When Tottenham Hotspur moved into the new state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2019, there was a growing feeling that the club could become of the new powers in the European game.
However, since their move, Spurs have failed to win a single trophy, meaning that their last piece of silverware remains the League Cup success back in 2008, while their battle to finish in the Champions League places has also fallen short in recent seasons. But, why are Spurs still underperforming, and how long could it be until we see them reaching their full potential?
Move To New Stadium Was Meant To Have Positive Impact
The news that Tottenham was moving into their new stadium was greeted well by fans, as there was a growing belief that the club would need to move with the times and move away from the extremely popular White Hart Lane. The stadium officially opened in April 2019, after being delayed for an extended time.
There is little doubt that the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is up there with some of the most beautiful stadiums in the world nowadays, and couldn’t look out of place hosting World Cup fixtures, just like the stadiums in Qatar will later in the year.
However, the success that board members would have been hopeful of achieving following the move. In fact, performances on the pitch have been more underwhelming. The start of Tottenham’s stay at the stadium promised so much, as they managed to beat Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals, before making that advantage count in the second leg. However, evidence that it could have been a false dawn was evident when West Ham United became the first away team to win there just a couple of weeks later.
Ajax also had success at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the semi-finals of the Champions League, before Spurs famously reached the final of the illustrious competition with a heroic second leg performance.
Have Board Decisions Plagued Tottenham’s Performances?
One of the biggest mistakes that has consistently been made by the board since moving to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has been the shifts in direction. Spurs looked to be on the course for long-awaited success despite failing to beat Liverpool in the Champions League final in 2019, as the squads unity behind Mauricio Pochettino was evident.
However, clashed between the Argentinean manager and Daniel Levy were evident throughout the pre-season ahead of the 2019-20 season when Pochettino continued to claim that he had no say in transfers, and would have been best suited to a title of coach, as opposed to manager. When things go wrong at board level and there is friction between a manager and chairman, performances tend to slip on the pitch.
Despite achieving something that no Spurs manager had managed just months earlier, Levy pulled the plug on Pochettino’s stay at the club, and he was subsequently replaced by Jose Mourinho. This was a clear demonstration that the board were trying to achieve success quickly, with a manger with a proven pedigree rather than trusting the process as they had in the years before moving into the new stadium.
No success followed under Mourinho, and the style of play left fans disillusioned with the team. That wasn’t helped by the Portuguese coach’s digs at players when he became increasingly frustrated at what he was seeing on the pitch. That was evident after a 2-2 draw against Newcastle, as Mourinho decided to throw his players under the bus by claiming ‘Same coach, different players’ when answering a question about his side dropping points from a winning position. However, the performances weren’t up to scratch either, as Spurs managed fewer shots since Opta records began in the 2019-20 season, and only managed to finish sixth and were also knocked out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage.
Hotspur F.C 200-2021- New Season, Same Result
The 2020-21 season was undoubtedly a big one for both Mourinho and Spurs, as it was typically the campaign when the Portuguese coach would get the very best out of his squad. There were early signs that a title challenge could be likely, as they sat top of the standings in early December. However, in what has become typical Mourinho fashion, the wheels quickly fell off.
Following their North London derby win over Arsenal in December 2020, Spurs would only win three times in their next 13 fixtures; seeing them drop from first to eighth. A title challenge was out of sight, while a top-four finish also looked incredibly unlikely. However, Mourinho was keeping good on his promise to deliver silverware, as Spurs reached the League Cup final.
But, once again, Levy decided to change direction, and the Portuguese coach was sacked just days before the club’s best opportunity to win a major honour since 2008. Spurs subsequently lost in the final against Manchester City under the guidance of Ryan Mason, and the season petered out as Spurs finished the campaign in seventh.
Nuno Signals Start Of New Era, Or Does He?
It became obvious that Ryan Mason wasn’t in the running for the full-time job at the start of the 2021-22 season, but who the club’s first choice managerial appointment was going to be was also unclear. Spurs looked at a magnitude of options, and were also knocked back by some, before landing on the appointment of former Wolverhampton Wanderers head coach Nuno Espirito Santo.
