What’s going wrong at Spurs?

Nearly four years ago to the day, Tottenham Hotspur were beating Blackburn Rovers 4-2 at White Hart Lane on remembrance weekend. Roman Pavlyuchenko, Peter Crouch and a double from Gareth Bale secured the game for Harry Redknapp’s side as they sat fifth in the league, just a point off fourth placed Manchester City, whilst also storming through the much-coveted Champions League.

Cast your mind forward to this weekend, and Spurs were recording their fifth league defeat of the season after a 2-1 loss to Stoke City.

Spurs have only averaged 1.27 goals a game so far, and even though this hasn’t been their worst start to a Premier League season, it’s the first time since the Premier League’s inception that Tottenham have started this poorly without the manager getting sacked.

Their worst Premier League start came in 2007. Martin Jol was the popular boss of the time, but by late November former Sevilla manager Juande Ramos had replaced him. By November 12, Tottenham had just 11 points.

Exactly a year after his appointment, Ramos was sacked. Harry Redknapp was introduced, but by November 12, Spurs totalled a dozen points.

Tottenham’s only other starts that accumulated a lesser points total than the 14 notched up by mid-November this year came in 2004 and 1997. Once again, in both seasons, the manager of the time was sacked. In 97’ it was Gerry Francis who was given the elbow to be replaced by the relatively unknown Christian Gross, whilst in 2004 Jacques Santini resigned after just 12 games, to be replaced by the aforementioned Jol.

So why has Chairman Daniel Levy decided to give Mauricio Pochettino time when others haven’t had that opportunity? And what has gone wrong at Spurs so they are in this situation? After all, just three years ago they had reached the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite competition and possessed some of the best players on the continent.

There’s probably a simple answer to the first question; Daniel Levy is wary Pochettino is his third manager in 12 months, following the sackings of Andres Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood. Firstly, Pochettino has been at the club for less than 15 Premier League games and whilst poor starts have warranted sackings for previous Tottenham managers, none have been sacked as early as 11 games into their reign (remember that Jacques Santini resigned and was not sacked).

And if Pochettino was to get his contract terminated at such an early stage, then the majority of fans would want Levy’s head rather than the managers. In fact, many Tottenham fans already blame Levy for the mess the club are in at the moment.

I asked a group of Tottenham supporters what they thought the cause of the problem was and many were quick to blame the Spurs chairman. Leon Isaacs was straight to the point: “One word is all you need; Levy.” And whilst putting Tottenham’s demise solely on the shoulders of Levy may seem harsh, many agree.

Pete Stothard draws on Sir Alex Ferguson’s career at Manchester United. Ferguson was nearly sacked in 1990 after four trophy-less years at The Red Devils. “I think the fault lies at Levy’s door. A ridiculous amount of different managers in a short time never giving anyone a decent chance. Just let Pochettino do what he wants and needs to do.”

But is the simple answer to sack Levy? Of course, if a manager loses all faith from the supporters then he can be replaced. Yet, when the chairman begins to lose his fans, is sacking him the right thing to do? You have to remember that Levy has provided the north London outfit with financial stability, whilst he has also been the man behind Tottenham’s new training ground and their new stadium plans; the Northumberland Development Project.

He is obviously financially astute, so forcing him to depart would leave Spurs in a vulnerable position. You could argue that the club are already in a period of little stability and amongst rumours of possible takeovers, sacking Levy would disrupt the whole system rather than just the team who are currently disrupted because of bad form.

And many supporters agree with this theory despite criticising Levy. Alvin James said; “Of course the blame or responsibility lies with Levy but that doesn’t mean he should go. He needs to distance himself from football matters at the club because there is no consistency. Players see every year a new manager who has his own idea and new tactics but the players know that in a short amount of time the manager will be gone so there is no motivation, no hope and no ambition.”

Is that the future for Tottenham? Levy staying but operating on a non-footballing basis whilst someone else comes in to control the playing side. Of course, Spurs do have a director of football in Franco Baldini, who is another unpopular figure amongst fans. But is he even needed? Could the manager take on the responsibility of controlling all aspects regarding the players?

Tottenham’s most successful spell with Levy came with Harry Redknapp at the helm, during a four-year spell where ironically, there was no director of football.

And Baldini is another on the end of angry criticism from White Hart Lane’s diehards. Adrian Fletcher points the finger at the Italian: “Ultimately the problem is the quality of the players and therefore the problem lies with Baldini, the scouts and Tottenham’s recruitment policy. Bad recruitment and the defence, who are a shambles, are the two big problems and no manager could sort this out.”

But in blaming Baldini and his recruitment of players, you have to point the figure at the person who was responsible for appointing the Italian in the first place. The more you talk about it, the more the evidence piles up against the Tottenham chairman, so is there any way to deflect the blame.

Of course, the players get the forefront of abuse whilst out on the pitch. After the defeat to Stoke, striker Emmanuel Adebayor claimed that he would rather play away from home because of the abuse his team receive at White Hart Lane. Yet, there is no way that the supporters can be blamed for Tottenham’s run of form. Each week in the Premier League, home matches are sold out and away sections are fully allocated.

Elliott Meichen makes a good point claiming: “It’s difficult when I see more passion from my Saturday league team who each pay £8 a week to play than players who get thousands to play for a team I love and pay £40 a week to watch. Yes we should all be behind the team but if I put a performance in like 90% of the team did against Stoke and there were only 10 fans watching I would still fully expect to get booed and receive a rollicking at full time.”

In truth, Adebayor’s criticism of supporters just seems to be an excuse, and once again was overshadowed by the news that players have began to question the Tottenham chairman. The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust will also meet the Tottenham board next week because of growing unrest amongst fans. At Sunday’s game, stewards removed anti-chairman banners.

But some fans believe that the whole situation has been blown out of proportion. Ben Islin had some strong words to say about his fellow supporters: “I think the downward trend has become part of the fan theory, and of our spoilt nature. Yes the team is going backwards but the fan base has regressed tenfold. The only reason the media mention “Poch being under pressure” is because of the boo boys, and those throwing their prams out on Facebook nightly. Spurs are trying to keep up with hugely unrealistic targets set by the fans.”

Can you blame the fans though, when they are paying for some of the most expensive tickets in the Premier League? Tottenham offer the third most expensive match day ticket in the Premier League and that is currently to watch a mid-table side.

Tottenham fansFull house: Tottenham fans fill White Hart Lane

However, some supporters admit that with time, issues will resolve themselves. Stefan Kerr believes that the building of a new stadium will bring new ambitions. “When we get the new stadium, then maybe the players will be more focused on staying at the club. A New stadium equals new ambitions with good players staying on. Then we can build a quality team. It deeply hurts to watch this transition at the moment but we must have patience.”

Tottenham’s situation isn’t close to the dire predicaments we have seen at other English teams, but for a club with the high expectations that Spurs have, they have reached an unsavoury point in their history. Changes will be made but the road to recovery for Spurs will not be immediate. In fact, supporters have forecast half a decade until the glory days of yesteryear will return.

Words: Joe Aldridge
Picture credits: Joe Aldridge and Bill Boaden

Are Tottenham fans right to blame Levy? Sunny Sandhu explains here.

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