2013/14: the year that Tottenham Hotspur overhauled the basis of the entire management structure at the club, lost their best players and bought the best part of a new first team with the proceeds. Then fired the manager for whom all of these changes had been implemented along with his entourage of staff, failed to secure a qualified replacement and appointed a novice to coach the first team. A novice who subsequently failed to secure a top four finish, alienating a number of key players and the lion's share of the fanbase in the process with his naive tactics abrasive approach to man management. A season where we lost 5-0 at home to Liverpool and 6-0 away to Manchester City, were humiliated by Arsenal both in the league and in the FA Cup, and were outsmarted by Sam Allardyce. Three times.
In almost every respect, an emotionally draining and ultimately disappointing term that most had drawn a line under and tried to begin the process of forgetting months ago. And yet even in the wake of the turbulence that most now refer to as the Timplosion, Spurs fans can look to the immediate and long term-future of the club with optimism. For all the chaos of the last six months, Tottenham will, as we move forward into the summer, remain in so many ways the envy of most of the rest of the league.
To begin with, given the circumstances Spurs were facing even before the internal unrest start to set in, finishing 6th this year has been a pretty remarkable accomplishment. Regardless of what many had dared to dream when the Magnificent Seven were assembled last summer, the top two places in the League always looked set to belong to some configuration of Manchester City and Chelsea (a state of affairs which held up until as recently as a few weeks ago). Beyond those two spots, the competition for Champions League qualification was no less fierce; what Arsenal didn't really gain in squad depth last summer they compensated for by holding on to key long-term squad members such as Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Laurent Koscielny, all of whom made big strides forward when fit for selection this season.
Elsewhere, Liverpool continued the stylistic resurgence they began under new management last season, marrying a huge measure of consistency to the flair and adventure that had begun to be the hallmarks of Rodger's Reds. Everton backed a dynamic young new head coach with a number of coup signings, whilst even with a creaking squad and an out-of-his-depth manager United still retained enough raw latent talent to make top four seem a minimum expectation. Even nibbling at us from below were patchily brilliant Newcastle and Southampton sides.
We can debate endlessly what would have happened from December onwards if AVB had been retained or, at the very least, the club had managed to find a more qualified replacement for him after his sudden sacking. But the fact remains that when you set this season in context, Spurs have managed to crash-land this campaign into a fairly safe little clearing. No-one, given the tightness at the top in 2013/14, will look upon a 6th place finish as the sign of a regression on the scale of, say, Liverpool 2009-2012. Even through a period in which we have apparently been collapsing, Spurs have demonstrated this season that we have a floor that is higher than what so many of our counterparts can offer new recruits. Locking down European football, in some form, is now viewed as typical even of a wasted season.
This sense of security in the wake of disturbance is only strengthened by the fact that we have a squad on which we can only build further next season. The brighter sparks of the term (or to give him his proper name, Christian Eriksen) will not be courted by anyone who can afford him this summer, and will thus stay at least another term and enjoy having a team built around his talents.
Young additions from last summer who have endured at best spotty first years with the club, such as Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Vlad Chiriches, will another chance to prove what they can contribute to the first team, as will the recently misfiring Roberto Soldado and the largely uninspiring Paulinho (presuming both choose to stay). Around these players new additions will provide competition and patch the surprisingly sparse gaps in the squad. Unlike last year, we go into next season with a team that requires no fundamental overhaul while retaining scope to improve.
Last of all, Spurs fans can comfort themselves with the fact that this retained and added talent will be marshaled by a competent manager next term. Of the candidates considered most likely to get the call from Daniel Levy in the weeks to come once Sherwood is shown the door, Mauricio Pochettino and Frank de Boer have both in recent weeks demonstrated enthusiasm for exploring their options and would almost certainly take an interview with Spurs, despite the growing view that Spurs is becoming an unattractive prospect for Europe's most promising young managers. Both have shown in their careers to date that they can meet at the very minimum the requirements to play attractive football and encourage youth development that most desire to see from a Tottenham manager. In the background, the strong CVs of Rafa Benitez and Luciano Spalletti also project a faint, reassuring glow in the chairman's direction.
Meanwhile, around us, our competitors face serious challenges of their own. United will have to rebuild their aging squad under a new manager whilst battling the problem of clubs exploiting their desperation to reclimb on to their perch and gouging them for top dollar -- expect to see them wildly overspend as Ed Woodward struggles to consolidate his shaky grasp on transfer economics. Everton have got to find a whole new means of sustaining forwards momentum if they can't lock down the brilliant centre-forward and tenacious veteran midfielder that helped to sustain their strong midseason form. Arsenal have got to deal with the small matter of the future of Arsene Wenger with the club before they can progress. Newcastle may be delving into the market for a new manager themselves after Alan Pardew's efforts to headbutt his way out of St. James Park, whilst the process of dividing up Southampton's roster of young stars amongst the big four has taken no more than one day to get underway.
Though Spurs may not have progressed this season, we crucially didn't lose a step on any of our rivals. On issues of status and personnel, we have remained on a steady enough footing to keep the hope of leaping forward very much alive next term. Long-term momentum which has been gathering since the days of Martin Jol has not been lost; the men who can help us sustain it continue to view the Tottenham job as a desirable one. It's very hard not to envision a scenario where we go into next season ready as ever to stand toe-to-toe with the League's best.
From a fairly abject season, some might say it's difficult to see how we could have asked for a happier conclusion.