Tottenham Hotspur valiantly denounced the perception that they are in decline on Sunday. They rallied to beat Manchester City. They resisted the club that would want to plunder them for Harry Kane.
And yet, on Thursday, there will be evidence of the downfall of the powerful; how far and how fast, too. City were Champions League finalists this year. Tottenham held this status in 2019. They are now the first members of the Europa Conference League. The first English club to lift a European trophy, when they beat Atletico Madrid in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963, could become the first champions in a competition no one really wanted to participate in.
A distant scenario offers a bit of spice. Jose Mourinho, the two-time Champions League winner who was hired to take Tottenham into the tournament that was his playground, is instead in the Conference League with his new employer, Roma. But the playoff round is populated by the kind of minnows Spurs rarely encounter; they might struggle to place clubs like Fola Esch, Kairat, Flora and KuPS on a map. As a reminder, they represent Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Estonia and Finland respectively.
Spurs’ hosts aren’t that obscure; certainly not to their Portuguese manager. When Nuno Espirito Santo started his managerial career with Rio Ave, Pacos de Ferreira finished third. Promoted in 2019, Pacos came in fifth last season; it was one of the best in their history, but then they lost their manager, Pepa. Their European adventures are brief: They held Fiorentina at home in 2013 but lost in Northern Ireland last month to Larne, a club from a town of just 18,000, before reversing that 1-0 deficit at home. .
But, for a club that has tried to join the European elite, the Super League is not the case. It doesn’t have to be said either, it wasn’t the last taste of Tottenham’s continental competition, when they lost 3-0 to Dinamo Zagreb, whose manager Zoran Mamic had received a prison sentence. . This prompted comments that the team whose manager was in prison were better trained than the one led by Mourinho.
From now on, Tottenham’s objective will be to avoid further embarrassment. Nuno’s decisions will be reviewed for non-football reasons. Kane has not traveled, having been named to Spurs’ UEFA side, although that doesn’t make him tied for other European competitions. Tanguy Ndombele and Serge Aurier received clear indications that they were not part of Nuno’s plans when they were left out.
Nuno relied on a core of regulars when he led Wolves in a marathon to the Europa League quarter-finals two years ago. Tottenham have more players, which provides more opportunities for rotation at the start of a European race that could include 15 games.
Spurs 1 Man City 0 player ratings
One of Spurs’ summer rookies, center-back Cristian Romero, made a brief debut in the playoffs against City. The others, winger Bryan Gil and goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini, could receive their greetings.
Matt Doherty and Harry Winks, two who featured prominently in the preseason but were placed against City, could come in, but as Nuno quickly descended on most of his favorite players and others came back more late after the international summer duty, there are established personalities who might take the chance to impress the new manager.
Meanwhile, as Kane is the only senior striker who specializes in the books, it could mean 17-year-old Dane Scarlett is replacing Son Heung-min in attack.
The priority for Nuno will be a different kind of meeting, when he revisits Wolves on Sunday. This may represent a more glamorous destination than Tirana, where the Conference League final will be played. The winner will qualify for the Europa League next season. Even that, however, would only remind Tottenham of what they lost.
Updated: Aug 19, 2021, 3:58 am