Tottenham are a strange team. The first side to break into Sky’s ‘big four’ despite having no right to have risen from their mid-table obscurity of the previous two decades or so. They were the side to really threaten the comfort that Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal had in that top four.
Whilst City did the same, at around the same time, their rise was expected. Having spent millions on players since their takeover in 2008, people were prepared for them to inevitably make it to the top. People were prepared for that. However, what people weren’t prepared for was a Redknapp-led Spurs side, filled with players such as Alan Hutton, Sebastian Bassong and David Bentley to pip that City side to a top four place, taking Liverpool’s spot in the process.
Maybe this is why those clubs seem to have such a hatred towards us. The Tottenham side that they had previously deemed to nothing more than an average, mid table club doing their best to reach a European spot, was now a genuine threat to them. And it doesn’t appear as though they took well to that.
What the following years revealed was that Tottenham would consistently finish in the top six, but usually, for one reason or another would miss out on the top four. This, of course, was met with some obvious jokes from other clubs’ fans’, which was entirely understandable. Tottenham were the side that dreamed of the Champions League, only to fall short year after year. But it was only when Tottenham managed to shake their ‘Europa League club’ status, that a few rival fanbases’ insecurities became obvious.
After the departure of Bale, the ‘one man team’ narrative died. In came the seven replacements, and despite some mixed initial success, five of them eventually failed. There was unsurprisingly a lot of criticism as to how the Bale money was spent, but after a season this would be forgotten, as Pochettino arrived, delivering better results than any Spurs manager in recent history. With things looking positive for Spurs, people needed to create new narratives in which to mock them.
After bringing through and developing a whole host of young English players, Pochettino had created a side worthy of breaking into the top four once again, and that they did. However, a Champions League place and a record high league finish wasn’t celebrated like it was in 2010, as the season came to a disappointing end with a crushing 5-1 defeat to already relegated Newcastle allowing closest rivals Arsenal to finish ahead of them once again, whilst Leicester’s league title came as comfortably as it was surprising.
Despite a disappointing end, the season had been a good one for Spurs, especially the second half where their positive, stylistic football brought them plenty of results before they eventually ran out of steam. However, despite outperforming most clubs that season, Tottenham became the butt of the joke for ‘bottling the league’ to Leicester. People believed that despite never actually leading, Tottenham had somehow thrown the league away. Even Arsenal fans mocked Spurs for this, and they actually led the league at the halfway point, before finishing second to Leicester. If anyone bottled the 2015-16 League title, it was Arsenal.
Nevertheless, the bottling narrative continued.
After a second place finish to Chelsea, Tottenham seemed to be mocked even harder than the previous year. People laughed about Spurs ‘putting the pressure’ on Chelsea, whatever this meant. Chelsea won 30 of their 38 games to take the title, the most wins in any Premier League season. Spurs on the other hand bettered their previous league finishes and set a new club record for points in a Premier League season, with 86. Both clubs enjoyed good seasons, but Spurs were once again a figure of ridicule.
Never before had second place been seen so strongly as ‘the first loser’. Even if a team had been favourites for the league, only to lose it in the very last minute like United in 2011-12, they were never laughed at for their finish. Spurs won 12 of their last 13 league games in the 16-17 season, and played some quality football throughout it with a core of English talent, yet people were desperate to put them down. Spurs were being laughed by clubs’ below them for not being able to catch the team above them. They were being laughed at for things that had never been mocked before.
This brings us to diving. The most recent narrative to take shape. Fans of rival clubs are now heavily criticising and mocking Spurs for being cheats. Dele Alli has undoubtedly built his own reputation for this, it’s impossible to deny that. But he is probably the only one. It is now reaching the point where neither Dele, nor any other member of the squad can get fouled without sparking outrage at all. This is becoming evermore obvious.
Tottenham’s trip to Anfield was had enough drama and controversies to last a whole season, however when the final whistle was blown, the general consensus was that referee Jon Moss (and assistant Edward Smart) between them, got all the big calls right. But Liverpool fans were not happy. Van Dijk (along with many others) accused Kane of diving for Tottenham’s first penalty, which was subsequently missed. This view is an understandable one, as whilst there was contact, it was entirely initiated by Kane who planted his leg long enough to be caught by the onrushing Karius.
Whilst this is technically an attempt to con the referee, it is not uncommon. Strikers such as Jamie Vardy, Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero have all performed this act of deceit on numerous occasions, and have either been branded as ‘clever’, or have been given a yellow card only for the offence to be very quickly forgotten about. So, considering the sheer volume of high profile players trying this, why has it suddenly become an issue criticised so heavily?
