A blow from Dele Alli sends Lucas Moura into Ajax’s penalty area. A left kick later, and the Brazilian sends an entire fanbase into a state of delirium.
Moura’s second-half hat-trick has just completed one of the most famous European comebacks of all time – after falling 0-3 with less than half a game to go, his sixth-minute goal extra time has just sent Tottenham Hotspur to their very first European final.
Talismanic manager Mauricio Pochettino tearfully embraces his staff and players. As the fifth anniversary of his arrival at Spurs approaches, the Argentinian has moved the club from the Europa League to Champions League regulars. Overwhelmed by emotion, he falls to his knees.
17:04 BST. September 26, 2021. London. More than two years later.
Harry Kane drops to his knees as Bukayo Saka gives Arsenal a three-goal lead over their rivals with barely half an hour of play.
As stone-faced manager Nuno Espirito Santo watches, gazing at the cannon of a third straight 3-0 league loss to another London club, some Spurs fans have already started heading for the Emirates exit Stadium.
A consolation goal from Son Heung-Min in the finals made the score slightly less embarrassing, but Spurs were completely embarrassed by an Arsenal side who had started the campaign with three straight losses.
In just over two years, Tottenham has gone from the happiest night in recent history to the worst fate imaginable – being swept away by their biggest rivals.
Spurs ultimately failed in that 2019 Champions League final, losing 2-0 to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in Madrid, a result many have since referred to as the team’s breaking point.
Still, the damage was done long before that night, with Spurs currently paying the price for what appears to be a lack of long-term planning.
The nostalgia is never stronger than in times of wrestling, and rarely a day goes by right now that Spurs fans don’t remember the squad that scored 86 points in the 2016/17 season. – a tally that would have seen them win the league in five points over Leicester the year before.
Unfortunately for Spurs, an endemic 93-point Chelsea season of Antonio Conte denied North Londoners a first Premier League crown, but fans felt that under Pochettino the club were on their way to success. With the right investment, Spurs could finally cross the line.
The following season, Spurs rioted in a 4-1 dismantling of Liverpool. Nine of the eleven players Pochettino started that day lined up for the Champions League final against Liverpool in Madrid two years later.
For Liverpool? Just four.
Naturally obscured by this incredible Champions League run, it’s easy to forget how poor Tottenham’s form was in the second half of the 2018/19 season.
After a great start, the end of February marked the start of a seismic collapse – Pochettino’s side have won just three of their last 12 league games, scoring just six and placing in the top four on the last day of the season.
They weren’t the first and won’t be the last to embark on a dazzling cup race despite a below par championship form. Chelsea’s two Champions League triumphs in 2012 and 2021 were marked by sixth and fourth places respectively, far from the national pedigree of the so-called European champions.
However, it was clear at the time that Spurs were in desperate need of a restart.
Pochettino had done wonders to transform Spurs from a fun squad of runners to one that fought for the title for two consecutive seasons between 2015 and 2017, but two years later he was overseeing an aging squad which he had made the most of it. .
The plan had already been laid out by their eventual conquerors Liverpool, who had shown the potential glory that could come from sharp company and strategy.
Having held a similar position to Pochettino’s first-team Spurs a few years before, the clever reinvestment of sales costs from Raheem Sterling and Phillipe Coutinho into Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and others had turned Klopp’s squad into a national and European team. central.
In contrast, Spurs did not buy any player before this 2018/19 season.
“When you talk about Tottenham, everyone says you have an amazing house, but you have to put the furniture in,” Pochettino said, days before that famous night in Amsterdam.
“If you want to have a nice house, maybe you need better furniture. And it depends on your budget if you’re going to spend the money.
“Now it’s about creating another chapter and having a clear idea of how we’re going to build this new project. We have to rebuild. It’s going to be painful.”
An edifying tale
And it was painful.
In November, after a miserable start to the season, Pochettino was sacked and replaced by former Chelsea hero Jose Mourinho.
Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani Lo Celso arrived but Spurs had lost two experienced first-team players, Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier.
While a rebuild was needed, Trippier and Eriksen were far from over in terms of age, and it is a cruel irony that the two have since won their domestic leagues in Italy and Spain respectively.
A move for Paulo Dybala has collapsed dramatically due to a heart-wrenching complication over image rights, a failed transfer that would have served as a huge statement of intent.
Bruno Fernandes, now one of Manchester United’s main men and one of the best players in the league, was also reportedly a key priority for Spurs that did not materialize.
It remains to be seen whether Ndombele, Sessegnon and Lo Celso will benefit in the long run for Spurs, but the damage was already done.
Granted, they may not have the financial muscles that Chelsea and both Manchester clubs regularly flex, but a series of mediocre recruiting windows have seen Spurs fail to capitalize on the momentum created by Pochettino.
The summer’s Kane saga served to sum up Tottenham’s stasis.
After seeking to dive overboard a sinking ship on a yacht bound for Manchester City, the failure of this movement to materialize has led the Englishman to take stock of this campaign so far. Having scored 166 goals in his career, Kane has yet to find the back of the net this season in the Premier League.
If Kane’s poor form persists, there will undoubtedly be many in the Spurs hierarchy who will regret not taking advantage of the forward when they have had the chance. There is an alternate universe where Spurs have embarked on a Liverpool-inspired, Coutinho-style rebuild with Kane funds, but that’s not that timeline.
As the club’s slogan says – “Dare is do” – Spurs are paying the price for their failure.