Spurs have much to prove at Wembley: Richard Buxton
Even before ESL's collapse, Tottenham's participation in it was roundly ridiculed
More than ever before, Tottenham Hotspur must justify their place in football's elite.
Eyebrows were raised at their name featuring on the list of 12 clubs who had conspired to form the failed European Super League (ESL).
T-shirts telling those who believe they have a divine right to sit at European football's top table that they must "earn it" could easily be directed solely at the Lilywhites.
Now 13 years into a trophy drought and without tangible European success for the best part of three decades, Sunday's League Cup final represents a pivotal moment for Spurs.
Fallout from the short-lived yet controversial ESL proposal offered a useful distraction for them to jettison Jose Mourinho in favour of caretaker Ryan Mason.
Yet the English Premier League's youngest-ever manager epitomises the "one of our own" mantra at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, having grown up in the same postcode as their training ground and risen through the ranks until a brutal head injury curtailed his playing career at 26.
What Mason lacks in frontline managerial experience, he more than makes up for with a fresh perspective that helped a Spurs squad eroded by Mourinho's personal war of attrition seal a 2-1 win over Southampton yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Gareth Bale was quick to credit the 29-year-old for an inspired team talk and solving "positional issues" which led to the hosts heading into the half-time break a goal behind.
Instilling a genuine siege mentality proved impossible during Mourinho's ill-fitting 17-month tenure, but is imperative if Spurs are to succeed in the battle for a Champions League place and go toe-to-toe with Manchester City at Wembley.
Both teams' hard-fought victories ahead of their upcoming meeting serve as a rare palette cleanser in what has been a bruising week for the Beautiful Game.
Forget for a second the fact that City and Spurs went along with the ESL plot, which one of their EPL peers had condemned as an act of "preposterous arrogance".
The jury has yet to return a verdict on their misdeeds as part of the Big Six, who along with their continental conspirators, brazenly tried to destroy the game from within.
City's move to within eight points of a third EPL title in four years, equally, may be proof that little has changed in the game's established order, despite the recent shenanigans.
But Phil Foden's breakout season offers a timely reminder of football's genuine purity.
Like Mason, the England international embodies everything that many connected to Pep Guardiola's side and the sport hold dear - a local boy made good who can grace the biggest stages with a fearlessness which greatly belies his tender years.
Foden's willingness to be involved in every possible pattern of play was evident as City overcame Aston Villa 2-1 yesterday morning.
But he is not the first homegrown talent that they have been fortunate to have at their disposal.
He has merely usurped someone who will be closer to home on Sunday.
It was barely two years ago that Raheem Sterling became the king of Wembley, his childhood haunt, as the champions-elect swatted Watford aside 6-0 in the 2019 FA Cup final.
He bagged two of City's six goals against their erstwhile top-flight counterparts.
Sterling's latest visit to the national stadium he gazed in awe at daily as a kid, however, is overshadowed by a nine-game barren streak where favour is in as short supply as form.
Preserving damaged reputations is at stake for several parties beneath Wembley's arch.