/ 29 March 2019

Tottenham surrender to mediocrity

Distracted: Spurs stars
Distracted: Spurs stars, such as Harry Kane, have been lacklustre in the run-up to their stadium opening. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

An overwhelmingly positive response accompanied the opening of the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“Wow,” gushed David Hytner of The Guardian. “Every supporter in attendance seemed to be wearing the same childlike expression — eyes widening in amazement, lost in wonder — when they entered the bowl.”

Barring some unreasonable catastrophe, it was always going to be like that after months of consternation over the delay in opening the stadium. The mere act of actually walking into it must have felt surreal, because it had started to feel like it would never happen. 

It was this stadium, after all, that you could argue sunk the North Londoners to their current depths.

Mauricio Pochettino has acknowledged as much. For months, the question of when the stadium would open has haunted the club and its players. The public meandering and embarrassing delays have coagulated and been dragged behind them in one festering ball of disappointment. On-pitch performance has suffered.

In the space of two weeks, Spurs went from just-maybe title contenders to top four hopefuls. They slumped at Stamford Bridge; flopped at St Mary’s; bungled it against Burnley. Four games produced only a solitary draw — the 1-1 in a home North London derby.

Many of those dropped points should have been easy pick-ups.

It’s hard to envisage the hungry players who donned the lily-white kit at the beginning of the season as capable of such mishaps. The outfit was deemed not to require any upgrades for a legitimate title push.

This great new stadium was supposed to host a great team. Pochettino’s men have looked anything but that recently — ironically, because they allowed the itch for a new home to crawl under their skins.

Pockmarks have begun to appear all over their bodies that indicate the onset of a vile epidemic: mediocrity.

In varying degrees, it has now infected all but two of the Premier League’s participants(no prizes for being able to point out which ones).

It’s a disease that affects the mind and one’s confidence. It’s the reason Harry Kane skied so many of the balls that dropped to him against Southampton; why Moussa Sissoko’s usual intensity was absent against Chelsea. It is the explanation for Christian Eriksson’s inexplicable failure to beat Arsenal’s Bernd Leno at point-blank range.

You can ask Spurs’ top four rivals what life in the mediocre lane is like. None have exhibited any ambition to exit it this season.

Manchester United have come the closest to shaking it. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has certainly done his part to convince us that they have come good again.

Confidence is a funny thing. All of a sudden Romelu Lukaku knew how to play football and score goals. His Norwegian coach was good friends with greatness throughout his career, and it’s easy to see how that rubbed off. Those memes of him in the role of resurrection pastor Alph Lukau have just some truth to them.

Somewhere along the line, Spurs lost the mojo that enabled them to believe they were more than average. Whether it was the blinding awe of Manchester City or the uncertainty of a new stadium that triggered it, this team no longer believes they deserve to be in the top two. So they’re not.

Pochettino will play the crab in a bucket on Sunday. He’ll try to claw at Liverpool and drag them into the mediocrity mire just as they try to escape for good. Should Spurslose, its players and fans must accept that the only European football the team will be playing next season is in the Europa League.

At least there will be a shiny new home to host the Thursday night games.