Monday’s Premier League match between Tottenham and Manchester City had the potential to boost the host’s credentials to be a major force in European football, but the reality was somewhat embarrassing.
Make no mistake, Tottenham should feel no shame in suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of a majestic Manchester City side at Wembley. The mockery instead stemmed from the state of the pitch, which had endured more than its usual deterioration in an NFL match played the previous day. The unfamiliar markings on the Wembley turf and the NFL logo in the centre circle made the message clear: this is not Tottenham’s home.
Fans (and, one expects, the players) had expected to have already settled into the new White Hart Lane, having spent the entirety of the 2017/18 season at Wembley while their ground-breaking new home was under construction. Unfortunately, safety issues have delayed the new dawn, and it is now unlikely that Hugo Lloris will lead the players out onto the fresh pitch until 2019.
For the men in charge, though, time is the least of their worries. It has been estimated that the project is £250m over budget, a figure that sponsorship fees and TV deals will not stretch to cover. It seems likely instead that squad investment will take a hit, as it did in July when the club’s lack of signings led to criticism from all quarters.
North London similarities
Spurs’ summer activity and subsequent struggles in the Champions League have raised questions over whether this is an exciting team that is now established in the Premier League’s upper reaches and set to challenge for honours, or one that instead reached its peak in 2017 and has regressed by virtue of standing still. Unfortunately for their supporters and critics, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
In many ways this situation bears resemblance to Arsenal’s struggles 12 years ago following their switch to the Emirates Stadium. Their rivals’ new home resulted in uncompetitive wages for key players, while the lack of transfer funds available to Arsene Wenger saw eight seasons without a single trophy. Key players left one by one in search of silverware and a higher salary.
Many thought Kyle Walker’s transfer to Manchester City last summer would lead a similar exodus of players, particularly as Danny Rose went on to make disparaging comments about the club’s lack of ambition in the transfer market. However, unlike Arsenal, the club have been quick to tie down their players to long term deals. Tuesday saw Dele Alli sign a deal that will keep him in white until 2024. He becomes the latest star to reaffirm his loyalty following Harry Kane’s contract extension in June, and it appears the marquee players of the Tottenham recruitment model are keeping faith with the project.
Players will leave, of course, but younger replacements are already lined up. Mousa Dembele is likely to depart soon, but Harry Winks’ increased involvement suggests the Belgian will not be missed. Likewise, worries over Toby Alderweireld’s reluctance to put pen to paper on a new deal have been somewhat allayed by Davinson Sanchez’s form. Rose, meanwhile, has not been a regular player for over a year now, with Ben Davies preferred at left back.
However, some may prove harder to replace, as recent events in Spain may prove. Manager, Mauricio Pochettino has overseen the best period in the club’s recent history, but his recent remarks and demeanour may betray Tottenham’s optimism. The Argentine, who arrived in 2014 and has led the club to three consecutive top-four finishes, has described his current mood as the “worst feeling” he has had while in charge, and it would be impossible to ignore the managerial vacancy at Real Madrid. The Spanish outfit have come shopping at Tottenham before, and the appointment of a temporary manager suggests they are willing to wait for the right man.
In many ways this feels like a pivotal moment for the Tottenham project, and the news on Pochettino and Alli perfectly sums up the strange state of affairs. Is this good enough or is the bar too low? Should the fans be optimistic or wary? How can a team be so settled yet also in a state of transition? Oh Tottenham, why is it never easy with you?