For years, the quadrant of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool made up the top four in the Premier League. Then, along came Manchester City, backed by wealthy owners, to break the status quo, ousting Liverpool in the process.
But one club who’s largely unrewarded efforts at Champions League qualification can earn them the title of ‘English football’s nearly men’ is Tottenham Hotspur.
The North London club enjoyed a successful run in Europe’s top flight under Harry Redknapp in 2010/11, reaching the quarter-finals. However, it would be their first and final involvement.
Spurs have come close on countless occasions over the years, finishing fifth five times in the last decade. Last season, new manager Mauricio Pochettino led his side to within six points of a top four finish, pipped to the post by Manchester United.
In truth, it was regarded as a relatively successful season considering the competitiveness of the league and Pochettino showed signs that his tutelage may eventually result in the club’s return to the bright lights of the Champions League.
However, Pochettino recently played down their chances of a top four finish next season, eluding to the summer spending of their rivals.
You just have to look at the investments made by Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal this summer. We have five teams above us when it comes to spending. We finished fifth last season but our project is different to theirs.
For Totenham, the focus is now on developing young talent, as apposed to splashing the cash. Hailed during his time at Southampton for giving youth a chance, with the likes of Callum Chambers, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse playing regularly for the Saints, Pochettino appears the perfect fit for Spurs.
With a new stadium on the way, vast expenditure is something that will remain unfeasible for a number of years to come and so the importance of a successful youth system has never been more pertinent.
We have young boys, mainly English people and what we are trying to do is create a team for the future, to set the base of the following years.
On the face of last season, the indications are that Pochettino will bring a much needed change in this regard. Despite the pressures that come with a debut season as manager, a number of youngsters were handed roles in the first team squad, many of which grabbed their opportunity to shine with both hands.
Last season saw the surprise emergence of Ryan Mason as a fixture of Pochettino’s side. The 24-year-old had endured years of injury troubles and a number of loan spells before being afforded the opportunity to prove himself in the starting line up.
And that he did, making 36 appearances last term. Mason’s impressive form for Spurs led to his inclusion in the England senior squad in March and should he go on to become a regular international, much will be owed to his current manager.
Mason wasn’t the only academy product to take his chance either. Nabil Bentaleb, who, admittedly, was introduced by previous manager Tim Sherwood, became an important part of the Spurs midfield alongside Mason.
The Algerian youngster found himself entrusted with starts in 35 games last season, ahead of the since departed Benjamin Stambouli and Etienne Capoue. The lack of additions in that area of the park only serves to highlight Pochettino’s faith in the 20 year old.
After his arrival from Sporting Lisbon last summer, Eric Dier was also on the end of plenty of first team opportunities, playing 36 times for Spurs in his debut campaign.
The 21-year-old started the season at right back in the absence of the injured Kyle Walker but appears more likely to forge a career at centre back.
Despite the arrivals of Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer, Dier is still expected to play his part this season and the former Everton youth loanee has been tipped for a bright future in the game.
The most notable emergence from Spurs’ campaign, Harry Kane started as third choice under Pochettino, behind Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado.
That soon changed and after impressing with his goal-scoring exploits in the early stages of the Europa League, Kane became the focal point of Tottenham’s attack.
The 22-year-old’s rise to prominence included a 31 goal haul, two international caps, the club captain’s armband against Burnley and the award for the PFA Young Player of the year.
This summer has seen Pochettino’s philosophy further reaffirmed with the introduction to first team action for January signing Dele Alli, as well as youth players Harry Winks and Josh Onomah.
Their impressive showings in preseason will no doubt tempt their manager into allowing them similar Premier League breakthroughs to those of last season’s success stories.
At just 19, Alli had established himself as one of the best players in League One. The England youth international scored 16 goals from midfield last season as MK Dons gained promotion to the Championship. Spurs paid £5 million to prize him away from Karl Robinson’s side and the early signs suggest its money well spent.
Alli has impressed in recent warm up games and his duel with former Tottenham hero Luka Modric in this week’s friendly with Real Madrid displayed plenty of promise.
Virtually every top English club were credited with an interest in his services and had he joined the likes of Chelsea or Manchester United, Alli would have likely found chances hard to come by. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if he cements a place in Pochettino’s first team next season.
Harry Winks, yet another central midfielder coming through the ranks, has also enjoyed a good preseason. The 19 year old has displayed similar qualities to Ryan Mason with his passing range.
Winks has made just one appearance for Tottenham’s senior side but next season should see the midfielder gain more experience. The Europa League will again provide a platform for Spurs’ youngsters to impress their boss and Winks is expected to be a regular on Thursday nights.
Josh Onomah, born in North London, has been touted as a potential star of the future. The 18 year old has also attracted unwelcome interest from Manchester City this summer.
Best deployed as a playmaker due to his eye for a pass, Onomah can also play out wide. Even avid Spurs fans concede that the youngster remains somewhat unpolished but their excitement surrounding his talents is nevertheless undeterred.
Others mooted as potential breakthroughs next season include Alex Pritchard and Cameron Carter-Vickers. The former has faced a similar path to Ryan Mason with a series of spells away from the club while Carter-Vickers is a young defender making a name for himself in the under 21 side as well as USA’s richly talented under 20s.
Meanwhile, a loan is expected for 19-year-old attacker Nathan Oduwa, with Dutch and Scottish clubs reportedly interested.
On top of a vast array of homegrown prodigies, Pochettino can also boast a number of potentially top class foreign imports.
Christian Eriksen is the most notable but others such as Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela, as well as the more senior Hugo Lloris and Belgian pairing Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, have all got the ability to play Champions League football.
Patience is a necessity over the next few seasons but with a bright young manager and an equally talented young squad, fans will surely be optimistic about their chances of future success.
If chairman Daniel Levy chooses, uncharacteristically, to wave any bids for his growing stars, perhaps Spurs’ identity as ‘nearly men’ will begin to disintegrate.