In Greek mythology, Icarus is the boy who flew too close to the sun, causing the wax in the wings his father made him to melt, and him to fall to Earth. We see his story as a cautionary tale, that reaching too high, too fast, can be dangerous.
For the last five years, it’s felt good to be a Spurs fan. There was A Plan. Mauricio Pochettino would bring in the youngsters, they’d grow into a team together, and that team would eventually be all-conquering. And even when Levy would blow another transfer out of the water in the name of fiscal responsibility, we’d sigh and say, “Well, at least there’s A Plan.”
In the hangover after the crushing loss in the Champions League Final last year—crushing because we kind of outplayed Liverpool for much of the match—the players lost their way. Christian Eriksen, a want-away for quite a time now, wanted away more urgently, and his play reflected that. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, for a few years the heart of the defence, were now on the edge of the downside of their careers. Dele was basically missing, unable to impose himself on a game, unmotivated to show off his usual tricks and flicks.
And so Spurs struggled. Then Lloris tore his arm off, and though Paulo Gazzaniga has tried hard, he’s not Hugo. Then the unthinkable happened: People started to whisper, “Pochettino Out?” They said it with a question mark, because for five years, he was the man with A Plan. And results dropped, heads dropped, points were dropped, and finally Poch was dropped.
Instead of A Plan, we got the self-anointed Special One. A man who’s always seen himself as bigger than the club he manages, who’s very publicly first flown high, then crashed and burned, at club after club. And so a lot of us said, “Yay?” with the question mark, because now instead of A Plan, we had The Man, and we figured we knew what would happen.
He’d lead us to maybe FA Cup victory this year or maybe League Cup, next. We’ll make the Champions League this year, somehow. And the year after, we’ll be great. Maybe we’ll win the Champions League. We know we’re close enough to touch it. And then The Man will run out of ideas, the players will have had enough of his self-absorption, The Man will have no clue how to motivate them, and they’ll stop playing for him, and we’ll end up worse off than we were when he started. We’ll have traded A Plan, and the players developed over the long term to fit The Plan, for the short-term success of a Mourinho drive-by.
We love our players. I know every club’s fans say that, but we do. When we sing to Harry Kane, or Son Heung-Min, or Dele, we’re celebrating their commitment to the club, their amazing run last year, and A Plan, and our belief the players are committed to it. We know that Kane could make twice or more his wages if he went elsewhere. He wouldn’t. There’s A Plan.
Or there was. Because that’s our other fear. Poch loved his players the way we do; maybe too much, it could be argued, persisting with some when it was clear they weren’t cutting it. But we know that to Mourinho they’re just assets, value stored in the form of human flesh, and he’s not above cutting out the heart of this team to get players that suit his dour but effective football. That’s normal. But it’s not the way this club has operated for five increasingly successful years, and it’s not A Plan.
“The Game Is About Glory,” says the banner at The Lane. We want to win as much as anyone. But we want to do it with style, with technique, with moments that make the crowd sound like they’re at a fireworks display. Mourinho is well known for his pragmatic football, placing defensive solidity above offensive flair. But that’s just not Tottenham football. We want to win 4–3 or 3–2, not 1–0. We don’t want to watch a goalless draw.
We’ve been here before. I’ve been a Spurs fan for about fifty years now, and I remember the days of George Graham. One-nil to the Tottenham, they’d sing, and how frustrating it was. We’d win games, but the football was dull and lifeless. It wasn’t us. We wanted Ginola, Waddle and Hoddle, Modrić and Bale, and we were getting pragmatic midfielders with a penchant for a back pass.
So we’re going to miss Poch for a good while. And it’s going to take some time to trust Mourinho, to see whether he gets that The Game Is About Glory, or whether he will opt for his tried and true methods. Will he have A Plan? You have to have a plan if you’re leading Tottenham, the only side in the nominal Top Six who don’t have a billionaire backer heli-dropping bundles of cash. And Mourinho isn’t known for his long-term success.
So we’re wary. We don’t want to do the Icarus move here, while Mourinho’s waxing his wings.