Ange Postecoglou has dismissed the dreaded Spursy jibe as “schoolyard stuff” as he urged his players to embrace the difficulties they face, avoid looking for excuses and trust his approach.
Tottenham have thrown away the lead in their past five Premier League matches, taking just one point from the sequence, the latest setback coming on Thursday in the 2-1 home defeat against West Ham.
The S-word has been bandied about – with a wearying inevitability – and, as Postecoglou prepares for Sunday’s home game against Newcastle, his wider message was not to run from reality. The excuses are there, beginning with the number of injuries; Son Heung-min is a doubt after taking a knock to his back against West Ham and eight others will definitely be unavailable.
There is also the developing distraction of Swansea’s pursuit of his No 2, Chris Davies. Spurs rejected an approach from the Championship club on Thursday but Postecoglou did not rule out the possibility that Davies will leave.
The coach wanted to turn the focus inwards; for him and the players to control what they can control. That includes showing greater conviction in front of goal. Spurs’s failure to convert a greater proportion of their chances has been a theme of the season, not only the past five matches.
“That [the Spursy tag] is schoolyard stuff,” Postecoglou said. “All I need to know is that this club hasn’t won anything for 15 years. That’s the reality. Whatever tags other people want to put on it, that can’t be your motivation. If you want to bring success, you’ve got to have a clear idea of how you’re going to go about it and stick to the process.
“I’ve been through this many times. So I know, unequivocally, what we need to do. But for a lot of these guys, it’s the first time. Always in the first season there are challenges. Players need to go through that and come out the other side and see that: ‘OK, we’ve survived that. It hasn’t killed us.’
“I know how we get through this and I know what the road ahead looks like. They’ve got to find out about it themselves. There’s never going to be a time where it’s going to be smooth. So the more they embrace this side of it the better.
“There isn’t any time in your existence as an elite sportsman or an elite team where there won’t be the ability to make an excuse. It’s whether to choose to [allow them to] infiltrate what you’re trying to do or whether you use them as motivation to become stronger.”
Postecoglou was asked whether the Spursy tag was weighing the players down. “It shouldn’t weigh the new ones down because they have no history,” he replied. “Whether it weighs the ones that have been here, that’s something that is hard for me to gauge. But it’s not something I reflect on or talk about from a historical perspective.
“If you want to change perceptions, there is only one way to do it. People are not going to change what they think about you because you want them to. You’ve got to give them a reason to. I’m here because the club wanted to change its course. I said from day one, change means change. If it means changing mindset because people are carrying scars from the past, let’s get rid of them.”
Postecoglou recalled a “sliding doors moment” for him in the summer of 2021 when Eddie Howe, who will be in the opposing dugout on Sunday, turned down the Celtic job. The Scottish club moved instead for Postecoglou and his success there led him to Tottenham.
“There’s probably been no bigger decision in me being here today than Eddie knocking back the Celtic job,” he said. “I haven’t thanked him. I probably should.”
Davies is in similar territory. Spurs do not want to lose Postecoglou’s highly rated assistant but it feels unlikely they would stand in his way.
“I’ve had a brief discussion with Chris and he knows we’ve got a busy week so we’ll focus on that,” Postecoglou said. “From my perspective, whatever transpires, it’s very much in Chris’s hands. It’s his decision in terms of what he wants to do moving forward and obviously the club will deal with it from there.”