Are we eternal pretenders?

Defoe misses chance
Another last chance, another indefinite outcome.
But at least people were proud of the team. Oh, and Dawson took a ball to the face!

Nights like Wednesday’s bring the dark cynic out of me. We had to win to keep our chances of qualifying for the Champions League in our own hands, if not, alive at all. Drawing 2-2 at ‘The Fridge’ is not a particularly bad result, but we needed more. It was last chance saloon. As good as the comeback felt, the bar seems to have finally closed and we haven’t pulled.

I thought this was going to be the season Spurs were going to cause the upset it slowly had been working on for years, to break into the elite group of clubs, those who have dominated the Premier League era. Arsenal were in decline. Chelsea were a mess as always. We appointed a hungry manager looking for redemption. Right now, though, it seems it’s not meant to be.

When the season began I didn’t expect us to finish in the top 4 given the considerable changes in both management and personnel. Villas-Boas’ approach is night and day compared with Redknapp’s “arm around the shoulder, run around a bit and enjoy” approach to management. Add to that the massive loss of one of Europe’s best playmakers in Luka Modric, the retirement of club legend and dressing room pillar Ledley King, and the sale of 10-goal-a-season guarantee Van der Vaart, and it’s hard to see how those losses can be instantly filled by new signings. Despite this, we started to pick up results and found ourselves right up there fighting it out with the usual suspects, plus Everton. But like clockwork, the new year arrived and we started to drop silly points against teams like QPR, Norwich, Fulham and Wigan. If you’re worth your salt, you should get more than 3 points from those games. Therefore, it’s difficult to credibly say you deserve Champions League football with those kinds of results against clubs like that.

Even with the wholesale changes, you would hope for improvement on our chronic problem of gifting silly points to average sides season in and season out. This simply cannot be solely a quality problem, it’s also a mentality problem. How is it that Spurs completely destroy a City side within 20 minutes, yet put in an absolutely appalling performance at Wigan a week later? The match mentality against the ‘lesser’ sides unfortunately is still simply not there. Resting on our laurels, we develop a comfortable complacency. Players start cutting corners, lose focus on their football, and become static pawns in an uninspired team. The quality of football comes to a grinding halt.

It’s hard to blame freshly signed players for this chronic mentality problem though. The usual suspects always seem to grind my gears: Dawson, Assou-Ekotto and Defoe. Whether it’s failing to press the opponent, lazy marking, poor positional discipline, little contribution in open play, or putting personal glory ahead of the team’s best interests. These players, who have been around for so long, simply are not good enough, both technically and mentally. They make the same mistakes time after time and yet they enjoy a curious cult status among considerable numbers of our supporters. Do these people not see these players’ flaws? Do they see results as a secondary goal? Do they really prefer ‘characters’ over talent and quality? It boggles my mind.

Off the pitch the situation is not much better. The chairman seems to be obsessed by Champions League qualification, yet when it comes to backing this challenge he penny pinching rather than making a calculated roll of the dice. Investing in a potential 20-goals-a-season striker could easily transform Spurs into a legitimate title contender. Instead, we sold Rafael Van der Vaart and consigned ourselves to struggle to replace his goals and craftiness in the final third. Adebayor signing on to a permanent deal was a signing, yes, but not a true squad improvement as he had been on loan the season before. With Rafa’s departure we seemingly were counting on an even more productive campaign from our two strikers. Well, we all know how that turned out!

Adebayor’s terrible season is not an excuse though, we should’ve brought in more goals in the Summer transfer window. We can’t just hope we will have one in-form striker and a goalscoring midfielder to do the business throughout the entirety of a season. Did we address this issue in January? No, of course not. When did we ever spend more than £2m in January?

The weak mentality and the tolerance of mediocrity will have to stop if we ever want to move on from being the eternal pretenders. Every game should be approached with similar intensity and the sole goal should be to win games. Every transfer window should be about addressing the pressing problems rather than adding depth and trying to recoup top dollar on ageing players. Without adjustments in these areas, it’s hard to see how we can break out of this perpetually disappointing cycle of “almosts” and finally shed our role of eternal pretenders, because the loyal Spurs fans deserve better.

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Dutch Spurs fan, football connoisseur and ambassador of free-flowing attacking football.

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