Wembley- The Home of English Football.
From Alf Ramsey lifting the first (and last) World Cup Trophy for the three lions in 1966 to Diego Maradona dazzling the 1986 World Cup Finale; from Ronald Koeman’s cracking European League winner against Sampdoria in 1992 to Rene Higuita’s unbelievable scorpion kick in 1995; Wembley has seen it all.
Earlier in the season, Tottenham and the FA agreed for the Cockerels to host their European games at Wembley for 2016-17 season. Furthermore, the agreement included an option to hire the stadium for all of their home games next season. White Hart Lane, the home of Spurs, is going through extensive redevelopment and the North Londoners are expected to move into their new stadium from 2018-2019.
IS WEMBLEY REALLY THE HOME OF ENGLISH FOOTBALL?
The iconic and historic stadium has been anything but a favorable hunting ground for the English clubs over the years. In 9 Champions League encounters prior to Spurs’ 3-1 win against hapless CSKA, English teams had only won a couple of games at Wembley.
ARSENAL’S WOEFUL SPELL
North London rivals Arsenal had a forgettable run while playing their home games at Wembley from 1998-2000. Despite having a ‘double winning’ squad of 1997-98, Arsenal failed to go past the group stages on both the occasions. They started off the 1998 campaign with a win against Panathinaikos in their maiden home game at Wembley. However, the Gunners crashed out of the competition following a draw and a defeat (both at home) against Kiev and Lens. Surprisingly enough, the 1999-2000 campaign too kicked off with a win at home with stoppage time goals from Henry and Suker seeing off Swedish side AIK. Arsenal were knocked out of the competition rather too soon, for the second time in succession following defeats by Barcelona and Fiorentina.
Former defender Martin Keown confessed how playing on a tight pitch and having the crowd closer (like at Highbury) could have taken Arsenal further in the competition considering the quality they had in their squad. Consequently, Arsenal enjoyed far greater ‘success’ in Europe after moving back to Highbury.
“It was a nightmare,” Arsene Wenger reflected. “In hindsight it was the wrong decision. At the time at Highbury we had to cut 5,000 seats. We decided to go to Wembley, but we didn’t feel at home.”
He added, “The pitch was bigger, the ground was different and for the English players it was something completely unusual. We were used at Highbury to a tight pitch and unfortunately we were playing against Dynamo Kiev, who were running everywhere on a very big pitch. It was a disadvantage for sure.”
MISERY FOR MANCHESTER UNITED
Manchester United reached the Champions League Final in 2010-2011 at Wembley only to surrender 1-3 against the might of Catalans.
SPURS’ WEMBLEY STRUGGLES
6 – Spurs have conceded more goals in four European games at Wembley this season (6) than in 12 league games at White Hart Lane (5). Curse.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 23, 2017
Pochettino’s high flying Spurs were unbeaten in the League and had suffered two consecutive Wembley defeats against Monaco (1-2) and Leverkusen (0-1) this season. Their solitary victory came against CSKA Moscow (3-1) who were languishing at the bottom of the Group Table.
Can they finally put that Wembley curse to bed? pic.twitter.com/jIvWVARB4s
— Proper Sport (@ProperSport) February 23, 2017
Spurs had an opportunity to put the fuss over the ‘curse’ to bed against Gent but it wasn’t to be. The game ended with the ‘golden boy of England’ being sent off in a 2-2 stalemate. Despite record-breaking attendance (excess of 80,000) in both the Champions League and the Europa League, Spurs were lacklustre at ‘home’ all season in Europe.
EVERYTHING ABOUT WEMBLY IS DIFFERENT
Whether it be the size of the pitch, proximity of the crowd or perhaps the visiting teams raising their game for the occasion, the Wembley ‘curse’ does speak for itself. Even for the non-superstitious fans, the most obvious reason for this miserable run could be the fact that these clubs are not used to playing on this kind of a pitch week in week out.
Wembley has been criticised and questioned several times over the years. Slave Bilic, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, David Moyes and Harry Redknapp are some of the gaffers who have expressed their dissatisfaction concerning the playing surface. The pitch has been relaid more than a whooping ten times since the re-opening in 2007.
Furthermore, the crowd at Wembley is seated further away from the pitch compared to the atmosphere of the home stadiums in Premier League. The pitch at Wembley measures 105 x 69 meters and English clubs are used to playing on relatively smaller pitches. On the contrary, White Hart Lane has the second smallest pitch (100 x 67 meters) in the Premier League (marginally bigger than Britannia) Mauricio thinks otherwise and refuses to blame the venue.
“Our style means that we need a bigger space to play, because we play a positional game,” Pochettino said.
The Argentine added, “It is true that White Hart Lane is a little bit tight, no? It is better for the opponent to play deep.”
Fair play from Poch there but one has to wonder whether Tottenham Hotspur are availing any bit of that ‘home advantage’ while playing at Wembley. Two wins, a draw and seven defeats on this ground doesn’t imply any kind of home comfort for the Cockerels. They could get away with playing these games away from home instead, one could argue.
It will be intriguing to see how they cope with the psychological barrier when they host all their games at Wembley next season.