The 7 (Seven) Stages of Grief

by Spooky

The defeat was a crushing one. The way the players just gave up was as good as telling the world, we don't care enough to play for the manager anymore.

Shock

7. Seven. VII. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…7. SEVEN.

I feel like I’ve been carpet-bombed by a senseless drone attack. I keep looking at the the score-line, photographs of the score-board. Media headlines on football websites. Official Tweets on Twitter. I keep looking but I can’t quite believe it. I’m not even hurting. Not yet. I know I will at some point. But for now, I’m completely numb. In a state of trance, no banging beat just white noise. But if I listen carefully, if I concentrate, I can hear it. Like scraping nails across a chalkboard. Ear bleeding inducing scratching. I can hear the deafening sound of humiliation.

We have got beat 2-7 at home. In Europe. Under the lights.

How? Why?

We were 1-0 up. We scored first. We started brightly, players buzzing around the pitch with purpose. Crafting and grafting. We looked decent. There were moments where Bayern also looked good going forward. This foreshadowing was masked expertly by fate, when Son gave us the lead. You have renewed hope and sprinkles of inspiration when you’re ahead. This might be the platform where we awaken from our early season slumber. This might be it. The moment we galvanise and recapture that swarming tempo we miss so dearly.

How did we go from 1-0 up to 2-1 down just before the break?

How? Why?

How did we surrender with such softness and casual resistance? From Ndombele bossing the centre of the park. To the space invading rascal movement of Dele. The Son rays of Heung-min giving prickly heat to the visiting Germans. Kane, towering like Godzilla over a Tokyo skyline.

What the f*ck went wrong?

Half an hour we had it all. Half an hour and then it was gone. Why? I don’t understand. Was it an illusion? Was this Mayweather toying with McGregor? Did Bayern let us play a bit whilst they contained and patiently waited to strike? Working out how to best punish us and then doing so with the precision of neurosurgeon. Although to me it felt more like that scene where Dr Hannibal Lector is feeding the FBI agent his own brain as he sits there lobotomised, unable to move or comprehend the horrific yet elegant brutality.

Thirty minutes of an identity cameo is all we got. A football team we recognised and then it was gone. Disappeared into an abyss. Found ourselves sat on the seventh circle of hell. I’d rather purgatory than this.

Denial

It’s going to be fine though. It has to be. There’s fight in there. We witnessed it in the Southampton game with ten men.We fought together, as a team. As a unit. As one. There was discipline and spirit in that performance. I can’t deny that. Can you deny that?

Against Bayern, we held our own and took the lead and there was a bit of that old swagger. Not in abundance but enough of it to know there’s still hope. Sure, it’s fragile but what if the game had finished 2-4? We’d be disappointed and we’d look towards the next one to try and rebuild dented confidence and work out the internal issues with how we best line-up. 2-4 would have been disappointing but that’s no disgrace.

Those last three goals late on, with Spurs heads down, rubbed salt into the wound. Bayern had no time for sympathy, only efficiency. They could see we were practically dead, yet they pulled us out of the shallow grave and gave us a few more smacks with the baseball bat before throwing us back in, kicking the odd turf of mud and grass over our twitching body.

Our problems this season have been consistent. Team morale is wrecked in comparison to the high levels of synergy we’ve attained over the years this team has been together. One game won’t fix it. Two or three won’t either. But what about a run of games where the team display (on the field and off it) the belief and hunger to reclaim their identity under Pochettino? They have to want to reclaim it. Surely? We might have to take positives even out of miserable results like this one for now.

The score-line looks diabolical. Bayern finished seven times with seven outrageously exceptional finishes. Even if you defended well against them they’d have found the back of the net. In comparison we had two shots on target from eight attempts. Clinicality the difference. Right? That and the reality that you can not switch off and shut down against quality opposition. This has got to be the turning point. It has to be.

It’s fine, this is fine. It’s gonna be fine.

