No other team is so prone to oscillating fortunes that their very name has come to symbolise the pride that comes before a humbling fall. But Tottenham Hotspur’s “Spursy” designation has been hard-earned over decades of almost-success followed by inevitable failure. Over the past couple of weeks, the north London club have been as Spursy as ever. Last weekend, Tottenham beat reigning Premier League champions Manchester City 1-0. On Saturday they were roundly hammered 4-1 by bottom-half stragglers Leicester City. So far, so Spursy.
In November 2021, Tottenham took steps to eliminate this trend. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy went and got himself a serial winner. In came Antonio Conte, winner of four Serie A titles and a Premier League championship. Granted, Tottenham had attempted the serial winner approach before. That ended with Jose Mourinho leaving a club without winning a trophy for the first time in nearly 20 years.
But Conte was going to be different. Jose was deemed washed-up, having not lifted a league title since 2015. The Italian was a far fresher proposition, custom-built for success in the current football landscape. Conte’s first partial season fed this narrative. Rescuing the detritus of the short-lived Nuno Espirito Santo era, the former Juventus manager steered Spurs to an unlikely fourth-placed finish. After two years outside the Champions League, Tottenham were once again seated at European football’s top table.
It’s not like Conte has them in freefall now. Spurs sit in fifth place, two points behind Newcastle United. Granted, the Magpies have a game in hand, but there is still every chance Spurs land in the top four again by season’s end. But fans are right to question the lack of progress. Where is the evidence of Conte’s serial winning? Where is the hint that this might be the year that Spurs overcome a trophy drought that stretches back to 2008?
Again, as with Champions League qualification, it could happen this year. But a trophy cabinet that has not been handled since it was moved from White Hart Lane to the palatial Tottenham Hotspur Stadium seems unlikely to get any action this year.
The title is beyond a pipe dream. Conte’s men were unceremoniously dumped out of the Carabao Cup by Nottingham Forest. They remain in the FA Cup, where they face Sheffield United in the fifth round. There is also the small matter of a two-legged Champions League round of 16 tie with AC Milan. Perhaps they will lift one or both of these trophies, but the mood around the club makes that a big ask.
Even before the Foxes mauled them, Spurs have been at a low ebb. The victory over City played out like a new dawn but ended up being a sticking plaster. Conte’s recent absence from the touchline due to gallbladder surgery has hinted at what may be to come. The ex-Italy boss has been evasive over his future pretty much since taking the Tottenham job. Conte himself seems increasingly irritated that he can’t hammer Spurs into his mould of a winning team. At their worst, they are a featureless melange. At their best, they are Harry Kane and ten others.
Perhaps Conte will turn this around. After all, his surgery is behind him and the brutalising that Leicester handed out could have lit a fire beneath him. There are trophies to play for, even if stronger sides stand between Tottenham and the podium. But isn’t this always the way with Spurs? They have always existed in between the abyss and the heavens. Between mediocrity and glory.
In typically Spursy fashion, they undulate constantly between one and the other. The red carpet is pulled out from under their trophy challenges one minute. They are snatched from the gaping maws of oblivion the next. A really good, bad team? A terrible, excellent team? Who really knows any more. Under Conte, as under those before him, they are quite simply Spursy
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