By Andrew Warshaw
October 2 – Exactly four months since the euphoria of reaching the Champions League final, the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur have taken a second straight turn for the worse with words like “crisis” and “humiliation” splashed across the English media amid growing speculation over whether manager Mauricio Pochettino has taken the London side as far as he can.
Last week’s ignominious elimination from the domestic League Cup by a fourth-tier club, Colchester United, was the worst domestic result in Pochettino’s five-and-half-year tenure at the club.
But what happened on Tuesday night at Tottenham’s spanking new state-of-the-art stadium trumped even that, in the space of a week.
Bayern Munich’s stunning 7-2 annihilation of Pochettino’s team not only sent shockwaves across European football but also represented the first time in their 137-year history that Spurs had conceded seven goals at home in a competitive game. It was also the biggest margin of defeat suffered at home by an English team in European competition. And this during the very era when Spurs have supposedly shrugged off the mediocrity of years gone by and are regarded as a perennial top-four Premier League finisher.
Spurs have now lost 10 of their last 18 games in all competitions and the way they capitulated against Bayern after a glowing opening 25 minutes was a classic example of the sublime to the ridiculous and sent deafening alarm bells ringing in terms of sapping energy levels and lack of collective desire.
“It’s going to be a tough season, I told you that months ago,” a clearly shell-shocked Pochettino told reporters afterwards. “After the Champions League final it was a chapter closed and the club need to start a new chapter. This defeat is not going to change my opinion. We need to face it like men and be stronger and bounce back and change the feeling.”
But how and why has it happened? And will Pochettino, worshipped by the fans for how he has transformed Spurs, be the person to herald that new chapter? Or is it, as many of those same fans are now wondering, the end of the club’s best era for perhaps two generations?
Fans and pundits alike questioned Pochettino’s high pressing game against Bayern, naïve in the extreme when you consider the Germans’ pace and creativity. But it goes much deeper than that. Every team needs freshening up and Spurs, on recent showings, look a stale age-ing squad in need of surgery.
You could argue that they are simply a victim of their own success, that you can’t get much better – apart from winning it – than competing in the final of Europe’s showpiece competition. You could also argue that several of Bayern’s goal were simply world-class. On another day, they may not have gone in. Certainly Robert Lewandowski’s goal in first-half stoppage time took the wind out of Spurs.
In Tottenham’s defence too, two of their three summer signings, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, have been injured and unable to show what they can do. Much criticism is also levelled at the board for not releasing more funds to build on last season’s unexpected success.
What has become clear according to those who profess to be in the know, however, is that with too many players running down their contracts and others still at the club despite being available for transfer, the dressing room is not as united as Pochettino would like it to be. Some players were worse than others on Tuesday but at 4-1 down, the collective failure to apply some kind of damage limitation to prevent three more late goals was a worrying indictment of both ability and, especially, attitude.
Already that magical day in Madrid, even if Spurs lost the final to Liverpool, is becoming a blur for many fans. The sense that some appear to be losing patience with the team and the manager, given how the club appears to be going in the wrong direction, is palpable.
Whether that is justified is questionable given the season is only two months’ old and given where Tottenham were before Pochettino, who has been virtually untouchable, took over. But everyone in football, players and managers alike, have a sell-by date and the next few weeks could prove pivotal in terms of where the club goes from here.
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