LONDON (Reuters) - Mauricio Pochettino is fond of referring to Tottenham Hotspur’s incredible journey to last season’s Champions League final as the end of a chapter in the club’s modern history, and a compelling one at that.
It seemed ambiguous when he first said it towards the climax to the last memorable campaign.
Was he saying his five-year ‘project’ had reached its natural conclusion with Tottenham established amongst the elite of European football? Or was he suggesting Tottenham were ready to step up to the next level?
The early stages of this season, played out to talk of disharmony in the squad, support the former theory.
And after a 7-2 drubbing at home to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, it is beginning to feel, not so much like an exciting new chapter, as much as the epilogue to Pochettino’s reign.
That Bayern were magnificently clinical as they ran riot in the rain is beyond question. The five-time European champions would have been a handful for any team on the night and for 45 minutes Tottenham went toe-to-toe in an absorbing duel.
What happened after the break when Tottenham capitulated and winger Serge Gnabry, a former Arsenal reject, scored four times represented arguably the worst day in Pochettino’s admirable managerial career.
Tottenham’s magnificent new 62,000-seater stadium was supposed to be the stage for the glory nights.
Instead, it now has the dubious honour of hosting club’s worst home defeat in a major competition.
The inevitable backlash began even before the final whistle sounded. Fans took to social media to declare Pochettino’s magic had expired while former Tottenham winger Chris Waddle described the current malaise at the club as “a shambles”.
‘Crisis’ is a much over-used word in English football and Tottenham are certainly not in one, however hysterical the reaction to the horror show on Tuesday.
After all, look where they were before Pochettino arrived in 2014. They were a club enviously watching London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea rack up Champions League memories.
Runs in the Europa League and League Cup were the limit of their ambitions apart from one season under Harry Redknapp when Tottenham reached the Champions League quarter-finals.
Under Pochettino they have qualified for the group stage for four successive seasons and have gone deep into the Premier League title race in two of his five seasons at the helm; all despite spending a fraction of their rivals.
But something does not feel right.
Midfielder Deli Alli, who two years ago scored twice in a 3-1 home win over Real Madrid and apparently had the world at his feet, has plateaued, Christian Eriksen appears distracted in the final year of his contract and hinted earlier this year that he wanted to leave.
Cracks have also appeared all over Tottenham’s once fortress-like defence with Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld labouring.
Tottenham lack intensity and have perfected a nasty habit of throwing away leads this season, surrendering two-goal starts against Arsenal and Olympiakos Piraeus and losing to Leicester City after leading for most of the game.
Pochettino, who hinted last season that the battle to keep Tottenham punching with the big boys was taking a toll, looks world weary, lacking his usual easy charm.
The concern among many Spurs fans is that the best manager they have had for a generation could decide to cut his losses, having been repeatedly tipped for the main job at the likes of Real Madrid who would give him heavier financial backing.
Former Spurs playmaker Rafael van der Vaart questioned the mindset of some of his players.
“They think they’re better than they are,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live. “You have to be really proud to play for Tottenham.”
Pochettino appeared stunned by Tuesday’s debacle but said now was not the time “for shouting” but standing together.
Tottenham still have every chance of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League and are sixth in the Premier League despite their equal worst points haul from seven games in a decade.
Wins in upcoming Premier League games against Brighton & Hove Albion and Watford and Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League will mute the white noise.
Any more mishaps, though, and Tottenham may well be looking at a new chapter — possibly one without Pochettino writing it.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge