Consider this. We were always a hairs breath away from going out. We lived the whole journey on a knife edge
We shouldn’t have been there, but we deserved to be.
This club has embarked on the most piss boiling run to the Champions League Final in living memory. Just as our rivals (and there are a few) were prepping the usual “bottled it” jibes at every stage, we silenced them. It has been one of the most amazing journeys ever. Like Lazarus we were resurrected. Unlike Lazarus…more than once.
One point from three games in the group stages. Late winners against Inter and PSV left us needing a result away at Barca. We achieved that. At every moment we were supposed to be dead and buried. But we weren’t. After making relatively light work of the Bundesliga leaders in the round of 16 we were pitted against the Champions of England. More last-minute drama in the second leg. A 92nd minute VAR decision that actually went our way. And then do I really need to describe what happened in Amsterdam on May 8th 2019?
95th minute winners will trigger an unparalleled hysteria in anyone regardless of age. And when that feeling passes and you realise the enormity of the consequence, then grown men are reduced to tears. We were going to a final none of us thought we’d ever see.
Consider this. We were always a hairs breath away from going out. We lived the whole journey on a knife edge. Barca hit the post. Man City had a penalty saved. Ajax hit the post. PSV were making last ditch tackles in Milan as we held our breath to see if we would go through. It was no wonder that it started to “feel” like destiny. They would make a Brit-flick drama-comedy about this Champions League campaign surely.
All along, this was set against a backdrop of injuries the like of which no club has probably seen before. Over 50 at last count this season. To the extent that we only ever fielded our “strongest” side for 70 minutes in the first leg against City and for 60 minutes in the final. 130 minutes total, not only including the Champions League campaign but for the whole season.
Credit goes to Pochettino of course. This man has squeezed every possible ounce from this squad to get us to this final. To outdo the greats of 1961/62 and get beyond the semi-final. To make history and elevate the bar a little higher once more. And yet when he said that he’d like to win a domestic trophy but felt that his remit was to get the club challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles, fans scoffed. The criticism he got for fielding a weakened team against Palace in the FA Cup was audible. Oh, and by the way, we only lost the semi final of the Carabao Cup on penalties.
Trust this man. Back this man.
Of course, it wasn’t only a backdrop of injuries that the club had to contend with. There were no signings last summer or indeed in January. We lost an ageing Dembele in that latter window. This was partly down to Pochettino too in fairness. But something to contend with nonetheless. Add to this a delay in returning to N17. Games at Wembley we’re starting to grind. On the fans, the coaching staff and the players. It showed after a while. But we eventually returned home. A timely return. Would we have beaten City in the Champions League had we still been at Wembley at that time?
The odds were certainly against us on multiple occasions during this run. But we prevailed. Fans of all ages felt a new wave of euphoria and affinity with the club they love. Welling with pride, thousands flocked to Madrid. The scene of our first European Triumph in 1963. Another omen right? A lucky few had tickets. Thousands didn’t. But they knew they had to be there and people got creative with their route finder apps.
There were 60,000 back at the new stadium just to be with other Spurs fans, happy to watch it on screens from the stands. Frequenting the local pubs from hours before and then being drawn to the stadium as soon as it opened. There were still thousands outside.
All Pochettino had ever done when he took charge was promise to make us proud of our club. How can we say he has failed in this regard?
So to the game itself. It wasn’t to be. The match seems a bit of a blur already.
The game wasn’t a classic by all accounts. The evening ended and the hopes and prayers of winning gave way to that unfortunate feeling which we have all become accustomed to as Spurs fans. The knot in the pit of your stomach, of being deprived yet again of what could have been. Waking in the middle of the night to have your consciousness invaded by thoughts of disappointment. But our name should have been on this cup surely? Why did we lose? Did someone not read the script?
I had allowed myself some brief pre-game visions of waking up Sunday morning and feeling on top of the world. I had harboured the desire to be able to sing “Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that” to our rivals. Instead it will likely be sung at us by just about every team we face next season.
But hope remains eternal. We use this as a stepping stone for the future. Pochettino is merely five seasons into his journey with Spurs. A club that had lost its way before he arrived. That said, five years is an age in the tenure of Tottenham Hotspur managers since about 1984.
Just consider though that clubs with a prolonged and consistent history in the Champions League have only ever made one final. Some, none at all. That puts our achievement in perspective. Doing it on a shoestring and ahead of time. We’ve had a stadium to build after all.
For now phase two of the project starts. It’s a big summer ahead. Some players will go. Hopefully some will come too. Daniel Levy would have been swept up in the emotion of recent weeks too make no mistake. Coming on to the pitch after the game in Amsterdam might have tweaked something in him. Hopefully this will kick phase two of the plan in a positive way. Phase two relies on Pochettino continuing to be at the helm with his whole coaching team. I have no doubt that they will still be here next season.
For now. We re-calibrate. The team – the strategy – the way forward. We reflect of course. We have a whole summer ahead in which this loss will gnaw at us. But it’s helpful to keep the bigger picture in mind. We can’t undo what has already happened. We’ve come a long way in five seasons. We can only imagine what the next five will look like. Whilst we didn’t quite conquer Europe on this occasion, there’s nothing to stop us having another tilt at it. Just like Liverpool did. Of course, there’s some domestic business to focus on too. But where the end game can leave you feeling disappointed, there is no doubt that the journey can provide some amazing highs.
No one will ever forget the highs we experienced in the Champions League campaign of 2018/19.