We’ve got our club back. A sentiment that has rung all over the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium over this short season. A statement that has faced ridicule from rival fans. Back? Back from what? From trophyless to trophyless? From not losing at the Emirates to drawing? Please, little old Tottenham are going back to a period of mid-table mediocrity. But take off your troll-tinted glasses and glance at the league table, you can see that Spurs are first, unbeaten in the league and playing some of the best football in the division right now.
How did this happen you may ask? Well, it’s a story that’s common throughout British history. An immigrant from halfway across the world arrived and is getting the job done. The immigrant being Ange Postecoglu.
What people do not understand is that before Ange, Tottenham was in a dark cloud. After Mauricio Pochettino’s departure in 2019, the club was so hellbent on turning around the ‘bottlers’ tag attached to them, after getting so close to the pinnacle under the Argentine. In doing so, they went away from attractive, fast-paced football to a slow, dull and exhausting excuse for whatever happened on the pitch the following years.
Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte were hired to give the Tottenham faithful the elusive trophy they were desperate for, but in hiring these “serial winners” Spurs fans were subjected to horrible, drab performances and press conferences in which these “winners” seemingly downed tools and told the fans they were lucky to have them. That it was the club’s fault for their bad results, and if anything, positive happened they deserve all the plaudits. You can see quickly how Spurs fans became tired of being told by other fans they should be grateful even though they were the ones subjected to this torture on a weekly basis.
Football snobbery has seeped into football and the lack of Tottenham’s trophies which is the only barometer of success in football apparently, has been used as a stick to beat them with. Even as Spurs have come so far from being mid-table to perennial European competitors until last season, but again success is relative and without a shiny trophy, it means nothing, correct?
All this coupled with the loss of their greatest ever player, Harry Kane, and with their director of football banned from football activities for 30 months, you can see how down Spurs fans were. Until, like a scene from the batman, from the shadows of Sunny Scotland came not a young, esteemed billionaire but a grizzly, dry-witted and chummy Australian who has transformed a club in a short amount of time.
Like a cacophony of owls, his introduction into the league was met with a nationwide “who?”. The typical “he doesn’t know the Premier League; he can’t handle it” came out at him. Even though, if people used a little bit of research, they would see that Postecoglu had won at every level. He guided Brisbane Roar to become the first team to win back-to-back A-League championships whilst playing the best football the A-league had ever seen. He led Yokohama Marinos to their first J. League title in 15 years. He also helped Australia win the Asian Cup in 2015 and steered Celtic to a domestic trophy. But none of that was in Europe, so it doesn’t count of course.
I could go on and on about the tactics he’s employed at Tottenham, but I’d rather talk about what he’s done with the soul of the club. Tottenham needed an arm around the shoulder, something for the fans to get excited for, something to give life to a rudderless ship that has gone around in circles like a bad circus act. Postecoglou has done that, not only with his commitment to attacking football, to which he is committed and anything other than that is akin to a cardinal sin. It’s his Australian twang, his insistence on the word mate as a sentence starter, filler, and ender.
It’s how he backed Richalison over his mental health problems and reminded the world that even footballers with all the glitz and the money suffer from problems too. He used his own personal experience of his father and how losing him 3 years ago still hurts him. The sincerity with which he backed Richarlison is something that is foreign to me.
We often see players and managers as part of a revolving door, dehumanising them at every turn and hounding them for any action they do. Postecoglou reminded us that, footballers are just humans who are trying to do their best to do their job. It’s and sometimes life gets in the way. It’s fitting that in their next game, Richarlison came off the bench to equalise in the 98th minute against Sheffield and provide the match-winning assist to Dejan Kulusevski in the 100th minute—a testament to his mentality and his manager’s empathy.
