Just over nine months ago, as Chelsea’s improbable Champions League triumph knocked Tottenham into this season’s Europa League, Ball Control contemplated the likely ramifications to a Spurs side at a crossroads. At that point, successful navigation of the junction into the established top four seemed a distant prospect with near rivals further gorging themselves in Europe’s top (and most lucrative) club competition just as Financial Fair Play was kicking in.
Seen in microcosm, Spurs had been heavily linked with Eden Hazard for the previous few months, with – as is rarely the case in transfer rumours – on the record quotes from the sought-after forward indicating his preference to move to north London. With the riches of the Champions League cruelly snatched away, the likelihood of Hazard moving to Spurs became impossible to realise. Needless to say, he moved to Chelsea instead.
Spurs’ failure to qualify for the Champions League precipitated the departure of Harry Redknapp. Here comes the twist. André Villas-Boas was brought in after his tortured reign at Stamford Bridge, with a brief to continue his promising career that was so rudely interrupted by having to be the meat in an ego sandwich at Chelsea – boorish players on one side, megalomaniac owner on the other.
While the £32m Hazard and his Chelsea teammates again succumb to the ritual syndrome of inner turmoil at which the club excels, Spurs are steadily building under the guidance of AVB. After his 27th game in charge at Chelsea last season he was sacked, after 27 games this season he overtook his former side in the table.
Rafa’s outburst last night was, of course, hilarious. How he’s managed to keep schtum for so long beggars belief. Like AVB, he’s tacking flak from two fronts, but in this case it’s players and fans, rather than the owner (for all we know). Not that I’m wont to offer any advice to the blue scum – my Dad’s a Chelsea fan, how I dodged a bullet there! – they could/should have taken a leaf out of Spurs’ book.
When George Graham joined Spurs he was rightly detested for his previous associations and immoral activities. The vast majority of fans never accepted him, despite the first silverware in eight years coming under his watch. But, to my memory, there was never a vocal campaign inside the ground to unseat him. At every game the fans formed a united front behind the team, including the manager.
Aside from the 1999 League Cup triumph, the benefits of that approach are hard to discern in the results; mid-table mediocrity continued. But given that in previous seasons Spurs were prone to flirt with relegation, it’s not difficult to imagine what could have gone wrong had fans destabilised the club by venting their full dissatisfaction with the management on match days.
With fans in near mutiny down the Seven Sisters too, now is a good time to sit back and enjoy the stability at the Lane. Who knows what’s around the corner but we can at least take pride in the class and dignity with which the club is run, whether or not you agree with individual decisions the hierarchy makes from time to time.
But let’s not be complacent, a lot has changed in football since the days of George Graham. The Chelsea example thus serves as a warning to Spurs: as fans feel more and more disenfranchised from the running of their club, the more likely they are to adopt extreme measures to voice their opinions.