Anger

Absolute f*cking waste-men. How many chances are we going to give this group of players to reach down and find their big ball energy? Where’s the self-respect? The pride? The hunger? Desire? Passion? Belief? The want to ignite what’s missing? Beyond diamond formations and back threes/fours or pivots in the middle or whatever else…there has to be heart. Heart beating the chest and worn on the sleeves.

YOU. HAVE. TO. WANT. TO. WIN.

You have to want to play and run and challenge until your feet are blunt like a crayon that’s been violently scribbled across a sheet of A4 by a foaming, screaming toddler.

ABSOLUTE F*CKING WASTE-MEN.

Ooh so I heard you beat Southampton at the Lane with ten men? You think that was enough to get the show back on the road? You think all is rosy? Everyone is lying to themselves! Lies!

Pochettino said all the right things in the build up to this game. He spoke about the problems in the recent past, the present and looked ahead to the future. Does he believe it? Does he believe in his own words? Does he still remain too stubborn, too loyal to his ethics when they no longer motivate his players? Or does he know nothing can be fixed with immediate haste because we’ve got too many core players that want out?

As for those players…do you not owe yourselves as much as you owe us for everything? You lot are unrecognisable from the team I’ve come to recognise as my own. You’re all weak in the head at dizzying levels of nausea.

I have no idea why I’m talking directly to them when they will never read this. They are no doubt discussing what to post next on Instagram with their social media manager.

This whole chapter is ending with a shambles of a finale. I’d call it a self-fulfilling prophecy too. Daniel Levy not signing players for two windows has actually caught up with us with savage vengeance. The culture of comfort Poch got rid of has been reanimated from the broken bones of his own creation.

Perhaps this experiment worked and we almost got the greatest of all pay-offs at the of last season. But this experiment can not survive the oil money of elite football. You have to spend spend spend otherwise you sink sink sink.

We have a team of players that no longer feel inspired to play for a manager that made them into contenders. It’s maddening.

We are…

Disinterested. Disconnected. Discombobulated.

Conceding seven at home is scandalous. It’s a different type of capitulation this. It’s not like the old days when we were rubbish and played rubbish and got trashed on. This is worse because the players are capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone. They opted to give up instead.

I don’t care how good the finishes were. To just surrender and allow further punishment to be inflicted (on the fans) shows a complete lack of respect for the badge on the shirt. Actually it’s even worse than that. It’s testament to how far they’ve fallen. They simply don’t believe, to the extent where they’re happy to concede a few more goals because self-sabotaging is easier than giving a f*ck.

As for the gaffer, he has to change the team by changing within himself first. If he can change. If he wants to change. It’s the same old system and same old players and none of that hungry decisive self-awareness that sparked the super-exciting ascendancy in the first place.

Waste-men.

Bargaining

Is it really that bad though?

I mean sure, if you look past the memes and the text messages from rival fans and the other playground banter you have to accept with a shrug and a quick delete or closure of browser tab. Live by the sword, die by the sword. You give, you get. It’s football. So beyond the memes, it was only one game of football. A horrendous one but only three points in a group match. Okay, sure, losing in the manner we did can’t help anyone in a positive way.

Or maybe it can?

Maybe a defeat like this is that final line being drawn. Another gutless performance like this isn’t conceivable. We have to bounce back. This is rock bottom. We’ve had worse days but in context, in terms of where we are as a club, this result almost feels like an amplified motion of evidence. The consequence of the past nine months in ninety minutes of football.

We need to improve tenfold, no doubt, it’s unacceptable. But the scoreline exaggerates it all to heightened levels. We’re bad but we don’t have bad players. We’re playing badly with good players that are playing badly. There has to be a way out of this.

Levy also has to see the importance of not only signing players to strengthen the first team but players to push competitiveness across the squad. To battle complacency and give us viable options for flexibility. We have to evolve. Again. This result will show us, manager including, the players that want to fight for the shirt. The ones that don’t want to shouldn’t be at the club. Accommodating them has been the crux of the problems we have today.

Depression

It’s over isn’t it?

