It doesn’t take much to get Tottenham Hotspur fans to indulge in an extensive autopsy of their team’s displays, but following the 2-1 defeat against Manchester City yesterday, the post-mortem process has been a somewhat chastising one if you’re Andre Villas-Boas.
But while supporters are airing a rather gloomily extensive agenda of grievances against the Portuguese, it seemed to be Spurs’ basic inability to pass the ball at times, which really exuded a sense of sadness. The 5ft 9” Croatian shaped hole that adorns the Lilywhites’ midfield isn’t just a gaping one, more a scorching reminder of what this Tottenham team have lost.
For however much Andre Villas-Boas’ failings have cost Spurs this season, supporters simply cannot underestimate the impact that Luka Modric’s departure has had upon this football club.
Amongst the circus act of change and upheaval that was Tottenham Hotspur’s summer this season, you can’t help but feel that the actual footballing side of Modric’s loss was ever so slightly overlooked. There was of course always a perceived inevitability that, despite Spurs chairman Daniel Levy’s claims to the contrary at the end of last season, Modric was always going to leave White Hart Lane.
Despite fighting tooth and nail to keep him the summer previous, the lingering feeling that last term was merely a stay of execution, unfortunately came to fruition. But although his £33million to Real Madrid did eventually materialize, such was the onus on other events at the club, it didn’t feel that his ability and worth to Spurs on the playing field, was ever wholly acknowledged in the manner that maybe it should have been.
Instead, the onus was on the new manager, the new players and the constant bickering over Levy’s transfer brinkmanship. More fuss was made over the financial context of the Modric deal and what the club might loose in terms of an asset, rather than a footballer.
But despite the at times, acrimonious nature that adorned the departures within N17 , fans were rightly trying to look forward. A positive spin were put on the changes, as fans looked to buy into the Andre Villas-Boas model. It was time to think 4-2-3-1, tactical versatility, a new, more intelligent Tottenham Hotspur and all that jazz. Who knows, maybe Modric might not even have prospered within the more demanding, pressing game, that Villas-Boas wished to employed?
Three months on and far from perfecting the pressing game, Spurs seemed to have failed to perfect a basic passing one. More concerning than any talk of a negative set-up or nitpicking over the one man up front, Tottenham simply couldn’t pass the ball straight over a 10-15 yard distance. Even when they have done, past the shimmering glimpses we’ve seen from Mousa Dembele, the ball just isn’t moved about with the verve and intensity that fans have become accustomed to at White Hart Lane.
And undoubtedly, Villas-Boas must take a large proportion of the blame for this. Even though he’s been deprived of some really quite vital components to make his ideas prosper, his penchant for sitting deep coupled with some bizarre selection decisions, has cultivated a brand of football that appears as frustrating as it does at times uninspiring.
But for all your 4-2-3-1’s, your 4-4-2’s or however you like to see your Tottenham side set-out, it doesn’t matter how you want to frame it; the loss of Modric to this club has been almost unquantifiable.
The club lost not only one of the few, genuine world-class talents it has been lucky enough to lay claim to in recent years, but also, its most important player. It may hurt some to read this, but neither Gareth Bale nor even the legendary Ledley King, were as important to Spurs’ recent success, as Modric was. Finishing fourth in the league twice in three seasons was a team effort. But it was the Croatian who made them tick.
Maybe he just hadn’t been out the team enough before he eventually departed, to realize just quite the impact he had within Harry Redknapp’s side. Modric missed only two Premier League games, as Spurs finished fourth last term.
The season before, he only missed six games. In fact, if you trace his form and fitness back to 2009-10, you only have to look at the impact Spurs the broken fibula that kept him out for three months, had upon the side.
His poise, his balance and his unbelievable gifts for passing a football, never looked great on the stats sheet, but they didn’t have to. It’s a lot easier to take Modric for granted, than it is for a Bale, a Defoe or a King. He didn’t score explosive goals or make match-winning tackles. You don’t get match-winning metronomes. But he was one – for near on three seasons.
The common argument is that Spurs have failed to replace Modric, but how do you replace him? As soon as the club sold him, no man on the shortlist to replace him, could have possibly been anything less than a step-down – even the touted Joao Moutinho may not have been a surefire movement forward. Replacing the heart of your side is an almost impossible task – when he’s as good as Modric, it is near on impossible.
Ironically, the club have found someone, maybe not as naturally gifted, but who has the potential to be just as important. But Villas-Boas hasn’t had Dembele available and while it’s important not to compare, don’t think for a minute that Harry Redknapp would have this Spurs team flying much higher. The Englishman had to do without Modric for only eight times in the last two league seasons. The current fit engine room of Sandro, Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore and Tom Carroll has some serious flaws, no matter how you set it up.
The current stall in progression that Spurs are undertaking can be attributed to two men in particular and Levy’s failure to support Villas-Boas in the transfer market, is being somewhat compounded by some baffling tactical decisions by the Portuguese. But for whomever you choose to malign, the loss of Modric – however inevitable it may have been – simply cannot be underplayed.
Has the loss of Modric been somewhat underplayed at White Hart Lane? Join me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus talking all things Spurs.