Cruelly, at the last moment, the goalposts were moved. Tottenham and Harry Redknapp had aimed a firm punt towards the top four all season that looked destined to nestle comfortably in the net, only for Chelsea to pick up the goal and move it out of range, before rolling their own effort across the line.
When Thomas Muller’s header forced its way through the palms of Petr Cech in Bayern Munich’s Champions League final defeat against Chelsea on Saturday, Spurs had reached the promised land.
Didier Drogba may have equalised, but fear not Spurs faithful, the hulking Ivorian would soon give away a penalty that offered Arjen Robben a chance to reassert the natural order expected before the game.
The Dutchman’s tame spot-kick made a mockery of the confidence placed in him by countryman Rafael van der Vaart before the game.
“Our fate is in the hands of Arjen. And, as his friend and good colleague, I trust him completely,” the Spurs midfielder said on the eve of the ultimate smash-and-grab. Perhaps he won’t be so forthcoming with his faith next time.
From the moment Cech saved Robben’s penalty the underlying feeling that Bayern would finally put an end to Chelsea’s resistance dissipated. By the time Drogba’s winning spot-kick hit the back of the net after a tense shoot-out, the stars had decided that London would receive it’s first European Cup.
How brutal on Spurs, although they only have themselves to blame for a poor post-christmas slump. Such was the unlikelihood that Chelsea would win in Munich, a feeling only exacerbated by events during the 120 minutes that Bayern’s chairman Karl‑Heinz Rummenigge declared himself longing for the relative relief of defeat in the ’99 final against Manchester United.
“It's one of those evenings where you feel as if you'd better stayed at home; 1999 [against Manchester United] was incredibly brutal, but tonight is more sad,” he said at the German club’s sombre end-of-season dinner which followed on Sunday.
The despair in the aftermath of the game caused Bastian Schweinsteiger, who missed a penalty in the shoot-out, to snub his country’s president.
The morning after the night before and Tottenham were left to contemplate a bleak future.
11 miles separated White Hart Lane from Chelsea’s eventual victory parade route but an ocean now separated them in terms of revenue, their ability to attract players and keep hold of their current crop of stars.
Redknapp had made great play of talking down the impact missing out on the Champions League would have, but the facts and figures are irrefutable.
Chelsea scooped almost £50 million from their belief-defying run to picking up European club football’s greatest prize, a figure they can expect to double through gate receipts, merchandise and commercial sponsors.
By comparison, Porto took home around £7 million for winning the Europa League in 2011. For all the platitudes the competition earned this year thanks to the exploits of Athletic Bilbao and others, it still remains a long way off the real deal.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is also said to have pledged a bountiful resource of Russian rubles to attract the world’s best in the aftermath of Saturday's final. Eden Hazard, briefly a Spurs target who declared his admiration for the north London club and its manager, now says that Chelsea’s cup success has made him re-think his future.
Spurs meanwhile must face up to potentially losing Luka Modric, or at the very least have their resolve to keep hold of the Croatian for another season tested, and also watch on from a distance while those who they should be rubbing shoulders with snaffle from the trough of Champions League cash while they feed on crumbs.
To cut a long story short, Tottenham as challengers at the sharp end of the Premier League and in Europe, are done. Or are they?
While the vaguely sickening feeling Spurs fans felt festered as Chelsea’s parade with the famously large trophy went global, their club was going about their business.
Daniel Levy was spotted in Amsterdam attempted to conclude a deal for Ajax’s superb defender Jan Vertonghen – a man whose manager Frank De Boer believes is good enough to play for Barcelona and is in possession of "twice the ability" of Arsenal centre-half Thomas Vermaelen.
Then there is Loic Remy. A fearsome brute of a striker, the French international matches ample power with speed and precision finishing. Spurs were buoyed in their pursuit of the Marseille man after he reportedly showed an interest in heading to north London despite the lack of Champions League football. Only a £22 million obstacle stands in the way.
The type of targets Spurs have been linked with should excite the club’s supporters. Although there is a good chance that neither move for Vertonghen or Remy will come to fruition it is heartening to see them chase top quality, shrewd targets rather than close up shop or chase an impossible name. Money well spent here will have its say come next May.
If last summer fans were a little disappointed to see only Brad Friedel and Scott Parker turn up, while the winter bought with it Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen, then it is reassuring to see chairman Daniel Levy seemingly ready to open his chequebook.
In two seasons Redknapp has spent around £40 million in comparison to rivals Chelsea and Liverpool who have burst through the £100 million barrier in the last 18 months yet still finished below them.
The case of Modric is a difficult one to negotiate. In the eyes of the fans, losing the heart of the team would be close to sacrilege. Levy was praised for his insistence that he would not sell the midfield conjurer last summer, but he may now believe that it is time to cash in his chips and find a younger model instead of retaining Modric against his will. A glance overseas reveals plenty of players available for half that amount who could fill his boots.
The 26-year-old is not ten a penny but certainly a few for £50 million – even Barcelona may be tempted to let Xavi ply his trade at White Hart Lane for a figure such as the one being touted in the press. Now Gareth Bale, there is a one-of-a-kind player who must be kept at all costs, even if that cost is bypassing a cool £50 million or so.
The club are in excellent financial shape and actually generated more revenue than Manchester City despite finishing well behind them in the league. Under the leadership of Levy they are less laden with debt than Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester United. Simply put, they are in a good position to respond positively to the heartbreak of this season, especially with the impending arrival of Financial Fair Play.
Levy and Redknapp must hold their nerve this summer, starting with a contract extension for the former West Ham boss beyond the end of next season and then by spending boldly. A new stadium that can turn the trickle of White Hart Lane revenue into a flood must happen sooner rather than later but they have the makings of a fabulous squad that should be improved wisely this summer which helps all the other pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.
The top four has irrefutably opened up, making it no longer impossible to return to the top table despite a hiatus, but if Chelsea and Liverpool get their act together then Spurs must be fearful of another season in the cold.
Of course there is only so long a club can go without Champions League football; when hooked in to UEFA’s elite competition cash can course through the veins of a club. Denied of its funding and there is a chance it can shrivel up, never to return to its former self again.
Spurs have a vital summer ahead of them to ensure that doesn't happen. They have their house in order to deal with the setback of missing out on Champions League football, and they have reacted well thus far. They must strive to make sure they get across the dam before the bridge is pulled up from beneath them.
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