When Antonio Conte spoke last week about the possibility of his existence TottenhamJurgen Klopp It all seemed vaguely fanciful.
Conte said he would be happy to “sign” something like the seven-year reign that Klopp enjoyed Liverpool; He outlined how a long rebuilding process could work, and spoke of the “patience” Liverpool initially showed, and then the “big money” they spent to turn the team from contenders to winners.
Nice idea, but could it happen? Conte’s longest time in a single job is three seasons Juventus. Conte is a brilliant coach, As shown again on Saturday, but he’d rather burn out than fade. The prospect of Conte continuing to lead the N17 in six years appears to be no more likely than Spurs changing the home jersey to red.
The day after Conte speculated about Spurs’ future, Arsenal It was announced that Mikel Arteta had signed a new contract at the club – he was offered even after Arsenal lost three games in a row in April (to Crystal PalaceAnd Brighton And Southampton). It was a gesture that almost made Arteta cry. He spoke about his long-term plan to take Arsenal “to the next level” on and off the field, and everything he would do to get Arsenal there.
Arteta had already spent two and a half seasons at Arsenal. If he saw this new contract, he would have done five and a half. Guessing about the future is impossible, but this news at least gives Arsenal the luster of stability in Thursday’s derby. Tottenham still seems to be in flux.
When was the last North London derby this big? March 2016, when Tottenham missed the chance to climb to the top though Harry King Inflatable old White Hart Lane roof? In March 2013, when Andre Villas-Boas boasted that he had put Arsenal in a “negative spiral”, only for the opposite to be true? Or April 2017, the last ever in old White Hart Lane, with all the emotional power it conveys?
This game contains elements of all of those. It is the first derby to be played in front of a large crowd in a packed stadium, and so it is the first derby to be played in front of a full crowd in N17 for five years. It might be the biggest game on the new land, where tickets and passes are more difficult to get than a game Manchester A draw with Ajax and the Champions League in 2019. It’s the biggest match for Tottenham since the Champions League final the same year, and Arsenal’s since the FA Cup final the following summer.
On one level it is a playoff of sorts in the Champions League next season. If Arsenal win, they will return to the group stage for the first time in six years. If Tottenham win it will return to the competition, with great pressure on Arsenal’s last two games.
But on top of that, this game feels like a verdict on how Arsenal and Tottenham have been doing over the past few years. Take a step back and every team has more or less the same strategic problem: How can a team on the elite fringes, with a big stadium but no injections from the benefactor, return to the top? What do you have to do to get close to Manchester City and Liverpool? How to become a big club again?
One option is simply behavior Like a big club. Although Conte asked Tottenham to act like a ‘big club’ on Tuesday (in terms of scheduling matches), that’s what Tottenham Hotspur It has been done for the past three years. Since their new £1.2 billion stadium opened in April 2019, it has felt as if every major decision at Spurs has been taken into account. What would a big club do? How can they spread their big clubs to the rest of the world? For years, Spurs have been all about gradual rebuilding, young players and planning for the future. But over the past three seasons, the club’s trend appears to have grown impatient.
There was an intoxicating logic behind this. Within two weeks of opening the best new stadium in English football, Tottenham knocked Manchester City out of the Champions League. Three weeks after that, they kicked Ajax out, too. While preparing for the Champions League final in Madrid, Tottenham felt like the center of the world of football. They lost the final and were determined to make a comeback, breaking the transfer record to sign Tanguy Ndombele, and inviting Amazon cameras to broadcast their inner workings to the world.
It soon became apparent that the Mauricio Pochettino era was falling apart, and so Daniel Levy wasted no time in getting rid of him and bringing in Jose Mourinho, believing he had finally appointed one of the best coaches in the world. Heading into 2019, long after Mourinho’s heyday, it looked as if Spurs were more interested in behaving like a big club than making sound football decisions.
At the end of that season, Tottenham arranged high-profile but ultimately low-impact loans to Gareth Bale and Alex Morgan. During the following year they were involved in the European Premier League and then sacked Mourinho days before the League Cup final in an attempt to secure a place in the Champions League next season.
Spurs briefly considered rebuilding in 2021, led by Eric ten Hag or Graham Potter, but decided instead to stick to the “big club” path. They brought in Fabio Paratici from Juventus, were tried with Conte, dismissed, and then actually used a glorified goalkeeper in Nuno Esperto Santo. They dug in and kept Harry Kane, denying him a move to Manchester City. And within months, they persuaded Conte to replace Nuno and take the reins.
So all the major decisions since the stadium’s opening have been in the mind here and now. About maximizing their short term opportunities and profile. On projecting Tottenham’s image to the world as a modern, fit and ready club ready to win.
Now, maybe that makes sense. Levi has been blamed a lot over the years for doing the opposite – because he was overly cautious in moments of maximum opportunity, like the January 2012 window, or during Team Pochettino’s peak years. It would be unfair to criticize Levi’s impatience and impatience. After all, what’s the point of owning a £1.2 billion stadium if you don’t try to win it? The stadium may be a permanent asset, but Kane and Son Heung Min incorrect. They are two world-class players currently at the peak of their power. What’s the point of a five-year plan for a sports striker in his late twenties who just wants to win something?
(Likewise, there is an argument also in defense of the decision to appoint Mourinho that the Tottenham dressing room, having played in the Champions League final, would not have accepted a date at the level of Eddie Howe. This may be true, but it requires as a premise that these were the only two options in That fall, with no one in between.)
But did any of this work? Tottenham finished sixth in the 2019-20 season and seventh last season. They reached the cup final and lost to Manchester City. They have not played in the Champions League since being knocked out by RB Leipzig at the start of the pandemic. Only in the past few months under Conte have Spurs been emerging as a good team again, their best since Pochettino’s prime years. By most measures, they were the third best team in the country since Conte’s arrival. But the big question starting Thursday, and the last in a row of the season, is whether that will be enough.
There is another way to try to become a big club. You don’t have to buy everything in it. You can try to develop it yourself patiently. Relive the last time Spurs could consider themselves one of the best teams in the country, not too long ago. They appointed a young manager at Pochettino in 2014 and trusted him to rebuild the team in his own image. Get rid of the big players who were not convinced by his methods. They brought in a new generation of young men and compacts who did.
Soon, Spurs developed their own distinctive style of play, with a team of hungry young players who enthusiastically carried out their managers’ instructions across the field. Now, which stream Premier League Team Does this sound like?
It is as if Spurs have forgotten the principles that have always made them so good under Pochettino. As if they were outgrowing, or as if they thought Pochettino and his crew were just participants in the 2014-2019 Spurs golden age, and not the cause. And if Spurs brushed these principles off as belonging to the past decade, well, why not pick them up Arsenal and give them a try instead?
Indeed, Arsenal’s appointment of Mikel Arteta in December 2019 was a much bigger risk than when they appointed Tottenham Pochettino, who had been his successor in two very good managerial jobs at that point. But the general direction of travel was the same. Arteta was allowed to get rid of top players like Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has largely replaced them with hungry young players who believe in his ideas. The player’s strength has been greatly suppressed. There is no doubting Arteta’s authority at the club.
Who knows where it will end up, whether Arsenal will falter and miss out on fourth place. But either way, they’re clearly going in the right direction. After finishing eighth twice, they could end up in third place this year, likely with points total in the low 70s, their best since 2017-18. This alone is proof of the decisions made over the past few years and the wisdom of taking two steps forward by taking one step back.
The challenge facing Spurs came as the hunger that fueled the first half of Pochettino’s reign began to wane in his last few years. Players started getting bored, and their heads turned at the opportunity to earn more or earn more elsewhere. Pochettino wanted to sell exhausted players and replace them with hungry new ones, but that never happened. It would be great to see if Arteta’s Arsenal player has the same problem, but that is a long way off in the future. This team has not yet reached its peak.
Because while Arsenal now resembles its own version of Pochettino’s Spurs, Spurs’ latest team strategy appears to mimic Chelsea. They are out of the long rebuilding phase. They have a core of strong top players. They hire a new, experienced coach on a regular basis and hope it works. There is nothing inherently wrong with this strategy – Chelsea have won a lot of trophies during the Roman Abramovich era. But it depends on having a good team that can adapt quickly to whoever enters.
This is why Conte at Tottenham is so convincing. If any manager in the world is good enough to understand this mini-era at Spurs, it is him. Three victories in the next ten days and the bounty of Newcastle United He will lead Spurs back into the Champions League, a huge feat considering what it was in November. It will be proof not only of his own business but also of Levy’s appointment to him, and his entire strategy to keep the club focused on their immediate ambitions.
But lose tonight, lose this spot to Arsenal, and it will feel as though Spurs’ impatience and the radiance of the big clubs have been replaced by Arsenal’s longest-running vision – at least for the time being.
(Top Image: Catherine Eiffel/Getty Images)