If looks could kill there would now be a crime scene at the mixed zone in Brighton’s stadium, around the spot where Eric Dier stopped to speak to those who wanted to make sense of how Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham tenure is unraveling. Dier is a laid-back guy but he is big and extremely tough, and there was genuine menace about the long pauses before some of his answers.
Spurs had been dismal in losing 3-0 to a team who had previously not won at home since 2 March, and the nonperformance came hard on the heels of the 7-2 Champions League humbling against Bayern Munich in north London last Tuesday.
“The situation is clear,” Dier said. “We are obviously going through a difficult period and that’s the end of the situation.”
So, does he think the talk of crisis is too strong?
“No. If you lose like we’ve lost in these last two games, it’s normal,” Dier replied. “For us, this is the worst period we’ve been in but we have to be, like we are right now, all together and push through it.”
Is the stuff about the squad being unsettled and it being the end of the cycle not the case then?
“I know it’s not the case,” Dier said. “That’s what I think. My opinion.”
Harry Winks echoed the mood of defiance and at times such as these, it should be noted that it is not easy for players to front up. Lesser characters than Dier and Winks do not bother. Spurs need personality, a united front, and so this was a good look.
“It’s important we don’t get carried away with things and look too deeply for people to blame for how poor we’ve been,” Winks said. “At the end of the game we went over to our fans and apologized because we are Tottenham Hotspur and that performance wasn’t good enough. To all the fans who watched this and all those who traveled, we apologize.
“For the majority of the season, we haven’t shown what we are about. It’s important we reflect and realize it’s not been good enough. No excuses. The manager has been fantastic ever since he’s been at the club and he’s taken us to new heights. We are going through a bit of a rough patch – that happens in football, every club goes through it. It’s important we stand up as men and get through these dark times.”
Spurs are under siege and perhaps the international break has come at a good time for them. The brutal truth on the pitch was that it looked as though something was broken in the team and the question that tracked them from Brighton to London was whether Pochettino can fix it.
Just before managers are dismissed by clubs, or they choose to walk away, there is always a moment when the players look passive to the point of helplessness; they are off the pace and their opponents play around and through them too easily. Goals go in without much resistance being shown. The negative momentum consumes them and, despite the players’ best efforts and all the fighting talk, the situation seems irretrievable. Spurs ticked all of the unwanted boxes on Saturday.
Hugo Lloris’s gruesome elbow dislocation in the act of giving up the first goal to Neal Maupay on three minutes set a horrible tone and Dier questioned why a replay of the goalkeeper’s arm bending in the wrong direction was shown on the big screen. “They showed it, I’m not quite sure why – so we saw,” he said. Yet it was the latest example of Spurs caving in after a setback, of the insecurity that has come to color the mood around the team.
Pochettino is said to be “honest and calm” about the escalating situation and if one Spurs manager deserves the time to turn things around, it is him. What the Argentinian has done for the club since 2014 and the never-to-be-forgotten highs he has provided have been well-documented. The traveling fans chanted his name inside 30 seconds at the Amex, although there would be boos from the same enclosure when he substituted Son Heung-min in the 73rd minute.
Pochettino has time to reflect over the next week or so and, essentially, to ask himself whether he retains the confidence and motivation to drive an upturn in form which has been poor for a long period. The team have won just nine of 29 matches in all competitions.
The players, too, need to return for the home game against Watford on Saturday week with renewed focus and vigor and, in some cases, that means trying to put to one side the gripes about money, contracts and transfer opportunities that they have had. Spurs, and Pochettino, are at the lowest of ebbs.