A VERY TEPID Champions League exit, coming shortly after a FA Cup defeat at the hands of Championship side Sheffield United, a big money signing hitting-out at his lack of game time and a manager who hints that he’s leaving at the end of the season. The morning after losing to AC Milan 1-0 on aggregate, Tottenham have a few issues to deal with. If they win a trophy next season, the barren period would have been 16 years long.
Spurs remain one of football’s great underachievers; 16 major trophies, just two league titles and the last FA Cup won more 33 years ago. They’re won three European prizes, but the last of those was almost 40 years ago. In the Premier League era, Spurs have lifted just two, and they were both the Football League Cup. The last time Tottenham’s fans experienced such a dry period was between 1921 and 1951 and if you factor in the lost war years, it was a 23-season wait.
There is talk of Antonio Conte leaving, either via the chairman’s black cab or his own choice and Mauricio Pochettino returning to the club. Since the popular Argentinian left in 2019-20, some fans have longed for his return as if it was a utopian era. Pochettino had a decent and exciting team that helped England build Gareth Southgate’s nearly men, but he did not win a solitary bauble. His teams were attractive and competed but the Champions League final of 2019 represented the peak and since then, Spurs and Pochettino have looked a little lost. But is it wise to go back?
Second spells are rarely as interesting or as successful. José Mourinho, Malcolm Allison, Hellenio Herrera, Terry Venables, Howard Kendall, Kenny Dalglish and Carlo Ancelotti have all returned to clubs where they enjoyed considerable success in their first stint. It is very seldom the same experience, for a number of reasons.
Antonio Conte was always going to be a short-term hiring, because that’s the way he works. Like Mourinho, there’s a short cycle that ends when he decides the job no longer fits his requirements – at least that’s what it looks like from the observation platform. We live in a football world where players and coaches decide their own future and announce they are leaving, even if they are in contract. Conte is out of contract in the summer, so Tottenham are unlikely to offer him a new deal when his track record suggests he won’t be hanging around for much longer. It is almost inevitable that Conte and Tottenham will be parting company very soon. He seems to be sending signals to potential employers and he has, after all, had a rough time recently.
Where does this leave Spurs? Even without a lengthy contemporary honours list, the job is still one of the top assignments in European football. They have a spectacular stadium that is packed with 60,000 fans, they have stability, they still have some good players and they also have something of a blank canvas to offer – any form of trophy will be seen as success.
Spurs need Champions League football to consolidate their position and to drive revenue generation, so the remaining weeks of the season are going to be vital. Conte and Mourinho were never going to work at Tottenham even if they possessed two of the strongest managerial brands in world football. If there is a football entity that still hangs on to the myth of a “club style”, it is Spurs. But they should have known how managers like Conte operate, his risk-averse approach is well known and it is what has made him successful. He was never going to change that. The same applies to Mourinho, and Nuno Espirito Santo, the other coaches since Pochettino left the club.
However painful it may be, it may also be the time to acknowledge that the Kane-Son years are coming to an end. Kane elected to stay at the club but two years on, he’s still without a medal and he’s approaching 30. He has netted 20 goals this season, but how much longer can he keep the current rather limited team afloat? Son, who is slightly older than Kane, is not the player he was. Most importantly, can they keep Kane, who the fans continually refer to as “one of our own”, as the club examines why they have failed yet again?