Mauricio Pochettino is often discredited for his failure to lead Tottenham to trophy success, but as Richard Adams of Football Bosses writes, a top-four finish is worth much more.
Although the title may seem pandering to the new age of football, where just being in the Champions League seemingly means more than an FA Cup victory, it is very much the opposite. The reason why Pochettino’s reign so far can be seen as a success is due to the progression, again having the opportunity to compete with European giants, and create famous nights like they had against Inter Milan in 2010. Tottenham’s development is there for all to see, and although fans of opposition clubs may mock their lack of trophies, is it really that relevant when they experience nights beating Real Madrid?
The basis of this comes from looking at Arsenal fans, both last season and this present one. Arsenal in the past two years have one trophy and a cup semi-final; Spurs have only a semi-final and a round of 16 Champions League appearance. Yet, it is clear the happier fan base is Tottenham. Even though the expectations for both clubs were perhaps different five years ago, in the present day they are pretty much identical. And that is why the top four is more important to Pochettino and Tottenham, as it shows the progression and consistency of the team. When the Argentine took charge in 2014, Tottenham had only appeared once in the top four since 2010. The one year they did finish fourth, Chelsea won the Champions League and denied Tottenham a Champions league place, making 2010 the last Champions League appearance.
After this season, Pochettino will have brought Spurs Champions League football three out of his four seasons in charge. All these seasons have been without Gareth Bale, with Harry Kane taking up the role as talisman, supported by a spine of players such as Dele Ali, Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris to name just a few.
Pochettino has created a side that is competitive at the highest level, and has managed to keep this spine over his four years due to the forward direction Tottenham continue to travel. It is a project that needs Champions League football more than an FA Cup, to attract players so they can continue to compete domestically and against Europe’s elite.
Furthermore, it is what fans can experience in Europe in comparison to domestic games. A Champions League night creates a buzz for the fans and an excitement that will never happen in early rounds of the FA or League Cup. Tottenham are only beginning to experience this again.
Having struggled in last year’s competition, being unable to get out of what seemed a reasonable group, the progression was questioned. However, by getting into the competition this year, they instantly had a chance to rectify and forget last season’s disappointment. And they took it, despite being in the group of death. Spurs topped the group unbeaten, beating Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the process.
And this season has shown how enjoyable a season can be without being traditionally successful. Although the CA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United was a bitter pill to swallow, and the allusive trophy still deserting them, they have had unforgettable nights this year. Sometimes this can mean almost as much as success, with fans sometimes being too quick to judge a team and their manager on trophies. Of course, winning trophies is the main objective because it creates the biggest sense of euphoria after a victory. But, as a supporter, you watch sport to feel the highs and lows, the joy of success and must cope with the negative emotions on the big stage.
And this is exactly what Tottenham have done this year, with fans having the game against Real Madrid, where they outclassed the European Champions at Wembley. This is not a trophy but for years to come, fans can remember that night fondly; the highs of Ali scoring early, and the disbelief when Erikson made it 3-0. Compare this to their league cup semi-final victory over Sheffield United in 2014, likely extremely memorable but unlikely to have amounted to what Tottenham fans felt that evening at Wembley. That feeling encapsulates why sport is so popular.
And even in Turin where they went 2-0 down, they outplayed the Italian champions Juventus to take a 2-2 aggregate score to Wembley. Despite being the better side for around 170 minutes of the tie, they were knocked out due to a three-minute capitulation. As disappointing as this must have been, Pochettino has brought belief and hope to fans, making them feel all the positive and negative emotions to the extreme by being on the biggest stage in club football.
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This argument is only valid up to a point. If the progression were to stop, and Tottenham continuously fail to get past the last 16 of the Champions League, questions of trophies and progression would start to get serious. The fans would lose the feeling that the club is moving in the right way; much like Arsenal fans have felt in recent years due to lack of progress in the Champions League. The only saving grace has been Arsenal’s FA Cup triumphs; yet you would be hard pushed to find an Arsenal fan who would seriously prefer their previous two seasons to Tottenham’s.
To sum this up, the only solitary reason teams like Arsenal, and Manchester United last season, wanted to win the Europa League was for entry into the Champions League. The trophy itself is a by-product with the fans already dreaming of big nights in Europe. It’s all about progression and the feeling fans get from that; with one North London side continuing to move forward while the other has stood still despite the “success”.
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