MADRID (Reuters) - A debut appearance in the Champions League final and a top four finish in the Premier League is a scenario most Tottenham Hotspur fans would have happily signed up to, if offered prior to this season.
Yet, after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool, there was a sense that Spurs had perhaps missed a chance to write a truly memorable chapter in their club’s history.
During the journey to Madrid, Spurs, who struggled in the group stage, eliminated Borussia Dortmund, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and the exciting Ajax Amsterdam.
But Liverpool took the glory with their sixth European Cup but they were significantly below their usual high standards and Spurs created the better chances, despite also being some way below par.
“It’s hard to take the positives right now but over time, players, staff and fans, when we look back at the journey together... this isn’t the end,” said Spurs midfielder Dele Alli.
“We have to keep working, keep improving and take the feeling we have now of disappointment, that hurt and use it to drive us on,” he added.
Certainly there is nothing to suggest any finality to the growth of Spurs under their Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino but where exactly do Tottenham go from here?
With no new signings and the added complication of a move to a new home stadium, this year could easily have been written off as a season of transition for the North London club. Instead it has been a period of raising hopes and opening up new possibilities.
Pochettino drew comparison with the progress that Liverpool have made under Klopp in the past four years.
“We’ve been playing against a team that three or four years ago was being designed to reach finals, not necessarily to win them, but to get to them,” said Pochettino.
“We are a team that has priorities that is shared with the stadium. We looked at the quality of our players in the final but it would have been incredible to win today and lift the trophy.”
Incredible because Klopp’s project has been backed by heavy and astute investment in the transfer market that has allowed for an impressive improvement year-on-year. Pochettino’s progress has been achieved without lavish spending on players.
“It would have been something that would have surprised people because in the last five years Tottenham prioritised their stadium and spent zero on transfers,” said Pochettino.
“We’re not the smartest in the class but not the stupidest either. Hopefully it will be the beginning of a very successful period for the club.”
Pochettino’s messages about his and the club’s future have not always been clear but what he surely expects now is for chairman Daniel Levy to find the resources to let him strengthen the squad and make a real challenge to Liverpool and Manchester City.
“Now is the time to stay calm, change the mood, for sure we are going to have time to talk,” he said.
“We need to be clever now. Always after a painful situation like this it’s about building the success and to build the next period in your life”.
The lack of transfer investment does, however, conceal the fact that Spurs are no longer a selling club. In the past, Tottenham struggled to keep hold of players of the quality of striker Harry Kane and midfielder Christian Eriksen.
That increased resilience in the market now needs to be built upon with some additions of quality if Tottenham are to truly challenge City and Liverpool on the home front.
The midfield area, in particular, could benefit from some increased competition for players, such as Alli, who have kept their place in the side despite some spells of disappointing form.
The demands of competing on two fronts this season certainly took their toll on Pochettino’s side towards the end of the campaign and an increased strength in depth is a first priority.
But with one of the most progressive managers in the game, some bright young talent, and a state-of-the-art new stadium, Spurs have built the kind of foundation for the future that plenty of clubs with greater pedigree in Europe would be envious of.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar