Europa League – Winning Matters

Atlético Madrid won the Europa League last season
Cups used to be a welcome distraction for Spurs fans. They offered a rare opportunity to forget about the under-achievement in the league and dream of European football. Indeed, from 1992-1993 to 2005-2006 we played in Europe just once.

Not so nowadays.

This is our 6th season of European football in the last 7 seasons, 5 of those in Europe’s secondary competition. The Champions League, either getting in it or competing in it, dominates our season now and many fans don’t feel the old Fairs Cup should figure in the club’s priorities.

Heavy spending and the regression of Arsenal, Chelsea and, most spectacularly, Liverpool have changed competing in the Champions League from a pipe dream into a realistic goal. The Champions League brings with it so much for fans: bragging rights over rivals, the promise of greater clout in the transfer market and the chance to see Spurs compete against the best in the world. Being a ‘Champions League club’ represents Spurs attaining the status that, rightly or wrongly, we feel entitled to.

The UEFA Cup might have retained some prestige after over-familiarity and the thrill of Champions League took their grip but an ill-advised rebranding erased almost all that was left. Given a name like a Megadrive game nobody bought, screened via channels nobody watches, played on a night nobody watches football and organised into groups nobody can sustain interest in, it’s little wonder the trophy has lost value.

Our manager, however, doesn’t agree.

AVB won it in 2011. He was assistant coach when Mourinho won it in 2003. It is a competition he values. Where Redknapp’s team selections showed his disdain for the competition, AVB’s have clearly shown his respect for it. He has spoken on numerous occasions about how important he believes the trophy is to the team during press conferences.

In my opinion, despite the competition’s recent profile, that is a really positive thing for the club.

First of all, let’s not forget where we are. A club that has won 2 Carling Cups in the last 22 years can’t be snooty about any trophy.

As for bragging rights, as with the Carling Cup victory, other fans may mock but you don’t need a pithy comeback when you’ve just watched your captain lift a trophy. That is, lest we forget, the reason we all keep turning up.

As for prioritizing Europe? No one is suggesting we need to. Yes, the squad doesn’t have the depth like in recent seasons. But Jol, alongside finishing 5th, reached the last 8 and Ramos, alongside winning the Carling Cup, was a penalty shoot out away from reaching it with poorer squads than this one.

We don’t have a right to expect the team to win trophies, but we have a right to expect them to at least try and win them. Competing on multiple fronts will always be a basic job requirement for any Spurs manager.

But the main reason I’m happy we’re taking it seriously is the players. Whatever the lure of the Champions League, defining yourself as a club that sees finishing 4th as the Holy Grail doesn’t send out a strong message. The 2010/2011 season was fantastic fun but it has done little to change the standing of the club in the eyes of players. A high profile run to the quarter final followed by a swift and comprehensive exit at the hands of Real Madrid actually reinforced the idea that we’re a club of gifted, entertaining, also-rans.

Two years of finishing 4th didn’t stop Modric wanting to leave. He didn’t go to a team that was offering Champions League football; he went to a team that was offering medals. Similarly Carrick and Berbatov left not for the status of Champions League football but to play for winners. When Bale leaves it won’t be to join a club happy to finish 3rd in the league and reach the Champions League group stage. We might still lose these players being a club that wants to win but ultimately doesn’t. But we’ll never keep them being a club that only wants to win sometimes. Changing the way players – the ones we have as well as the ones we want – see us is as much about the mentality we project as the status we have.

As last season showed, finishing 4th can be achieved even with mental deficiencies laid bare at the pressure end of the season. To win a trophy, particularly a European trophy, you have to be able to win when it counts.

Players may be dim and greedy but they’re also ambitious and they can sense a winning mentality (or lack of it) very quickly. Regularly finishing 4th or 5th shows consistency. Winning trophies shows winners.

The strongest mentality is usually the simplest. You win because it is who you are. Or who you want to become.

Steve is a Spurs fan of 20 years and a former season ticket holder in the west stand. Follow Steve on Twitter: @SteveJMaloney

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