Tottenham, unsurprisingly, are in yet another period of gross uncertainty. In fact, uncertainty at Tottenham is pretty much a default setting, perpetually present, or just lurking, waiting, behind a nearby corner. There’s a new stadium development embroiled in an affair that is not too dissimilar to a storyline from Suits, a third party apparently preparing a hostile takeover of the business with only a stream of cryptic club statements to shed any light on the situation. Amongst all that, there’s a new management team, all but a handful of games in to their time at club. It’s easy enough to forget about them.
Given the relative on-field success the club have experienced over the last decade, fan unrest has come in occasionally unreasonable fits and starts. There were issues, of course, such as Stratford and StubHub that were utterly deplorable, but on the whole, compared to clubs much further down the league than Spurs, there’s not really been all that much to complain about. However, given Mauricio Pochettino and his staff have been at the helm for eight whole matches now with mixed results, pockets of support will already be getting impatient and hyper-critical - it’s still Tottenham Hotspur, after all.
What needs to be remembered, however, is that Daniel Levy has once again pressed the reset button, essentially taking the club back to the start of a cycle that begun under André Villas-Boas those many, many moons ago. Tim Sherwood was a calculated risk tasked with bringing the good ship Tottenham in to port with as little fuss as possible, but in reality, he did little more than to further steer us toward the rocks, apparently distracted by his repeated attempts to publicly perform autofellatio…purely metaphorically, of course.
The one situation I’d most feel comfortable comparing this to - taking heart while I do so - is Brendan Rodgers first season in charge of a Liverpool side that was doing nothing more than spectacularly regressing, season after season. Similar to Pochettino, he came from a newly promoted Premier League side who’d succeeded in implementing an ideology and philosophy, making a squad of players and the resources available to him greater than the sum of its parts. However, the move was hardly a fairytale for Rodgers, and his first season returned indifferent results, leading some sections of the Liverpool support to call for his head. A season later, those same fans were begging him to make them “believe”.
Taking over in the summer before the 2012/13 season, around the same time Villas-Boas as appointed at Tottenham, high player turnover and lack of direction were Rodgers’ first battles to overcome. He had inherited a sizeable squad, one that wasn’t particularly suited to adapting to his tactical preferences, and had several big money signings to assess, all in an extremely short amount of time. By the time the transfer window had closed, he’d spent close to £50m, recouping just £10m. Eleven players left Liverpool in that time, with five coming in, but they had only won once in four pre-season matches.
The league season didn’t go that much better, and an unsuccessful campaign in the Europa League proved to be an unpopular distraction, despite Rodgers claiming numerous times that it was a competition he was invested in winning. Ownership had very recently changed hands at the club, and between new revelations regarding Hillsborough, and renewed interest in either expanding or rebuilding Anfield, off-field distractions were plentiful. Much like Pochettino, the environment he’d been parachuted in to was hardly geared towards helping him succeed immediately.
With just nine home victories all season, conceding forty-three and keeping just eleven clean sheets, Liverpool finished the season seventh with sixty-one points, two places and eleven points shy of a Gareth Bale propelled Tottenham side. They fell out of the FA Cup in the Fourth Round to lower league opposition in the shape of Oldham Athletic, and lost at the same stage in the League Cup to Rodgers’ old side Swansea at home. Liverpool topped their Europa League group on Goals For, but fell at the very next hurdle in the Round of 32 against Zenit on away goals.
As the season drew to a close, Rodgers was looked at as little more than a figure of fun. His tendency to speak in David Brent like soundbites and use management stunts as motivational tools was highlighted in the ill-advised ‘being Liverpool’ documentary, which did little to aid his, or his sides, reputation. In fact, so low had become his stock that in February 2013, midway through the season, the Bleacher Report published an article called ‘Has the Brendan Rodgers Project Already Failed?’.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we’re in a better position to analyse just how useful that first season in charge was for Rodgers, and how the successes of his second in charge were aided by the experiences and lessons learnt initially. The transfer activity that summer was much more purposeful, the players once labelled ‘flops’ pushed themselves to become integral members of the side after growing increasingly familiar with the tactical ethos and ideology in place, and Rodgers was much more settled in his surroundings.
With his first season used as a prolonged learning curve despite the fan unrest at the lack of standout results and failure to achieve European football, Liverpool came out of his second season in charge five places higher in the league, with twenty-three more points returned than the previous campaign. The writer at the Bleacher Report finally had an answer to his question.
The parallels between both situations are, in my opinion at least, fairly undeniable. Both on and off the field, that uncertainty has engulfed both clubs, and both managers. Unlike those Liverpool fans who had predictably called for Rodgers to be sacked, of course unaware of what was to come but a season later, the best thing Tottenham fans can do in a similar situation is to show a little bit of understanding and patience.
Five games in to the season, Pochettino is already five points better off than Rodgers was in his first season in charge at the same stage. Both share comparable attacking tactical identities that are too fine tuned and complex to be learnt and implemented overnight. For proof of that, one only has to look back to this summer, and see just how many of the players Pochettino helped become household names at Southampton were targeted and signed by Rodgers at Liverpool.
To simplify a season, the success Rodgers found in his second campaign at Liverpool was largely down to three factors: lack of European football and increased preparation/resting time, boardroom patience in not sacking their manager and backing him, and the squads familiarity and belief in the tactical identity they would be going in to the new season with. A combination of largely those three things, on the back of an indifferent first season results wise, is why Liverpool improved so dramatically. Most importantly for Tottenham, they’re qualities that can be easily replicated given the chance.
It is highly likely that this season will bring with it further disappointing results, and when they come, anger will likely fog any semblance of perspective. It goes without saying that if Pochettino were to go the rest of the season undefeated, winning silverware on the way and finding a way back in to the Champions League, no complaints would be heard coming from my direction. However, being realistic, that doesn’t really look like happening any time soon.
Having read that, it shouldn’t surprise you that despite the results, I’m still positive about the season ahead for Tottenham under Pochettino, and seeing him evolve in the role. What will be increasingly interesting is which players he’ll start to prefer, which players will become marginalised and the system he begins to settle his side within. Separating the football on-field, and the business off-field is no easy task, but it’s one that will help Pochettino settle in a much quicker time. In the handful of games we’ve already played there have been flashes of tactical understanding shown between player and manager, and that can only improve the more time they spend together on the training field.
Lowering expectations and accepting that, in the short term at least, failure might not actually be the end of the world isn’t a mindset Tottenham fans will be used to adopting, and nor should it be. However, learning to be patient, assessing the context of a certain situation and applying logic in places where emotion usually dictates ones outlook, now that, that could be useful to everyone involved in the long run.
Name - Raj Bains
Twitter - @BainsXIII