Does he have a point about Tottenham’s future title hopes?
Tottenham legend Ledley King has tipped the club to mount a serious title challenge within two years if they maintain their current rate of progress under manager Andre Villas-Boas, but is that a reasonable expectation or simply a case of putting the cart before the horse considering their Champions League qualification hopes hang by a thread?
The club currently sit four points ahead of local rivals Arsenal in fourth place in the league table, but with Arsene Wenger’s men in possession of a crucial game in hand which is at home to Reading, and given their current state of upheaval, that’s likely to close to one point after the international break. They’ve blown their seven-point advantage gleaned after what at the time looked to be a season-defining north London derby victory by losing back-to-back games against Liverpool and Fulham, ending a streak of 12-games unbeaten, while the humiliating way they scraped through against Inter Milan in the Europa League will also have dented confidence. The thing is with Tottenham, disaster only ever lurks just around the corner.
King told BBC School Reporters: “I rate the current Spurs team very highly. I think we’ve got a young and ambitious manager who’s great and is going to do well for the club. I think we’ve got a great group of players at a good age where they’re improving all the time and reaching their peak.
“The way the team are progressing at the minute, hopefully in the next year or two they will be really challenging for the Premier League. It’s a big club and you’ve got to make sure it’s not just a one-off, you’ve got to keep doing it. Hopefully we can qualify this season and continue doing that for the future.”
Of course, there’s a very big difference, as Arsenal fans will clearly attest to, between qualifying for the Champions League on a regular basis and actively challenging for the top flight’s league crown. Hopes often fade around the festive period or shortly afterwards where a squad’s depth is truly put to the test and as the Inter defeat pointed to, the current strength of the back-up players at the club is patchy at best.
Secondly, there’s also the future of Gareth Bale, the club’s star winger to take into account and while many have lazily taken to calling Tottenham a ‘one-man team’ whatever that actually means, they are likely to lose him to a bigger club within that two-year period. They have clearly come to rely on the Welshman to produce moments of brilliance this term more than any other, and it’s far from certain that he’ll even leave this summer, I’d bet he stays for one more year, but there’s a certain sense of inevitability about his departure just in the same way there was with Luka Modric before he finally left for Real Madrid at the start of the campaign.
Villas-Boas is a fine manager and a bright coach, helping this current group of players to by and large evolve into a more compact, tactically-aware and disciplined unit that have become one of the finest exponents of playing on the counter in the whole of Europe. Their latest dip in form should be seen through the context of the great pace of change at the club over the past seven or eight months and should go down as a blip that they are more than capable of coming through and clinching a top four place.
Arsenal are faced with the financial pressure the implications of their failure to make the top four mean, but they are chasing Tottenham down well at the moment and it’s always easier to chase than hold on at this stage in the season. If the club did miss out on a Champions League place, it could have a large impact on transfer budgets, which would delay any plans Villas-Boas has for overhauling the side, which still looks short of a quality striker or two, a bit more strength out wide and another central midfield player capable of taking a game by the scruff of the neck, not to mention a new left-back.
There’s a 20-point gap between Manchester United at the summit and Tottenham right now, which is the same number of points that a fourth-placed Tottenham finished behind champions Manchester City last season. That gap is likely to widen between now and the end of the campaign, even if they do look capable of bettering their league finish and points tally this year. Unless they truly break through the glass ceiling, it’s difficult to see King’s words as little more than well-intentioned flattery of a club he holds dear.
They’ve struggled at times this term competing on multiple fronts and the phrase that they are just ‘one or two players away from a top side’ could be said of plenty of vintages over the past decade, but progress has proven elusive to a club that has a penchant for shooting itself in the foot at pivotal moments. Tottenham have the right man in charge and a sprinkling of genuinely class players, but that’s a mighty big leap in such a short space of time for a side almost permanently in ‘transition’.