"We will try to give everything to make you proud of this football club." – Mauricio Pochettino, June 2014
So, here we are. We begin the review of 2015 at the end, after that yellow and orange ball bobbled over the line at Vicarage Road with the clock ticking over ninety. A chaotic end to a turbulent year.
As Mauricio Pochettino and his team stride into 2016 firmly in the top four, with the best defensive record and best goal difference in the league, the pride he spoke of is the feeling that resonates amongst a fan base that is at last united, after spending so long as a fractured mass of anger and disagreement. The job is not finished, but the manager, our man, has so far delivered on what he promised.
Rewind to January 1, at home to Chelsea, as we were catapulted into the New Year in an explosion of sheer excitement and disbelief, with a glimpse of just what this new-age Tottenham Hotspur is capable of.
There’s no need to remind any of you what happened, but let’s indulge. Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Andros Townsend, Harry Kane, Nacer Chadli. Time after time, the ball nestled in the net, the players screamed in a rage of elation and limbs lost all control in the stands. As Chadli found the bottom corner via a deflection for the fifth, it had become ludicrous.
The imperious league leaders and eventual runaway champions had been dispatched by wave after wave of relentless Lilywhite attack. Life doesn’t get much better.
If New Year’s Day showed the potential that lay dormant in Pochettino’s Tottenham, the next few weeks revealed the work to be done to fully realise it. First came an FA Cup draw away to Burnley - not that you’d know it. Only those in the half-empty Turf Moor saw the action; not even illegal internet streams could provide viewing for those at home for this one.
In the league, we typically followed up extraordinary glory with dejecting defeat – a damp and purposeless display in a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace. Worse came later in the month. After negotiating the replay against Burnley, we fell to Leicester City in another disappointing early FA Cup exit.
The next few weeks were something special. Away at Sheffield United, in the snow, Christian Eriksen saved the travelling faithful from the suffering of a ‘typical Tottenham’ cock-up of monumental proportions. The coolest head in the most high-pressure situation. Job done. Just. And Spurs were on their way to Wembley again. That smell of cup glory was enough to bring many of the doubters around – Pochettino was 90 minutes away from making history in his first season at White Hart Lane.
It got better. After easily disposing of West Bromwich Albion, Pochettino’s core of young players waited for the arrival of those North London squatters with their heads held high and their chests puffed out with pride and belief. A goal down after ten minutes, yet our young soldiers remained unmoved. The same waves of attack that had shredded Chelsea pounded on Arsenal’s door, yet somehow did not break through.
The atmosphere intensified by the minute, until the hot cauldron of noise reached boiling point with ever-more enthusiastic cries of the brand new favourite: Everywhere We Go. The cauldron then exploded as Harry Kane finally turned in the equaliser at the back post. The Lane erupted into celebration not seen since those days of Bale, Maicon and Inter Milan.
What came next is a feeling that I can hardly describe and one that I’ll likely struggle to ever recreate. As the man of 2015 found the far corner below us, with the most perfect of cushioned headers, my friend and I turned to each other and for a moment just stopped. Time had come to a standstill, as we looked at each other, unsure how to react, unsure if this moment was even real.
Adrenaline quickly took over – limbs once again flying uncontrollably, bodies thrown over one another, shins battered without any care whatsoever. The electricity of that day, of that moment, carried me through the next few days and still fills me with the same child-like excitement whenever I remember it once more.
Moments like that is what we follow football for, what we follow our club for. Pressing, intensity, desire – the key components that Pochettino cherishes so dearly – are those that earned us that moment, on that day.
Unfortunately, such intensity wouldn’t last until May – it never could. In the space of three days, we slumped out of the Europa League in a tie that we should have wrapped up in the first leg before being choked out of the League Cup final by Jose Mourinho’s annoyingly efficient and impressive Chelsea. It was utterly heart-wrenching to watch us succumb to two scrappy goals that dampened what had begun a day of such optimism.
Still though, despite the devastation, Pochettino and his warriors had maintained pride. The likes of Eric Dier, Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason and Kane refused to give in despite the inevitable loss. Surrounded by my own in the Bill Nicholson pub, singing with hoarse voices long after the game was dead, despite the silverware going back to Stamford Bridge, I felt so grateful to be part of this club and not that one.
