Picture via wonker's Flickrstream
Being a Tottenham Hotspur fan has rarely been a passport to an easy ride, but their fans must, more than ever, be wondering what the point of their devotion really is.
Had a virus not overtaken the team on the verge of Champions League qualification three years ago they might have been contemplating a vastly different landscape, but what the last few days seem to have made clear is that playing in the European tournament that made a legend of Tony Parks is a frustrating nuisance best to be avoided, which could explain their defeat in Sunday's League Cup final given that victory would only have qualified them for the damn thing again next year. For isn't it clear that UEFA's consolation cup only distracts proper clubs from the "this year, definitely" pursuit of the Champions League? Unless of course, your short term objective is simply survival in the Premiership. Given the all consuming need to achieve that you have to question why Harry Redknapp didn't rest key players ahead of Wednesday's vital six pointer at home to Middlesbrough.
You begin to see where Juande Ramos went wrong, though. Winning the League Cup last spring, seen by many who don't understand the game as a triumph, was only going to overburden the club with unwanted fixtures against box office unfriendly opponents. Perhaps all his best strikers were sold because he couldn't otherwise be trusted to deliver the club the series of unspectacular mid-table finishes it craved while it bided its time before pouncing on Champions League prime time at the expense of a wounded Arsenal. Once a man who properly understands the modern English game was at the helm it was obvious that the departed should be returned from their safe houses, except that one seems to have got stuck in Manchester.
While Spurs grapple with this long term strategy, however, Aston Villa and Everton have rushed headlong past them while West Ham, also, are now close to being sucked unwillingly into the dangerous vortex of the UEFA cup from which Villa themselves only escaped this week by throwing each other overboard, leaving them free to focus on the pursuit of a glorious fourth, or maybe even third place league finish.
The bottom line seems to be that the only goals any Premiership club will wholeheartedly commit itself to are qualifcation for UEFA's senior competition and the avoidance of relegation. Given the widening financial chasms pushing the first out of reach while rendering the second almost a formality it's hard to see a future for Tottenham, or even Hammers, fans that involves anything other than middling league seasons differentiated merely by slightly varying amounts of prize money and punctuated by purposefully half-hearted efforts in knockouts where any success comes more by luck of the draw than judgement. Spurs fans, in the depths of your souls, is that really what you got into football support for? Maybe Sunday will eventually be remembered as the moment when Tottenham's followers became the first English supporters to snap out of it and get a bit cross about the self-perpetuating stalemate into which our top flight football appears to have sleepwalked.
"Spurs are on their way to Wembley, but we'd swap all that for finishing tenth..."