By Andrew Warshaw
September 25 – From Champions League finalist to elimination in their domestic League Cup by the lowest-ranked side left in the competition – in little over three months. What is going on at Tottenham Hotspur?
No-one disputes that under manager Mauricio Pochettino, the fortunes of the north London giants have been transformed since he took over five and half years ago, with a top-four finish and participation in the Champions League now anticipated as de rigeuer rather than regarded as a one-off bonus.
But for the first time during Pochettino’s reign, the strains are beginning to show.
Already 10 points behind league leaders Liverpool, Tottenham were unceremoniously dumped out of the League Cup on Tuesday by fourth-tier Colchester in what was one of the competition’s biggest upsets of recent years.
For all their progress under the Argentine, it is still 11 years since Spurs won a trophy and the natives are getting restless, their most realistic route to silverware already humiliatingly swept into oblivion before the season is even fully into its stride.
Spurs’ apparently unsettled squad was supposed to have become more harmonious after the end of the European transfer window but Pochettino, who has built his reputation on togetherness, clearly feels his players are still pursuing individual agendas rather than pulling for the collective cause.
It’s all a far cry from the unexpected achievement of last June’s appearance in Europe’s showpiece final.
“We are working so hard to try to put [everyone] on the same page,” said Pochettino following Tuesday’s humiliation which left the FA Cup as the club’s only realistic trophy. “We need time. January is going to be a good opportunity to try to fix this situation. Then the next window, again. Maybe our performances are good but you need [something] extra, which is mental – a connection.
“It’s energy to be all together, not to have different agendas in the squad. We need time to build that togetherness that you need when you are competing at this level.”
Pochettino has been reluctant to expand on such “agendas” though it is common knowledge that several squad members will be available on free transfers at the end of the season and that others have been available to offload, with no takers.
Such comments will only serve to fuel media speculation – and that is all it is – that the club not only still has too many unhappy players but that the manager himself is getting restless and dissatisfied and could ultimately walk, leaving a void that would be hard to fill. They are also perplexing for Tottenham fans who could be forgiven for having thought that the apparent unrest in the squad was now over.
Spurs fans love to sing about how their manager is “magic”, never more so than last season. But if, and it’s a big if, his players are no longer buying into the system, the gloss could soon start wearing off unless Pochettino can find a way to restore harmony.
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