The season admittedly felt almost empty after that day. There was no race for top four, no more trophies to fight for. Defeats still felt like a horrible punch in the gut every time they came however, and still I can recollect where I was for each – whether standing at the bus stop after work, getting updates on our terrible 3-0 slump at Old Trafford or watching a terrible stream as Christian Benteke headed Tim Sherwood to a win back at White Hart Lane.
Pochettino’s first season ended on a high however, with the versatility of his players – a common theme throughout the campaign – helping us to a win at Everton. Bentaleb starred in a peculiar outing at left-back and Dier swung in a gorgeous, perfect cross for the only goal of the game. Of course, it had to be Kane to round off the season in style.
Another three points secured and as news of the demolition Liverpool received at Stoke and our resulting fifth placed finish was confirmed, the long journey home from Goodison Park was made much easier, with a positive end to a successful season.
Given a team of expensive, uncaring misfits, Pochettino had guided Spurs to a credible position and an outing at Wembley, all whilst beginning to formulate some sort of identity at the club, something we had missed since our gung-ho team of stars under Harry Redknapp.
The summer was where the work really began, the most crucial part of 2015 and the first chance for Pochettino to lay the foundations he desired. The work started relatively quickly – Kieran Trippier, Kevin Wimmer and most importantly of all Toby Alderweireld, were recruited. Dele Alli joined his new side after staying on loan with MK Dons for the remainder of the 2014/15 season.
The early flurry of business perhaps unrealistically raised expectations for a big summer. Instead, the most signinificant moves were outgoings. Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Benjamin Stambouli, Étienne Capoue, Vlad Chiricheș, Aaron Lennon, Younès Kaboul - all victims of Pochettino’s ruthless cull. Emmanuel Adebayor soon followed, released by the club – the manager would have his squad how he wanted it, one way or another.
As Jim White dusted off his yellow tie and the transfer window came closer to ‘slamming’ shut, panic and anger rose in the fan base. Where’s our defensive midfielder? Turns out, Pochettino knows best. Where’s our striker? Slightly more complicated, but if the Argentine can’t get what he wants, we’ve learnt it’s better to go without than get a cheaper stand-in.
And so the new season slowly rolled into action. An opening day loss and a few draws, that are looking more and more valuable as both Stoke and Leicester are proving themselves week on week, intensified the panic that we hadn’t recruited sufficiently. There will always be a disgruntled and angry minority and it wasn’t too long before Pochettino and his side started proving the calmer faithful right with their patience.
As the weeks have worn on and other big names have faltered, we have found our feet more and more firmly, slowly perfecting a high intensity philosophy built around a solid defence of Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, protected by the magnificent Dier, and spearheaded by the joyous all-round talent of Kane.
This is still a learning team though, the youngest in the league, and so blips like Newcastle are bound to happen. They will come again in 2016. It’s when these slip-ups occur that we need to hold our resolve more than ever and maintain the patience that Pochettino has earned.
The transformation in the last twelve months has been incredible. After the glimpse of what we could have with the crushing of Chelsea on New Year’s Day, Spurs have been on a slow climb to achieving those great heights on a more regular basis. Once a disjointed team of individuals that would fluctuate from intense and hard-working one week, to passive and unwilling the next, has now become a solid, hard-to-beat, well-oiled machine that know their instructions and carry them out dutifully.
Alongside the development of the team as a whole, the change in form of some players has been astonishing. Érik Lamela, despite heavy criticism being projected at him all year, has continued to graft and develop his decision-making to become a key member in Pochettino’s united outfit. Just as impressive is the change in attitude of Mousa Dembélé, who has now become essential in Tottenham’s midfield and all of Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Ben Davies have come on leaps and bounds to contribute to the best defence in the league.
Togetherness can be one of the hardest things to find in football, particularly in the modern game. It sounds ridiculous in what is a team sport, but it can be incredibly difficult to get a group of talented, but over-inflated egos to work for each other in order to reach a common goal.
Pochettino has achieved that and more in the last twelve months, not only creating a brotherly bond in the dressing room, but extending it to the fans as well. Never before have I and others in the stands felt so connected to a group of players before; a young, hungry group that will run themselves into the ground every game to achieve their ambitions.
Once more that brings us back to the final moments of Tottenham in 2015. That delicious image of the players screaming with joy and aggression right into the faces of our fans screaming right back at them in the tightly packed corner of Vicarage Road.
The image that perfectly defines Tottenham 2015 – the players, our players, with us, together. With a manager we trust, a squad we adore and a strong, unwavering pride we haven’t felt for far too long, we turn to the new year. Anything could happen. Enjoy the ride.
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