Tottenham Hotspur Europa League Qualification – Back To Square One?

From being on the brink of becoming European champions to stumbling into Europa League qualification just one season later – something has gone seriously wrong at Tottenham Hotspur.

And it was all so avoidable. Instead, Spurs are at risk of hitting the reset button, despite moving to their brand new stadium and appointing Jose Mourinho as their new manager.

Tottenham Hotspur – Fall From Grace After Champions League Final Defeat

Europa League Qualification for Tottenham Exposes Transfer Failings

Tottenham’s woes began in January last year when midfielder Moussa Dembele – a player Mauricio Pochettino described as a “genius” – left for China.

Dembele’s transfer took the engine out of the Ferrari, and Tottenham couldn’t run without him. They stumbled over the finish line to finish fourth in the Premier League, but failed to record any away wins in the league since January 20.

European nights masked the deficiencies in the Tottenham team. Yes, there were thrilling performances against Manchester City and Ajax in the Champions League, which Spurs fans will never forget. A disappointing performance in the final, however, left Pochettino and his players broken.

Nights such as those in Amsterdam also covered up the cracks in the club’s transfer strategy. Nobody was signed to immediately replace Dembele, an incredible oversight given the Belgian’s importance.

Record Signing Tanguy Ndombele Fails to Make the Grade

Spirits were lifted in the summer of 2019 when Spurs announced the record signing of Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon.

Ndombele was seen as the natural replacement to Moussa Dembele. A ball-carrying midfielder with an eye for goal and a killer pass, he had skills which seemed to lift him above Dembele’s capabilities.

However, his inability to adapt to English football was one nail in the coffin of Pochettino’s time at the club. Despite a goal on his debut, questions lingered over the Frenchman’s fitness and attitude.

The “painful rebuild” which Pochettino had described as necessary for the club to move forward never came. The Argentine’s final game in charge saw him name just two new faces in his squad since the club’s defeat to Liverpool in Madrid.

There was also the issue of Christian Eriksen. Tottenham’s playmaker simply didn’t want to be at the club any longer. Pochettino was having his team disassembled, just not in the way he wanted.

Mourinho Era – New Name but Same Problems

Jose Mourinho’s appointment as Pochettino’s replacement was met with both shock and excitement from Spurs fans.

A proven winner had finally arrived at the club. However, issues still remained from his predecessor – mainly that of a stale squad.

This was addressed during the January transfer window. Gedson Fernandes and Steven Bergwijn were brought in, and Eriksen finally left for Inter Milan for a cut-price fee.

The question which remains unanswered is why Daniel Levy chose to back Mourinho in the transfer market as opposed to Pochettino?

Pochettino had worked on a shoestring budget for his entire Spurs career. No marquee signings were made, barring that of Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, who both arrived in his last few months at the club.

Indeed, when Mourinho arrived at the club, there were concerns over how the Portuguese would work with the notoriously frugal Daniel Levy.

The signings of Fernandes and Bergwijn under Mourinho – albeit the former being on-loan – demonstrated a change in approach Levy. Had those funds been made available to Pochettino throughout his time at Spurs, the club would still be challenging Europe’s elite.

Boring, Boring Tottenham Hotspur

Mourinho’s arrival also brought with it a handbrake turn in terms of style of play.

Spurs’ players had to adapt from an open, flowing brand of football under Pochettino, to Mourinho’s “win at all cost” style.

Fans were split; some wanted to translate the talent on the pitch into trophies, regardless of how they did it. Others viewed it as disregarding years of tradition, at the expense of immediate results.

Mourinho did bring about a considerable upturn in form for Spurs. Had the league begun when Mourinho took over, Spurs would have finished fourth.

There have been standout moments under Mourinho as well. They beat Manchester City 2-0 at the Lane in a classic Mourinho performance, and there was also the comeback win against Arsenal post-lockdown.

There have been significant bumps along the road though. Terrible performances against Sheffield United and Bournemouth in the run-in cost Spurs Champions League football next season. Those matches will give Mourinho-sceptics ammunition over questioning his style of play, should next season start poorly.

Moving Forward Under Jose

Spurs begin their Europa League campaign in less than a month’s time. The players will be encouraged by their strong finish last season, despite those two blips against the Blades and Bournemouth.

They’ll also know that for Tottenham Hotspur, Europa League qualification isn’t good enough. The best stadium in the world deserves the best European nights in the world.

Mourinho has already put his stamp on the squad further with the signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Now, Spurs players must fully buy into Mourinho’s style of play – or else risk the club slipping back into mid-table mediocrity.

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