The Premier League witnessed a number of interesting post-match interviews at the weekend.
On Saturday, those who tuned into Match of the Day were privy to Norwich’s Leroy Fer admitting that he had intentionally put the ball into the back of the net against Cardiff City instead of adhering to the conventions of sporting play in the hope that it would land the Canaries with a controversial three points.
Moving onto Sunday, we received revelations from both camps regarding a rather frosty relationship between Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini, who both opted not to shake hands after Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Chilean also had some words to say regarding his Blues counterpart’s jump-in-the-crowd celebration upon Fernando Torres’ late goal.
But the most bizarre and unanticipated was Andre Villas-Boas’ condemnation of his own fans. Tottenham struggled to claim all three points against a defensively-minded Hull City side yesterday afternoon, with the only goal of the game coming from yet another Roberto Soldado penalty – a soft handball decision from referee Michael Olivier to say the least.
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In an unusual stance from the Portuguese, or for that matter, a deviation from the norm of what we’d expect from vast majority of managers in world football, the Spurs gaffer was quick to suggest that his side’s blunted efforts on the pitch were only worsened by the atmosphere in the stands, telling reporters after the 1-0 victory; “We played in a very difficult atmosphere, very tense, very negative. We had to dig deep within ourselves because we weren’t getting help from anybody, the stadium reflected this atmosphere, very tense and without a lot of support until the first goal.”
It’s left the Tottenham faithful bemused and divided, but few in North London would disagree that the atmosphere at White Hart Lane has dropped somewhat since the Lilywhites first qualified for the Champions League under Harry Redknapp in 2010. For the Premier League’s heavyweight clashes or on London derby days, Spurs supporters are regularly in full song. When they’re facing one of the English top flight’s rank-and-file sides however, the level of expectancy often quashes the passion of those in the stands.
That being said, expectancy is not something that it simply conjured out of thin air. That expectancy at White Hart Lane exists because Tottenham fans are well aware of the fact they’ve staged two top four finishes in the last four years.
At the same time, recent developments have only fuelled the high levels of anticipation for success in North London. In a rather ambitious move, Harry Redknapp was axed in favour of Andre Villas-Boas in summer 2012, who was subsequently handed a lucrative three-year contract, and in the last transfer window we saw the Portuguese and new Technical Director Franco Baldini bring in £110million’s worth of new talent, the majority of which are under the age of 25 and come with preceding reputations of their vast potential.
So for Tottenham fans to produce a rather benign level of support as they witness their side slump over the finish line with a healthy slice of good fortune to put away a team that are expected to be scrapping at the bottom of the Premier League table this season is hardly surprising.
For every club up and down the country, whether they are involved in title hunts or survival campaigns, there are always a fair share of fickle supporters – the sing when you’re winning types. It’s hardly unusual, it’s hardly uncommon, yet there’s certainly an unwritten rule, as Michael Owen expressed on MOTD2, against biting the hand that feeds by criticising those who pay £45 a ticket to sit in the stands, especially in the modern era when they could be watching in the comfort of their own home.
Therefore, AVB’s sensitive response is rather surprising. Perhaps he feels the Tottenham supporters should be more grateful by now – the Lilywhites have claimed 12 clean sheets and 12 wins from 15 games so far this season, not to mention the fact they’re only three points off the top of the Premier League table. Spurs also recorded their highest points total for the Premier League era under the Portuguese last season, so for AVB to expect a higher level of optimism and passion at White Hart Lane is certainly understandable.
Despite Tottenham’s efficiency however, their performances, especially at home, have been rather uninspiring. For a set of supporters that witnessed the talismanic and often dramatic escapades of Gareth Bale last season, a campaign in which Tottenham recorded 66 goals, watching the Lilywhites average just a goal per game so far this year must be a bit of a drag.
Only five of their nine goals have come from open play, and another being a fluked cross from Andros Townsend, and with the exception of a dominant display against Norwich, the North Londoners have continually failed to make their quality tell at home, which must be frustrating for the supporters considering the £17million on Paulinho, £27million on Roberto Soldado and £30million on Erik Lamela spent in the summer – all of which were record-breaking transfers for the club.
And as much as AVB pinpoints the Tottenham support as a cause for their nervy and uninspiring display yesterday afternoon, there’s no doubt that his tactics were also a major contributor. Two robust holding midfielders has been a common trend for the Lilywhites this season, in the form of Sandro and Paulinho against Hull, and although it provides an often impenetrable shield for Tottenham’s defence, it does take away from their ability to outclass and outwit opponents via the ball.
Similarly, even with a vast array of attacking midfield talent at the Portuguese’s disposal, namely Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Lewis Holtby, Andros Townsend, Aaron Lennon and Gylfi Sigurdsson, Roberto Soldado has remained a continually isolated element up front this season, which certainly doesn’t suit the 5 foot 10, unspeedy Spaniard’s technical style.
With nobody in the deep-lying playmaker role, and Soldado feeding off scraps more often than not, it’s no surprise that Spurs have struggled to dominate opponents at home, whilst their form away, where the result always takes significant priority over the performance, has been a less irritating experience for the fans, who according to the Tottenham boss have been excellent on the road.
It’s your classic chicken or the egg conundrum, if you’ll excuse the cliché. AVB wants his home support to be more vocal, passionate and grateful to the first team’s achievements, but just like the players, fans need to be motivated and inspired too in order to guard against complacency.
Watching 1-0 wins on a weekly basis may be good for the league table, but at the match itself, in the cold London rain, it’s hardly going to encourage supporters into a spontaneous chorus of ‘When the Spurs’ simply because the first team are meeting, rather than exceeding, expectations. For the first 81 minutes against Hull, Tottenham were performing below expectations.
But my biggest issue with the Tottenham manger’s comments is that this is now his side’s fourth 1-0 Premier League victory of the season, and their second at home. Whether the Spurs faithful were in full song or not at the weekend is rather irrelevant – it’s too common a trend for their muted support to be a pivotal factor.
The Portuguese must know this, there’s no way he can’t. Therefore, he’s either trying to deflect the issue of Tottenham’s average performances, or attempting to galvanise the White Hart Lane faithful in the hope that it will give the first team a much-needed boost in their next home fixture. Either way, he’s playing with fire by criticising the Spurs fan base.
Does AVB have a point regarding the White Hart Lane faithful, or is he simply covering-up for some average performances?
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