Pochettino taking the ‘Spursiness’ out of Spurs

Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Spurs, for many, has long been a byword for a particular sort of flaky flashiness, a sense of style over substance, of glamorous underachievement. David Ginola. Lads, it’s Tottenham.

Strangely, for a long time, every Spurs fan I seemed to know was also a bit flashy and not a little flaky: Wide boys, a little too concerned about their hair, always well turned out but lacking in a bit of moral ruggedness; not ones you’d want with you in the trenches, so to speak.

I always wondered were these people attracted to Spurs because of a shared dandyish dilettantism, or did they become Spursy as a result of their affiliation, as in the way that people start to look like their dogs?

One theory was that that this was all about individualism. In Ireland, being a Spurs fan made one stand out from the crowd among the Manchester United- and Liverpool-supporting hordes. There was something admirable about this, but there also had to be a little bit of vanity involved.

Thankfully, this unscientific conclusion about the nature of Spurs fans did not stand up to scrutiny as the sample size increased. It turned out that there were lots of Spurs fans who weren’t lily-livered fops.

For example, hurling legends Anthony Daly and Daithí Regan are Spurs fans, and neither are synonymous with flakiness nor, indeed, unwarranted flashiness.

Former GAA director general Páraic Duffy is a Spurs fan. Anyone who spent a lifetime navigating the labyrinthine murk of the GAA’s committee system can’t be lacking in the spine department.

The clincher? Brian Kerr is a Spurs fan (a distant second to his passion for St Pat’s, granted). The very spiritual essence of Irish football made flesh, Brian could never be accused of being a pusillanimous popinjay.

But, give a dog a bad name, and all that. Sometime last year, my own son, around the time of his seventh birthday, decided that he too wanted to be a Spurs fan. Could it be that I was raising one of these peacockish poltroons that inhabited my unfair prejudices about Tottenham supporters?

No, I reassured myself. Spurs were different now. The boy was attracted to Spurs because of Harry Kane, not the legacy of Darren Anderton and Rafael van der Vaart. Kane’s image is that of the stout-willed, ruddy-cheeked paragon of English manhood. He is the longbow of Agincourt, the Light Brigade cavalryman, the RAF squadron leader. Spunk, pluck, spine. A great man to take a pressure penalty. Not very Spursy, then. The boy will be fine, I concluded.

Still, wider prejudices about Tottenham remain deeply held. If Mauricio Pochettino’s five years in charge have been about one thing, it is the elimination of Spursiness, the elevation of Kane, Mr Right Stuff, as spiritual leader; the promotion of hard graft and a sense of communal purpose; an aggressive, fully-committed style of play that would allow them bridge the gap to much richer rivals.

Spurs are not the first club to attempt a complete image overhaul — their opponents on Tuesday night did it with the help of billions of Emirati petrodollars — but theirs is a particularly ambitious one, given that it is based on the personality of an earnest and charismatic Argentine coach and the construction of a largely debt-funded mega- stadium.

Granted, the advance publicity about the reconstructed White Hart Lane, with all that talk of cheese rooms and micro-breweries didn’t exactly dispel a sense that Tottenham were fixated on modish fripperies, but the plan for the club to become serious, grown up members of the football elite was clear.

However, like memories of slick-haired wide boys of my youth, old feelings about Tottenham die hard. Every stumble the club has suffered under Pochettino has been greeted with cries of ‘Spursy!’ The failure to snatch the title that Leicester City won in 2016? Spursy! Various stumbles at the latter stages of cup competitions? Spursy! The stillborn title challenge that has turned into a desperate scrap for a top-four spot? Spursy! Spursy! Spursy!

Despite countless performances filled with grit and gumption like the one that gave them victory over Manchester City on Tuesday night, most people’s image of Tottenham remains stubbornly that of a smirking Terry Venables or a languidly strolling Dimitar Berbatov.

However, of all the numbers that Tottenham put out around last week’s homecoming, the ones included in their financial report for 2017/18 are far more persuasive than details of the 65 metre bar that pours 10,000 pints per minute. Tottenham’s wage bill of £148m (€172m) ranked them sixth in the Premier League, £75m (€87.1m) less than Arsenal and exactly half the amount of top payers Manchester United, who they only trailed by four points in the final league table. Liverpool, who finished two points behind Tottenham, paid out £116m (€134,8m) more than them in wages.

Everton, 28 points behind them in the table, were only £3m (€3.4m) behind on wages paid. Tottenham, in fact, have ranked sixth in wage spending throughout Pochettino’s reign, yet their league finishes are fifth, third, second, third.

This remarkable overachievement doesn’t even factor in the club’s notoriously puny transfer expenditure. Tottenham’s net spend on players over the past five seasons, according to the Transfermarkt website, is €31m. Manchester City, vanquished by Heung-Min Son on Tuesday, spent €625m in the same period.

As they savour the best result of the Pochettino era, these numbers underline the true nature of what their manager has achieved and the fact that the so-called Spursiness of their failures is far less relevant than the fact they have been so competitive at all. In fact, nothing would be more Spursy than failure to hold onto a man who has done more than anyone to erase those old Fancy Dan prejudices about the club.

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