As a group they are capable of competing for the most important trophies – they have proved that – but all the evidence tells us they are not able to actually win them. Ultimately they just cannot get over the line and in their hearts they must know it. In the past five years there have been three semi-finals, two finals and significant tilts at the league title but not a single trophy. At some point the club’s senior management should have reacted to this and realized they need something extra. Instead they have tinkered around the edges.
Maybe Daniel Levy does not feel Tottenham need to win anything to be successful. Perhaps for him the evidence of success is on the balance sheet rather than in the trophy cabinet. But there is nothing better for business than winning and top players do not want to dedicate their peak years to boosting their club’s profit margins.
Players plan their careers and have long-term strategies and the best ones at Spurs will be restless. Some have made no attempt to hide it. In any squad once a few want to leave, you are in trouble. The only focus a player should have is winning for the team and it looks to me that too many have their minds elsewhere. Sure, it may be that when Harry Kane visualizes the remainder of his career he sees himself staying at Spurs and being a one-club man but there will not be many with that ambition and most who dream of being a club legend in the style of John Terry or Steven Gerrard will expect to collect a few trophies along the way.
Pochettino’s loyalty to his players worked for a while but he could have taken a different approach. I was at Chelsea for six years under Emma Hayes, who is still there in her eighth season. Her managerial ethos was that if you find a method that brings success, you’ve got to find a totally different one next year. It was the opposite of the old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. She was always looking for new tactics and bringing in players. Sometimes you would be certain we had enough strength in a particular position but she would still bring someone else in and it always pushed people on. There have clearly been times when Pochettino has chosen not to do that and other times when he would have liked to but was not given the chance.
What is the lifespan of a largely unchanged squad? I think it depends on what they have achieved as a unit and what remains undone. Liverpool have not significantly changed since last year but in winning 97 points and the Champions League they had enough success to feel confident they could achieve more and they are massively motivated by the chance to win the club’s first league title since 1990. Bringing in players this summer may have disrupted that balance but if they do not win the title this season it may then be the right time to freshen up things. Without new players or a recent history of winning trophies it is difficult to see what would be motivating Tottenham’s players.
There may be other factors at play. There have been rumors of personal problems between some of the players, and the 7-2 drubbing by Bayern Munich and emphatic defeat at Brighton were embarrassing enough to have added more tension. With the transfer window closed a change of manager may be the most obvious way of changing the direction of the season but it seems to me that would not deal with the cause of the problems. The right answer is not to change the manager but for those in charge to learn there is a moment to settle for what you have got and a time to rebuild, rejuvenate and push the limits. Someone at Tottenham seriously missed their moment last summer and I don’t think it was Pochettino.