The Athletic. “It’s his way or nothing, there
is no balance. The players don’t get the impression they are trusted at all.” Pochettino has not lost the dressing room,
and the players know what a debt they owe to him. But they just cannot keep playing
like they used to. “The players are not revolting against him,”
continued the source, “but they have been driven so hard, they don’t know if they
have got anything left to give.” Can blame also be attributed to chairman Daniel
Levy? Levy’s responsibility is bigger than results
and form. His job is to safeguard the long-term stability of the club. His priority over the past decade has been
the club’s infrastructure and he has secured it for a lifetime. In 2012 Spurs opened their
new £50 million training ground, and six months ago, they opened their £1.2 billion
new stadium. Each of those is rated among the best in Europe. Last season, before the stadium opened, they
made a record profit of £113 million. Whatever happens next with Pochettino, the players,
even the ownership of the club, it will have a guaranteed level of stability. But has it come at the cost of the team? Levy has always run a tight ship in terms
of contracts and salaries, trying to regularly re-negotiate deals with incremental wage increases
to preserve his negotiating power. And for years it worked well. The problem came when the successes of the
team outstripped the money the players were offered. After a round of renegotiations in
2016, players were disappointed that finishing second in 2016-17 did not lead to another
big set of pay-rises. When the squad learnt last year of Levy’s
annual £6 million salary, it went down badly with players who have always felt underpaid. Since then Levy has started to push the boat
out on wages, with Kane, Alli and Lamela all signing big new long-term contracts last year,
beyond the old restrictions. Kane’s, for example, increased from about
£120,000 to a deal that starts at about £150,000 a week and could grow to £200,000. The flip
side is that Levy has secured Tottenham’s control over their futures. Spurs still spend only 38 per cent of their
turnover on wages but the club have said they expect that ratio to increase towards 50 per
cent. What Levy will not do is turn Tottenham s into Manchester United, throwing big long-term
contracts at senior players just to keep them at the club. Even on transfers the club has started to
spend again after failing to sign anyone through 2018-19, with a £120 million net spend this
summer that few would have expected, finally giving Pochettino new players to work with. The problem is that Spurs had needed a major
clear out of senior players, and a new generation of youngsters long before 2019. Mauricio Pochettino knew that these difficulties
were coming and expected his sixth season to be challenging. He knew how hard it would
be to keep motivating the same players he has had here for years and to keep getting
the same level of physical and mental application from them No one is more conscious of the threat of
staleness than Pochettino himself. He has been desperate to end this old cycle here
and start a new one. That is why he wanted to start moving on senior players years ago,
advocated a clear-out back in the summer of 2018. Rose, Alderweireld, Wanyama and Sissoko all
could have gone, just as Eriksen and Aurier could have gone this year. But only Kieran
Trippier and Fernando Llorente ended up leaving. Now Pochettino is left having to try to get
more out of largely the same set of players he has been working with for years, some of
whom he wanted sold, some of who are considering their next move. Pochettino also knows that during the course
of his Spurs tenure, Liverpool and Manchester City have almost built new teams from scratch.
And because they could never get rid of players, they struggled, at least until this summer,
to get players in. This means Pochettino is left with a squad
that lacks the youthful vigour it had three or four years ago, preventing them from playing
in the way it once did. The style has had to change in the past year,
becoming slightly deeper, slower and less about pressing. And that more adaptable approach
helped the team to get to the Champions League final, which was a triumph built from flexible
management. This season Spurs still have to be pragmatic.
That is why there is a focus on recovery between games, to keep the players functioning at
a high level for as long as possible. These are problems much larger than team selections
and individual mistakes and most of them are beyond Pochettino’s control. But if there are legitimate criticisms to
be aimed at him, then those concern the mood at Tottenham. He has always been an up and
down personality, but more so than ever in recent months. After losing the Champions
League final he was so upset that he went straight to his home in Barcelona, rather
than flying back to London with the squad, a decision which raised eyebrows behind the
scenes. His more recent comments about “different
agendas” in the squad did not go down well with the players either, nor did the speculation
in the past linking him with Manchester United or Real Madrid. Some players hoped that Pochettino’s
latest contract, in May 2018, would guarantee spending on transfers and on player contracts
which, to their dismay, hasn’t happened. Trying to change the atmosphere might be the
best thing Pochettino could do. This downturn is not personally his fault. It is what happens
when a group of players overachieve for so long until their motivation fades, with reinforcements
arriving much too late and in too few numbers.

9 thoughts on “What’s Gone Wrong at Tottenham?

  1. I still remember when pochetino says that when Mourinho first season at United n won Europa League title n League cup +(community shield) those trophy are small the big trophies are PL titles n CL titles yet he couldn't even won that small trophies 😂

  2. Something else that's contributing to the stale atmosphere at Spurs is the lack of silverware. All these players are decent, good if not great. Pochettino needs to win a cup or two to keep the desire going on. Otherwise it'll all end in tears .

  3. The financial side of things, with the sensible wages (atleast relatively) and profits looks to be fine. But things won't be as rosy next season with no Champions League money. Not investing in the squad could cost them.

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