Well, it’s because the masses needed a new narrative in which they could join together to convince themselves that Tottenham aren’t worthy of whatever praises or success they’re getting. Diving takes place week in, week out in football. Not only in the foreign leagues, but in the Premier League too. Raheem Sterling, Chris Smalling, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Jack Wilshere, Duncan Watmore, Ashley Young, James Milner, Danny Welbeck, Adam Smith, Daniel Sturridge, Marcus Rashford, Aaron Cresswell, Ross Barkley, Theo Walcott and Wilfred Zaha are all English (well, Zaha was) players that have been guilty of simulation over recent years. It isn’t just foreign players anymore, our home-grown stars are just as bad.
Yet, diving has only become a massive issue over the last few weeks apparently. “Kane and Alli will get away with it, because they’re English.” Forget nationality, Alli and Kane are being given a harder time for it than anyone else.
There were plenty of calls for the duo to receive bans for their actions. Calls from fans whose own players dive most weeks. Liverpool, who were furious with Kane and even Lamela (who went down after being kicked in the back of the calf from Virgil Van Dijk, which I’d assume hurts quite a bit), saw Firmino (a player who looked to have bought a penalty himself against Spurs last season) dive in their very next game against West Brom. Where were the calls to ban Firmino? Klopp wasn’t complaining about it then.
The fact of the matter is that when it comes to diving, every team has its culprits. It’s hypocritical of any manager to call out another team for diving, because it’s likely that their team has benefitted from it at some point too. Sam Allardyce, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger are all guilty of this. Criticising opposition players when their side happens to be on the wrong end of one of these decisions, yet constantly fielding players who are prepared to do the same. You’re either against it, or for it.
Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino got a bit of stick for seemingly being ‘for’ it. Pochettino claimed that trying to trick the referee is just a part of the game “Twenty, thirty years ago, we all congratulated a player when he tricks the referee like this.” The comments were, of course met with rival fans screeching ‘BAN HIM!’, or ‘FINE HIM!’ or ‘HE’S A DISGRACE TO FOOTBALL!’, but is the acceptance of simulation being a part of the game really any worse than only condemning it when it goes against you?
Last season, the balance of an FA Cup semi-final was swung in Chelsea’s favour when Victor Moses (who went on to get sent off in the final, for diving against Arsenal) threw himself over Son’s challenge. It was clearly a dive, despite Son’s poor decision to go to ground, but Pochettino refused to be drawn in and comment on this, as many managers would have. This is clear evidence that he accepts diving even when it costs his team a place in a cup final. His opinion on diving may not be the same as yours, but at least it isn’t riddled with inconsistencies and faux-rage, like many other managers’.
In fact, when you look at yellow cards issued for diving in the Premier League since the 2011-12 season, Chelsea, Liverpool, Sunderland and Man City have all received more than Spurs (who had Gareth Bale for two of those seasons), meaning that there is a clearly disproportional hatred for diving when it involves Tottenham player’s.
But is it right to criticise ALL diving? Or should it be accepted as a part of the modern game? The answer really isn’t clear. We all want the beautiful game to be fair and just. There’s nothing worse than when games are decided by incorrect calls or clear cases of cheating, after all, that’s why VAR has been brought in. But at the same time, those who have watched teams such as Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid will have seen how big European clubs are extremely adept at conning referees and have used this to their advantage for many seasons.
Juventus (Chiellini especially) are masters of the dark arts of football. They prey on the weaknesses of referees, going down while defending set pieces, constantly appealling decisions and accusing the opposition of every footballing crime under the sun in such manors that leave the referee no choice but to believe them. They do this because they exist within a footballing culture that allows them to, which in turn, gives them the advantages when they come up against teams who don’t. Potentially partly explaining their run in last season’s Champions League. We can demand nothing but honesty from English clubs, but it’s quite possible that it could require a somewhat less honest approach if we expect more European success for the country’s top teams.
Whatever the general consensus on diving is though, one thing is for sure: Once the whole debate dies down, a new one will form, with Spurs undoubtedly in the centre. Whether it’s the continued overemphasis on silverware, the failure of the England National team, or the re-emergence of the notion that Spurs are nothing more than a selling club, a new narrative will certainly take shape.
Teams are frightened of the big club that Tottenham are becoming, but no matter how many times they move the goalposts, it seems as though they’ll just keep on scoring.