A square peg in a round hole at Tottenham

Roberto Soldado

Roberto Soldado’s struggles in the Premier League are a good representation of Tottenham as a whole this season: high spend, plenty of promise, but failing to hit the ground running. For most, a lesson learnt.

It’s still hard to believe that Andre Villas-Boas has refused to set up his team to get the best out of the single player who has a record of goals and who is capable of taking on a lot of the burden left by Gareth Bale. Roberto Soldado isn’t a poor player by any means, but any player, no matter their quality, can look like a waste at near £30 million if his team aren’t interested in playing to his strengths.

Just following his signing back in August, I said that this was Tottenham’s priority in the way of players in the squad. Soldado may not be the most talented – he isn’t – but he’s the calibre of striker the team have been in search of for many years.

Maybe there is a case to be made that Villas-Boas is looking to a more “complete” team with players not shackled down by individual assignments or positions; basically something which heightens the movement of a group of players who are more than capable of roaming and contributing in multiple areas of the pitch.

We’ve seen similar tactical approaches elsewhere in Europe. Atletico Madrid relied heavily upon Radamel Falcao in the Colombian’s first season with the club and into his second. But midway through, Diego Simeone found ways to enhance the contribution of Arda Turan, Koke and vitally Diego Costa. The team were no longer set up to work for Falcao with the focus switched elsewhere.

Similarly, Spurs have midfield players who want to get themselves on the score sheet and are capable of advancing into the box. It’s not a team who are playing for a poacher – at least it doesn’t appear that way.

So why buy Soldado if this was to be Villas-Boas’ plan all along? We praised the team work of the manager, Daniel Levy and Franco Baldini, but there are some inconsistencies to what we’re seeing on the pitch now to what we saw in the unity of this past summer.

Soldado isn’t a world-class striker; I’ve been over that before when comparing him and Alvaro Negredo, who incidentally I also don’t quite class in that bracket yet.

But as said, Soldado is a poacher with good movement. He’ll make intelligent runs in the final third but his game is heavily reliant on the service from others. Valencia as individuals over the past few seasons were hardly high class following the departures of David Silva and David Villa; Juan Mata is obviously an exception. However, the team became focused on the scoring ability of Soldado. As a unit, they would win possession and find ways to exploit their best source of goals.

Soldado isn’t a striker who takes shots from outside the box, nor will he pick up the ball in midfield and drive towards goal in the way players like Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney can. And it’s telling: he isn’t doing anything because he has nothing to work with – or at least extremely little.

And that returns to the point about him falling short of the world-class tag. You generally give players like Edinson Cavani or Falcao – two world-class finishers – one chance and they’ll take it. Soldado often needed a handful of opportunities before he found the net; though his conversion has improved as of last season.

He received a call up to the Spanish national team because he was deemed another option in attack but also because he was deemed good enough. He’s scored while on international duty, taking advantage of the myriad creative outlets from midfield. Tellingly, in his hat-trick game against Venezuela, he could have had five. But that’s his wastefulness coming to the fore.

Tottenham, under this set up, will go nowhere. Fortunately they have a good defensive foundation and have benefitted from solitary goals seeing them up the league table. But it’s not a long-term commitment. For Tottenham, anything around £30 million for a 28-year-old is a huge outlay, especially when dealing with a player who has to adapt to a new league and who has never played outside of his previous league.

But by knowingly reducing the outcome for success – and especially where there is a real opportunity to see Soldado flourish – questions will continue to be asked about the wider scale of the issue at Spurs.


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