What he’s given to Spurs is an appreciation of the club and a willingness to let them dream. After the comeback against Sheffield United, he was asked if Spurs fans should temper expectations of a title challenge. His response was an emphatic no. Let them dream he said, let them get excited and let them be happy. Whereas his predecessors would’ve stamped on the fan’s expectations, he allows them to run wild. He understands his job is to fulfill fan’s wishes, not to crush on them. The confidence and honesty in his answer only endeared him more to the Tottenham faithful.
It is not only off the pitch where he has changed the club, on the pitch they have been nothing short of sensational this season. They are top of the league, having picked up more points from their first nine games than in any other Premier League season. It’s been their best start to a league campaign since their infamous double in 1960-1961. James Maddison is the league’s 2nd best playmaker with 5 assists and Heung-min Son is 2nd in the short Golden Boot race with 7 goals. Not only has he managed to incorporate new signings, but he has reinvigorated players who were written off.
His use of Pedro Porro as an intricate inverted full-back as a central midfielder in possession has been surprising. Many thought the Spaniard’s lack of defensive nous would be a liability, however alongside Destiny Udogie, who is a front-runner for rookie of the year (this needs to be created). The Italian has been unreal, showing his ability to overlap, underlap and to be a destroyer in midfield as well with him having the fourth most tackles in the league. Yet, the biggest winner from Ange coming in has been Yves Bissouma.
Last season I said he would be the best signing in the league as I believed Spurs got him for unbelievably cheap. Yet, Conte was not impressed for whatever reason (surely Draconian, like his football). This season, he has been the best midfielder in the league. He ranks 3rd, 9th, and 5th for tackles, passes, and touches this season. He has been a metronome, destroyer, and press evader all in one. His relationship with Pape Matar Sarr in midfield is telekinetic.
When one goes forward, the other drops and vice versa. They have allowed Tottenham a certain amount of control in games they have not experienced in some time. With the twin fullbacks, sorry central midfielders of Porro and Udogie behind them, allowing them to push up and press, they have acted out their Australian commander’s number one rule. Counter-pressing.
According to the Athletic, Spurs are taking a higher percentage of shots within 10 seconds of winning the ball in the attacking 60% of the pitch. 9.3% came within 10 seconds of the turnover – an increase on 7.1% last season. The high positions of Sarr, Bissouma, Udogie and Porro have led to these high turnovers, which explains their high number of tackles. This counter-pressing has led to the winner against Sheffield, the opener against Liverpool, and countless other situations this season.
This wall in midfield has allowed Maddison to weave his wand and cut through Premier League teams at will. His through ball split through Liverpool’s back line and allowed Richarlison to assist Son. His graceful dribbling wrong-footed Luton and assisted Van der Wen against Luton, I could go on and on. He has shown his ability to come back into central midfield and be a connecter in the 1st and 2nd phases, and not just a purely final third player. If only other clubs could have grabbed this entertainer (cough cough, United).
However, there have been some weaknesses in Tottenham’s set-up this season. Maddison too often must drop back to link up play as even with Bissouma and Sarr’s talents, they do not often break lines with their passing. Buying another 6 would allow Maddison to stay higher up and wreak havoc. The lack of a true 1v1 winger also hurts Tottenham as Ange has spoken about diversifying his attack. Both Kulusevski and Richarlison have done well this season, but a 1 v 1 winger would help to break down deep blocks and provide another avenue of attack. There are some growing pains with this Tottenham team but I’m sure as Ange has done with every other challenge so far, he will take them on and address them all.
Ange has allowed Spurs fans to go into every game week, knowing that they’re going to be entertained. He has been honest and open with them from the start, he has appreciated the club and given them hope of what they could achieve with this grizzled unknown veteran of the game. That joy of going into every game with hopes and expectations, that’s what Ange has given back to the North London faithful. He’s given the fans the essence of what every football club should give to its fans, enjoyment. And that what is Spurs fans mean when they say, they have their club back. He’s given them happiness, mate.
By: Abu Yasin / @abuy2j
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Steve Welsh – PA Images