It was Game Six of the 1972 World Chess Championship. It pitted Bobby Fischer against Boris Spaasky. USA against the USSR, and the Cold War’s frosty atmosphere was never off the table. The best of 24 game series was locked at 2.5 to 2.5 and the eyes of the world were transfixed on those 64 squares in Reykjavik, Iceland. The world of chess agreed that such a dead-lock, arrived at largely through cautious chess, was soon to be broken. The tie was poised for someone to assert their dominance and strike a blow that would ultimately point a way to the World Title. The game was at a cross-roads.
Tottenham Hotspur now find themselves at such a situation. Since Mauricio Pochettino’s arrival their growth as a team has been captivating, their results extremely impressive. However, as their trophy cabinet would attest, not quite impressive enough. Next year must ultimately be crowned by a Premier League title to justify Pochettino’s project, but a plethora of problems must be overcome to meet that milestone.
The cranes, skips and demolition equipment currently leveling White Hart Lane pose the most obvious of these. Spurs’ home patch has been a fortress this campaign, its inhospitable environs and cauldron crescendos proving a daunting proposition for relegation battlers and title challengers alike. As early as mid-April, Tottenham had already won more points at home than ever, and in proceeding to easily account for Arsenal and Manchester United they would ultimately end the season having amassed 53 points at their London home. However, it is their 4-2 loss to Chelsea at Wembley, their London locale for next season, which could be more indicative of next year’s fare.
In playing their European home fixtures at Wembley, Tottenham notched up two losses and a draw from four games, an abysmal return. And all that before the aforementioned loss to Chelsea. Five games, three losses and three premature exits from cup competitions.
The calamaties of West Ham’s move from Upton Park are well documented. A myriad of teething problems gnawed into the club’s hopes of Europa League qualification and it wasn’t until May that the club seemed to accept the London Stadium as their new home. It’s no coincidence that it was the visit of Pochetinno’s troupe that ultimately roused such sentiment in the Hammers’ faithful. And therein lies another hurdle for Spurs to clear next year.
The fatal blow to Spurs’ last two title challenges were dealt by a London rival. Last year it was an emboldened Chelsea, this year a rejuvenated West Ham in an atmosphere so toxic the poison seemed to drip from the awning of the London Stadium. Other clubs don’t seem to be confronted by the vitriol reserved for Tottenham, Chelsea collected six points from West Ham this season, and so overcoming such caustic occasions appears to be a banana skin specifically reserved for Spurs. Spurs fans will hope that their crushing of Arsenal in April’s North London Derby are more indicative of what is to come. Spurs are clearly a top club on the pitch although they have more in common with Europa League sides than those they are currently brushing shoulders with.
While it feels trite to suggest that modern day footballers are underpaid, the pay-packet of Tottenham’s figures certainly appear light, relative to that of their title challengers. Dele Alli has been at the heart of much that was good about their season, with 18 goals and seven assists to his name. By contrast, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard made five assist all season, allied to a goal tally of 16. Two top class players, who have played consistently and at times tantalizingly throughout the season. Off the pitch however, their similarities fade. Alli took home £50,000 a week last year, while Eden Hazard was entitled to the weekly wage of £200,000.
In an open market like that of elite footballers, such disparities in wages between similar players in the same league are rare, and this could be the summer Spurs’ parsimony comes unstuck, primarily for two reasons.
Interest from abroad is the first of these. Players the ilk of the Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen are proven world class operators and can expect to be approached by European juggernauts eager to drastically raise the £75,000 wage both currently bag each week. In turn, the pressure on Spurs to match such wages will be immense Should they dissuade from doing so, motivation levels as well ass Tottenham’s league position would likely fall severely.
Equally, paying wages below the level of fellow elite Premier League clubs means Spurs may struggle to attract Europe’s best. Players that exhibit the tactical nous and technical brilliance of Antoine Griezman are rightly the envy of the Europe, but Spurs simply lack the financial firepower to pay the salary Griezman would demand, and if they did the entirety of their roster would be in line for massive pay-rises. Not a proposition Mr. Daniel Levy is likely to entertain.
Game Six of the World Chess Championship has ultimately rendered itself to be the most re-printed game of the entire Championship. As described by Dr. Anthony Saidy, the sequence of moves orchestrated by Fishcer was a ‘symphony of placid beauty’, ultimately crushing his Soviet adversary and paving his way to the title. Fischer exhumed a startlingly mastery of his craft even as the intense political and media scrutiny of Cold War threatened to derail his mental state. Spurs’ hurdles hardly embody quite the same global significance, but they will need to show similar levels of resolve to finish next season in ultimate glory.
Colm Egan, Pundit Arena