No place for EPL title talk at humble Spurs

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy in action with Tottenham's Kyle Walker.
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy in action with Tottenham's Kyle Walker.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • The last time Roma won the Italian Serie A football title, in 2001, in the weeks leading up to their coronation, most supporters did not even dare talk about the possibility of winning it.

They would not even say the word "scudetto", the regular expression to denote Italian champions, as if by command from the highest overlords of superstition.

They said "trukke trukke", a catchphrase that loosely refers to a thing.

It took on a life of its own. Everyone knew what they were talking about but nobody dared say it properly out loud.

The parable of "trukke trukke" perhaps strikes a chord at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham Hotspur are quietly enjoying a season of extraordinary improvement and promise. But hush - while they may be second in the table, this is not the time to make a racket about any big ideas.

The Leicester City whirlwind absolutely dominates the fairy-tale stakes, and rightly so. That suits Tottenham down to the ground.

Winning six games in succession, playing with a strategy and confidence that has all the players bringing the best out of themselves and one another, there is definitely a buzz around the place.

But being slightly under the radar is a very useful place for Tottenham to be positioned.

"We just want to stay as close as possible and our thing is to be humble," said midfielder Christian Eriksen, after Spurs clocked up another three points against Watford on Saturday .

Among the crowd at White Hart Lane, the sentiment was echoed. Mike Collett, an esteemed football reporter who has been supporting Spurs since 1961, was in among the faithful and noticed that, for all the fans' positivity and happiness, it was conspicuous that nobody would dare to get carried away.

"I have not heard anybody mention the word title," he said. "Nobody among my friends talks about it. I am not allowing myself to think we can win the league. We have had so many false dawns. It never happens."

The thing is, although nothing can match Leicester's title bid for improbability, the scale of Tottenham's achievement if their run continues to "trukke trukke" proportions would not be too far behind.

They have not had a league title win since 1961. Any of their fans who are able to recall the experience of watching Bill Nicholson's Double-winning team, inspired by such players as Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay and Cliff Jones, will be at least in their 60s now.

Even the chance to have a genuine shot at another title has not come along too often for Tottenham. Collett can sense something special is happening, though.

"I think this is the best team Tottenham have had since the early 1980s team that won the FA Cup twice. There is an incredible confidence in the team that we haven't felt for donkey's years," he said.

Tottenham's form, guided expertly by manager Mauricio Pochettino and a bunch of players who are following his instructions with aplomb, puts a new slant on traditional expectations.

Next on the agenda is Manchester City, reeling from the pummelling delivered by Leicester on Saturday. Tottenham made a statement with a comprehensive victory over Manuel Pellegrini's team in September and, arguably, they have upgraded their own style since then.

Of course, Leicester still have a five-point lead over Spurs and have no Cup distractions, while Pochettino has Europa League round-of-32 fixtures against Fiorentina and an FA Cup fifth-round match against Crystal Palace to juggle in the coming weeks.

All of this adds to the sense that Tottenham are in the background of any title conversations.

It has been a while since English football produced an unexpected champion - Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95.

Leicester might be the people's favourites but Tottenham do not mind doing their stuff in the shadows.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'No place for EPL title talk at humble Spurs'. Print Edition | Subscribe