Ah, pre-season. Always the absolute bestest time to be a Spurs fan. Ignoring the league table, which for some obviously biased decision always has us hovering around the relegation places at this time of year, this is usually about as good as it gets for us. Last season has been and gone. We have new players, a new manager, a new identity. Everything will be alright this year, it’s our year. We’ve learned from our mistakes this time. What could possibly go wrong?
Hopefully, and I mean this from the very bottom of my weary heart, nothing. For the first time in a few years I have a feeling of “quiet” rather than “rampant” optimism. I mean, rewind twelve months and we were all getting rather giddy. Franco Baldini had gone all Football Manager with the Gareth Bale money and we had about £100m worth of exotic foreign players in, a couple of which I’d never even heard of. “Sold Elvis but bought the Beatles” was the overriding sentiment, and it certainly felt that way at the time. It looked like we’d built a team rather than relying single-handedly on the Inter-slaying simian to dig us out of a hole with a 90+4 minute screamer after another anaemic performance. The workload would be shared around, we had strength in depth. Top four was fully expected and it was not an uncommon view that we might actually finish top of the whole pile. And then, well, the season kicked off and it all began to unravel rather terribly. Same old Spurs, eh.
It feels weird looking back on last season as one of the worst in my memory, considering we finished with 69 points and sixth place. I look back to the mid 90s and early 2000s when we could barely dream of that, but let’s be absolutely honest here, the whole thing was an utter shambles. A slow, unspectacular start on the pitch but with a few solid results as a platform, unfortunately AVB managed to piss off half the club and most of the journalists reporting on us meaning he was on borrowed time early on. A lack of confidence spread through the club leading to a series of batterings against the big boys and then a P45, right on the day when the poor chap apparently turned up at the club with Christmas presents for everyone. A sad end to what I honestly thought twelve months previously would be one of the best managerial appointments that I’d known, but anyway I wish him well and will always love him for the 2-3 at Old Trafford if nothing else.
In many peoples’ eyes, AVB had to go due to his rigid, stodgy tactics. I personally would have at least given him until the end of the season, especially as the alternative was Tim fucking Sherwood, an Arsenal fan who as our player a decade ago allegedly caused issues behind the scenes and then as our manager proceeded to lose a fight with a gilet on live TV during the North London Derby. Tactically naive and constantly spouting contradictory nonsense to all and sundry to suit whatever Machiavellian plan he thought he had in his oddly-weathered head, yet strangely held up by much of the press as an honest geezer who wears his heart on his (shirt) sleeve, the man was an absolute embarrassment to the club from start to finish. Yes he got Adebayor playing well for a bit (and didn’t we hear the bloody end of it), but let’s be honest Chirpy the Cockerel could have motivated the big man to roll a few in after the way he’d been frozen out by AVB so it’s hardly achievement of the year. From the Harry Redknapp school of “yea, I bladdy did that” when things were going well or the “they’re all useless this lot” when they weren’t, I have never in my life been more glad of a season finishing as I did last year and he was told to pack his gilet up and depart for, well, God knows where. I was beyond caring.
People talk about it being a sacking, but in my eyes it came across more like they just didn’t take up the remaining twelve months on his short term contract. If he’d delivered a top-four finish and not acted like a complete clown as soon as he got in the hot seat, if he’d maybe had some semblance of a long term tactical plan other than “putting an arm around Emmanuel Adebayor” or telling the players to “fight” a bit more, then perhaps he might have got more time but Levy was 100% right to get the man out of the club when he did – even if he was 100% wrong to appoint him in the first place. The players didn’t seem to be playing for him, we’d tumbled out of the domestic cups in pathetic fashion, and the whole thing just left a horrible, nasty taste in the mouth. We were back to being a laughing stock again after years of steady progress.
So now, on the eve of the new season, I sit here and I feel optimistic again. Yes it’s that same old “new season” feeling, except it’s not exactly the same this time. The Poch is in place, and he has a plan. Part of me is chuffed to bits with Levy for sticking him in there, exactly the sort of appointment I wanted once Tactics Tim had left the building. Part of me is worried about how it will go if a couple of results go awry along the way while he is trying to stamp his imprint on our unruly bunch. Will the fans and the press turn on him? Will we hear the grumbles of discontent when we’re 0-0 at half time in the first match at The Lane? Will Harry’s mates in the media start slinging barbs in about unsettled players struggling to adapt under the new foreign coach? And will Levy stick by his man if they do?
It’s a feeling of slight dread that I have after the way things have gone in that respect over the past few years, but I suppose that’s the sort of negative thinking I am railing against here, so I’ll nail my lilywhite colours to the mast and state that I’m fully behind the new man. He wants us to play fast, pressing football and has a great record with youth players at both Southampton and Espanyol, something we have been poor with as a club in recent years. He’s working with a largely settled squad, with the only additions so far making complete sense targetting positions where we needed it. Certainly I am looking forward to having a proper left back in place for the first time in a while. The squad looks pretty good generally, with strength in depth across midfield especially where we have almost too much choice, and it will be interesting to see how Pochettino sets us up there. Unless Dier is to hit the ground running I would like another central defender alongside Vertonghen as I am worried about Dawson’s pace with a high line (much as I love the man) and Kaboul seems to have reverted back to the 2007 version. And we look a bit light up top if Adebayor goes on holiday again so it would be nice to have another option there I guess.
There’s a lot to look forward to though and so long as the players, the fans and the chairman buy into what Pochettino is trying to implement then I think we’ll do just fine. No one is expecting us to win the league this year. Most of us aren’t even expecting top four as almost everyone around us has strengthened significantly (even if there is a slight whiff that Liverpool may have “done a Tottenham” with the Luis Suarez money). I would be happy with top six and a trophy, or at the very least a solid cup run or two, so long as there is actually a blueprint for where we are headed and a sense of the players actually having some semblance of idea what they are supposed to be doing on the pitch. Those who flattered to deceive last year have a second chance, and hopefully having an Argentinian manager can bring the best out of Lamela in particular, and we may yet see one or two more faces before the window slams shut. Having the spotlight off us this season suits us well, and so long as everyone gets behind the new man and gives him a chance then for once hopefully the pre-season optimism won’t be obliterated by mid-October again. Let the games begin.