Twitter and Tottenham: Why the Premier League’s punching bag deserve more credit

Social media has become a toxic place these days. From a football perspective, it has become a hostile battleground for rival fans who come up with the strangest of arguments to take the the opposition down and to prove their supremacy.  

Twitter is ablaze with this insatiable urge for footballing dominance. Opinions are diverse, but some opinions strike a chord with many as they poke fun at something which is hardly true. Pity the average football fan, he doesn’t know half as much as he thinks he does.

An average football fan’s opinion is dictated by hate towards the rival team and the never-ending adulation for his very own team. And in the age of social media, the thin line between sensibly logical analysis and a biased opinion gets blurred. So much so that the mainstream media too falls prey to the bait of the biased opinions. 

Tottenham Hotspur supporters can vouch for this. A team that has now been associated with words such as ‘bottling’ or similar terms that have been given birth by the social media, they have become the laughing stock of the Premier League, despite having been the most consistent team in the country for the last four years now. 

It isn’t just that–Tottenham have also improved over this period. From being a team that failed to progress in the Europa League, Tottenham comfortably sit in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. All that, despite not having spent a single penny in the last two transfer windows. That in itself should be considered an achievement during times when football has become more about money than anything else. 

All of that doesn’t matter one bit in the echo chamber that is Twitter. You come across Arsenal fans mocking their fierce rivals for not having won a trophy yet and for ‘bottling’ the league this season. Fans from other clubs from the top six join in the cacophony of jibes, when their own clubs have spent over 200 million pounds during times when Spurs have hardly spent anything at all.

Its important to note where Tottenham come from. Not only in terms of finances, but in terms of stature too. This club hardly had a global influence, as compared to the likes of the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. They had played in the Champions League only once in history and had never won the Premier League. They had the smallest stadium in the top six, in terms of capacity, before it was brought down for a shinier one.

 Mauricio Pochettino has made Tottenham more of a global brand than it was 10 years ago. From being a side that struggled to make it to the top four to a powerhouse that consistently finish inside it. From being eliminated by Fiorentina in the Round of 32 of the Europa League to convincingly going past Borussia Dortmund to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, Spurs have evolved as a club. And if they had as much money as Manchester City, they might have already won something.

 They missed out on the title twice in just as many seasons in the 2015-16 and the 2016-17 campaigns, but their net spent over that period that was only 14 million pounds- a million more than how much Victor Wanyama cost. Last season, they finished third: two points ahead of a Liverpool side that will be remembered for the next ten years and four points behind Manchester United.

Wolves have been the feel-good team of the Premier League this season, with Nuno Espírito Santos’ side currently seventh in the Premier League and set to face Watford in the FA Cup semifinals. They’ve given every team in the top six a run for their money, boasting one of the best big-game records in England, and they’ve deservedly won praise from fans and journalists alike. However, this isn’t exactly a Cinderella story: Wolves have spent 96 million pounds over the past two seasons.

They’ve played brilliant, free-flowing football under Nuno, and they’ve proven they can beat any team in England on their day. While their success proves that stability in management goes a long way in determining progress, anything less than mid-table would be considered an under-achievement for Wolves. Unlike Fulham, who will descend to the Championship this summer without so much as a fight, Wolves kept their spine intact from their promotion season, combining stability with spending. 

Perhaps the fact that Spurs aren’t a traditional mid-table side or a typical ‘underdog’ is the reason why people refuse to give them the credit they deserve. Or maybe it is because social media has penetrated people’s minds so much that it shapes their opinion about even the most trivial of things.

They have evolved as a team this season. Despite a vast majority of their players having played in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup, despite not spending a penny due to the grand new stadium’s development plans, they have matured as a unit. Instead of always relying on attractive, breath-taking football all the time, Spurs have learned to win dirty this season. They have become a tactically flexible side that can dig out games when they aren’t at their best. And just about every game has showed that. Spurs find themselves at third currently, without even having played the football they have been known for in recent times. 

Stability has brought about consistent success at a club that had ten managers in just as many years before Pochettino took charge. Pochettino reclaimed the club’s philosophy of nourishing English youngsters when it seemed as though their luck had run out after Gareth Bale departed for Real Madrid. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and many more have reaped the rewards of Pochettino’s management. And while they haven’t quite had a big-money signing over the past four years, they haven’t had many noticeable departures, aside from Kyle Walker’s exit to Manchester City in 2017.

Even without Walker, Spurs still had nine players left in the World Cup semifinals, more than any other team (Manchester United being the closes with seven). The majority of those, like Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, were starters.

That statistic, while ultimately meaningless in terms of trophies, should not be trivialised. If there was one club team that defined the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it was Spurs. From Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen carrying their countries past superior opponents, to Hugo Lloris lifting the trophy in the Luzhniki, Spurs’ players showed that they’re among the best in world football.

When fans across the social media spectrum watched as Spurs lost 3-1 to Wolves to drift away from a possible title challenge, the ‘bottling’ argument came back. But one can only ‘bottle’ something if one already had that in the bag. Halfway through the season and still behind the table-toppers, they never had the title in the bag. And if dropping points to Wolves is a shame, every other side in the top six should be ashamed of themselves.

There are Spurs fans who claim that Pochettino’s team is ‘disintegrating’ without a tangible achievement. Pochettino’s Tottenham isn’t anywhere near as good as the Arsenal side that boasted the likes of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, but when the Emirates came under construction, they too witnessed a drop in form as money ran lower than usual. For a club like Tottenham, finances are usually lower than the other members of the top six faction. 

Perhaps, this roots from a fear that Tottenham fans have somewhere in the back of their minds that they will lose their best players if they don’t win a trophy. But the players know more about the project than the average football fan. They know about the glorious times that lie ahead with a newer stadium, and with Daniel Levy promising that Pochettino’s transfer plans won’t be marred by the new stadium. It is obvious to fear the best players leaving, but it will not happen for the time being. And with Zinedine Zidane returning to Real Madrid, the most important piece in the puzzle–Pochettino–will stay. No manager leaves when he has a bunch of brilliant, young players in the side. 

Obviously, winning a trophy justifies the hype about a team. But the lack of trophies should not erase context and paint every trophyless season as a failure. Liverpool have spent twice as much as Tottenham, but they too are yet to win a trophy under Jürgen Klopp. Much like Spurs, they also play engaging football. And much like Spurs, they have a manager who is likable and young. The reason why they are higher in the table is because they have the money go spend and they have put it where it matters.

Spurs don’t have as much depth in the side as England’s other big clubs. They can’t compete on all fronts at the moment, but with a handful of transfers this summer, they’ll get the renovation they need to challenge for the title and cups.

The future for Tottenham is still bright. Kane, Alli, Winks, and Son are all 26 or younger, and they boast one of the most consistent center back pairings in Europe in Alderweireld and Vertonghen. They don’t have as much firepower as Manchester City do, but they’ll give the reigning Premier League champions a run for their money in the Champions League quarterfinals.

 Should they manage to hang onto their top four spot or miraculously win the Champions League, they will christen their new stadium with Champions League football next season.

If this Tottenham side played ten years ago, people give them the credit they deserve, even if they didn’t win a trophy. But in the age of social media, nothing is sacred.

By: Kaustubh Pandey

Photo: Bongarts/Getty