Harry Kane said that losing at Wembley was, “the worst feeling in the world,” and he’s unlikely to find any argument amongst the Tottenham Hotspur fans. Two goals down and with their team entirely unable to penetrate Chelsea’s defensive shield, all hope ebbed away. Most of the Spurs supporters had left the stadium by the time John Terry lifted the trophy. En masse, they trudged for the tube leaving their cardboard Kane masks to disintegrate in the rain. But there were positives here, for those in the mood to look.
Deep in the bowels of Wembley after the game, Jose Mourinho made a point of praising Tottenham before he spoke about his own team. He singled out Mauricio Pochettino, claiming that, “nobody ever gave him anything for free.” He admitted that Spurs had, “given us a hard final, they made us be humble, they made us think strategically.” He knew, as the Spurs fans knew, that this was not as one-sided as the last half hour had suggested.
Mourinho had a gameplan, a risky gameplan, and it worked. The Kurt Zouma experiment did not backfire. The demand for the midfield to step up and press Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb could have left acres of space for Spurs to exploit, but it didn’t. If Christian Eriksen’s free-kick had been slightly lower, if Spurs had taken advantage of Zouma’s early uncertainty, if more had been made of that first half possession…ifs count for very little after the full time whistle, but both managers agreed that Tottenham were hardly swept aside.
Tottenham were also able to name five homegrown players in their starting eleven, an extraordinary total given the impatience of modern football. Not that anyone at Spurs could claim this was a result of deliberate policy. In the future, football historians will gape in awe at how poorly the Gareth Bale transfer fee was reinvested. Only two of those seven big signings, Nacer Chadli and Eriksen, started at Wembley. Another two, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado, were introduced to minimal effect late in the game.
But the failure of that expensive tranche of players has given a chance to a generation of youngsters who were destined to be farmed around the lower leagues and then released at the end of their contracts. Bentaleb and Mason, the two midfielders whose threat had so concerned Mourinho, may not have the glamour and reputation of the likes of Paulinho, but they make up for it with work rate. Andros Townsend and Danny Rose have their limitations, but they showed neither fear nor reticence at Wembley. And then there is dear, sweet Harry Kane, his mouth hanging open like an eager spaniel, one ear turned inside out, a chewed up tennis ball at his feet.
This was not a day for Kane to remember. With the exception of two fine runs, both truncated early, he presented little threat to an experienced and motivated back line. But this does not invalidate his earlier efforts. This does not mean that he is now another faded talent, a product of the hype machine spat out by a press corps already looking for a new hero. He just had a quiet game. He remains a supporters’ dream; driven, passionate and rather more talented than some would admit.
Like Mourinho, Pochettino has clearly defined strategies and values. It has taken some time for him to get them across to a squad with what we shall diplomatically call, mixed motivation levels, but you can see that it has sunk in now. He has tried to energise the big money failures and he, like Tim Sherwood and Andre Villas-Boas before him, has failed. No matter. There were no superstars at Southampton, just honest players working for the greater good. Now he is bringing that honesty to Tottenham, and by thunder, they needed it. Whatever else you can say about his Wembley losers, you can’t question their application.
The trick for Spurs now, as has been said many times before, is to recognise that they’re on to a good thing with Pochettino. This summer, he will surely bring in his own reinforcements in an effort to augment that honesty with more quality. Sometimes, that can unsettle a team and lead to a wobble. If it does, Daniel Levy must hold his nerve. Mourinho was insistent on Sunday that this Tottenham team can win trophies. Mourinho has his faults, but his judgement on these matters tends to be sound.