News, Culture & Society

Sorry Mauricio Pochettino, the biggest clubs win cups AND get in the top four

Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock wrote a lot of songs better than their offering for Tottenham’s last appearance in an FA Cup final.

They reused the old tune from London Girls, a song released to limited success in 1983, and simply changed the lyrics to celebrate a coincidental strand running through a lot of the club’s achievements. It peaked at No 44 in the charts.

(It’s Lucky For Spurs) When The Year Ends In One mapped Tottenham’s successes through the century, and the fact that the decades had a habit of beginning with a trophy for the club. Their prediction proved right: Tottenham won the FA Cup that year, too — 1991.

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is wrong to suggest that it must be trophies or top four

It is worth remembering this when considering the club Tottenham are now, and the club they were then. Tottenham were always a big club, because Tottenham won trophies.

That’s what big clubs do. They don’t just play in the Champions League each season. They win the big matches, they win the big prizes.

Start with the ones Chas and Dave celebrated: FA Cup (1901), FA Cup (1921), League title (1951), League and FA Cup double (1961), League Cup (1971), FA Cup (1981). Then consider the others that don’t fit neatly into numerical repetition or a catchy pub rock chorus: FA Cup in 1962, 1967 and 1982; League Cup in 1973 (and later in 1999 and 2008); European Cup-winners’ Cup in 1963; UEFA Cup in 1972 and 1984.

Cups are only good for the ego, Mauricio Pochettino says, but that is not the limit of their influence. The reason Tottenham can build, and fill, a 60,000-capacity stadium, the reason they can attract 80,000 to major matches at Wembley, is because they have the fan base of a big club — and they grew that by winning trophies.

Yes, we know, fourth is a trophy these days, too. Can’t display it in a cabinet, or parade it on an open-top bus, but it is there on the balance sheet and in the fixture schedule for the new season.

Pochettino is right. Had he won the League Cup and finished consistently mid-table, he would have been sacked. Establishing Tottenham in the Champions League will feel to him as huge as any trophy. 

It has been a disappointing week for Tottenham having been eliminated from two competitons

It has been a disappointing week for Tottenham having been eliminated from two competitons

It means Tottenham return to White Hart Lane as a different entity. A big club, yes, but big on numbers, big on paper, not big in the way of a club that wins trophies. Not big like Manchester United, even when they sit outside the top four.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had it right, again, when asked the extent of his ambition at Manchester United. ‘We are looking to win trophies,’ he said. ‘Top four will never be the dream for Manchester United.’

Of course, that’s easy for him to say. At Arsenal on Friday, Solskjaer had the luxury of leaving Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to rest on the substitutes’ bench, and starting Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.

Pochettino by contrast has Harry Kane and Dele Alli out injured, and Son Heung-min returning from international tournament duty with South Korea. Tottenham’s resources do not compare to those of Manchester United.

Then again, when did they? When have Tottenham ever been the club with the most money? It has never stopped them before.

Pochettino is deserving of sympathy and no little respect. Everyone acknowledges the job he has done at Tottenham. Yet qualifying for the Champions League and winning a domestic cup competition should not be regarded as mutually exclusive. Other clubs do it, because that is the mark of elite membership.

Pochettino lacks the depth of rivals but  trophies and top four should not be mutually exclusive

Pochettino lacks the depth of rivals but trophies and top four should not be mutually exclusive

Since 2002-03 when Premier League entry to the Champions League became a minimum of four clubs each season, five have accounted for 63 of England’s places. Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea have been in 15 times each, Liverpool on 10 occasions, Manchester City eight.

During that period Chelsea have won five FA Cups and three League Cups, Manchester United two FA Cups and four League Cups, Arsenal five FA Cups, Manchester City one FA Cup and three League Cups and Liverpool one FA Cup and two League Cups. This season’s League Cup will go to either Manchester City or Chelsea, too.

So it is possible to remain in the top four and win a cup. It is not just about an ego trip for the manager, or players — it is an intrinsic part of the profile of an elite club. 

Tottenham’s only trophy in this period is the League Cup in 2008, won before the club began qualifying for the modern Champions League.

