When does a big club reach big club mentality?
It is a question Spurs have been asking themselves ever since Mauricio Pochettino demonstrated just how far the club could go when he signed up five years ago.
With back-to-back top four finishes and worthy forays into Europe, Spurs certainly have a seat at English football’s top table, but do the fans truly believe they belong there?
I went down to last weekend’s North London derby to delve into the mentality of the Wembley/ Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (delete as appropriate) faithful to find out why, despite all recent improvements, the magic ingredient is still missing.
Since Daniel Levy made the wily move to appoint Pochettino after his success at Southampton in the summer of 2014, Spurs have enjoyed a period of almost unrivalled success.
This isn’t to airbrush over the First Division triumphs in the 1950s and 60s, the eight FA Cups they won up to their last in 1991 nor the 2008 League Cup win but we are talking about seriously competing with the super-rich megaclubs in the modern Premier League.
No, we’re not including Leicester in that list.
While City spend a small country’s defence budget on full-backs, United happily pay Alexis Sanchez £350,000-a-week to practice the piano and Chelsea play Russian Roulette with their managers on a seasonal basis, Spurs have infiltrated the promised land of the Premier League top four through a mix of homegrown talent, crafty transfers and an absolutely phenomenal striker in Harry Kane.
Under Poch the club has reached the League Cup final, finished in the Champions League places three seasons in a row, banished St. Totteringham’s day to history by placing above Arsenal for the last two seasons and have generally been one of Europe’s most pleasing teams to watch.
Spurs challenged City and Liverpool for the title until last week, they are on the verge of reaching the Champions League quarter-final and have a joyous young squad full of English talent.
For a club that has long lived in the shadow of its more glamorous local rival, on paper everything seems rosy – but there still seems to be something missing.
Spurs season ticket holder and former chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust Bernie Kingsley encapsulated the mood of the fans perfectly.
“Spurs supporters are always glass half empty it’s the nature of us,” he explained.
“Everybody will tell you we are really nervous about the derby, it’s that sort of mentality that Spurs fans have. We haven’t been used to winning regularly and it’s difficult to get used to that.
“We are enjoying it and the football we play but there’s always that tinge that we could fall back into being ‘Spursy’.”
That view was echoed by Sean Cook aka @TalkingTHFC in that there’s never been a better time to support the club but, without being able to fall back on tangible success in the shape of trophies, there’s a missing ingredient.
“We’re not unhappy with the state of things, we don’t want to be demanding these trophies and certain players. It’s great, supporting Spurs at the moment is great and supporting them over the last five years has been better than it has been supporting them for a very long time,” he said.
“But you look at people like Wenger and Fergie and the legacy that they left, it would be great to do something like that but they were winning stuff and we need to be doing that as well. It’s only been five years under Poch but we need to start doing that.”
Clubs like Man United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – those with a long history of major success – exude the sense of being a big club.
The signings suit their ambitions, the manager reflects the expectations of the board and the fans have a natural confidence when it comes to finishing the season with silverware.
Here are the three key factors that Spurs are yet to achieve in their quest to elevate themselves from pretenders into contenders.
And while Spurs have been enjoying the best period anyone under the age 30 can remember, the other ‘big clubs’ have been going about business filling up their trophy cabinets.
Yes Arsenal still regularly embarrass themselves with the likes of ArsenalFanTV and an army of vloggers giving the worst takes, but even during the twilight of their banter era they’ve still won two FA Cups since Pochettino took the reins.
Man United have mostly been pretty miserable since Alex Ferguson departed but they can boast an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League trophy in the last five years.
City have been City and Chelsea continue to grind out silverware despite being in a constant state of managerial flux.
Consistent top four finishes doesn’t seem to be enough for the hungry fans at Spurs.
To make that jump to ‘big club’ status the supporters need trophies to lean back on when the inevitable argument comes up that they are the Premier League’s perenial bottlers.
Both Bernie and Sean explained that despite all the good feeling around the club and the enjoyment in watching successive top four finishes, Spurs need to get their hands on silverware to make the fans feel like they belong at the top.
“It’s an improvement on the mid-table Spurs team I watched growing up,” Sean said.
“To be able to beat Chelsea and Arsenal regularly and competing for the same trophies is a massive thing for us but at the same time we are so close to that next step of winning things, it’s just not quite coming off for us at the moment.
“We’re not unhappy with the state of things, we don’t want to be demanding these trophies and certain players but success is a necessary next step.”
Bernie said, “We’ve lost a lot of semi-finals over the the years, it’s very difficult. They can’t quite get over the final hurdle.”
Pochettino said before the Chelsea defeat that it could take up to a decade to instil a real winning mentality in the squad and Kane added that the team have to step up when the pressure is on.
Alongside everything that takes place on the pitch, @TalkingTHFC told me that Spurs will struggle to truly consider themselves one of the top clubs until they are recognised as so by their rivals and the media.
“A lot of it comes down to the attitude of rival clubs and fans and pundits. In their minds Spurs are still that mid-table team, we’re trying to change opinions and we are doing that slowly,” he said.
“It comes down to that, if we’re treated as bottlers in the eyes of the media and rival fans we are always going to be that until we start winning stuff, it’s hard in that regard it feels like you’re running uphill the whole time.
“It hurt us last year after the Juventus game when Chiellini said ‘this is the history of Spurs it’s what they do’, that was a killer blow.
“Beating teams like that and getting to the next level and attracting players like Chiellini and his colleagues, until we start getting those people on board and start winning things that mentality will always be there from other clubs as well.”
With a sparkling new stadium incoming, a potential fourth successive year in the Champions League and a squad that has their best years in front of them, could next year be the year Spurs start shifting attititudes around the club and finally win something?
Ask any Spurs fan and they’ll tell you they can never be certain of anything.
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