They tell us we bottled it again. They laugh at us for putting the pressure on. They mock us for missing out on another trophy.
But they ignore how hard a competition it is to win, how they wrote us off before it all began. They forget we faced a side that had made two of the last three Champions League finals, who are fighting for their seventh domestic title in a row; one of the most organised defensive units of this generation. They overlook how we faced up to that team and outplayed them for so much of the two legs.
They do it because it is a relief to see us fall. They have a small window to forget the troubles of their own club and focus that anger somewhere else. Our failure to pick up silverware has become an important part of others’ season. After years of winning themselves, they think that’s all there is. It is all they care about, so it must be all we care about too. So energised by our inability to reach the destination, they neglect the journey.
But that is important. All goals in football must be measured with perspective. That’s why the self-entitled tantrums from those down the road is particularly embarrassing – they don’t know what pain is. And conversely, they don’t understand the pride we feel because of where we’ve come from. From tactics Tim and a group of disinterested mercenaries. Before that, from falling almost completely into oblivion and sticking Gary Doherty up front.
The first season or two was a revolving door. Mauricio Pochettino was given the keys to a broken car and was asked to polish it. He chose to break it apart and rebuild it with fresh parts. Not everything clicked, but at least he rewarded the players who had something to fight for. From Paulinho and Adebayor lumbering around, to Mason and Kane battling for every ball. It was a start.
From there, the identity became more and more clear. No more ‘give it to Gareth and pray’. You know what a Tottenham player is now, even if he lacks natural talent. That identity has remained the same, it is the stage that has changed. Now we fight at the top table, where mistakes are punished.
On Wednesday, we were not clinical enough when we were on top and did not react when Juventus switched things up. They did the bare minimum before snapping back into what they know best. Brilliant, experienced nous. We were taught a lesson by a team that have already been through their journey and learned all they need.
It is just our third campaign in the Champions League after all; just the second for this manager and his squad, and they made significant strides on how they coped with the competition last season. They can take this heart-breaking lesson now and use it to do better again next season. Because that’s all they can do. Learn, grow, make us proud.
They certainly did that this time around. What fans of Arsenal and Chelsea and Manchester United don’t realise is that going out to Juventus doesn’t void everything that came before. It doesn’t eliminate the pulsing pride we felt when our Harry Winks ran the midfield at the Bernabeu, or when we rattled the defensive cage of Chiellini and Buffon in Turin. It doesn’t delete those memories of falling into the rows in front when Eriksen put us 3-0 up at Wembley against the biggest club in the world.
We’ve come from players cowering away from Stewart Downing free-kicks to Heung-min Son breaking down on the pitch after taking the Old Lady to the brink. That journey is invaluable and doesn’t require silverware to validate any joy we feel. The chase goes on, but we don’t have to wait for its completion to love every little part of this team.
That’s not to say last night didn’t hurt. Like the FA Cup semi or the title slipping away last year, it stings. It feels like whatever we do, it will always end up this way. But we’re here now, on this stage, with much further still ahead on this road. This season, next season, the season after that. We’re not going away, as much as they all want us to. It does not end here. This is just another phase of our growth.
Who were we before? No one to worry about, always in their shadow. Now that we dare to take some of the spotlight for ourselves, they can’t stop talking about us, waiting for us to falter. Against Juve, they got what they wanted. So, they pipe up, they stick the foot in. Let them.
We stumbled, but we’re still moving.
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