The fact remains that this is a club with a default setting of one step forward followed by two back, writes Brendan O’Brien.
Glory glory Tottenham Hotspur. The chant, sung to the tune of ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’, has also been appropriated by fans of Manchester United and Leeds United down the years but Spurs supporters have been delivering that particular ditty as far back as the 1960s, a decade which began with the North London club claiming an historic first domestic league and cup double of the century.
It’s not the wittiest nor most original of terrace tunes. The second verse consists of one phrase, namely that ‘Tottenham are the greatest team the world has ever seen’. Repeating it three times may have been symbolic of an actual belief back then. Now it smacks of self-delusion, something the club has long laboured under.
Tottenham, we are always told, are one of England’s ‘big clubs’. It’s history has seen to that. The first and only non-league club to win the FA Cup, in 1901. The first club to do the double in the 20th century. The first British club to win a European trophy, the European Cup Winners Cup in 1963.
For years they had more FA Cup wins than anyone else and that at a time when such a boast carried weight, but Spurs have partnered that grand old tournament in a journey towards irrelevance for many a year now and the moniker of ‘big club’ is now almost as laughable as the claim that they are even close to being among football’s global elite.
It’s a shame, really. For anyone who can remember the 1960s or 1980s, especially. Under Bill Nicholson and Keith Burkinshaw, the club traded on a licence to dazzle. The football was easy on the eye and, crucially, hard on the opposition. Trophies were claimed at home and abroad and the men who won them were genuine greats.
Danny Blanchflower. Dave Mackay. Jimmy Greaves. Glenn Hoddle. Ossie Ardiles. Steve Perryman. Spurs have known some superstars since but the likes of Gary Lineker, Jurgen Klinsmann, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale never managed to stick around long enough to chisel out a place for themselves in the club’s own Hall of Fame.
And therein lies the problem.
Spurs may splash the cash on people like Roberto Soldano and Erik Lamela but the club’s status as a selling club — a veritable nursery of soon-to-be superstars for clubs with a genuine case to be the world’s best — has condemned it to an eternity lounging in the limbo that is the mezzanine level between the English game’s also rans and the market leaders.
Players who could have served as linchpins for years to come were allowed clear their lockers for lodgings elsewhere. Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale have all passed through White Hart Lane. after brief spells.
The sale of Bale to Real Madrid was one that should be exempt from criticism given the £100 million or so it deposited in the club’s coffers but the fact remains that this is a club with a default setting of one step forward followed by two back. Kasey Keller, who kept goal for them in the early 1990s, said as much back in 2011.
“Spurs have had this problem for years. I don’t see Manchester City selling their players to rivals. Manchester United don’t do it... If you want to be one of the big boys you have to act like it. Your best players should want to stay. They should not want to leave because they know they are going to be challenging going for trophies.
“Tottenham have to reach that stage,” said the American at the time. “At some point they must make a decision. Are they going to honestly and truly compete with these teams or are they just going to hope it all comes together at the right time and challenge for a year or two?”
Keller’s words are worth noting this week given speculation that Tottenham’s current goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, could be allowed follow that well-worn path out the door, in this case to Real Madrid and for a sum of £25m. That this followed on the heels of a rare 5-3 defeat of Chelsea a week earlier must only infuriate fans further.
The club’s status as a faded giant is one mirrored by ‘The Lane’ itself, a ground whose capacity of 36,824 can cater for only half what it once did but planning permission on a new stadium, which will cater for 20,000 more punters and is due to be open for business in 2018, has been granted.
As things stand, work is due to begin on the rebuild next week.
The club diverted for FA Cup duties last Monday standing fifth in the Premier League table. In Mauricio Pocchetino, their 21st manager since 1991, they seem to have a young and able figure in place as they look to divest themselves of decades of what they would regard as underachievement.
To dare is to do, is the club’s motto.
It’s well beyond time it lived up to that.
* Email: email@example.com
* Twitter: @Rackob
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved