A little over three summers ago I fell madly in love with an Englishwoman. She invited me over on a whim. I made myself instantly available. She didn’t own a television. She made Mexican food. We talked poetry and film and art. She asked me relationship questions with her set of tarot cards. Dele Alli carved a half volley out of thin air away at Palace, and I fell in love with Tottenham Hotspur again. I presume it’s immediately obvious which of these affairs endures.
The goal most pundits used to denote how truly Spurs have come full circle, in the four years of the Pochettino project, is Harry Kane’s free kick at Aston Villa in 2014. He was a different player; we were a different team. No one would have guessed a perennial goal-scorer was in the making, nor the sort of balls-out, no-prisoners attacking side that many now firmly expect to compete for the Premier League title.
On Saturday, Kane tucked away the third and final goal for the comeback victory against Villa at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium; with a second touch and low corner placement only rare men are born with. City had just spanked West Ham for five – in 24 hours, United would demolish Chelsea with four counter-attacking daggers. You can always count on Tottenham for a bit of late drama, but I found myself disappointed at all the devastations of the league’s opening weekend – unimpressed, even, by how high up the table most of the big clubs were already soaring. Alan Shearer essentially told a studio panel that it was up to Tottenham, fucking Tottenham, to undo City and Liverpool’s prospects for another two-horse race.
It’s a dizzying place to be. Amongst a contending elite buoyed year-on-year by billionaire owners and entrenched legacies, Spurs dare to toss elbows around with an assortment of young’ns that had Jermaine Defoe posters on their walls, mildly glamorous transfer market acquisitions who seem at least a little shell-shocked, and Christian Eriksen’s mood. If there remain excuses to be made for European football, the Premier League remains very much a patronising theatrical display for the haves and have-nots. Sky Sports loves to tell the world how television revenue makes all the top-flight sides wealthier – true. The English may pillage Europe now, whilst (ironically) doing everything politically possible to exit the mainland. But that doesn’t mean West Ham and Norwich can suddenly compete for top-tier talent, or even earn the same amount of money for just showing up. Tottenham have clawed and scratched and tackled and, fuck it, Kaned their way into the conversation: a process whose slowness couldn’t be more adequately exemplified than by the Paolo Dybala transfer saga last week.
If Spurs were City, or even United, they could have easily thrown a hundred million at a drama starring the brand new headache of image rights, Dybala’s supermodel wife and Spurs’ transfer committee. These fine gentlemen were also in Spain and Lisbon, trying to juggle the possible financial repercussions of simultaneous deals for Giovanni Lo Celso and Bruno Fernandes.
One transaction seemed to hinge on the other, or on the club losing its best playmaker in Eriksen. People will refer to Spurs as title contenders, and mock them when they spend an hour one-nil down to Villa at home; but the North Londoners simply don’t have the luxury to, say, wonder if Harry Maguire’s really worth all of £80 million. I hate that Norwich got smashed on Friday; that Newcastle caved to a lukewarm Arsenal performance, like a good mid-table side should; and that an earnestly constructed Chelsea team earned nothing for a stellar first half demonstration of the full press. I hate even more that Tottenham Hotspur, alone, represents any and all underdog hopes for Premier League glory. It’s such an awful lot to ask of Kane’s heart, Eriksen’s want-away wizardry, and Ndombele and Lo Celso’s debut seasons. Of Pochettino’s genius, in the face of a brutal and imbalanced market for talent.
I didn’t notice all the through-balls that Englishwoman played me, that day away at Palace. She wore short shorts. She dithered a lot. I spent several hours in her bedroom that afternoon and didn’t latch onto a single pass. I missed the game itself. Some kindred soul uploaded grainy footage of Dele’s chest control, effortless swivel, and sumptuous volley onto Facebook. The conditions were hostile, the points were non-negotiable, and nothing short of three points would sustain any ambitions for the title.
That was the moment I realized Tottenham, fucking Tottenham, were all the way in now.