When Tottenham Hotspur went out of the FA Cup at home against Leeds my dream of Andre Villas-Boas' team winning the big domestic cup in his first season in charge was dashed. Now, the club are only competing on two fronts: the Premier League and the Europa League. In the former, Tottenham are currently in fourth. Spurs are a point behind third place Chelsea and four ahead of fifth place Arsenal, both of which have a game in hand. In the latter, Spurs have a quarterfinal matchup with FC Basel.
Certainly neither of the club's, or perhaps the manager's, big goals for the season (finishing in the top four and winning the Europa League) are assured. However, of the two, Tottenham should focus their efforts on winning the trophy.
I can already hear your cries of derision, but bear with me for a moment. In a world where the two goals are mutually exclusive the choice for me is an easy one. That is to say, if Tottenham Hotspur can only finish in the top four OR win the Europa League the choice should obviously to go for the silverware. This is an obvious choice, at least for me, for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, success is measured in trophies. How long have we pointed out the existence of the website Since Arsenal Last Won A Trophy? How many times has it pointed out to Arsene Wenger that there is, in fact, no trophy for finishing in fourth place. The truth is, Tottenham haven't won a trophy since Juande Ramos brought the League Cup home in 2008. Harry Redknapp didn't win a trophy (though he got the club to the League Cup Finals in 2009) and that perhaps may have lead to his firing. I want my club to win things. I want to have trophies in the cabinet at White Hart Lane. Getting knocked out of the Europa League in the semi-finals and finishing 4th is hollow for me. Another season in which we have no silverware to show for what we accomplished.
Second, the Europa League is a big competition. Many will argue that this is the Champions League's mentally handicapped little brother and that no one cares about it. The Europa League is a Mickey Mouse competition for teams that aren't good enough for the Champions League. That's definitely not true. Big clubs take the Europa League seriously. Look at the list of recent winners: Atletico Madrid (twice), Porto, Shakhtar, and Zenit St. Petersburg have all won in the last five years. Those are four big clubs. The quarterfinalists this year include last season Champions League winner Chelsea, as well as Lazio, Fenerbache, and Benfica. Those are clubs with rich history (well, maybe not Chelsea) of success in football.
Finally, Tottenham Hotspur have a rich history with the Europa League, and it's predecessor the UEFA Cup. Spurs won the first UEFA Cup competitions in 1971-72 and finished runners up two seasons later in 1974. It would take another ten years, but Tottenham would once again triumph in the competition in 1984. Tottenham Hotspur have won more UEFA Cup/Europa League/Cup Winner's Cup trophies than any other English side (except Liverpool, who have won the same amount). I want to win the competition to continue Tottenham's legacy in this competition.
Now, obviously there are some negatives involved here. Again, if we live in a world where the club can only have one or the other, winning the Europa League means no Champions League football next season. More importantly, perhaps, it means no Champions League revenue. That's obviously the killer. The additional £20-30 million pounds that a club could make in the Champions League would certainly be handy, but missing out on that money isn't going to break Tottenham Hotspur. We've proven that our revenues and expenditures are closely in line and the club's business model is a sound one. The club could certainly survive without Champions League money.
Aside from the money, is the issue of being able to attract top tier talent to White Hart Lane without Champions League football. Well, Tottenham has certainly succeeded in doing just that in the past. Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric came before Tottenham played in the Champions League. Hugo Lloris joined knowing that Tottenham would only be playing in the Europa League. Those are all world class players that joined Spurs without the promise of playing in the continent's highest competition. All three had played in the Champions League at some point and yet all three came to White Hart Lane.
There are plenty of other clubs in England that attract top talent without playing in the Champions League. Look at some of the recent purchases for Newcastle United. Hatem Ben Arfa, Moussa Sissoko, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Davide Santon, Yohan Cabaye, and Cheick Tiote are all excellent talents. Newcastle snapped all of them of for reasonable fees and, last season at least, put together a good season. Will the lack of Champions League help Tottenham Hotspur attract Robert Lewandowski or Edinson Cavani? No it won't, but those players probably never would have come to Tottenham Hotspur anyway.
When Tottenham Hotspur hired Andre Villas-Boas he was hired to do a job for the future of the club. For the present, qualifying for the Champions League would be huge. However, crashing out of the Europa League, failing to win a trophy again would be even more damaging. Villas-Boas wants to instill a mentality that all these competitions matter and that winning trophies is what is important. The money from the Champions League might be nice to help eventually get a new stadium, but finishing 4th doesn't necessarily mean we'll make it to the group stages and beyond of the Champions League. This group of players need a trophy. We need a touchstone to show what we are building and that the club can succeed. That's why the Europa League is more important for the future.
I'd much rather see this collection of players wrap up the season at the Amersterdam Arena with a victory in the final and slump to a fifth place finish than crash out of the competition and finish fourth or third. I'm hoping that Tottenham Hotspur can accomplish both. I'd be over the moon if the club did just that, but I'd much rather we win that trophy.