Manchester United won two trophies last season, as did Barcelona. Real Madrid won four, while PSG claimed three. Bayern Munich, Juventus and Chelsea were all crowned champions of their respective domestic leagues. Manchester City are making up for finishing empty-handed in the most emphatic way possible. Even Arsenal won an FA Cup.
When the Deloitte ‘Money League’ was published earlier this week, two teams did not belong. Nine of the top 11 had reflected their status in the economic elite with the necessary success on the pitch; in basic trophy terms, Liverpool and Tottenham had not.
It was something Arsene Wenger alluded to earlier this week. “You celebrate some teams who have not been in a final for 25 years and yet you kill us even though we have won the FA Cup three times in the last four years,” said the Arsenal manager. It hardly required a trained eye to read between the lines.
The following evening, his side reached their seventh final in eight seasons; Liverpool and Tottenham have made a combined five in the same period. Both are rightfully lauded for their managers, their players, their football and their philosophies, but it was easy to see Wenger’s point.
Philippe Coutinho played in two finals in five years at Liverpool; of the club’s two goals in those games, he scored one and assisted the other. The Brazilian might have insisted that he be allowed to scratch his Barcelona itch anyway, but a prolonged Anfield stay which delivered no team honours did little to persuade him otherwise. Fans’ Player of the Month awards and places in the Premier League Team of the Year are merely the scraps that brilliant players outside the elite feed off until those sitting at the top table come calling. Just ask Luis Suarez. Or, in Tottenham’s case, Gareth Bale.
The comparisons with Harry Kane are obvious, and yet Spurs are in a position of power that few can ever boast in the same situation. Coutinho – and Suarez and Bale before him – developed a close bond with his club, but Kane is playing, scoring and excelling for his true footballing love. If there even is a price you can put on that, it is astronomical.
“From the Coutinho point of view I think he’s been very professional in the six months he has played this year,” Kane said earlier this week. “And look, Liverpool have got a good offer from Barca and accepted it, so I wouldn’t say they’re powerless. But I can see why if a player wants to go you would let him go.”
It would take a distinct lack of progress and a considerable leap of faith were 2017’s most rebellious footballer to ever leave home. “We want to start winning trophies – that’s the aim,” he said in the same interview. “As long as the club keeps doing that, then I’m happy here.”
Not that his manager agrees. In August, Mauricio Pochettino said it would “mean nothing” to him if Tottenham won the League or FA Cup. In September, the club’s objectives were to compete for the “two real trophies”.
A club without silverware since 2008 – and a squad and a manager who have never experienced that particular glory – can hardly pick and choose. Asking players to invest in the project is folly if the rewards are always intangible.
Kane leaving is difficult to envisage, whatever the circumstance. The same cannot be said of his supporting cast. Tottenham cannot dream to keep Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli if their trophy drought extends much further than a decade. Those intrinsic emotional ties do not work with Antwerp-born 28-year-olds, or Danes who started out in the Eredivisie.
Which is why the FA Cup takes on increased importance this season. Tottenham are spinning plates with ‘Premier League’ and ‘Champions League’ written on them already – “two real trophies” – but neither are realistic targets. Spurs should not rest players against Juventus to ensure they are fresh for the FA Cup, nor vice versa. This is a squad that, if managed properly, can cope with the excursions of all three competitions at once.
Just as Kane led the line against Wimbledon in the third round, he should do so again away at Newport in the fourth. Then once more in the fifth, the quarter-finals and beyond. Tottenham were omitted from our list of five Premier League clubs who should take the FA Cup seriously, but this is an opportunity they cannot afford to ignore.
Tottenham are the only member of the Premier League’s top six whose squad is comprised mostly of players who have never won a trophy. Ten of their first-teamers have claimed silverware at some point in their careers, while 13 – including Kane – have not. The split is 14-10 for Liverpool, 17-6 for Chelsea, 17-7 for Manchester City, and 23-3 for Arsenal. All 26 of Manchester United’s first-team squad have won at least one honour. Kyle Walker was derided for citing his desire to “start picking up silverware” when explaining his reasons behind joining City. No-one is laughing now, nor will they be if anyone considers the same exit strategy in the future.
“Football is not only to win trophies,” is the message Pochettino chooses to send, but it is one his talisman has already contradicted. “The aim of the game is to win trophies and that’s what we’ve got to try and do,” Kane said earlier this month. Tottenham ought to listen to their goalscorer over their manager on this occasion.