After stuttering to a frustrating end to their Premier League campaign last May, Spurs entered the summer both buoyed and burdened by having the best player in England on the team. Gareth Bale finally emerged to take his rightful place among the best players in the world, and hopes were high for Tottenham Hotspur.
But the crushing weight of expectation destroyed the season before it even got started.
The air was thick with narrative. The redemption of Andre Villas-Boas. The rise of Gareth Bale. The nearly team possibly overtaking its neighbors at last. Gareth Bale was turning into a global superstar, and with a giant billboard in Times Square, he became the face of the Premier League in America. Spurs moved quickly to reinforce the squad with record signing and Brazilian breakout star Paulinho. The stage was set for Spurs to finally shed the tag of underachievers.
And then Real Madrid came calling. They took the most expensive player in history from Tottenham, but somehow the world's expectations for the team stayed behind. The narrative, not to be undone by a minor thing like the departure of one of the world's best attacking talents, pivoted smartly to focus on Spurs £100m transfer kitty. Ignoring the real damage losing a player like Bale causes a team, all the talk was of Spurs' transfer bonanza. Rumors filled every paper. Every player was a possible target and every target was scrutinized.
By the end of the summer Spurs had sold Elvis and bought the Beatles. Top four? Top of the league. Nothing less would do for a team that had dropped Manchester Citian levels of money. £100m in one summer? That's not just Chelseaesque, it's grotesque. With that much money if Spurs don't challenge for the title it's a humiliating embarrassment.
And they didn't. And it was.
There were plenty of reasons why Spurs failed. The dual comedy acts in the manager's dugout being an obvious one, the players not living up to their pricetags another. But the backdrop of intense media scrutiny created a level of expectation not just for the fans, but for the players and the club as well--expectation that was so intense it was impossible to survive.
How can the team risk giving starts to Erik Lamela so he can adapt to the league? Spurs have to win games right now. AVB's defense is immaculate but the team's not scoring goals, Spurs have to start scoring goals right now. We had all spent so long hearing how good Spurs were supposed to be that when they weren't immediately excellent nobody knew what to do. Short-termism and quick fixes became the club's new credo, and it blew up spectacularly.
Fast forward a year, and Spurs are flying pretty well under the radar. The media has turned its forceful gaze further north to witness the drama unfolding at Liverpool and Manchester United, and have mercifully left unfancied Spurs alone.
In familiar fashion, Liverpool has sold the Premier League's best player to Spain for a massive fee. For Liverpool, Spurs are an everpresent reminder, a cautionary tale of the price of failure. With each new transfer, the question "are they doing a Spurs?" can't help but force its way through every journo's lips. Liverpool will have to balance the loss of Suarez with the introduction of a bevy of new blood, all while the media demands results. If Liverpool start to falter, expect a helpful push over the edge from the press.
Meanwhile at Manchester United Louis van Gaal has swung from savior to pariah so fast even David Moyes is grinning. In only two weeks we've seen a microcosm of Spurs' last season unfold at Old Trafford. The insane pre-season expectations have been savagely brutalized in the wake of immediate failure. Panic buys and knee-jerk responses are the only answers United can come up with in light of such vicious fury. Had LVG been given the three months he requested to sort things out, there's little doubt that United would have eventually turned a corner. But with his every word and movement under the microscope, any slip up is magnified to Hindenburg proportions. It's almost impossible to recover in such an atmosphere.
But down in North London, nobody expects much from plucky ol' Spurs. Most pre-season predictions had Tottenham all the way below Everton down in seventh. While Spurs fans may grouse and grump about this unfair treatment and lack of respect, it's the best thing that could have happened to the team. With the attention focused elsewhere, Pochettino can simply get on with the job.
Nobody seems to have noticed that Spurs have already brought in five players -- only two fewer than last year -- and with a few days left in the window and rumors still swirling it's entirely possible the team eclipses last year's influx. But what of it? Pochettino can throw young Eric Dier straight into the fire or leave the relatively wise old head of Ben Davies on the bench and it doesn't matter. He's free to manage the team as he sees fit without ink-smudged noses peering over his shoulder and second-guessing every decision. Spurs' massive "flop" Erik Lamela can come good without the weight of his price tag hanging around his neck, and perhaps even Roberto Soldado can shake his yips and find the back of the net. When nobody's expecting the impossible, anything becomes possible.
With fans and media all expecting the team to do no better than sixth, there's no better platform for a top four finish. Heck, we're already top of the league.