“You Gooners are all the same, all you can talk about is your invincible season, what have you ever done after that?,” chided Harry, the 16-year old Spurs fanatic, sporting his extremely large Van der Vaart jersey that reached up to his knees. The young lad was having a go at his best friend Josh, who happened to be “a gooner.” Josh, the proud Henry devotee, had one comeback that always seemed to worry Harry, which was “when did Spurs last win the league?” But for once, Spurs fans around the world could counter with, “wait for this season to end, we’ll see who’s on top.”
Since '95, the year when the Spurs last finished above Arsenal at the end of the season, Arsenal fans have come to celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day, the day when it becomes mathematically impossible for Spurs to finish above Arsenal, but that day may not come this year. But that can not and should not be the priority for the North London Whites, who are second in the league and only five points short of table-toppers Leicester City. On the eve of an extremely successful season for the club, it is mandatory to draw comparisons to the Tottenham squad of 1960-61 which remains the most successful team in the club’s history.
Tottenham not only won the First Division football league that season, but also did a double by lifting the FA cup. This was a season when the league consisted of 22 teams, hence translating to more games in a year than the present league. With 16 games without a loss at the start of the season, Spurs stayed atop the table throughout the season finishing a good eight points ahead of Sheffield Wednesday, scoring a staggering 115 goals that season.
Bill Nicholson is considered the best manager Tottenham have ever had till date. If Mauricio Pochettino plans to come remotely close to Nicholson’s record, winning the Premier League might not be enough. However, no manager has achieved success overnight, and a finish in second place, if not first, is still an achievement par excellence as compared to the Spurs managers in recent years. While Pochettino is a proper football man like Bill, he is not cut out of the same cloth. Bill Nicholson, unlike the present Tottenham boss was a Spurs man through and through and has a deeper connect with the Tottenham faithful.
Having played as a wing back for Tottenham for 17 years, Nicholson made an astounding 314 appearances for the first team. He had become a Spurs hero even before he took over as manager, being part of the famous league-winning Spurs squad of 1950-51. The Spurs man made only one appearance for England and scored dramatically with his first touch. Sadly this solitary appearance and goal were his last for the national team as he was either injured or never picked for the squad again. Just three years after his retirement, Nicholson became the Spurs manager, and remained so for the next 16 years, winning the First division league once and the FA cup three times, amongst other important trophies.
Mauricio Pochettino is still in his second season with Tottenham Hotpsur, having spent only a tiny fraction of Bill Nicholson’s time at the club. Hailing from Argentina, Pochettino played as a central defender and has had a fair share of success playing for New Well Old Boy’s as well as Spanish club Espanyol. After retirement from professional football, Pochettino spent a good three seasons managing Espanyol before moving to Southampton before making the move to Tottenham. With a greater emphasis on defence and even greater importance on fitness, Pochettino led Spurs to a comfortable 5th position in his very first season. After a good pre-season and a somewhat successful transfer market, this season Pochettino has been able to push Spurs to a position where they are one of the primary title contenders.
Tottenham this season have a phenomenal squad with almost two players in every position. Apart from their individual talents on field, the competition for their inclusion in the starting eleven is what drives them to better themselves from game to game. In the 60-61 season, Spurs had the most lethal strike force amassing a massive 115 goals. Bobby Smith and Les Allen, then the strikers of Tottenham, were able to score 28 and 22 goals respectively. Playing a strange 2-3-5 formation, the five attacking players were also made up of left wing-playing Terry Dyson, right-winger Cliff Jones and midfielder John White. Scoring 12, 15 and 13 goals each, the trio further added to the attacking threat of Tottenham Hotspur.
A lot has changed since. With formations getting more defence-centric and moving to lesser number of strikers, the formation of the season seems to be 4-3-2-1. A team is considered excellent if it has at least three who have scored in double digits, a feat only Manchester City and Tottenham achieved last season. This season however, only Harry Kane has exceeded that mark for Spurs, and the second top-scorer for the team is yet three goals shy of the double-digit mark. Tottenham do not possess the fire power of the all-time great squad of 60-61. Despite the lack of goals, Spurs find themselves in the second spot and are gunning for the first. If Pochettino were to work on Tottenham’s finishing, maybe the young squad in time will get better and could replicate the feat in a few years.
One aspect where they have improved compared to their previous seasons is the defence. Spurs conceded 55 goals in that 60-61 season, and it was then the second-best defensive record only bested by Sheffield’s miserly 47. This season, however, they have conceded a fraction of that number (24) thus far. Surely with a more defensive-minded coach like Pochettino the fact that few goals have been conceded is no surprise, helping them build a strong foundation to launch their successful run. Hence, the defence deserves a lot of credit and has to be complimented if any success were to come their way.
The current Spurs team has amassed 61 points after 31 games have been played. When compared to the team of 1960-61, the figure is relatively small. The Tottenham squad finished the season with 66 points, however that was when the league rules stated that a victory was worth only two points. When calculated as per the current point system, the squad would have amassed a glorious 77 points with 12 games left for the season.
Although competition has gotten tougher over the years, with richer teams making a more prominent footprint in the English first division, one of the reasons why Spurs fared very well in 1960-61 was that they made sure they beat the top teams as well as all derby rivals. Except for a loss against closest rival Sheffield Wednesday, most of their losses came from close yet unfortunate games against a one-off team having a good day. Having either beaten or drawn against Chelsea, Arsenal, Fulham and West Ham, home as well as away, the Tottenham squad was able to get by the tough games picking up crucial points in important games.
The current Spurs squad in comparison has been no different. With just four losses they have had a fair bit of success against all top teams. However, with one derby loss against West Ham, Spurs are yet to face some of the big teams like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. Picking up points against these teams will be crucial if the team wishes to leapfrog Leicester.
Looking back at Spurs’ best eleven from the 60-61 season, we can surely say that the current squad are yet a work in progress if they wish to achieve similar accolades. But the fact that comparisons are being drawn to the best squad Spurs have fielded till date speaks volumes of the quality and ability that the current Spurs eleven possess. With just seven games to go, Pochettino will be hailed a great if he were to lead the team to its first Premier League title. However, with Leicester City holding a five-point advantage and seemingly an easier fixture list, it seems to be an uphill task. Finishing second will still be a step forward and armed with a group of youngsters, the team can surely achieve greatness. Whether they will be the greatest Spurs team ever is a question that can be answered only in the future.
Bale attempted 2.6 shots per game this SLL, while Benzema has attempted 2 shots.
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