We’ve all seen this terrible romantic comedy. Girl meets handsome, rich, charming guy and falls head over heels in love. Handsome charming guy turns out to be a raging douchenozzle. Through the pain of heartbreak, girl realizes that her real prince was her previously friend-zoned, not totally un-handsome buddy/neighbor/classmate with the heart of gold. Girl lives happily enough ever after. Meh.
It’s always packaged as a fairy tale, but it’s bullshit. Unfortunately for fans of Tottenham Hotspur, they’re a bit like the girl in this movie: always getting a taste of the dream; always, eventually forced to settle for “good enough.” Each season, Spurs fans see the fantasy turn into reality, and they’re just about sick of it.
But this year may be different. Instead of an early promise that fades into third act contentment, Tottenham’s gaining momentum. For once, maybe that girl (played by Katherine Heigl, naturally) falls for the alpha male, and he doesn’t turn out to be an arrogant prick. Maybe that chiseled adonis with the sports car and the trust fund is also kind and loving. This time, maybe our protagonist gets to live her dreams. Maybe Spurs supporters can let themselves get carried away with how far their team can go.
Spurs fans have been burned before. To be a Tottenham supporter is to be very intimately involved with crushing disappointment. It is not that Spurs are bad — that’s very rarely the case. Most of the Spurs teams in recent memory have played decent soccer, and only once have they finished lower than fifth place in almost a decade. By most measures, Spurs have always done alright. But the feeling that nags away at their fanbase is that they could have done so much more.
The saying goes that it is the hope that kills you, and for years, supporters of North London’s second biggest club have been given hope. Always just enough hope for them to believe, despite their better instincts, that maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. Maybe this time we can qualify for the Champions League, they say. Maybe this time we can actually stay in the Champions League. Maybe this time we can unearth a superstar. Maybe this time we can unearth a superstar and convince him to stay.
A young, British attacking talent that has the potential to be a true superstar? For Harry Kane, see Gareth Bale. A very good creative midfielder brought in from the continent who flourishes at White Hart Lane to become a world-class performer? For Christian Eriksen, see Luka Modrić. A promising young manager with big ideas about a long-term project? For Mauricio Pochettino (above), see any number of Spurs’ former managers. At Tottenham, the rule is that anything that glitters is either not gold, or is so golden that someone else with more money and power comes along and takes it away.
In the Premier League, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have collectively turned the title chase into a private affair. The last club outside of those four to win the league was Blackburn Rovers in 1995 (the only time this happened since the Premier League invented soccer in 1992, in fact). And among the New Big Four™, even Arsenal hasn’t been able to climb to the top of the heap in over a decade. But while the domestic glory may seem out of reach, there is recent precedent in other big leagues for Spurs to break the mold.
La Liga had largely been written off as a much more expensive version of the Old Firm before Atlético Madrid came along and finally knocked Real Madrid and Barcelona off of their joint perch. Likewise in Germany, Borussia Dortmund took advantage of a dip in Bayern Munich’s near-perpetual dominance to win back-to-back Bundesliga titles. Like Spurs, both Dortmund and Atléti are not as rich or illustrious as the traditional soccer powers in their home leagues, but they still managed to find success. Like Spurs, both are also “selling clubs” whose fans know that if their heroes get good enough, they will one day leave for bigger things. Spurs fans will be hoping to emulate those clubs’ periods of success, in spite of relatively limited resources. It may take a perfect storm of weakened rivals, a brilliant coach, and great players peaking together, but it can be done.
Spurs may not quite be ready to make that leap like their prospective role models, but they might not be as far away as some might think. Mauricio Pochettino is still very young for a manager, but he is no flash in the pan. At Espanyol, Southampton, and now increasingly at Spurs, he has shown an ability to drill organization and attacking intensity into his teams. He is flexible enough to adjust his team’s approach while still generally playing a progressive game, and he clearly knows how and when to bring young players through.
It is always wise to be wary of England’s next great savior, but it is hard not to be excited by the potential of Kane. He is showing all the tools of the modern center forward, and he could spearhead this Spurs attack for a decade. In Eriksen (above), Spurs have on their hands a wonderfully gifted schemer who also happens to have an eye for goal at the most crucial of times. And with Hugo Lloris bordering on world-class form in goal, Pochettino has an enviable core to build around.
Even during what could be called a season of transition, the team is only three points adrift of third place. The club is incredibly well run off the pitch, and as a result, it is in rude financial health. With money available to invest, and a manager who is starting to shape the team in his image, Spurs have a real chance to kick on next year if they have an effective summer transfer window. Qualifying for the Champions League will only boost its chances to attract top caliber players.
Spurs teams are usually fun to watch, but now the team has a backbone as well. Managers have let them down in the past, but they look to have found the genuine article in Pochettino. Kane and Eriksen are as good an attacking duo as there is in England, and there have yet to be signs that they will be poached by a bigger club. The overall quality of the league has dipped recently, and none of the clubs above Spurs in the table look invulnerable.
There have been false dawns before, but this time could be different. This time, finally, Tottenham could get its fairy tale ending.