Have we have finally found the issue on which Ange Postecoglou and Spurs fans disagree?

For Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou, Tuesday night’s game against Manchester City is becoming the equivalent of an awkward pre-election issue for an aspiring prime minister.

Postecoglou has been pitch perfect when it comes to capturing fan sentiment since taking over last summer, but for perhaps the first time it felt on Monday like there is a disconnect between him and the supporters.

And it’s all over the angsty issue of how Spurs should approach facing City on Tuesday, knowing that a win or a draw could hand the title to their loathed rivals Arsenal.

To some extent the divergent views are understandable, as Posteocglou and the supporters are coming from completely different perspectives. Postecoglou is desperate to instil a winning culture and end years of under-achievement at Spurs. No wonder then that he bristled at the suggestion that his side should go easy against City for the sake of, in his eyes, an “absolutely meaningless” issue. For fans, for whom the rivalry with Arsenal is a visceral concern, the idea of contributing to a title win for their neighbours is utterly abhorrent and unpalatable. Losing, even if it means sabotaging their own Champions League hopes, would be preferable for many fans (the majority, if social media and anecdotal conversations are to be believed).

What was surprising about Postecoglou’s combative approach in Monday’s press conference was that he didn’t repeat the line from many times earlier in the season that he would never tell fans how to feel. This was something Postecoglou said when asked if fans should temper their early-season enthusiasm when Spurs were flying. “Dare to dream,” was basically his message. The expectation was that Postecoglou would reiterate the idea that fans can want whatever they want, but then emphasise that he has a job to do and would be absolutely motivating the team to the best of his abilities.

Postecoglou did something different, though. First he challenged the idea that the majority of fans would want Spurs to lose the game. “I don’t see it that way,” he said when this premise was put to him. He then claimed that Spurs fans wanting them to lose the game was primarily a social media phenomenon. “Well, yeah, if you’re going by social media then probably 99 per cent of supporters don’t (want Spurs to win),” he said, before adding, “My role is to bring success to this football club and whatever proportion, whether it’s two mates or 99 per cent of people you know, I know 100 per cent of Spurs supporters want us to win (in the long term), be successful and win trophies. That is without a shadow of a doubt, and us winning tomorrow night will help us bring joy to 100 per cent of Spurs supporters.”

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Postecoglou quickly became hugely popular among Spurs fans (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

It’ll be fascinating to see how the pre-match discourse plays out in the stadium, but the vast majority of Spurs fans I speak to say they want the team to lose this game. And as for whether this is just a social media thing, fans could be heard singing the Manchester City anthem Blue Moon on the way back from the Burnley game on Saturday.

As well as questioning the idea that Spurs fans want their team to lose on Tuesday, Postecoglou also took issue with anyone who held that position. “To me, I don’t understand it, I never will,” he said. “I understand rivalry. I was part of one of the biggest ones in the world in the last couple of years with Celtic and Rangers and I understand the rivalry but I’ve never and will never understand if someone wants their own team to lose. That’s not what sport is about. It’s not what I love about the game. What I love more than anything in the game is the competitiveness, challenging yourself to beat someone and coming out successful.”

Spurs have been in this position before. On that occasion, in 1999 ahead of Spurs facing Arsenal’s title rival Manchester United on the final day, the then manager George Graham joked that he would name the 5ft 4in Jose Dominguez as Spurs’ sub goalkeeper for the game. However, he did add that: “There’s nobody who wants to win any game more than I do. I even hate losing a friendly match. We’ll be going to Old Trafford to try to win — whatever that means to anybody else.”

In the end, Spurs lost 2-1, Les Ferdinand barely celebrated his opening goal, and United won the title.

Will any of this matter beyond Tuesday night? It’s hard to say. A lot of supporters genuinely believe that a win or draw for Spurs would damage Postecoglou’s standing with the fanbase. Which might seem completely irrational to outsiders or to the man himself. To which the obvious response would be: have you met football fans?

It may well all be academic anyway because Manchester City look likely to beat whoever they face at the moment — irrespective of the feelings of that team’s supporters. But it is a very interesting dynamic, and as much as some fans would be dismayed with Postecoglou if Spurs win, there’s the reverse situation to consider as well. Judging from his words on Monday, Postecoglou will take a very dim view of fans openly wanting City to win the game.

Throughout his Spurs tenure, Postecoglou has scored extremely high on the “he just gets it” scale. On this issue, not so much. And if someone as attuned to fan sentiment as Postecoglou is taking such a different view, it reinforces how strange this particular situation is.

(David Horton – CameraSport via Getty Images)

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