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Being knocked out of two cup competitions in a week has Tottenham fans seeing deja-vu as another season of promise falls by the wayside

“Lads, it’s Tottenham.”

Alex Ferguson’s three-word team talk before a Manchester United game with Spurs is part of English football folklore.

“I thought please don’t go on about Tottenham,” said his captain, Roy Keane. “We all know what Tottenham is about, they are nice and tidy but we’ll ****ing do them. He came in and said: ‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’, and that was it. Brilliant.”

Mauricio Pochettino might have assembled Spurs’ best squad since the construction of the Berlin Wall, but this week they Tottenham-ed their way out of the two cup competitions they had realistic chances of winning in the space of four days, losing on penalties to Chelsea in the semi-final of the League Cup on Thursday night, before fielding a weakened team that capitulated at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup on Sunday.

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Tottenham, infamously, are the only team ever to have finished third in a two-horse race, collapsing 5-1 to relegated Newcastle on the final day of the 2015-16 season, the first time in three decades when they’d had even a scent of the title.

The last time they actually won the league was in 1961, when JFK was in the White House, Elvis Presley was top of the UK singles charts with Wooden Heart and colour television had yet to be invented. 

No club in English football has promised so much and delivered so little. Supporting West Ham or Everton would be an ordeal, but failure there is engrained and expected.

Tottenham on the other hand are nice and tidy. So nice and tidy that every few decades they actually look like they might win something, right up until the moment they meet someone who, as Keane would put it, “****ing does them.”

A few weeks ago we suggested on this site that Pochettino had effectively turned Tottenham into a late-Wenger-era Arsenal side, scuttling their most realistic chances of success by fielding weakened teams in the domestic cup competitions in an attempt to win either the league title, of the Champions League.

On Sunday Pochettino admitted as much. With Dele Alli and Harry Kane both injured, Spurs needed their senior players, but Christian Eriksen was rested and Hugo Lloris and Danny Rose were both rotated to the bench. Lloris’s replacement, Paolo Gazzaniga, palmed an early shot into the path of Palace’s Connor Wickham for the first goal, before Rose’s stand-in, Kyle Walker Peters, waved his hand in the air like he just didn’t care to give away the penalty that made it 2-0.

Kieron Trippier missed a penalty just before half-time and in the second half Spurs faded away, in more than one sense.

Becoming the next Arsene Wenger

“We are going to create a debate that to win a trophy is going to help the club,” said Pochettino afterwards. “I don’t agree with that. That only builds your ego. In reality the most important thing is being consistently in the top four and playing in the Champions League.”

He sounded eerily like Arsene Wenger, whose claim that fourth place was “like a trophy” rang hollow as were eliminated in the second round of the Champions League for six consecutive years between 2011 and 2017. The difference between Wenger and Pochettino is that during that time the former won the FA Cup thrice.

If a side as mediocre as Liverpool in 2005 can win the Champions League Tottenham might yet do likewise this year, but the chances are someone will “****ing do them” in the knock-out phase and that Pochettino will take one of the many jobs he’s been linked with in the summer, leaving with nothing to show for his five years in charge.

Because lads, it’s Tottenham.

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