I can’t help but thinking back to when Liverpool smashed us at the old Lane when André Villas-Boas was manager. That was a football club going through the motions. AVB was broken that night. We all knew it, we could all see it coming. The difference is, he never fulfilled his promise to give us something to be proud of. Pochettino did.

Poch has given us so much. We had everything, yet we have nothing. He changed us. You can’t forget that. He gave us a bond with the players that we didn’t have before. Or at least not for a long time. The togetherness was unique, it harked back to the side of the 80s. The Boys from the Lane – Part II.

It was encompassing, powerful, emotional and romanticised because we grew with the team. It was unexpected, perhaps accidentally brilliant and inevitably our Achilles’ heel. Over-achieving to the point where we were arguably under-achieving. You really need to step back and appreciate this. We challenged without truly challenging and yet basked in accolades in being one of the best sides in England. At times the best footballing side in England. Perhaps under different circumstances we’d have won a cup or a title.

Perhaps is mighty big word. I guess if you embrace Quantum Mechanics, there’s another version of Tottenham where they consolidated with brute force. In fact, if you believe in Quantum Mechanics, that version of Tottenham exists. To be honest, I don’t know enough about this to warrant a worthy analogy. What I do know is…we had a team we belonged to. With style and identity. And in this universe, they gave it everything. So in essence, we did have it all. Because that’s all you ever want from your team. It’s all you can ask for. The rest is a bonus, one that is becoming more privileged by the passing decades.

His philosophy was more than a muse. All things end. Cycles kick in. Players get old. Focus is lost. Hunger turns to appetite for a bite to eat at a new restaurant.

I love Poch. For what he’s done. It’s killing me seeing this team unravel. I want to believe it can be saved. That we can be rebooted. Maybe we can be? If given time. But does Poch even want this? To remain and fix things with a revised first eleven? Does modern football forgive and grant patience? The way everyone is seeking a scapegoat and wanting change is fundamentally a curse. One that we tend to aim at rival petulant fans.

I’m hearing people want the Special One to come in. For the short term. For two to three years. To get something, anything from the remains of this squad. They want a manager known for negative tactics. For fragmenting and destroying dressing rooms. They want the antithesis of what we are. But he’s a winner which is also something we are not. And supporters want to win. It seems today, at all costs. Even at the cost of an identity or style. But I guess we don’t quite have one or the other at the moment either. Not with this team, not in the present moment of flux. And modern football is mostly all about the brag. Above and beyond how you get to be in a position to brag in the first place.

Poch going isn’t just about the end of this team. It signals the end of doing things the right way.

The right way of doing things isn’t enough. It’s now almost a mythical methodology.

This is destroying me.

Testing

Okay. Say someone new comes in. We’re not like other football clubs. Yeah, sure – we don’t win anything. What I mean is, we don’t stand for brands of football that go against our traditions. Blanchflower, Nicholson…those quotes aren’t just marketing ploys. We pride ourselves on that sense of style. That echo of glory. So if someone comes in that is perhaps more rigid in approach, they might be forced to find a middle ground. Perhaps.

With the way football is too, a new manager tends to create a new platform to build from. It changes everything, because God forbid millionaire footballers get bored with the same old training routines a couple of hours per day. But sure, we’re not the same team of five years ago and we have to adapt going forward.

But do we buck the trend? Can Poch adapt? Do we owe him this much? If he wants to, if he truly wants to stay – do we not give him that opportunity to prove to us and himself he has to adapt? Because if he doesn’t, this problem does not get fixed. If he does and it still doesn’t get sorted, then we move on. Why the constant craving for finality? Why can we not retain a sense of loyalty? Why can’t we just wait?

Replacing Poch won’t necessarily make a difference this season. If you want him gone to salvage the season then isn’t that the very definition of short-termism that has often anchored us to stagnation? The reason we are in this position right now, this position of entitlement and dissatisfaction is because of the Argentine. It’s a paradox. But it’s only one because our form has dipped so spectacularly.

