There is literally no other way the season could have ended for Tottenham Hotspur. Saturday's Champions League Final involving Chelsea and Bayern Munich was Tottenham's 2011-12 campaign in a nutshell; a hot start followed by numerous frustrating moments, moments that left supporters fearing the worst. Just when it appeared that the football gods had finished playing a cruel joke on Spurs, a few unimaginable and unforeseeable events landed the club on the outside looking in regarding next season's Champions League competition.
I wouldn't believe the story except I witnessed it with my own eyes.
To be fair, Chelsea didn't "steal" anything away from Spurs. The Blues were everything Spurs weren't when it mattered most, a team that didn't fall apart in the clutch, one that actually excelled when everything seemed to be going against them. Come away with a favorable result at Camp Nou? No problem. Beat Bayern Munich on their own patch? Job done. Tottenham, meanwhile, couldn't manage to earn a single point vs. Norwich City at White Hart Lane at the beginning of April. No, Chelsea didn't take Champions League from Spurs. Spurs lost it all themselves.
Tottenham now face a second consecutive "scary summer," one that will have fans checking sports headlines on an hourly basis everyday starting this week. Now that they've been relegated to the less-than-desirable Thursday-Sunday schedule that comes with Europa League play, chairman Daniel Levy and manager Harry Redknapp will again have to fight to hold onto the team's stars. Levy promised fans that Spurs don't intend to sell big-name players despite missing out on Champions League, an end-of-season letter Luka Modric must not have read. Modric seemingly had one foot out the door before the kickoff of Saturday's game, and Gareth Bale may now follow him. Benoit Assou-Ekotto recently called Europa League a "useless" competition, although he did later voice his commitment to Spurs.
Redknapp certainly treated Europa League like nothing more than a nuisance last fall, playing second and third team players during matches. Spurs finished third in Group A, something that was extremely forgivable at the time considering they looked like title contenders at the end of December. All of that is now just a memory, of course, following a collapse that will be documented long after next season starts.
There's no shame in finishing fourth in the Premier League. It's how Spurs finished fourth, though, that has left fans bitter and stunned. A top-three finish was Tottenham's to lose just three months ago, and lose it they did in spectacular fashion. Spurs were even given new life during the first weekend of May when Arsenal stumbled at the Emirates. Tottenham couldn't beat lowly Aston Villa in a "win and we'll be in" match, though, and their fate was no longer in their hands. While Chelsea were a team of destiny, Spurs were more style than substance, more headlines than actual results. What will forever be the season of what might have been could also be the beginning of the dismantling of a squad that was untouchable just this past fall.
Premier League tables still, as of the writing of this sentence, list fourth place as "Champions League qualifying." By defeating Bayern Munich, Chelsea reminded us all that winning Champions League is, for some teams, easier than qualifying for the competition. Both Chelsea and Spurs found themselves in "must win" games in the past month. One side eventually lifted a duo of trophies, while the other may be facing a fire sale. I can think of no better way to conclude such a review than three familiar words that will haunt fans all summer long;
same old Spurs.