We all knew that Harry Redknapp was the favorite for the England job over the summer. If pressed hard about it, just about every Tottenham Hotspur fan would have told you back in July that after Euro 2012, Fabio Capello would leave England. The press, fans and players would want an English manager. Harry Redknapp would be offered the job as the most accomplished active English manager. He would accept the job as a proud Englishman.
Everyone knew this before the season started, but no one acted like it. Redknapp influenced player personnel moves (or lack thereof) and everyone supported this. The players were behind him. Even though everyone knew that he was likely to take the England job at the end of the season, no one was distracted. For some reason, something that everyone knew, on an intellectual level, did not actually seem real.
When Fabio Capello resigned as England boss, reality hit. No longer was there a man already in place to lead England through Euro 2012. They would need a new manager. Redknapp was, and still is, the obvious favorite. Redknapp and the players will deny that they were distracted by this development, but they have won nine points from nine games since Capello's resignation. The club's confidence and focus could have deteriorated more as a result of losing to Arsenal than as a result of distractions from uncertainty about the future, but it's hard to believe that these distractions haven't been a contributing factor in Tottenham's poor form.
Effectively, nothing changed for any of the players. They were always in a situation where their manager was likely going to coach through this season, then leave for the England job. They were always playing for a manager who was on his way out, and there was always going to be a new manager next season. Everyone was playing to impress a boss who wasn't going to be around at the start of next year. There was always going to be a new guy taking over. Every player's job security was going to be poor heading into the 2012-13 season well before Fabio Capello resigned.
But that resignation made it real. As long as Capello was still in charge of England, everyone could pretend that Redknapp was always going to be there. Every player at Spurs Lodge might have known deep down that they were playing for a man who would have no say in whether or not they played come August, but it never really registered. When Capello left England and Harry was immediately anointed the favorite by the media, it became real.
This moment happens to people all the time, in all kinds of different situations. Those reading this who are married, in a very long-term relationship, or who have previously been in a long term relationship with someone they knew they were in love with will know exactly what I mean by this. It doesn't take long to come to the realization that you care about someone a lot. You can know that for months, years even, without taking any kind of action that is different than actions you took in previous relationships with people that you cared much less about. But then, eventually there's some moment that causes it to hit you, and you really become aware of the fact that you care more about that person than anyone else you've ever met, and at that point you start to take different actions or think differently about that person.
I don't need to go into history that's too personal, but I have personal example from my professional life. About a year ago, someone I worked with here at SB Nation was being considered for a position elsewhere. I knew when I joined SB Nation that this person would not be here long. While SB Nation is a great company with a lot of great people that pays a comfortable living wage to a few dozen people, it is not one of the big media giants in this country. I was well aware that this person was going to eventually receive a job offer from a media giant when I was hired, but I worked with them and talked with them as if we would be working together at SB Nation forever.
Eventually, that job offer came. There was a short period of time in which that person was unsure about whether or not they were going to take that job and there was also uncertainty about who would replace him if he left. During that two week period of time, everyone was extremely cranky. Quality work did not get done, and the work that did get done didn't get done in a timely fashion. A lot of people that were not only co-workers, but close friends, had some fights.
We all carried on with our jobs. Everyone had times when they didn't want to do something, but they got themselves motivated to do it and put out decent, respectable work. It wasn't their best, but everyone did a decent enough job. Eventually, the situation passed. Everyone involved is good friends and everyone got on with doing their best work shortly after the situation was resolved.
I knew when I was hired that this guy was going to leave eventually, but it took him getting a job offer for anyone to act like it. That made everyone aware of the reality of the situation and shifted something everyone knew was going to be a reality eventually into the present. Even though everyone wanted to carry on with their jobs, it was difficult for us to do our very best with our job situations up in the air. We got on with it, because we were professionals with a job to do, but we weren't entirely focused on the task at hand and didn't do work as good as the work we did before that job offer sprang up.
My hypothesis is that this is exactly what happened at Spurs Lodge. Everyone knew all year that Redknapp wasn't going to be the manager of Tottenham Hotspur next year. He was going to manage the club through May and then likely take the England job after Euro 2012. Now that Fabio Capello has resigned, Harry Redknapp is going to manage Tottenham Hotspur through the end of the season, and then likely leave for the England job. Though circumstances have changed for England, literally nothing has changed for Tottenham Hotspur.
But something has clicked in everyone's head, and now everyone is well aware of how little job security they have. When a new manager comes in, he will have different opinions of players than Harry Redknapp. No one is going to change the mind of that new manager with a little less than half of a season of good form. As long as players show up to training every day, stay out of trouble and give decent effort in games, they're not going to affect their job security at all. Giving extra effort and playing as hard as possible isn't really going to help anyone at the moment, in terms of job security. There are other things to play for, but put sentiment aside for a minute. That is quite certainly the most important thing to play for.
Everyone wants to win trophies, but even trophies are hard to fight for in a toxic work environment. This might be a different story if the team was in the Champions League semifinals or just behind Manchester United in second place, fighting for a league title, but all trophies are not created equal. Some of the Englishmen in the side might be dreaming about an FA Cup, but those who aren't English are not going to forget about the fact that their jobs are not secure because of it. All of Tottenham's players are professional athletes who will go out and give their best on Sunday, but that doesn't mean that they will play the best football that they are capable of any situation. That means they'll play the best football they're capable of playing when they aren't entirely focused every day but game day.
So, what else is there to be motivated to play your absolute best for? The shirt? Well, that's stupid, especially in a situation where the team's new manager might have no use for you in three months. How many players in any given top flight football team in the big five leagues truly play for the shirt? Maybe five? There are notable exceptions, like Athletic Bilbao, but this is irrelevant for the most part.
Should they be motivated to play for the fans? I wouldn't be. When the same fans who were singing your praises one week are calling you rubbish the next, why do you want to play for them? If Tottenham players went to fan message boards right now, they'd see a bunch of people claiming that the team is headed for sixth place and that most of the players aren't good enough. Why would any Spurs player play their asses off for those people? Because they pay their wages? Rubbish, neutrals watching the matches on television pay their wages.
Professional athletes -- even the ones you think are lazy and petulant -- are competitors. Everyone that steps on the pitch for Tottenham on Sunday will compete. Even if they don't look their best, they probably will have given everything they could bring themselves to give in that match. They might not give everything they've ever given before, and it might not be their fault.
Getting motivated is easiest when you don't have to think about getting motivated. When you just want to go out there and give it your best, you give a better performance then when you have to think about getting yourself motivated to go hard. This is the case in literally any field or industry, anywhere.
And that's why the rest of this season is going to be a struggle for Tottenham Hotspur. They might win the FA Cup and finish in third place, but if they do, it will not look pretty. Spurs will not win every game from here until the rest of the season. They will win a couple games in which they play poorly. They will probably have a draw or two in games where they play very poorly. The players don't know what they're playing for or who they're playing to impress, and it's not their fault.
Come May, we'll discover whether Harry Redknapp is the man in charge for the foreseeable future or if he is on his way out. Either way, the team will be able to refocus and move on with a new long-term vision. The rest of this season is simply damage control, and this summer we can move on to chasing our long-term ambitions.