While we all love watching sports when there’s a real competitive edge to a contest, it’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes an air of inevitability can hang over proceedings. This can be perhaps most common in the world of football, where mega-rich clubs tend to dominate matches and often swat aside smaller rivals to secure league titles and cups.
Recent research by KPMG certainly seemed to back this up, with the list of the most valuable European clubs featuring famous names that have dominated the sport for years. From Real Madrid and Barcelona to Bayern Munich and Manchester City, it is fair to say that those with the biggest resources generally seem to do the best.
Upsetting the odds
However, one of the real joys of football is undoubtedly when the odds are overturned. It might be a sport dominated by giants, but there are plenty of underdogs waiting for an opportunity to knock them down. Leicester City’s incredible success in the Premier League a few years ago is a fine example of this, while this year’s Champions League also managed to throw up a fair few thrills and spills.
Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth in the Premier League in 2018-19 and have only been installed as third-favourites for the 2019-20 title by sports betting provider Karamba, yet they managed to secure a place in the Champions League final with Liverpool. Perhaps most incredibly, they did so despite not spending anything in the last two transfer windows.
Of the five richest European clubs on KPMG’s list, only Barcelona managed to make it to the semi-final stage. In addition, Ajax enjoyed a surprising run of success against the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid, but ultimately met their match when they came up against a team with a story perhaps as remarkable as theirs.
The club’s last major signing was Lucas Moura from Paris St Germain for a reported £23 million back in January 2018 and, prior to their recent success, the issue became something of a joke among fans and some sections of the media. Although Spurs were taking steps to launch a new stadium during that period, on-the-pitch success is always regarded as the priority and – of course – a key way to achieve that is to improve the squad through transfers.
However, Spurs have managed to get by just fine without signings, with much of their success arguably being down to the effective use of their squad. While many felt the loss of Harry Kane to injury in the Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City would severely impact their hopes of success in the competition, in his absence several players have stepped up to make a big impact at key moments.
Son Heung-min has become a real talisman for Spurs in the past couple of years and always tends to have an impact on the biggest occasions, with figures even suggesting he is more important to the side’s success than Kane. Furthermore, the aforementioned Moura scored the decisive hat-trick which completed a remarkable turn-around in the semi-final against Ajax.
A special mention also has to go to 34-year-old Fernando Llorente, who was essentially signed as cover from Swansea City in August 2017. He scored what became the crucial goal in the quarter-final epic against Manchester City, and his physicality unsettled Ajax when he came on as a half-time substitute in the semi-final second leg.
A remarkable story
With so much money involved in football these days, going two transfer windows without spending and still being able to compete at the highest level is truly remarkable. Such a story is a great reminder to any sportsperson or team that having access to major riches is certainly no guarantee of success.
The chances of Spurs going a third window without investing in their squad seems unlikely, with many rumours already circulating regarding players who may be on their radar. However, their recent achievement of reaching a first European final since 1984 should not be forgotten and fully deserves to be highlighted as a real success story.