Pochettino’s implication is that the top-four finish takes it all out of them, and there is no room for anything else. Yet there used to be. In five of their cup-winning seasons, Tottenham finished high enough to have qualified for the modern Champions League.

Since 2002-03, Tottenham's only trophy was the League Cup win over Chelsea back in 2008

Since 2002-03, Tottenham’s only trophy was the League Cup win over Chelsea back in 2008

They won the FA Cup and came third in 1961-62, the European Cup-winners’ Cup and second in 1962-63, the FA Cup and third in 1966-67, the League Cup and third in 1970-71 and the FA Cup and fourth in 1981-82. 

Was English football any less competitive then? Clubs were often the best in Europe, and the league was certainly more open.

Equally, many more of Tottenham’s rivals were as strong financially. Between 1961 and 1982, the British transfer record was broken 14 times — but only once by Tottenham, paying £200,000 for Martin Peters in March 1970. The following year, Arsenal topped that, for Alan Ball. In all, Tottenham were one of 11 English clubs capable of paying a record fee for a player in that period.

The others? Manchester United, Leicester, Leeds, Arsenal, Derby, Everton, West Brom, Nottingham Forest, Manchester City and Wolves. No sovereign wealth funds or oil money, but the competition was certainly out there.

Perhaps what is most dispiriting for any Tottenham fan who dreams of seeing a trophy held aloft at the town hall is that the tournaments that now matter most are the hardest to win. 

In Europe, the Pochettino years at Tottenham have largely been underwhelming for supporters

In Europe, the Pochettino years at Tottenham have largely been underwhelming for supporters

Tottenham’s last league title came in 1961 and in the modern Champions League they have only once reached the last eight, under Harry Redknapp in 2011.

The Pochettino years have been rather underwhelming: a group stage exit followed by defeat against Juventus in the last 16. There have been some great nights — not least the 3-1 home wins over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund — but nothing that suggests Tottenham are ready to take on what Pochettino described as the last level.

Their next Champions League opponents are Dortmund, Bundesliga leaders, and much improved in roughly 18 months since their last Wembley visit. In the previous seven seasons, Dortmund have made five appearances in Germany’s cup final, winning it twice.

It could be argued this is the more traditional and effective method of muscling in and remaining among elite company. It certainly suggests there is another way.

Hardy made a cock-up, that’s all 

Modern man, it would seem, divides into two varieties: those who like to keep a picture of their penis handy on a smart-phone, perhaps for special occasions, and those who do not. Alan Hardy, chairman of Notts County, would appear to fall into the first category.

While on Twitter at the weekend, Hardy inadvertently included his phone’s picture gallery, and an image he later described as ‘inappropriate’. This depends. If the intention was to show that he is probably not the sort of person to be left in charge of the league’s oldest football club, or with a camera phone while in the bath, it was entirely appropriate.

Hardy later put the club up for sale, claiming this decision had nothing at all to do with the unexpected appearance of the last turkey in the shop. There, amid much hilarity, is where the matter should end.

Notts County owner Alan Hardy made a mistake when he tweeted a picture of his photo gallery

Notts County owner Alan Hardy made a mistake when he tweeted a picture of his photo gallery

But, no. As ever the FA cannot so much as see a nut without reaching for the sledgehammer, and have now asked Hardy for his observations. What is the point of that? It’s a mistake. Quite obviously, a mistake.

He didn’t tweet a picture of his penis. He tweeted a screenshot that inadvertently included his camera roll which, for reasons unknown, included his penis. What is the FA’s purpose here? To issue a charge?

Notts County are in dire financial straits, bottom of League Two. The owner is struggling to keep his club out of the National League and his penis out of the papers. 

Surely they, and he, have suffered enough, without the FA’s disciplinary department seeking involvement.

Pep continues to make history at City 

What have the following clubs got in common: Preston, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Liverpool, Huddersfield, Arsenal, Portsmouth, Manchester United, Wolves, Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle, Tottenham and Nottingham Forest? Here’s a clue: we could also throw in Wanderers.

