The Tottenham Cycle

Tottenham has been plagued by a seemingly endless cycle of mediocrity as it struggles to find lasting solutions to decades-long problems.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Since 2008, Tottenham Hotspur, located in North London, have not won any major trophies. But their woes stretch further than that. That 2008 League Cup win was their first trophy since their 1999 League Cup title. In other words, in over 20 years, Tottenham have won just one major trophy. On top of that, Spurs have never won the Premier League and last won the domestic league in 1961. And yet, England’s “big six” has just enough room to squeeze in this club whose trophy cabinets are dustier than some League Two sides. So one must ask: How can a club this rich and famous fail to win trophies?

Since they were bought by the ENIC Group and Daniel Levy in 2001, the club has become more profitable but with little on-field results to show for it. This takeover is still a point of frustration to fans today. Levy, known to be a tough negotiator and frugal in transfers, has invested considerably less in the transfer market than other clubs despite growing profits. Compared to the millions which England’s other big clubs have spent in trades, Tottenham’s biggest and most uncharacteristic transfer was for Tanguy Ndombele for €62 million in 2019. Overall, however, Tottenham have taken a relatively risk-free approach to the transfer market, with most of their notable signings being either free or in the $10-20 million region, which, especially for the club’s size and today’s market, is low.

Under Levy’s ownership, the club has gone through the same cycle for decades. The season before they were inherited by Levy, Tottenham unremarkably placed tenth in the Premier League. For the first couple of years of new leadership, Tottenham slowly got worse, dropping to 14th place by the end of the 2003/2004 season. But an influx of money during the next two transfer windows led to Tottenham spending a combined total of almost €50 million, allowing them to climb back to ninth and a respectable fifth the year after. Despite even more investment over the next two years, due to a poor coach appointment and overpriced and overrated players, Tottenham came crashing back down to 11th in the 2007/2008 season, fulfilling a complete cycle.

But then, the cycle was once again in a forward momentum from the 2009/2010 season to the 2016/2017 season. Slowly, under the leadership of managers Harry Redknapp and Mauricio Pochettino, the team got better, culminating with a second-place finish in the 2015-2016 season. Despite this upward trend, investment from Levy fell, with ENIC and Levy expecting results on as low-budget basis as possible.

However, the ultimate shot at achieving greatness came under Pochettino with their memorable Champions League run in the 2018-2019 season. Beating the likes of Dortmund, Inter Milan, and Manchester City, Tottenham had a genuine shot at the coveted trophy. Despite the first-leg semifinal defeat against Ajax, Tottenham punched their ticket to the all-English final against Liverpool thanks to a godlike away hat trick from forward Lucas Moura, with the winning kick occurring with seconds to play. However, their run quickly came crashing down with a 2-0 defeat, and their string of losses and draws at the end of the Premier League season left them with no momentum for the following season.

This lack of momentum meant that once again Tottenham were going down the cycle, with Pochettino sacked in November 2019 due to Tottenham struggling at 14th in the Premier League. And since his departure, Tottenham have been in free fall, going through three permanent coaches, an acting coach, and a caretaker coach. Bringing in José Mourinho, or the “Special One,” to try to fill the gap that Pochettino left only brought a sliver of hope through the Carabao Cup final before Tottenham came crashing back down with Mourinho being inexplicably sacked days before the final, leading to a Tottenham loss.

Following him came a short and disastrous stint with Nuno Espírito Santo at the beginning of the 2021/2022 season, which resulted in Tottenham falling to 8th place after 17 games. Levy, evidently encouraged to once again pursue tried and tested coaches, appointed manager Antonio Conte to do damage control for the rest of the season on a defeated team. Yet, somehow, Conte was able to achieve resounding success, restoring Tottenham to fourth and bringing them back to European football. However, fans’ views of the year quickly turned from an extraordinary showing to a stroke of luck, with Tottenham continuing their descent last season by finishing eighth, their lowest finish in almost 15 years. That catastrophic season, marked by Conte blasting the team as “selfish” and “not showing spirit,” has underwhelmed fans and only cemented Tottenham’s status as a mediocre team, far from the team that finished second in 2017.

Tottenham look to be at the lowest point in their cycle, having their work cut out for them this offseason. The biggest issue is that the best player on the team, striker Harry Kane, is tempted to leave Tottenham for more club success. But who can blame him? Kane, now 29, has done everything for Tottenham, breaking their all-time scorer record this season and now at 279 goals. Despite coming up from Tottenham’s youth academy, he has seen managers come and go, with no success to show for it. With enough personal accolades under his belt, anyone would be extremely tempted to leave for club success, which Kane has experienced none of at Tottenham.

And when looking at the rest of the team, even more problems become apparent. Forward Heung-Min Son, often considered the second-best player on the team, had an extremely disappointing season, putting in only 10 goals this season compared to his whopping 23 last season which won him the Golden Boot. A performance like this makes fans wonder if this season is an unfortunate fluke or a sign of worse performances ahead. On top of that, the midfield is neither cohesive nor creative, while the defense is inconsistent and injury-prone. Even the goalkeeping this year was problematic, with longtime captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris past his prime, making careless mistakes and recently stating his intention to leave the club.

With the vacant managing director position still a recurring problem, Tottenham have been marred over and over by the same problems: bad coaching, bad management, a lack of investment, and poor performance. This cycle, recurring for decades, has led to Tottenham being put down as a second-hand team.

Yet, like always, there is some hope. Levy seems to be reluctantly putting in more investment into the team, and Ange Postecoglou, a promising coach with a more exciting and attractive football playstyle, has recently been named manager. While relatively untested having only managed clubs in Australia, Japan, and most recently Celtic in Scotland, he has impressed at all teams he has managed, offering the potential for Tottenham to finally break the constant cycle of second-rate results. And Tottenham, like in their Champions League run, have constantly shown us that they can defy the odds and our expectations. Will they follow their cyclical nature and reach new heights, or will they fall further through the floor under Postecoglou? For this club, only time will tell.