Lucky Number 13
As we await the match up on Sunday of a Tottenham team on the threshold of doing something great and a formerly great team trying to find their way back to their former glory, there is a personal touch that makes this soccer rivalry relatable to me. When I was about 8 years old and that would be around 1969, I was asked by the other boys in our school playground which side I was on. The choices where the Blue team (Tottenham) or the Red Team (Manchester United) - it goes without saying that I said "BLUE". Yet now as I look back I do remember that blue was not actually my favourite colour at junior school, it was red and I can remember how losing my favourite red t-shirt a few years later made me unhappy, but that was a few more years down the road.
On Sunday the worst possible result will be draw. Not a good barometer for Tottenham and question mark about whether the Manchester United team enthusiasm for their new caretaker manager is real or not. Back in the day in the 60's that was actually the height and heyday for this particular rivalry, but successive games since have often yielded tremendously entertaining games, and that is for good reason because both United and Tottenham are known for their culture of playing brilliant and attractive football. It is only United who have added ruthless winning to that recipe and there were many a year when Tottenham turned out to be the team playing United when another League Championship title was being confirmed, strangely the same pattern has happened with the other read team, with Tottenham's rivals Arsenal.
A spectacular United win will mean that for the first time in years (and after three top name managers joined and got fired) United will have found the Sir Alex Ferguson magic of old - and Ferguson's right hand man has been appointed assistant manager to the caretaker manager, as have two other United player legends creating in effect a four man managerial team. Interestingly despite having recovered from a stroke, Sir Alex Ferguson gave a team talk in the past few days to the United team. That talk has been dubbed by Britains Sun Newspaper as the "The King's Speech"
Why Ferguson may have been compelled to give this talk to the present United team may well be due to his instincts as a legendary manager, recognizing that something that was lost in the United culture has been rekindled with the return of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as United caretaker manager. Solksjaer is an absolute United legend whether he succeeds in his new role, fails or even does so well that he is appointed United's next manager (which is not expected to happen). It is hard to imagine Solskjaer topping scoring the winning goal in the 1999 European Cup Final that even Sir Alex Ferguson during injury time thought he had lost and was beyond his expectations that United would score not one but two goals in the dying embers of injury time. That goal also secured United's incredible feet of The Treble, winning the League Championship, the FA Cup and the European Cup in the same season :
This game will confirm whether Sir Alex Ferguson's instincts are the money again, because this is the first time since the 1960's that United are considered the underdogs in this game. To beat this Spurs teams emphatically will send an electric charge around Old Trafford and the city of Manchester, that would absolutely transform the United team and put them back on course for planning their next League title - which will be the 21st title. Compare that with Tottenham who in their history have won only 2 league titles and the last title was way back in 1961, the very year that I was born.
The following video shows what a League Title still looks like to Tottenham fans :
Bill Nicholson's legendary Tottenham team won the League and Cup double back in 1961, the first club to ever do so. Tottenham became the first team to win a European Cup competition when it won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1963, but success is sparse and spread across many years of disappointing outcomes. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride is Tottenham's chief history and this is why the United game matters far more this Sunday to Tottenham than it does for United. If United lose it is not expected, but if Tottenham lose, it will probably signal the death knell this season for their title winning hopes. Finishing second or third would especially be a heartbreaking outcome this year for the simple reason that teams that have won 15 league games after 20 matches have gone on to win the title, except for one year. This year two teams will fail to win the league title this year because Liverpool and Manchester United have better records and are currently 1st and 2nd in the league respectively.
Tottenham's record this year is ahead of the Manchester United team that won the treble in 1999. Spurs are also still in three Cup competitions but there is no foolish talk of this team winning an unprecedented "Quadruple". For that to happen Spurs first need to beat Chelsea in the 2nd leg of their League Cup semi-final and then beat present holders Manchester City in the final - Manchester City are as good as in the final because they hold a walloping 9-0 first leg lead over minnows Burton Albion. if there is any team who may have a chance to win all four competitions this year, it is Manchester City. Yet that is where on Sunday the potential rebirth of Manchester United is so pivotal in also stopping their local rivals City. If the air of change is real and Sir Alex Ferguson is making speeches on the training ground - then United this year can do more than claim a Champions league qualification spot, but would be favorites to win the FA Cup.
That is what makes Sunday's game so defining. It is the last hoorah of United as they say goodbye to the United of old, or is it the resurrection of the United team in the manner Sir Alex Ferguson was trying to instill new belief and fight in that team and therefore the second coming of United. At the same time is the rise of a new powerhouse in Tottenham, where United have to accept a changing of the guard and exist in their shadows for years to come. Pochettino has eluded a comparison with Arsenal's former manager Arsene Wenger who managed Arsenal for 20 years only this week. Yet he also added pointed references that if Spurs do not give him funds for new players, the new stadium will be good for the new manager and his staff. It is a shot across the bows to Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy who is a financial man and who has shrewdly managed Spurs financial budget on a shoestring. The new stadium cost escalations are a freakish nightmare and it is difficult to see Levy support his much in demand manager Mauricio Pochettino.
For Manchester United the chief gain in winning on Sunday is to destabilize Tottenham's hopes for a league title and in so doing make their own desire to hire Mauricio Pochettino as Manchester United's next manager this summer a much firmer reality. So there is plenty to gain for United in both confirming that they are back after so many disappointments and in essence extinguish the rise of Tottenham as a new Super Power in the Premier League - for the Super Powers are Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and in recent years due to the billions available the rise of Manchester City. For a team that should be Sixth in the league, Pochettino is doing an amazing job holding them in third place and yet still within touching distance of the title.
If things go well for Spurs, it will not only prove a false dawn for the rise of the new Manchester United, but it will start the process of catapulting Spurs onto winning something and more importantly begin to assert their claim to be the next Super Power in the Premier League. For Spurs fans this is the dream that has been the great fantasy for decade upon decade. Everything is beginning to fall into place for that fantasy to come true, except of course Spurs have not won anything since 2008 and then that was the tin pot League Cup - a side show in the Trophy Cabinets of all the other confirmed Super Powers of the Premier League. Until that happens the only history that Tottenham fans can still celebrate is their history of great player and some of the greatest names in the soccer world have played at their old White Hart Lane ground. The new stadium may start a whole new history for Tottenham or it may be the same old same old. On January 13th, it will be Lucky 13 for one of these teams and an Unlucky 13 for the other.