It is a sign of our astonishing progress that for the second season running we are in the title race – playing catch up again but for the first time in my lifetime, Spurs are challenging for the league title. It looks once again like we’ll fall just short but that shouldn’t detract from the scale of what we’re achieving under Mauricio Pochettino on a limited budget compared to our rivals and how far we’ve come over the past decade.
In the early days of the Premier League, we were firmly a mid-table team, with any real excitement confined to the cup competitions. We loosely flirted with relegation a couple of times but never seriously looked like losing our top flight status. The only European adventures we could dream of were in the UEFA Cup. Champions League wasn’t even a pipe dream, partly because there were fewer qualifying births. Until Premier League season 2001/02, the “top four trophy” never existed and even when it did come into existence, Spurs weren’t really in the mix for qualification.
Under the tutelage of Martin Jol, we started aspiring to achieve a top four spot and, bar a dodgy lasagne on the eve of the final day of season 2005/06, we would have got it. Thereafter it was the holy grail for many years and, as the likes of Bale and Modric flourished, we finally got there under Harry Redknapp courtesy of a Crouchy header at the Etihad in 2009/10.
At the time, like us, Manchester City had never occupied a place at Europe’s top table (since the formation of the Champions League in 1992) but with the money being ploughed into the club from the Middle East it appeared only a matter of time. For us, I saw it as what could be a one-off opportunity before City cemented their top four status alongside Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United with Liverpool not too far behind. The door was closing.
However, since then we have continued to compete and confound expectations – finishing fourth again in 2012, only to miss out due to Chelsea’s highly fortuitous victory in the Champions League, and then again last season, when we finished third (I’m still calling it “effective second”), which for the first time ensured our automatic qualification (with no need to play any Young Boys first).
This season we once again sit second and look to set to achieve consecutive qualifications for the first time. We’re now four points off our highest ever points total in the Premier League (72) with seven games still to play; seven points better off than at the same stage last season. It’s continual progress and under Pochettino we look capable of establishing ourselves as a regular in Europe’s elite competition.
You know all of this already of course – like me, you’ve lived it and breathed it. But what we don’t do often enough amid the chaos of non-stop fixtures and the manic 24/7 news cycle is take stock.
Since Pochettino’s arrival, the narrative around the club has shifted. He has not limited our ambitions to fourth spot, but dared us to dream about loftier heights. Aim for fourth and you might get it, or you might fall just short and end in fifth or sixth. Between our first qualification for the Champions League and last season, we had finished 5th, 4th, 5th, 6th and 5th (in Poch’s first season in charge). Pochettino has changed the mentality at the club – not merely accepting fourth place as the high bar, but challenging his players to match his own ambitions. We now go toe-to-toe with every team in the country. We no longer raise our game for the big matches; we compete at that level EVERY week, whether we’re playing Chelsea or Watford. And this mentality will hopefully convince our rising stars that they do not need to leave the club to win trophies and compete with the very best. Tottenham Hotspur is the place to be.
We’re the only club to have competed for the Premier League title both this season and last. In fact, without Spurs there would have been no meaningful title race since season 2014/15.
If we can keep hold of our manager, I’m convinced that the club will continue to flourish – we will aim for the very top and with a bit of luck we might just achieve something incredibly special. If not, then it won’t be through lack of ambition. Audere Est Facere. #COYS