Would it really be worth it? A Champions League trophy, sure, but one that masked serious deficiencies and paved the way for the club’s greatest modern manager to depart.
That was the dilemma facing Tottenham fans as Mauricio Pochettino’s post-Amsterdam conquest comments echoed around their minds over the last, dragging few weeks:
Winning the Champions League? It should be fantastic, no? Close the five-year chapter and go home… To win the Champions League with Tottenham, in this circumstance, in this season, maybe I need to think a little bit to do something different in the future, for sure.
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Win or lose, this was no time to sign off. Tottenham’s arrival in the world’s biggest club match was a combination of resilience and miraculous moments, not the product of a team poised for an era of consistently competing for the biggest trophies. They remain the third best side in England. They are huge outsiders to repeat their run to Istanbul 2020.
So while Spurs supporters may daydream of the open-top bus parade that never was, the final proof that Spurs were London’s best club, they may have got something even better: Pochettino.
Tottenham lost 20 games across the season. Twenty. They collapsed from being contenders in the Premier League to sneaking into the top four by virtue of those around them being plagued by ineptitude. If Damir Skomina had (correctly) waved play on after the ball had struck Moussa Sissoko after 24 seconds and Spurs marched on to win the tournament, would it really have been time to close the chapter?
Now, with Spurs heading into their most important summer since plucking the Argentine from Southampton, Pochettino has something to prove. Surely he will now stay.
For all his great work sucking every drop of talent from his fragile squad, he is repeatedly blindsided by the poor performances of his established stars. Having stumbled across a formula for European success in Harry Kane’s absence, he ditched it to shoehorn his unfit striker back into the side – unforgivably persisting with him while Jurgen Klopp smartly took off the ailing Roberto Firmino for Divock Origi, who killed the contest with his late strike.
The heroes of the quarter-final and semi-final comebacks, Fernando Llorente and Lucas Moura, were handed observer roles as Dele Alli, so frustrating this season, favoured flicks for reliable passes. It left Son Heung-min, rarely impressive on the same pitch as Kane, looking a bit lost, while Christian Eriksen snatched at his chances from outside the box.
But Tottenham should not mull over Pochettino’s oversights for long, there is still much to be excited about. While it’s difficult to see them muscling in on Manchester City v Liverpool: Round II next season, what about the following year after Pep Guardiola inevitably departs to other shores? Would City resume their old pattern of destroying the league one year, faltering unexpectedly the next?
While Spurs can’t get near this current City side – even a Liverpool side aided by immense fortune could not do it – they can close on Jurgen Klopp’s men. It’s worth remembering that Spurs, awkwardly during another Kane injury spell, were within touching distance of the top two in late February before their shock reversal at Burnley and subsequent slump.
These are now the weeks of Daniel Levy. Frittering money on risky signings and bumper contracts is obviously the wrong approach, but there needs to be an understanding that on-pitch success is rewarded off it. How else can you tempt players to your club? And right now, Spurs need players.
Christian Eriksen looks set to depart, while Toby Alderweireld continues to ignore the splurge of “sign the ting” tweet responses in reference to his fast-evaporating contract. If Kieran Tripper figurines were commissioned of this season, he would be moulded with one hand apologetically raised in the air, while full-back partner Danny Rose remains sadly disillusioned with football and his future is unclear. Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks can’t carry the midfield alone. Kane needs not just a trusted back-up, but someone who can replace him when he’s off the pace.
If there’s one man who can lead the restructure, it’s Pochettino. And if he decides to stick around in north London, acknowledging the lessons from that final stumble in Madrid, Tottenham may yet look back on June 1, 2019 as one of the most important days in their history.
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Ben Snowball in Madrid - @BenSnowball
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