What a time it is to be a Tottenham fan!
This is an era in which Spurs can credibly claim ownership of the Premier League’s best striker, best attacking midfielder, best defense, best coach, and best young core. If they all can stay together, this virtually guarantees them continued success in the years to come. Tottenham play some of the most stylish, inventive soccer around, can stand toe-to-toe with literally every single club in the league on the pitch without batting an eye, can and do wreck the much more expensively assembled squads of their supposed betters, as they demonstrated in yesterday’s demolishing of Liverpool, and have legitimate reason to hope that this year could be the year they win the title.
Yes, this season and the handful of preceding ones have to fill fans with joy and optimism—the pinnacle of Spurs fandom in modern times. It’s a shame, though, that this era probably won’t last too much longer.
None of these future concerns should dampen any appreciation for or pleasure taken from Tottenham’s present, of course. The Liverpool match was a masterclass by Spurs, and it demonstrated so much of what makes this Tottenham era special.
The match was headlined, as it so often is, by Harry Kane, who at this point is running out of detractors to repudiate with his play. Kane is simply amazing. His ability to strike the ball exactly how and where it needs to be hit in order to avoid keepers’ sprawling paws, his instinctive sense for being at the right place at the right time to clean up deflections and rebounds, his sneakily impressive athleticism and technical ability that helps him sprint by and through defenses, his underrated quality with the ball at his feet—there’s just no limit to what Kane can do. His two goals against Liverpool put him back atop the league’s scoring chart with nine, a spot that practically belongs to him now after finishing as the EPL’s top scorer twice running. There’s not a single pure striker in the world today you can point to as obviously better than Kane, and for a player of that caliber to be lining up every week for Tottenham Hotspur has to have fans pinching themselves.
And Kane’s not alone. Joining the big forward on the scoresheet against Liverpool was his fellow young English phenom, Dele Alli. Despite getting his start as an ostensible midfielder, Alli’s staggering ability in front of goal has seen him play as more of a second striker these past couple years, where he’s managed to rack up goal tallies that most out-and-out forwards would be jealous of. To top that off, Alli played a much deeper role in the match against Liverpool as a more traditional central midfielder, and he was great even outside the goal he scored.
Behind their two biggest names, Tottenham have an assortment of players every team would love to have. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are probably the two best central defenders in England; Hugo Lloris is one of the best keepers in the world; Christian Eriksen is probably only behind Kevin De Bruyne when it comes to the EPL’s creative attacking midfield types; Davinson Sánchez just got into town but has already slid into a starting spot in England’s best defense with a seamless confidence that belies his 21 years of age; Son Heung-min is really good and overqualified for his bench role; Serge Aurier is filling in for their departed league-best right back, Kyle Walker, and already looks almost just as good as his predecessor; and the league’s best left back last season, Danny Rose, is only now getting integrated back into the fold after his injury- and shit-talk-induced time away.
And all of that is before bringing up manager Mauricio Pochettino, who year after year keeps cementing his place alongside the likes of Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho and Antonio Conte as the very best managers currently doing it. Pochettino made his name with an up-tempo, high-pressing, attack-minded style that brought Spurs and Southampton before them so much success. On Sunday, Pochettino demonstrated how versatile a coach he is by setting the team up in a tweaked formation (3-5-2 rather than the 3-4-2-1 he’s preferred the past couple years) that was much more reactive and counter-attack-focused than his customary gamelans, and it turned out to be exactly what was required to crush Liverpool. At every level on the pitch and off of it, Tottenham are set up perfectly to maximize the copious playing and managerial talent the have, which has resulted in this run of sustained excellence.
Still, it’s worth remembering that, as great as these kinds of performances have been, they’re probably only a temporary blip. In fact it was Tottenham’s other recent triumph, the impressive 1-1 draw they managed to cling to against Real Madrid earlier in the week, that clarified this notion that Spurs are not long for the world they currently find themselves in.
Lots of the talk surrounding that game centered, one way or another, on the impermanence of these halcyon days. Real are reportedly hot for Kane. Meanwhile, Pochettino thinks Kane can be a one-club man like Roma icon, Francesco Totti. Pochettino doesn’t ever see himself managing at Barcelona.
Implicit in all of these stories is the idea that players of Kane’s abilities and managers of Pochettino’s acumen tend not to stay at clubs of Tottenham’s status. There is the noble motivation that drives the elite away from the sub-elite strata they might find themselves at, which is the desire to win and to win big. Then there is the one fans have a harder time stomaching, and that is money.
In the coming years, both of those concerns will probably lead away at least some of the breakout stars that have powered Tottenham’s period of ascendency. As great as Tottenham have been the past three seasons, they still haven’t managed to win anything. They were the EPL’s best team the year that Leicester City won it all, and did manage to finish in second last year, but their mega-club competitors have only continued amassing increasingly ridiculous squads and hiring the world’s best managers in their efforts to ensure less rich teams like Spurs and Leicester can never best them again over a full campaign. Even now, when Spurs look like the league’s second-best team, Manchester City’s sheer economic might will probably preclude Tottenham from any serious chance of challenging for the title. Tottenham could even manage to stay pat and keep hold of all or most of their current core, and it would still be hard to see them outlasting the likes of City and Manchester United and Chelsea and Liverpool and probably even Arsenal, all of whom can throw so much more money around in order to buy themselves success.
Along with the silverware Tottenham likely will not be able to fill their current stars’ home display cases with, the club also lacks the sterling to line their players’ pockets. For as ill-advised as Danny Rose’s offseason comments were, when he all but asked one of the Manchester teams to swoop in and pay him the money Tottenham won’t give him, the only truly surprising thing would be if most of his teammates didn’t feel more or less the same way.
None of Tottenham’s best five or six players are making what they would if they played for one of England’s or Europe’s economic giants. When players are young and still developing and feeling indebted to a manager and a club that has cultivated their talents, it’s easier for them to put aside money concerns as something to worry about another day. But when a player like Kane repeatedly exhibits his superiority to all others in his position, leading the best and richest league on the planet in the most important stat on a regular basis, it presumably will become nearly impossible to overlook the gap between his world-elite production and his mediocre pay. You can only outscore Sergio Agüero on the pitch only to see him out-earn you at the bank by a rate of two to one so many times before you decide to stop putting up with it.
Tottenham’s core players are just now hitting their playing peaks, and it won’t be long before the whispers of Madrid’s interest in Kane or Barcelona’s interest in Alli and Christian Eriksen become actual, real-life, eye-watering bids. Fans might hope that the club’s fancy new stadium might change Spurs’ wage structure and allow them to pay Kane and Alli what they’re worth, but it’s hard to see this influx of cash coming soon enough to fend off the suitors on the horizon. Kyle Walker might have been the only one who has as of yet left Tottenham, but he certainly won’t be the last.
When that day comes, and Tottenham are forced to sell the players that made possible performances like the one against Liverpool and all those that contributed to their two consecutive top-four league finishes—though there actually are good odds that Pochettino is honest when he says he wants to be Tottenham’s Arsène Wenger and thus won’t leave for greener pastures any time soon—we’ll likely see a slow but steady slip as the club goes from competing with the big boys like the Manchesters and Chelsea to competing with the biggish boys like Liverpool and Everton.
It’s probably inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be a sad thing that Tottenham’s future will not include such a prominent place in the sun. But what it does mean is that everyone should cherish what they have now, because it won’t last forever.