Back when I was a young whipper-snapper, in my glory days where I could sit on a toilet without fear of my knees cracking and fully participate in Sunday morning football matches without coughing up my lungs, Tottenham were always kind of a novelty side.
The Spurs squad boasted quality for sure – especially up front – yet it was undermined by players such as Hossam Ghaly and Paul Stalteri, players whose names alone suggested a mixture of inadvertent comedy and inevitable incompetence.
I look at the White Hart Lane side now and it’s like a portal back to the early 2000s. My lungs yet to be exposed to unhealthy smoking habits, my knees capable of enduring any lengthy bend on the bog and Tottenham representing a rabble of globally-sourced mercenaries whose abilities, or rather, lack of, will one day be lost to the cult hero status of obscure football trivia. Can you name a Japan international who appeared only four times for Spurs in 2003 before being sold to Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag? Kazuyuki Toda.
Perhaps Tottenham’s list of summer signings, equating to a total transfer spend of £110million, aren’t quite Toda territory. Paulinho for example, is a Brazil international, Christian Eriksen is regarded as one of the most impressive recent products of the Ajax total football academy, and Roberto Soldado has been one of La Liga’s leading homegrown goalscorers since his first loan spell away from Real Madrid back in 2006.
But earlier in the season, fans and pundits alike came to the same conclusion that Andre Villas-Boas was holding back Spurs’ newly-arrived summer cast through his impetus on incredibly boring, chess-like football.
Revisionists have since argued that relinquishing the Portuguese was a knee-jerk mistake on Daniel Levy’s part, but you can’t argue with the stats; Spurs averaged less than a goal per game under AVB, and had suffered hefty defeats, 6-0 and 5-0 respectively, to Manchester City and Liverpool – two clubs that Tottenham’s £110million spending spree was meant to leave them competing with for results and league standing.
Yet not much has changed under geezer-gaffer Tim Sherwood. The former Tottenham and England midfielder has the gift of the gab that his predecessor didn’t, and far from discussions on double-pivots, pass success rates and other moot tactical misnomers, everything about Sherwood and the style of play he insists upon suggests typically English, laddish and chavish, bold, basic and direct football. He’s made Spurs the Premier League’s equivalent to a cafe-bought beans on toast; traditional, filling, lacking in flavour, predictable and not even a hint of foreign influence.
Despite this reinvention of the wheel at White Hart Lane, the change in hands of two management regimes and the incredible contrast in their personal and philosophical styles, Premier League results have been nearly identical. Under AVB, Spurs claimed 27 points out of a possible 48, losing 1-0 to Arsenal, 6-0 to Manchester City, 5-0 to Liverpool and drawing 1-1 with Chelsea. Under Sherwood, Spurs have claimed 29 points out of a possible 48, losing 1-0 to Arsenal, 5-1 to Manchester City, 4-0 to Liverpool and 4-0 to Chelsea.
There’s a recurring theme here, and it’s not the customarily superficial -yet often official – explanation that leadership from the dugout just hasn’t been good enough. Have Tottenham just splashed out £110million on 2014’s answer to Timothee Atouba, Teemu Tainio, Goran Bunjevcevic et al? Is Tottenham’s final reckoning, headed by Hossam Ghaly’s undead reincarnation upon us? The names ‘Vlad Chiriches’, ‘Etienne Capoue’ and ‘Nacer Chadli’ suggests that could be the case.
I jest about their names fitting the bill of mild obscurity, but there is some method to the madness. For example, with the exclusion of Paulinho, and perhaps Christian Eriksen, it should have been a glaring warning sign for Tottenham that interest in the cast of summer arrivals wasn’t rivalled by any of their divisional competitors.
When they splashed out a then-club-record £26million on Roberto Soldado, the rest of the Premier League said ‘you’re welcome to him’. When they sourced Etienne Capoue from Toulouse, a few Serie A sides were disappointed but not to the extent in which any other suitors were prepared to match the £9million Daniel Levy had put on the table – English clubs were more interested in the immediate fate of Tom Huddlestone. When Spurs broke their record fee again on Erik Lamela, the overwhelming feeling of the top flight was surprise, rather than envied anticipation. The fact the Premier League’s top four weren’t interested in these players, and the fact Spurs now find themselves some way off the pace of a Champions League finish, is no unfortunate coincidence.
In terms of quality, Tottenham’s summer signings are clearly a cut above that aforementioned, obscurely-named clan of the early 2000s. Back then, Spurs were amid a period of disturbing mid-table mediocrity, and although they haven’t met expectations this year, those days are obviously far behind them.
But the prevailing flaw of Spurs’ summer acquisitions is that few make sense in a Premier League context. Paulinho for example, has spent the last four years of his career in South America; Erik Lamela has just two European campaigns under his belt, only one of which his goal-return had reached double figures; Vlad Chirches is 24 years of age and has never ventured outside of Romania before; Roberto Soldado, for all his obvious quality and intelligence as a footballer, measures in at just 5 foot 10, lacks any noteworthy pace and none of his 24 goals for Valencia last season came from outside the box. A direct footballer of the Premier League variety, the 28 year-old is most certainly not.
Perhaps the benefits of a second season in England will prove me wrong about Tottenham’s summer arrivals, but thus far in their Premier League careers, it’s become patently obvious that none have bettered the level of talent previously at Spurs’ disposal.
The need to replace the world-class quality of Gareth Bale is duly noted, but as they often did in the days of Glen Hoddle and Martin Jol, the Lilywhites can be rightly accused of collecting players, with no clear plan of how they might fit in at White Hart Lane and far more impetus on reputation rather than requirement when it came to the recruitment process.
In many ways, AVB was made a scapegoat for Levy and Franco Baldini’s transfer failings, and subsequently, although Sherwood is often his own enemy at times, he’ll inevitably suffer a similar fate at the end of the season.
But knowing what we do now, 32 Premier League fixtures on from Tottenham’s all-or-nothing, £110million transfer revolution, could it simply be the case that the North Londoners have spent their way into the world of Hossam Ghalys, Paul Stalteris, and Alan Huttons they’ve spent the last near-decade trying to escape from?