Are we going to allow it to end like this? Could any other manager out there have found the tangible progression that Poch has under the tight financial constraints our chairman imposes? You think the not-so Special One has it in him to man-manage players he has not spent untold millions on?

On the one hand, it’s Levy’s fault. On the other it’s the managers. Then you have the players.

All of them have to showcase fortitude. Unity. That fabled togetherness.

We’ll see what the 2-7 result has done to them away to Brighton on Saturday. We’ll see a reaction in that game. And the next. And the one after that. We have nowhere else to go, other than the next game of football.

Acceptance

It doesn’t matter. Comparisons. There’s no point saying ‘be grateful for what we had/have’ when looking back to the 1990s or early 2000s. It’s been and gone. We are not the same football club. Football isn’t the same game. This club has been slowly elevating its stature on and off the pitch since Martin Jol instigated genuine belief when the gap started to close. We’re in the midst of an identity crisis. If things are beyond repair then the manager will know. Poch will know.

Levy has no time for sentiment so if he feels a change is needed, he’ll make it. No matter what happens, stick or twist – this isn’t getting resolved quickly. I think the sooner we come to terms with that the easier it will be to digest this mess and drink it down with the last drops of salty tears from our raw eyes.

The defeat was a crushing one. The way the players just gave up was as good as telling the world, we don’t care enough to play for the manager anymore. Heads are gone, on the pitch and in the dugout. A team often reflects the manager and this team is invisible. That’s harsh. I don’t mean that, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying.

I still, in my heart, want them all to work it out. Somehow. Even if it feels like I’m sat alone in an echo chamber. Because the easy choice would be to twist and change things up. But if nothing is going to change between now and the summer, what can changing things drastically and with urgency give us? Other than perhaps damage limitation. Which might be the priority. To stop a free-fall.

We have to stop the free-fall.

Bayern did us a favour. We were murdered. We walked straight up to our assassin who shot us point blank, seven times.

They exposed our weaknesses, tactically and then dissected our soul for all to feast on. This was the opposite of a spiritual awakening, demons looking straight at us whilst the hellish autopsy was watched on with glee and applause by the damned. Starting straight at the demons, only to see our own reflection staring back.

It might be that Poch can’t take us any further. That he isn’t equipped to fix his own mistakes born from the brilliance of our peak attempts at success; that this team should have and could have won silverware. Had they, then Poch might have left and done so with a legacy we can all take pride in. But we still can. Take pride, even if he left now. We have to accept that change doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better but it can mean it steers us into a new direction. One that can lead to another potential legacy in time.

Even if a single season of transition is required to balance things up, not finishing top four could be detrimental to all things fiscal. The short-term has to support the long-term. The club is more important than anything else right?

Except, what is the club? Is it the brand? Are we consumers? Is it the squad and manager? The fanbase? All of it mashed together? Can it actually be a singularity we’re all in sync with? No it can’t.

This club is unique to all of us in our own way. It’s whatever it means to you. However belonging is defined. How you choose to be Tottenham. What happens next, behind closed doors, is out of my control. And I accept this. I accept the bad times with the good. I accept change. I accept adversity and discomfort. After-all, I’m a supporter. It’s not meant to be easy. Spurs are box-office. More than any other football club. I often think how the other half live. Content and bored. I guess it would be nice to have no overly dramatic bumps in the road. Driving along in a Tesla rather than shifting gears in a muscle car with an engine that might blow at any minute.

But this is what we are. The most dramatic of football clubs.

We haven’t lost a loved one. The loved one has lost us. Just in this moment. Reach out for them and they’ll reach back. Take their hand. Lift them up. It’s going to be fine. Accept the hurt, the pain, the angst. They are emotions that easily consume you. They will pass. They always do, we’ll all be smiling again because we can’t help ourselves no matter the state we’re in.

It is what is is.

Ndombele. Sissoko. Winks. Dele. Kane. Son. The other new signings. The youth. There is still a beating heart in there.

We go again.

We always go again.

Author

Spooky

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