With the 2020/21 season over and done with, I think we can all agree that we’re thankful the season has come to a close. Of course Tottenham Hotspur fell way short of their expectations. At the start of the season, there was potential for Spurs to finally win that coveted trophy they have been searching for. With José Mourinho in charge, Spurs fans knew that while it would likely end in flames, there was at least a serial winner in charge who could get this club finally over the line.
In Mourinho’s history, there has long been a theme that his second season in charge reaped the most benefits. In Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, in charge of a team with a lot of question marks, the team punched above their weight class en route to finishing second in the Premier League.
After Tottenham brought in the reinforcements of Gareth Bale, Sergio Reguilón and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg among others, the belief was there for Tottenham to make that next step. Instead, the Mourinho experiment truly blew up in everyone’s faces. Results did not go their way, players saw their confidence significantly dip and the club severely underestimated the prospects of joining the European Super League while disrespecting their fans in the process.
And while a difficult summer awaits, there are some takeaways that are worth discussing from Sunday’s 4-2 result over the Foxes from Leicester City. I want to preface by saying that as a new writer for Cartilage Free Captain, this article may make me sound like an optimist. Perhaps we may just need some optimism after all.
1) An impressive win despite the circumstances
I think in spite of all of the extracurricular activity — from the future of Harry Kane to that of many other Tottenham mainstays — Sunday’s 4-2 win at Leicester was quite a result for a Tottenham side that truly was limping to the finish line. While there have been frustrations, credit has to go to Ryan Mason, who came in and did a job the club would be happy of, capturing 12 out of 18 possible points.
The past few weeks have been somewhat of a circus for Spurs and Mason showed class and unquestioned professionalism in his press conferences, emphasizing the importance of the club and its identity. This was a win against a Leicester City side that had all of the world to play for as a win would have qualified them for next season’s Champions League, with Chelsea losing to Aston Villa on the day.
Despite conceding two penalties, Tottenham looked up for it for a majority of the game. They played on the front foot and took the game to Leicester. In the final 15 minutes, substitutes Bale and Lucas Moura picked apart a Leicester defense who gave license for a lot of players to go forward. Spurs dug deep and got a result despite the many challenges they were facing, and despite everything it was a good way to end a bad season.
2) Sissoko, Aurier and Ndombele missing out in the squad
When the lineups were released, many noted and wondered about the absences of Moussa Sissoko, Serge Aurier and Tanguy Ndombele. Just two years into his deal, the future is still bright for Ndombele and few are expecting Spurs to offload a player they thought so highly of when they acquired him a few summers ago. However, the absences of Sissoko and Aurier only made the writing the wall that much clearer — it seems likely both will not be back with the club next season.
It was reported that Aurier missed out on Sunday due to an illness, but it was a curious injury that had kept him out for a few of the past couple of games. Aurier has been linked to a move away for quite some time now, so this could have been Tottenham’s way of preventing any possible injury.
Sissoko is not getting any younger. With two seasons remaining on his current deal, Tottenham could look to offload the 31-year-old in an effort to raise cash to improve areas of more significance this offseason.
3) A last dance for Kane, Sonny, and Dele
After the full time whistle, Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli publicly embraced in a poignant moment captured by TV cameras. With all of the talk and chatter about the departure of Kane from Spurs over the past few days, the hug between three of Spurs’ most historic players in recent memory pretty significant.
Looking at Instagram posts after the match, there was a clear signaling from Spurs players that this really seems to be it for Kane. And if it is it for the now three-time Golden Boot winner, what a career it has been. Well-beyond Spurs’ best player of the modern era, the boy from Chingford once again surpassed all odds and exceeded expectations in a difficult season, becoming the third player in Premier League history to finish with the most goals and assists in a single season. With Kane’s jersey gift to future star Dane Scarlett, the phrase ‘Best Wishes’ was used, suggesting that a separation could be near.
4) Bale hinting at a possible return
When Bale came on, there appeared to be a sense of happiness and an “I got it, don’t worry” type of exchange between the Welshman and coach Chris Powell. From minute 68 onwards, when both Bale and Moura came on, Spurs were all over the Foxes. Bale’s contributions led to a brace and three points.
After the game, Bale’s thoughts on his future were somewhat cryptic and perhaps kept a door open for a return to Tottenham once again:
“It just has to happen after the Euros,” Bale told Sky Sports.”I know what I’m doing but it’ll just cause chaos if I say anything now.”
With Wales set to kick off their campaign in the Euros in just a few weeks, Bale obviously has other priorities than club football at the moment. But with Real Madrid in a state where accruing cash and offloading assets is important, bringing back Bale could be a wise business and on-field investment, especially if the creativity and goal-scoring threat of Kane were to leave.
In his loan, Bale, who really did not seem to find a consistent form of fitness all season, bagged 16 goals and three assists in 34 matches. Despite a small sample size, Bale proved that even at 31 years of age, he is still among one of the most unique talents on the wing and has one of the more deadlier left foots in the world.
5) The ideal way to utilize Bale
This game embodied the way how teams can still optimize a player of Bale’s ability. In the Premier League, starting a player like Bale each match truly is not the best way to utilize him.
Against sides of lesser value, such as Wolves last week or Sheffield United a few weeks ago, where Spurs can take the game to opposing teams, Bale can make things look easy and put teams to bed. Against sides who have talent and can promote a more pragmatic approach for Spurs, Bale is a player that can come on and make that difference. Having Bale is like having an ace up your sleeve, giving a side the ability to turn to off of the bench to bring on that ability who can manufacture goals. There’s some question now as to what his plans are now that his loan has expired, but if Spurs can convince him to return, they will be the better for it.
6) A silver lining of the UEFA Conference League
Lastly and most importantly, Spurs qualified for Europe. I get that it is not the glamorous Champions League the club has coveted for so many years, but it provides Spurs another avenue to bring home a trophy. Could the Conference League final next season be known in Spurs’ lore as ‘that night in Tirana’?
While the travel and fixture constraints this competition may place on Tottenham could be difficult, Spurs cannot complain about qualifying for any chance of European football. Surely, there is an argument to be had that Spurs not qualifying for Europe and focusing solely on the league and domestic cups may have been the wiser approach. But it would have meant that Spurs finished behind Arsenal and had one less prospect of winning a title.
Many may see this competition as a nuisance for next season, but I truly see it as a positive. Spurs will undoubtedly go through a ton of change over the next three months. The expectation is for the squad to go into a serious transition over the summer, with a number of key names coming in and out. Add in that a new head coach will take the reins for Spurs, it is worth noting that this competition could provide a unique opportunity for extra gametime against lesser competition for Tottenham to fully buy into their new approach and philosophy. And if not? They can always play the kids.