THE SCHADENFREUDE was flowing thick and fast on the night Tottenham shipped seven goals at their gleaming new stadium. Spurs have never been beaten so heavily on any of their own patches, but was there more to it than just a team of smart finishers exposing the gaps in the home defence?
Nobody could have anticipated such an alarming defeat, it was Spurs’ equivalent of the 7-1 home defeat by Brazil in the 2014 World Cup. Certainly, the shellshock must have lasted all the way back to Liverpool Street from White Hart Lane station, or maybe beyond.
Naturally, given Tottenham’s staccato start to the season, and the growing feeling that Madrid, 2019 represented the end of something rather than the “next step” for this Spurs side, people are peering deeply into the gloom and asking if this really is the down slope for Mauricio Pochettinio’s project.
Spurs need reinforcements, but they can’t get them until January 2020. By that time, the grimace on Daniel Levy’s face may be even more tortured than it was during the Bayern game. Spurs need alternatives. Perhaps some players are too comfortable, maybe some need fresh motivation. Undoubtedly certain individuals need to be moved on.
Given that half a dozen of their players were seeking transfers in the summer, it is possibly time for Spurs to cash-in on one or two before their market values drop. Pochettino has said there are too many “selfish agendas” being pursued by some of his players, so what does he do – get rid of the bad apples or hope that the squad turns itself around?
Is it about money? Spurs’ wage bill is, according to media reports, the sixth highest in the Premier League. Harry Kane’s weekly wage is alleged to be £ 200,000 per week, while Dele Alli is on half as much. The 2018-19 average annual salary at Spurs in 2018-19 was more than £ 3.5 million, £ 1.5 million lower than Chelsea’s squad and £ 3 million less than the amount earned by a Manchester City player. Clearly, there are temptations for Spurs’ young players who want to maximise their income.
When a dressing room is in turmoil, if that is the case, it rarely sorts itself out unless there is movement of personnel, either players or the manager. At some clubs – Chelsea is a good example – the players seem to rule and therefore, it is easier to dispose of a manager than a group of players. A mass clear-out is very hard to achieve, largely because of contract terms, the disruptive effect and the media fall-out. Often, a board will take the simple route and issue a statement that their man “lost the dressing room”.
Not that Pochettino is about to be sacked, far from it, but there is a school of thought that wonders if he believes he is immune from being taken to task. Certainly, Pochettino has created something special at the club, but he has, in recent months, developed something of a siege mentality.
Spurs cannot use the usual excuses when a team gets torn apart by a superior force. Spurs must not offer any suggestion they were naïve, inexperienced, tired or lacking confidence, although the latter may well be true – especially after their mauling. Four members of the starting line-up were over 30 and another four were over 25. This is no longer a team with its best days ahead of it. Quite simply, Bayern were on an altogether higher level from Spurs and their finishing was sublime, but they were also helped by the defensive inadequacies of Pochettino’s team.
Is the sought-after manager distracted? Real Madrid have, supposedly, made Pochettino a priority target and after the Spanish side’s stuttering Champions League performance, current coach Zinedine Zidane is looking very vulnerable.
Former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov told Spanish media that Pochettino may be unsettled because of the rumours about Real. Furthermore, the man himself has said the Bernabéu job is attractive and maybe one day he will move on. He may feel he has achieved as much as he can in North London with this current batch of players. He has been with Tottenham since 2014, which is a very long tenure by Premier League standards. The gorilla in the room, however, is Tottenham’s lack of silverware, which has eluded the club since 2008, and despite the kidology and top four compensation, this really does matter.
Spurs have been in the top six for a decade, no mean feat. The club has moved from the fringes into a small band of contenders while also leaping forward on a commercial basis. Their new stadium is marvellous and offers a great future, but maybe there are some comparisons with Arsenal when they moved into the Emirates, a club adjusting to new surroundings while making sure that financially, they remained prudent and stable. Undoubtedly, that will include maintaining a presence in the UEFA Champions League, but that should not be the extent of their ambition, otherwise there really will be parallels with late-Wenger Arsenal. Lessons can be learned from their fiercest rivals.