The answer is that each of them, at some point in their history, have retained a trophy. Not necessarily the league title — Blackburn, Newcastle and Tottenham have only retained cups — but on occasions something even grander, such as Forest’s retention of the main European prize.

Manchester City's current crop are trying to retain a trophy for the first time in their history

Manchester City’s current crop are trying to retain a trophy for the first time in their history

Yet there are some notable absences. Everton, for instance — and Manchester City. Meaning if City can overcome Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final next month, it will be the first trophy they have retained in their 124-year history.

That is not to be underestimated; much like City’s current run of 29 goals scored across all competitions, without reply. Incredibly, this beats a record that has resided with Preston since 1889-90.

Liverpool may lead the league but, under Pep Guardiola, City continue to make history, and should be admired for that.

It has to be all or nothing when it comes to VAR 

The first time Arsenal wore a yellow away shirt was the 1950 FA Cup final against Liverpool. That’s how fair the competition used to be. 

In the event of a colour clash both teams had to switch to second kit — except Arsenal and Liverpool’s away strips clashed, too. So Arsenal changed a second time, wearing yellow shirts, white shorts, and yellow and blue hooped socks.

Yellow eventually became their official change in 1968. Now, the FA Cup is so mixed up even individual ties are subject to different rules. 

Some matches have VAR, others do not. Some rounds have replays, others do not. Consistency is a must in football. The mess we saw across fourth round weekend should never be repeated. Either all in with VAR, or nothing. There should not be a ration on truth.

Every match should include VAR or none at all as football desperately needs some consistency

Every match should include VAR or none at all as football desperately needs some consistency

Beth Tweddle, former Olympic gymnast, is suing the makers of television show ‘The Jump’ having fractured two vertebrae in training in 2016. 

Good luck explaining to the judge that she didn’t know ski-jumping could be dangerous and came with a risk of personal injury. It would be like suing the BBC because Les Miserables left you feeling a bit fed up. 

It is good that Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman apologised to referee Jon Moss, for his outburst at the end of the FA Cup defeat by Derby. Coleman spoke of Moss being arrogant, and making horrendous decisions. He said the official ‘scarpered into the lounge’ … ‘Our dressing rooms probably weren’t good enough for him,’ he sneered.

Perhaps having been informed how this was likely to play out at the FA, Coleman later issued a statement expressing regret.

Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman was left furious at referee Jon Moss on Saturday

Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman was left furious at referee Jon Moss on Saturday

Maybe he had also seen the incident in the 93rd minute, when his player, Sean McConville, committed quite the worst dive of the weekend. Moss ignored him, rather than issuing a yellow card.

When a Premier League player dived we used to hear a lot of moralising about the different standards lower down. Genuine football, full of honest, decent lads, better than these overpaid prima donnas. Wider television coverage has exposed that lie.

McConville’s career has taken him from Skelmersdale to Stockport, Rochdale, Barrow, Stalybridge, Chester and now Accrington. He’s lower league through and through, but every bit as big a cheat as Luis Suarez was. Just minus the talent.

The fans won’t forget, Arnie 

Marko Arnautovic may fondly consider he picks up where he left off with West Ham’s fans. Unlikely. In the self-serving statement that preceded his new contract signing, he announced: ‘Let’s focus on the rest of this season together — and let them bubbles fly.’

Leaving aside the extent to which bubbles fly as opposed to float fleetingly before bursting into nothingness, one of the remaining positives of this season for West Ham’s faithful was the prospect of an FA Cup run, having drawn AFC Wimbledon, bottom of League One.

West Ham lost on Saturday, with Arnautovic nowhere to be seen. His absence wasn’t the only reason for defeat, but it was certainly one of them. 

Having presumptuously waved goodbye to the fans once already this season, he might not want to overplay what in his mind will be a heroic return against Liverpool next Monday. They’ve got long memories around those parts: certainly longer than two weeks.

West Ham fans will not forget quickly what has happened around Marko Arnautovic this month

West Ham fans will not forget quickly what has happened around Marko Arnautovic this month

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.