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If Spurs do well in the Premier League they should eventually start winning cups

Weekly football philosophy from Soccer boffin Kevin Pullein

Spurs have not won a cup under Mauricio Pochettino but their record has still been good
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On Monday I read this headline: “Pochettino’s attitude to cup competitions won’t stop Tottenham being seen as serial failures.” Tottenham had been knocked out of two cups in four days but I was still taken aback.

The article underneath, I should say, was balanced and made its points fairly – I had no quibble with it – but I could not stop thinking about the headline. Usually headlines and articles are written by different people.

I see Tottenham as a serial success.

In each of the previous eight seasons, I believe, Tottenham ranked sixth in the Premier League for wages. I know they did in the first seven seasons and suspect they did last season.

In none of those eight seasons did Tottenham finish lower in the Premier League than sixth. In all but one season they finished higher. At the end of the last three seasons they were in the top three. And after nearly two-thirds of this season they are third.

We can take this analysis a bit further.

I worked out how many points Tottenham could reasonably have expected in each of those previous eight seasons – that is to say, I compared their wage bill to others in the Premier League (using estimates for last season) and established how many points a wage bill of that size normally buys.

Then I calculated the difference between the number of points they could reasonably have expected and the number of points they actually got.

Between 2010-11 and 2014-15 Tottenham overachieved by an average of eight points per season. Across the last three seasons, 2015-16 to 2017-18, they overachieved by an average of 22 points.

And although they have not won a cup their record in knockouts has also been good. This is Mauricio Pochettino’s fifth season as manager. In four of those five seasons they reached either the final or semi-final of the FA Cup or League Cup. And when they were beaten at any stage it was usually by a team with a higher wage bill – once each by Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, three times by Chelsea.

The most recent defeat by Chelsea was last Thursday on penalties in this season’s League Cup semi-final. On Sunday, it is true, they were knocked out of the FA Cup by a team with a lower wage bill, Crystal Palace. But despite resting some players from a team already depleted by injuries and an international call-up they were still unlucky to lose.

Both sides had a penalty. Palace scored, Tottenham missed. Those kicks could easily have turned out differently. Kieran Trippier is not Tottenham’s regular penalty-taker but he is a set-piece specialist.

And Georges-Kevin Nkoudou failed to score with two shots from close range in space after a clever pass from a free kick by Trippier. He would not always fluff such opportunities. The fairest outcome probably would have been a draw and a replay.

Perhaps a stronger line-up would have deserved and got even more. But I think Pochettino was right to prioritise another top-four finish in the Premier League and qualification yet again for the Champions League. He said: “The most important thing is being consistently in the top four and playing Champions League. That is going to help the club make the next step.”

This is why.

Most of Tottenham’s regular starters this season were signed after Pochettino became manager. He will have played a part in their recruitment. So will others. And probably everyone was at least a bit lucky that so many signings turned out so well.

With a combination of good work and good fortune Tottenham got players who were worth more than they were paid when they arrived. When that happens a club have two choices. Either they pay the players more or eventually the players move on.

The first thing has started to happen. And if Tottenham keep qualifying for the Champions League they should be able to pay even more to the players they already have and offer the going rate as well to transfer targets who might be as good or better. Tottenham’s revenue this season could overtake Arsenal’s. This season and last Arsenal were not in the Champions League.

Tottenham’s wages could creep ever closer to those of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Pochettino has said: “In the last four or five years we’ve been fighting in different ways to achieve what the clubs needs, to be in the level of Chelsea, United, City, Arsenal or Liverpool. People wish we could win some trophies. But, being realistic, we are a team not built to win titles still.”

Never mind the Premier League – what sort of teams win the FA Cup or League Cup? Let us look at the ten seasons from 2008-09 to 2017-18.

The FA Cup was won ten times and the League Cup ten times, a total of 20 trophies. Five were won by Chelsea, four by Manchester City, four by Manchester United, three by Arsenal and one by Liverpool. Seventeen of the last 20 cups were won by the teams with better finances than Tottenham.

Wigan, Swansea and Birmingham also won once. Anyone can win a cup if everything goes their way. But if Tottenham consistently finish in the top four of the Premier League they will become a team who consistently have a fair chance of winning the FA Cup or League Cup, even if in the early rounds they rest players.

Critics can be fickle, though. Winning a cup might not satisfy them. When Arsene Wenger used to say that Arsenal’s priority was to be in the Champions League he was told that fans would prefer a trophy. Then Arsenal won the FA Cup three seasons out of four and afterwards critics complained that Arsenal were no longer in the Champions League.

And, for fans, watching players parade the FA Cup or League Cup are not the only possible joys. Many Tottenham fans cherish memories of having been able to follow their team in the Champions League to the Bernabeu and Camp Nou.

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Pochettino was right to prioritise another top-four finish in the Premier League and qualification yet again for the Champions League
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