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Villa’s Champions League qualification gets royal approval as Postecoglou questions culture at Spurs

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Aston Villa’s players sprayed Champagne and received a congratulatory message from Prince William as they celebrated qualification for the Champions League to crown the club’s remarkable five-year turnaround in fortunes.

Over at Tottenham, the atmosphere was much more downbeat.

“I think the last 48 hours has revealed to me that the foundations are fairly fragile,” Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou said after a dramatic evening when the Premier League’s fourth and final representative for next season’s Champions League was confirmed.

The Villa squad had gathered for the team’s end-of-season awards on Tuesday night and were watching on TV as Tottenham slipped to a 2-0 loss to Manchester City, a result that had more ramifications than simply for the Premier League’s title race.

It also meant that Villa, which was in the second-tier Championship in 2019 and fighting relegation from the Premier League a year later, would be guaranteed to finish in fourth place — above Tottenham — with a game to spare and will be in Europe’s top competition for the first time since 1983. The previous year, Villa was the European champion.

“We are Champions League!” the Prince of Wales, who is one of Villa’s famous fans along with actor Tom Hanks, posted on the account he shares with his wife, Kate, on X, formerly Twitter. “A historic season and an amazing achievement.”

At Villa’s awards ceremony, Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez was seen spraying Champagne and the club’s captain, John McGinn, got on stage to remind everyone present of the team’s journey.

Standing alongside Tyrone Mings, McGinn said: “We were in the Championship — us two, baby Jacob (Ramsey) and Kortney (Hause) — there’s four of us here tonight who were part of that Championship journey.

“We got promoted, we got into the Premier League, we were seven points behind with four (games) to play, we managed to stay in the league. We kept building and we’ve achieved something that we haven’t done for 40 years so on behalf of the players and staff, we’re over the moon.”

Unai Emery, the Spanish coach who has revived Villa since his appointment in October 2022 with his tactical acumen and man-management skills, was cheered onto the stage.

“It’s our dream. We started the season to be here,” Emery said with a smile.

“We knew before, our responsibility was to try to increase our level, to be demanding, to dream to get it, and of course to win the Champion League like Villa did in 1982. If we are there, if we are in it, it’s easier than if we are not!”

Postecoglou cut a very different figure as he summed up a bizarre few days where the big debate was largely around whether Tottenham — in particular, its fans — actually wanted the team to win against City. After all, Arsenal — Tottenham’s fierce rival in north London — stood to benefit if City lost as it would have left Mikel Arteta’s team in first place heading into Sunday’s final round of games.

The atmosphere at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was more flat than many other home matches, with many songs targeting Arsenal.

That left Postecoglou bemused and seemingly concerned about the culture at a club that hasn’t won a major trophy since 2008.

In a spiky post-match news conference, the Australian said: “I just think the last 48 hours have revealed a fair bit to me. That’s alright. It just means I’ve got to go back to the drawing board with some things.”

Asked to expand on what he meant, Postecoglou added: “Outside, inside, everywhere. It’s been an interesting exercise. It’s just my observations, mate. I’m not going to tell you, because it’s for me. I’m the one who’s got to do it.

“You can make your own assessments of what’s happened. I understand. I probably misread the situation as to what I think is important in your endeavor to become a winning team, but that’s OK. That’s why I’m here.”

Postecoglou said “I just don’t care” when asked about the Tottenham fans singing about Arsenal.

“Maybe I’m out of step, but I just don’t care, I just want to win. I want to be successful at this football club, it’s why I was brought in,” he said.

“So what other people, how they want to feel, and what their priorities are, are of zero interest to me. I know what’s important to build a winning team, that’s what I need to concentrate on.”

Tottenham will be guaranteed fifth place, and a spot in the Europa League, by avoiding defeat at Sheffield United on Sunday.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer

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