Last year’s mammoth summer of spending was seen to be the prelude to Tottenham once again claiming a spot in the top four of the Premier League and securing Champions League football.
It was the expectation laid at the door of Andre Villas-Boas by Daniel Levy, even with knowledge of Gareth Bale’s impending sale to Real Madrid. The arrivals, at least two of them tipped as stars of the future, were deemed enough to offset the Welshman’s departure and provide the quality throughout to see Spurs become a Champions League club again.
That didn’t play out as Levy had hoped. A combination of injuries, difficulty in adapting and, apparently, Villas-Boas’ dissatisfaction at some of the signings, saw a disastrous season – certainly relative to £100 million of spending – followed the Portuguese coach’s dismissal and another place among the far from glamorous lights of Europa League football.
This summer has been about evolution rather than revolution. New manager Mauricio Pochettino has seen the club spend very little (thought don’t discount a late deal or two by Levy) but rather entrust him with the task of creating one successful moving part with the pieces brought to White Hart Lane last summer.
Immediately it’s clear that the Argentine is having a positive impact on Erik Lamela, who arrived as the club’s biggest signing last year but, for one reason or another, couldn’t continue the form that generated such attention while he was with Roma.
Lamela looks a player reborn, energised under the guidance of his countryman and one who, from early showing, will become integral to this Tottenham side over the coming years.
His performance against Queens Park Rangers on the weekend has been a year in the making; not quite the heights of what he produced at the Stadio Olimpico, but the important first steps in English football to set him on his way.
Elsewhere in the team, new signing Eric Dier has had a fine start to life in the Premier League, scoring the winner against West Ham last week and coming up with one of the four goals against QPR on Sunday.
Pochettino had Southampton punching above their weight last season. Could the win against QPR be a sign that the Argentine coach is set to repeat his successes on the south coast?
There are positives, but the bad news is that these two opening games have been against Sam Allardyce’s uninspired West Ham and Harry Redknapp’s QPR, who will probably be out of the top flight by this time next year. Had this been any other league, then you could argue Spurs have a strong case for a top four spot.
But the Premier League has last season’s top four all vying for an inclusion in UEFA’s top club competition next season, as well as a Louis van Gaal-led Manchester United, who you assume will give their new manager the tools in these final days of the window to complete that task, while Everton will have been boosted by their summer signing of Romelu Lukaku.
Are Tottenham good enough to break in ahead of any of those teams? Not yet. Spurs may currently sit atop the Premier League table, but we really shouldn’t be paying too much attention to the position of teams until sometime next month.
Rather, this speaks of the strength of the Premier League and the potential to add one more to the mix if Tottenham’s game against QPR is anything to go by. Can Pochettino perform similar miracles with Roberto Soldado, who has it in him to score 20-plus goals, but has found the Premier League rather unkind up until this point?
What must be taken into account is the demands of Daniel Levy and the need to curb those expectations. Tottenham can be a top four club. Beyond Manchester City and Chelsea, neither of the other two spots have been claimed, but Arsenal and Liverpool are currently in better positions than Spurs – and possibly Manchester United, depending on the outcome of the coming week.
If Tottenham are to be a regular in the Champions League – or even just to return there for at least one season – it will take time and patience, which hasn’t always been forthcoming from Levy. Pochettino is a good coach with the talent at his disposal. But the mess of last season hasn’t been fully addressed yet.
The win against QPR hasn’t given anything away about where Spurs will finish. But it is certainly too early to call them a top four team at this stage.