Article by Reid Williams
Profligate. Inexperienced. Paying dearly for past mistakes. So often the criticisms of a Tottenham Hotspur side that is full of talent but perennially lacking in end result, these words very nearly had reason to resurface on today’s sports pages.
Indeed, Tottenham were wasteful with their chances against Barcelona during Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw at Camp Nou. Son Heung-Min ought to have done better when one on one against Barcelona’s goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen in the first half. The same goes for Kane who skied a lovely chance minutes into the second, as it does for Lucas Moura who headed a pinpoint cross into his own thigh instead of on target and still almost scored for Spurs, so prime was his opportunity.
Likewise their inexperience hurt them, with the young Harry Winks and even younger Kyle Walker-Peters hugely to blame for Ousmane Dembélé’s 7th minute goal. And at the root of their back-against-the-wall plight in Spain––a must-win game at the home of arguably the best team in world football––is a campaign of cheaply given away goals that tempered otherwise laudable performances. Tottenham should not have lost to Inter Milan when they first played them in September, and probably should have beaten PSV the first time around too.
Yet, despite not fully overcoming their demons, Tottenham succeeded on Tuesday night in qualifying for the last 16 in the 2018-19 Champions League, doing so in consecutive seasons for the first time in the club’s history. While they likely will never permanently shed that eponymous adjective with which the team is so often derided, Spurs seem to have triumphed over “spursy”-ness not with perfection but maturity.
Headlines favor sensationalism and the narrative of Tottenham Hotspur lends itself to extremes. Either the Lilywhites are clicking into gear and fearsome to all in their path, or they are in dire jeopardy, a team on the brink of a mass player exodus as a result of their failure to achieve their ultimate potential.
Rarely are they said to be on their way (albeit an at times unglamorous way) to building a durable squad and an elite mentality, but it is their success over such a fraught path that is developing an elite mentality in the team. Purple patches exist for even mediocre sides, but flirtation with failure and subsequent triumph over such is what creates deep strength.
Tottenham did not make a statement victory at the Camp Nou, but they did persevere to realize their ambitions. As Cillessen made save after save (Tottenham had 7 shots on target to Barcelona’s 3), Tottenham soldiered on, with Kane, usually their talisman in front on goal, assisting rather than scoring the goal that opened the door for his team to reach the Champions League knockout rounds.
Grit in lieu of style has been unsettling for Tottenham fans over the season. Spurs haven’t always looked convincing despite having a best ever start to the Premier League season over 16 games. A loss to bitter rivals Arsenal only two Sundays ago deflated the confidence that a previous win over Chelsea helped to usher in.
These peaks and valleys are bound to occur across the team’s trajectory, but Spurs’ supporters ought not need fireworks to feel confident about the North London club’s prospects. It is not simply a platitude that the team is growing older and coming to understand one another better; the evidence of mental toughness on their part is clear in late wins against PSV and Inter in the second half this Champions League group stage. And after a hard fought, late draw against Messi and Co, Tottenham Hotspur look better equipped than ever to take on the challenges that lay ahead in their season.