The Champions League final next weekend leaves me in a position I would rather not be in. It pits Liverpool, the club I have supported since 1988 against Tottenham, a team I have an immense soft spot for. I wrote a piece a couple of years back about Spurs being the poster-boys for sustainable spending and have long maintained that they deserve a trophy to show for their efforts.
I will be rooting for a Liverpool win come the first of June but would be gutted for Tottenham if they lose because there are indications that changes might be afoot at the club, whichever way the result goes. Mauricio Pochettino has already said that it would be the end of a chapter in his Spurs story and while that comment has been analysed ad nauseam for what it could mean, it is clear that he isn’t as content as he was two years ago.
In August 2017, he had improved his team’s position in the league three seasons in a row and achieved their highest placing in 54 years. After finishing second behind Chelsea, Pochettino must have fancied a title charge. Unfortunately for him, the rules of engagement changed off the pitch. Premier League clubs spent £1.9 billion on players in the 2017-18 season, a new record. They then followed that up with an estimated £1.4 billion in 2018-19, the second highest figure recorded ever.
It was not just the big boys; everyone was throwing money around; even the newly promoted teams. Jurgen Klopp, formerly from the Pochettino school of thought that players needed to be developed and not extravagantly paid for, very publicly changed his mind to cater to the new world. The effect of the spending at other clubs would not have escaped the Spurs manager who last bought a player in January 2018 and it looks like he has begun to think differently as well.
Spurs placed third in the league in 2017-18 and fourth this season and while it would be easy to say that they have regressed, a Champions League final appearance shows that this is hardly the case. There are signs of strain however on a squad that has played at the limit of their capacity for several seasons now. Pochettino’s coaching methods have ensured that the team remain a top-four team for now but how long can they keep it up, especially with every other team continuously adding to their squad?
There has been a feeling that something would have to give for a while now and it was not a surprise when Pochettino set the cat amongst the pigeons with his comment about the final. It is a Catch-22 situation that the club find themselves in. If Tottenham win in Madrid, it gives the manager and a long-loyal group of players an opportunity to claim that their work is done. A loss might reinforce the feeling that the bigger clubs are leaving them even further behind, with Liverpool the perfect case in point for how a change in transfer policy brought rewards.
A lot depends on how flexible chairman, Daniel Levy will be on that front. Not a lot I am guessing when there is a billion-dollar stadium to be paid for. All signs point to the end of a cycle, as Pochettino called it. A beautiful cycle it was too, and it is appropriate that an admirable project gets a worthy platform in Madrid to showcase its achievements.
Win or lose, the Spurs model has been worth emulating.