The most was an underwhelming choice for the vast majority of the fans, as he was known during his time in the Black Country as a defensive-minded manager. However, it was at least a decision that pointed towards the club looking to give a coach time to build his own Tottenham team, just as it was when Pochettino was brought to White Hart Lane from Southampton. But, the team spirit was evidentially not as high. Nuno’s handling of the players at Spurs could have been better. Joe Hart recently revealed his first exchange with Nuno after the Portuguese was appointed, as he was recalled Nuno saying: ‘I’ll speak first. Let’s be absolutely clear, no matter what happens, you’ll not kick a ball this year’.
That treatment of a respected figure within the changing room wouldn’t have gone down well with the players in the squad, and likely would have raised eyebrows given the closeness of the Wolves squad that he left behind. However, the early signs were promising, as Spurs beat Manchester City on the opening day of the season, but the good times didn’t last, as Nuno was fired just under three months later after winning five of his opening ten games in charge.
It was yet another false dawn, as a new era wasn’t getting started, and the decision to dismiss the coach at such an early stage looked questionable, but for fans the writing appeared to be on the wall, as Nuno wasn’t able to get the best out of Harry Kane, who was looking for a move away from the club throughout the summer.
In the nine games that Kane played for Nuno, the England captain managed one goal and one assist. Nuno’s style of play certainly didn’t the best out of Kane, as he was an isolated figure in most the games that he played, and failed to register a single shot on target in back-to-back games.
Getting The Best Out Kane The Key
Kane’s form was undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons for Nuno’s early departure from Spurs, and was unquestionable one of the biggest questions that the next manager needed to answer. Antonio Conte was the man tasked with steadying the ship, in what was similar to the appointment made after Pochettino’s departure.
Like Mourinho, Conte is a proven winner, and has found success wherever he has gone. The Italian was also a Premier League-winning manager during his time with Chelsea, and still had high stock following his Serie A title win with Inter Milan just month earlier. Conte enjoyed an excellent start to his reign, and went the first nine games unbeaten to get back Spurs back into the race for Europe.
He was also able to get the very best out of Kane, as the Englishman registered four goals in Conte’s first nine games, as well as having more shots on target, a better conversion rate and more touches per game. However, whether the latest appointment is yet another false dawn remains to be seen, as a big decision will need to be made depending on what Spurs are able to achieve between now and the end of the season.
Is History Repeating Itself Under Conte?
Conte’s nine-game unbeaten start to life at Spurs came to an end at Chelsea in late January, and subsequent defeats against Southampton, Wolves and Burnely followed in their next four games. Defeats have been very evident in Tottenham’s recent record, as they have lost to Manchester United in their last three. However, the end to the season will be essential to Conte’s long-term future at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
A finish in the top-four during this action-packed season would be a massive success, and give the club a solid foundation to build on in 2022-23. However, a repeat finish from last season and a position in the Europa Conference League is still a very realistic outcome with huge games against Leicester City, Aston Villa and Brentford to play.
Tottenham’s finish to last season effectively ended hopes of a finish in the Europa League, as they lost against Leeds United and Villa in their final four games. A repeat finish this season would likely mean a sixth-place finish, but the chance is there to battle Manchester United and Arsenal for the final remaining Champions League spot.
Can Spurs Begin To Build For The Future?
Whether Spurs can begin to build for the future this season largely depends on where they finish in the league standings. A Champions League finish is the only place that the club could finish that would allow them to have a foothold on building a bright future over the coming seasons.
A finish outside the top-four will likely mean another step backwards, and could also spell the end for Conte, who may not want to commit to a further season of challenging for Europe rather than titles. Conte has a reputation of butting heads with board members throughout his career, and few would be surprised to see him leave Spurs in a similar fashion.
The end to the season is massive for the club in many regards, but also in the fact that a finish outside of the top-four will mean that many of the top stars at the club may begin to question their long-term future at the club. Harry Kane would be the big story, as the England captain looked to force a move away from the club last year, and would likely be looking to do the same as he enters the prime years of his career.
There is no doubt that there is a lot of talent in the Tottenham team, which means other stars such as Heung Min-Son, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Lucas Moura may also be looking for moves away. Losing their top stars would be deeply damaging, especially this summer when the battle for the top-four next season is likely to become more intense with the growing investments set to be made at Newcastle United. But, is the end of this season do or die for Tottenham Hotspur?