EPL TALK: Floundering Spurs are entirely at fault for demise

Once again they have reverted to their tragi-comical "Spursy" persona, with grand delusions but no coherent plan

Tottenham stars Son Heung-min and Harry Kane after losing 1-6 to Newcastle United in the English Premier League.
Tottenham stars Son Heung-min and Harry Kane after losing 1-6 to Newcastle United in the English Premier League. (PHOTO: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

SPURS are not just being "Spursy". They have become a caricature of Spursy, a Saturday Night Live sketch entitled, “What It Means to be Spursy”, a joke of their own creation.

The memes, gifs and gaffes already flood phones and social media platforms. The Spursy nature of their latest implosion, losing 6-1 at St James’ Park, left their players wandering around like lost children. In these extreme, satirical circumstances, it’s impossible not to hear Chandler from Friends, looking down from the away end and shouting, “Could they be any more Spursy?”

To be Spursy is to adhere to universal truths that are not truths upheld by the rest of the universe, such as Tottenham Hotspur are a top-four club. They are not. Tottenham are worthy of title-winning managers like Antonio Conte. They are not. And Tottenham deserve a permanent seat in a European Super League. They do not – and stop giggling.

But that’s only the first stage of being Spursy, which is similar to the grieving process, except the stages are different. Grief brings denial. Being Spursy brings delusion. There is nothing to deny because there’s nothing to see here. It’s all good. Bring on the Champions League!

There’s a fair bit to unpack here. First, there’s the manager. In a magnificent example of being truly Spursy, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy hired a coach with the kind of shelf life usually associated with yoghurt and then expected the new man to build for the future. Conte doesn’t recognise a future beyond the current trophy cycle. He sees a squad. He sees gaps. He expects them to be filled accordingly.

In the short-term, he did it himself, bringing his silicone gun to training sessions and drilling Tottenham’s dandies until they collapsed, vomited or threw up, in no particular order. Conte took a ragtag bunch of underachievers into the top four last season – leapfrogging Arsenal along the way – in an astonishing, immediate reversal of fortune that feels all the most remarkable now. But it’s usually the first part of his impatient plan.

The second involves money. A pre-season transfer kitty of around £160 million may feel like a suitable reward of securing an unlikely qualification for the Champions League, but the funds being lavished on individuals at Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and even Newcastle United made Tottenham look cheap (and very Spursy).

Levy can hate the game, but not the player. Conte’s modus operandi was well established – and largely successful at previous clubs – and the Italian’s insistence on buying final products rather than kids was always at odds with a club that has long kept an eye on the potential resale value of transfer targets.

Tottenham’s hierarchy might argue that such a prudent spending model has built one of the finest stadiums in world football, balanced the books and retained the services of a homegrown colossus up front. It’s just that Conte has more trophies in his cabinet than Spurs and Harry Kane combined in the last 20 years.

Put simply, Levy hired the wrong manager. Again. Or, at the very least, Levy hired the right manager, but expected Conte to follow the wrong scouting and recruitment programme, one that was entirely alien to the Italian’s process in different European leagues.

Tottenham Hotspur manager Cristian Stellini looks on during their 1-6 English Premier League defeat by Newcastle.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Cristian Stellini looks on during their 1-6 English Premier League defeat by Newcastle. (PHOTO: Reuters/Scott Heppell)

Chaos amid random managerial changes

Being Spursy in the boardroom inevitably leaked onto the pitch. The Newcastle debacle was only the latest example of a half-cocked, neither-here-nor-there approach to squad building. Conte has always favoured three at the back, but he had little choice at a club short on centre-backs. Interim coach Cristian Stellini fancied a clean slate and went for a back four – Tottenham’s first since January 2022. It was a bold statement of intent.

Tottenham conceded five goals in 21 minutes.

Could there be anything more Spursy than sacking a manager after the relationship is irretrievably broken, only to promote the toxic manager’s right-hand man as an interim replacement? Levy has effectively removed Emperor Palpatine and asked Darth Vader to keep an eye on the Death Star.

No wonder they were quivering on the pitch, lacking direction, focus, squad depth and any kind of tactical plan and just hoping to avoid eye contact with Stellini in the dressing room, in case he starts dropping them to the floor, one at a time.

According to the latest betting odds, Luis Enrique is 3/1, Vincent Kompany is 4/1 and Brendan Rodgers is 6/1 to succeed Conte in the permanent job. The odds are close because the betting companies are as uncertain as the Tottenham boardroom. Enrique, Kompany, Rodgers and even old favourite Mauricio Pochettino – he’s currently 10/1 – are at different stages of their coaching careers with diverse styles and resumes.

No one has the first clue about what’s coming next. Or who. It’s very Spursy.

And in the chaos, the players both flounder and flourish. In terms of attitude, they might be compared to a tech billionaire. They pretty much do as they please. They should be stopped or removed – they are obviously making a mess – but there’s no succession policy in place.

Indeed, the current HBO series Succession features privileged individuals utterly convinced of their talent, value and worth to the industry. The series could be renamed Spursy.

Tottenham players flounder in a fashion that would precipitate their removal under Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Mikel Arteta. But they flourish because they are not working for any of the above, only a club that lacks the financial impetus to replace or upgrade them.

Conte’s lost the dressing room battle, but he’ll win the PR war. History will vindicate him (if the Newcastle loss hasn’t already). Spurs are a drifting club filled with drifters, carried along by a relentless Son Heung-min (most of the time) and an icon addicted to misplaced loyalty.

Kane’s outstanding solo run and finish had the air of a neglected puppy desperate to be stroked, to be recognised and appreciated. He is recognised, but the appreciation is turning into something distasteful, a cross between complacency and indifference. Tottenham are banking on his humility to keep him manacled to a club that no longer merits his service.

But Kane is not a loyal servant. He’s a lone violinist on the Titanic. He’s still doing his job properly, but his employers are not worthy of such virtuoso performances anymore. He should break free from the rabble, find a lifeboat and save himself.

Being Spursy has ruined another season, for Kane and Tottenham, but only one of them deserves it.

Being Spursy has ruined another season, for Kane and Tottenham, but only one of them deserves it.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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