Tottenham can't shed 'nearly men' label and convert talent into trophies
Tottenham Hotspur are working hard on that reputation of being nearly men. They nearly won at Inter Milan, nearly won at PSV, nearly reached the FA Cup final, nearly made a big title challenge. But they lost in Milan, drew at Eindhoven, came up short on Monday against Manchester City, blew their FA Cup lead at Wembley against Manchester United in April, and finished 11 points behind Leicester in the Premier League race three seasons ago.
No one is more aware of these failings than the players.They keep saying this talented team has to convert potential into silverware. So why haven't they?
The affable manager, Mauricio Pochettino, has done a fine job in North London to make Spurs top-three regulars. But now in his fifth season in charge, he has yet to prove he can be a ruthless winner in the mould of a Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho or indeed Jurgen Klopp, who once beat Bayern Munich to two Bundesliga titles while at Borussia Dortmund.
Pochettino has come up short in the Champions League, in particular. The top teams find a way to win. Spurs have made a habit of finding a way to lose, as they did against Juventus at Wembley last season having drawn the first leg 2-2 in Turin.
Tottenham just cannot seem to close the show. Is it because Pochettino lacks a winning mentality or has it become a psychological barrier for his players? Nobody can really come up with an answer.
But it's not just coincidence or bad luck. Teams have a DNA and, like it or not, this group always have it in them to squander good positions.
The club's failure to make a single signing in the summer and the slightly embarrassing delay to the opening of the plush new stadium only adds to the air of frustration hanging around White Hart Lane.
Yet this is a team with a goal machine in Harry Kane, a posse of top defenders, the pace of the reborn Lucas Moura and the craft of Christian Eriksen.
Right-back Kieran Trippier was a revelation at the World Cup (he can be forgiven his defensive mistake against City on Monday night) and Ben Davies or Danny Rose are perfectly acceptable options on the left. But is there enough effective cover in this squad, compared to Manchester City or Chelsea? No.
Even goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has become an issue. The captain has been a wonderful servant but is going through a strange period on (and off) the pitch. Even his World Cup win with France featured a terrible howler in the final. For Spurs, he has been erratic of late, the red card at PSV costing the team a desperately needed win. Lloris is an intelligent and articulate ambassador for the club, but you have to worry that his drink-driving conviction has affected him more than he might have imagined. It may be time for Spurs to spend on a more reliable keeper.
Former Tottenham and England star Jermaine Jenas probably hit the nail on the head in his recent column for the Daily Mail when he said: "I think they're lacking generals, the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard when at Chelsea, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand in Manchester United's great era or Fernandinho and David Silva at Manchester City now. Experienced players whose mentality won't waver under pressure."
Tottenham's last title-winning team in 1961 had just such characters in Danny Blanchflower and Dave Mackay, while in the Cup and European triumphs of the 1980s it was Steve Perryman.
But the season can be salvaged. It is late October and Spurs are still in the title race. But do even the most dyed-in-the-wool Spurs fans really believe they can lift the crown?
The Manchester City match on Monday underlined fairly clearly that Spurs are still some way short of the champions in terms of quality, depth and consistency. Capable of brilliance on its day, this team just finds too many potholes to be backed, even with someone else's money.