Tottenham are perhaps the most frustrating big club in English football. Unlike Leeds United and Newcastle United, they have solid ownership even though the decision making of Chairman Daniel Levy, who runs the club, has been questioned. Last summer’s spending spree yielded little in the way of success during the 2013-14 season, but with a new manager in Mauricio Pochettino and a new optimism, Spurs could roar into the top 4 this season.
For years, I have discussed “Spurs Syndrome” — the underachievement of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club when compared to its local rivals. The failure time and again of big name players to replicate the form they have at other clubs at the North London-based side. This “syndrome” as I term it began in the 1997-1998 season and has generally continued since with the exception of two very good seasons under Martin Jol. Even under Harry Redknapp, I would argue Spurs underperformed at the most critical times. But this season, I sense things could be very different.
Prior to his shock appointment by Southampton in January 2013, Pochettino was best known in England for committing the foul for Argentina in the 2002 World Cup that allowed David Beckham to convert a penalty and carry the Three Lions to the knock-out stages of that World Cup. But at Southampton, he quickly earned a reputation for mixing eye-pleasing soccer with the defensive organization and shape the Saints were previously lacking. The club achieved safety in the 2012-13 season and then finished a surprising either last season.
Coming off a season filled with player and manager intrigue as well as multiple embarrassingly lopsided results against top sides, Spurs badly needed a change. The 2013-14 season was one of epic failure for a Spurs squad who entered the season with high hopes. Before the season began, the talk was of Spurs finishing in the top 4 and potentially having an outside shot at the title. It was widely assumed the Spurs would finish ahead of Arsenal in the league for the first time since the 1994-1995 season. Yet Tottenham lost three times to the Gunners during the season, dropping both league meetings and losing in the FA Cup Third Round.
This summer, Spurs are being discounted or hardly mentioned at all with regards to the top 4. That in my judgment is a mistake. Tottenham remains a very strong squad player-for-player and now has a manager who has proven he can maximize results in the Premier League.
Defensively, Spurs were a mess in the bigger matches last season. I would expect that to change under Pochettino, whose Espanyol and Southampton sides were always organized at the back and maintained enough ball possession to minimize opposition chances. While Tottenham continues to have issues with personnel in central defense, the shape will be better.
In midfield, Etienne Capoue is fit and should be a starter. Pochettino also has countless other options with the likes of Paulinho, Mousa Dembélé, Sandro and the young Tom Carroll (dubbed “the English Xavi” by some) fighting for a place.
In the wide areas, Spurs are spoiled for choice as club record signing Erik Lamela should come good under his compatriot Pochettino. Along with the likes of Nacer Chadli, Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend available, the fight for spots will be competitive.
Tottenham have in a central attacking midfield role the outstanding Christian Eriksen and Lewis Holtby who has returned from a loan-stint at Fulham.
While Tottenham’s attacking options are limited, the club’s new tactical setup should allow whomever starts up top the ability to score goals. The quality of Tottenham’s midfield and tactical acumen of Pochettino will make the strikers look a lot more effective than they were last season.
I believe Spurs has an excellent opportunity to crack the top 4. While the focus of the media this summer has been on the witticisms of Louis Van Gaal, Pochettino, an accomplished young Manager with a track record of success in the English game, sits lurking with a very capable squad.