Tottenham's future is bright and Premier League title is within reach
LONDON -- Amid the fanfare, the postmatch pitch invasion and parade of legends -- and yes, it did rain on Tottenham's parade -- Spurs bade farewell to White Hart Lane having made some kind of history. They did not deliver the Premier League title, with Chelsea claiming that Friday night at West Bromwich Albion, but by defeating Manchester United 2-1 in the old stadium's final game, Spurs ensured that they would finish as runners-up, a position they have not secured in the top flight since 1963.
For all the misplaced talk of Spurs stumbling down the stretch, Mauricio Pochettino's team have taken a step forward this season and finishing second is tangible evidence of that. It does not come with ribbons attached, but it is an achievement nonetheless, and Pochettino is building a team at White Hart Lane that is as impressive as the new stadium currently emerging next door to the soon-to-be demolished old stadium.
What happens next depends on how the team-building continues under the guidance of Pochettino, but with Spurs having waited so long to be champions -- they haven't won the league since 1960-61 -- there will be an element of psychological strengthening that must be done by the manager.
In the moments after Spurs signed off at the Lane, Pochettino was asked whether his players would be able to overcome the negativity surrounding their temporary move to Wembley while the new ground is completed. After all, Spurs saw their Champions League dream die at Wembley this season with defeats to Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen. Their brief Europa League campaign ended with a 2-2 Wembley draw against Gent, while Chelsea put them to the sword in last month's FA Cup semifinal; it's clear there is an issue that must be addressed in the minds of Pochettino's young players.
"Next season is so far away, but it is true that Wembley will be our home," Pochettino said. "It has been difficult for the team to find the balance between playing at White Hart Lane and Wembley, but next season, we will change things in our mind, and Wembley will be our home."
Spurs will have no concerns at Wembley. They will miss the unusual camber of the White Hart Lane pitch and the close-knit atmosphere within the stadium, but Pochettino now has too many top-class players to worry about their minds being affected by suggestions of a Wembley jinx. Their victory against United showed just why Spurs should have absolutely nothing to worry about next season and beyond.
Until recently, the visit of United to White Hart Lane would be a story of Spurs playing nice football but losing to Sir Alex Ferguson's hardened and experienced trophy winners. Ferguson famously once admonished his players at half-time while losing at White Hart Lane, saying "Come on lads, it's Spurs" in reference to the club's notoriously soft centre. United heeded the pep talk and went on to win.
Spurs used to be all style without substance, but those days are gone, with Pochettino adding steel and determination to his team. And against United, they displayed their current strengths by coasting to a 2-1 win that was much more emphatic than the scoreline suggests.
Tottenham had the best players on the pitch in every department, and the mark of their progress is that none of the United starting XI would get into Pochettino's team. United would take more than a few of Tottenham's players, however, but such is the upwards trajectory of this Spurs team that it is inconceivable to think that Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris or Toby Alderweireld would want to swap North London for Old Trafford in terms of furthering their careers.
Spurs and Pochettino are onto a good thing, and it just requires patience -- and the odd astute addition in the summer -- to make them favourites for the title next season. Chelsea, with an older squad and one that's benefited from the lack of European football this season, have the benefit of title-winning experience, but Spurs have the youthful exuberance and obvious quality throughout the team.
What they do lack, however, is big-game nous: players who have been there, done it and won it. Pochettino has rarely turned to such players in the past, choosing instead to place his faith in youth, but for Tottenham to take the next step, the addition of an old head on the pitch might be the key to going from second to first.
Last season's near-miss and their small step forward suggests that the experience and knowledge is already growing, with Spurs close to being ready to climb to the top. But they have no reason to look elsewhere for glory or success. The stadium next door is proof of the club's bright new future, and the challenge for the team now is to make sure that, when they move in in 2018, they open the doors as Premier League champions.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_