Before the players walk out onto the pitch at every Tottenham Hotspur home match at White Hart Lane, a video is played on the big screens at either end of the White Hart Lane pitch. The video alludes to Tottenham’s history, of their successes both distant and recent. The video includes two important quotes that help shape what Tottenham Hotspur are all about. The first, attributed to former player and manager Bill Nicholson (considered to be the most important figure in the club’s history) is, “It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.” The second quote is “We are about the Glory of the Game, We are about playing with style, We are Tottenham Hotspur.”
These words have become intertwined with Tottenham Hotspur’s history over the years. In part because of this attitude, the “The Tottenham Way” was created. Tottenham fans, while interested in winning, are more interested in the style of play, and would much rather play exciting football than win boring 1-0 games like the “Boring, Boring Arsenal” teams of the 1970’s and 1980’s. When Tottenham became the first club to win the double in 1961, after the FA Cup final Tottenham captain Danny Blanchflower commented that he was not happy because Tottenham played horribly and the football on display was not aesthetically pleasing. This philosophy has often led Tottenham to success in the cups, but they have rarely shown the true grit to grind out consistent results over the course of a long league season, which explains why they only have two league titles to their credit.
Historically, Tottenham have been a very innovative club, often setting the blueprint for other British teams to follow. Tottenham were the first team to win the double (League and FA Cup) in 1961. Tottenham were the first British club to win a European trophy when they won the old European Cup Winners Cup in 1963. Tottenham were the first winners of the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) in 1972. In 1978, Tottenham were the first team to delve into the previously untapped resource of marquee international players when they signed Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles from Argentina. Those signings were the beginning of a trend that now sees Premier League clubs heavily reliant on international talent from all corners of the globe. In 1983, Tottenham were the first team to publicly list shares on the stock exchange, giving supporters the opportunity to feel like they were a part of the club.
However, in the last few years, Tottenham have been in caught in the middle of trying to continue that tradition of innovation and “The Tottenham Way” of exciting football and trying to emulate larger, more successful clubs abroad, who employ a more “continental style” of play. The continental style of play is slower, more methodical and places a greater emphasis on tactics, structure and possession. The last four managers that Daniel Levy has hired to manage Tottenham show this state of limbo. Every time Levy fires a manager, the next manager he hires favors the opposite style of the manager that preceded him. Harry Redknapp and Tim Sherwood were more in favor of the “English” style of free-flowing football that often lacks tactical structure. Andre Villas-Boas, on the other hand, was of the continental belief that brought him success at Porto. In the beginning, current manager Mauricio Pochettino also appeared to be of this continental style, but he appears to have adapted a more balanced philosophy. With that said, the jury is still out on him.
Redknapp came to Tottenham in the beginning of the 2008-2009 season after Tottenham had collected just two points from their opening eight matches under previous manager Juande Ramos. After steadying the ship and leading Tottenham to eighth and a League Cup final that season, Spurs embarked on their two most successful seasons in the 21st century. The 2009-2010 season saw Tottenham finish fourth and earn themselves a Champions League berth for the first time since the double winning season of 1961. The 2010-11 season saw Tottenham top their group which included holders Inter Milan and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they eventually crashed out against Real Madrid. The 2011-12 season saw Tottenham within striking distance of the top in the middle of January but they eventually faded and finished 4th, one point behind rivals Arsenal. To exacerbate the pain of the collapse, Tottenham missed out on Champions League qualification after Chelsea improbably lifted the Champions League trophy after finishing just 6th in the Premier League.
These seasons had many memorable moments that many Spurs fans will never forget. Many Tottenham fans will remember where they were and how they reacted when Peter Crouch scored against Manchester City to ensure that Tottenham would finish 4th. Tottenham also scored nine goals against Wigan in November of that season at White Hart Lane with Jermaine Defoe netting five. Spurs finally ended their away day jinx at the traditional big four clubs (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool) where they had not won since 1993 when they beat Arsenal 3-2 (after trailing 2-0 at halftime) at the Emirates in November, 2010 and Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield in May 2011. There were also the famous Champions League matches against the two Milan clubs, where Tottenham beat holders Inter Milan 3-1 at White Hart Lane before defeating AC Milan 1-0 at the San Siro and holding out for a 0-0 draw in the second leg to ensure Tottenham’s progress to the last eight.
In the transfer market, Redknapp also proved adept even if he waited until the last minute to conduct most of his business. He often got top players at extremely reasonable prices. Prime examples include signing Rafael Van der Vaart from Real Madrid for just £8m, Scott Parker from West Ham for £4m and starting goalkeeper Brad Friedel from Aston Villa on a free transfer. He also successfully fended off Chelsea’s pursuit of Luka Modric in the summer of 2011.
With that being said, the Harry Redknapp era at Tottenham also had many low points. There were some embarrassing defeats when it often looked like he had no ‘Plan B’. These include, but are not limited to; the 2-0 loss in the 2010 FA Cup semi-final to relegated and administrated Portsmouth, the Champions League match at the San Siro against Inter when he went down 4-0 before half time before some Gareth Bale magic rescued a respectable scoreline and a night to remember for Tottenham fans, the 4-0 loss at the Bernabeu to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals, the 5-2 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates in 2012 after leading 2-0 after 17 minutes and the 5-1 loss to Chelsea at Wembley in the 2012 FA Cup semi-final. There were countless other examples of Harry dropping points against smaller sides. Harry had a mentality of sticking to his formula no matter what happened. It was not rare for him to trot out almost the identical team match after match. As a result, this led to top players likes Gareth Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart, Luke Modric and Aaron Lennon becoming extremely fatigued by the end of a season. In both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Tottenham faded in the final weeks of the season and as a result failed to qualify for the Champions League. Because he played the same team so often, a lot of the players were on the outside looking in became disenchanted with the club and forced transfers at reduced prices. When the wheels predictably came off, Harry was left with a very small bench to try and adapt. Harry stuck to the English style of play, with lots of counter attacking and not too much possession, leading to AC Milan players to refer to them as “long ball Tottenham.” Nevertheless, the Harry Redknapp era at Tottenham was mostly a successful one, but unfortunately he was let go after the 2011-2012 season because Tottenham failed to qualify for the Champions League.
Out went ole English ‘Arry, in came the Portuguese wonder kid Andre Villas-Boas aged just 34. Villas Boas was only 12 months removed from leading FC Porto to a historic treble (Portuguese League, Cup and Europa League). However, he had also had a disastrous spell at Chelsea that saw him fired after just seven months amidst reports that he had lost the dressing room and the players had no belief in his methods. Hiring Villas-Boas so quickly after the Chelsea debacle enraged a lot of Tottenham supporters at the time, as it suggested that Tottenham were just picking up rival Chelsea’s scraps. Villas-Boas was a firm believer in the continental style and a lot of his philosophies were peculiar to players accustomed to the rough, physical nature of the Premier League. Villas Boas’ first summer saw Luka Modric leave the club for Real Madrid, while Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey were purchased. Two of them (Lloris and Vertonghen) are still Tottenham’s top performers and Dembele also plays a role. In retrospect, it was a pretty successful summer for Tottenham.
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