A Shelfy penned production.
On the back of a painful series of dropped points against Burnley, Chelsea and those who must not be mentioned I thought it about time to look forward.
We have a lot to look forward to, a winnable tie against Dortmund for a place in the last eight of Europes Elite competition this week, a new stadium, maybe next month and the summer transfer window where I am confident we will see some new faces.
I believe Poch has a genuine dilemma with the squad, and I am not talking about the restrictions on foreign players nor the homegrown quota, which do undoubtedly cause making acquisitions more difficult. The dilemma is where do you find better players than we have for a price we can afford (both transfer fee and wages). If you look at our results over the past few years we have been one of the best teams in the PL. Second and third place finishes each year behind a different champion shows a good level of consistency at a high level of performance, we have had more than our fair share of cup semi-finals too. Close but no cigar as they say.
The reason for mentioning recent performance is to highlight that there aren’t many teams doing much better than us. I think in the last three or four years only Man City have accrued more points than us. That means other teams don’t have better players (on the whole) than we do (again not including City), which makes it hard to pick up talented players that are definitely going to make an impact. Sure each team has a star or two (like Zaha at Palace) but realistically we are not going to get players like him in.
Younger players doing well in the lower leagues has been a good source of players for us e.g. Dele but it can be hit and miss. A cases in point that has been discussed recently is that of Ryan Sessengon, Fulham’s wonder kid and the next Gareth Bale, all based on tearing up trees in the championship. Fast forward to today and the poor kid looks just like Bale did when he first joined Spurs and now he can’t even make Fulham’s first team on a regular basis. For every great hope there are many great failures.
So Poch’s dilemma that I speak of is whether to stick or twist. Last Summer ‘stick’ seemed to be a good idea. We had a young but maturing squad who had played some fantastic football in patches and looked like they were developing into world beaters (games against Madrid fall into that category) but of course, as young teams often are, they were not quite consistent enough against the very best teams to pick up silverware. I suspect Poch believed in this group and this group probably believed in themselves and once the post World cup lack of preparation syndrome was out of the way the boys started to fire on all cylinders (6-2 against Everton and a couple of other good thrashings given out around that time and the 3-0 against Dortmund).
Then it went a flat, very flat and last week Poch conceded that we were out of the title race and that is where the dilemma comes in because even if the group is maturing and even if they are getting better as a squad as they spend more time together, I think the belief that they can win the league has gone. Unless we win the Champions league (a long shot that even I don’t really expect – though we have a chance!) then I don’t see how the same group of guys sitting in the locker room in August can believe that they can win the league. They will need to see a couple of new faces that they believe are upgrades on what we had this season or they will be defeated before they start.
Belief has been one of Poch’s mantras, ‘anything is possible in football if you believe’. I don’t I believe that, but I do believe that winning isn’t possible if you don’t believe. The players are not stupid. They have seen the evidence of how far short they are (not very far it is after all ‘fine margins’) and how much progress they have made and can easily figure out if the gap is too big to close next season. In my opinion they would have to ignore reality to believe they could win the league next year, they say doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. So unless of course Poch’s can work his magic (he’s magic you know) and make them believe the new stadium is equivalent to a new signing (which I suppose it might be, after all look how we dominated in our last season at the Lane).
I’m not buying that however, because I think something else has to change if we are to win it all so sticking is not an option this Summer. Even if a couple of players that are really only a small upgrade in standard compared to the ones we already have come in – then the ability to believe, to have hope will be restored.
If we don’t refresh at least a little, we may go backwards because I believe a part of what has propelled us forward and had us punching above our weight is the very same belief that Poch instilled in this group a couple of years ago. Without that belief then that little bit of extra effort to grab a late winner might dissipate and we could be right back to mid table obscurity.