Yet again, the day following the end of the season will be one of solace and reflection for Tottenham fans, whilst their local rivals Arsenal will no doubt still be in celebration mode from yesterday afternoon. Despite the change in management, summer investment in the squad and the Lilywhites recording their highest ever points total in the Premier League, they find themselves finishing once again a place and a point shy of a Champions League spot, and even more insultingly, behind their arch enemies, who spent the first half of their campaign in rotten form.
Considering the start of the season, with historic wins against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and Gareth Bale being the most powerful individual force in the English top flight for much of the year, the attention from the Spurs faithful will be focused on where it all went wrong. Was it simply fate once again standing in the way of Tottenham’s ambitions of European glory or should the Chairman, Daniel Levy, have done more for this club during the summer and January in the transfer market?
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In terms of Tottenham’s shortcomings this season, there appeared to be a stage where the first team we devoid of ideas, with the exclusion of the simple tactic of getting the ball to Gareth Bale in promising areas of the pitch – the final game of the season, when it seemed Spurs were about to choke against Sunderland until a last minute strike from the Welsh wonder sealed their victory, is an excellent example upon how they’ve become over-reliant on the 23 year old’s abilities. His goals have secured Spurs the majority of their wins, starting with a hatrick against Aston Villa in December, and finishing up with 21 goals and four assists in 33 league games, almost double the total of Tottenham’s next highest scorer, Jermain Defoe.
The Lilywhites’ dependency on their talisman winger-come-forward however, was as much due to necessity as it was a tactic of preference. Jermain Defoe started the year in good form, with ten goals in his first twenty appearances in the Premier League, but upon missing out on the whole of February due to injury, and undergoing a rather long rehabilitation process since, his understudy Emmanuel Adebayor hasn’t been able to fill the Englishman’s famously tiny shoes.
Perhaps Daniel Levy should have anticipated that the Togo international would switch off as soon as his paycheques for the foreseeable future were secured, and indeed, Adebayor’s woeful form, recording just five goals in 25 appearances, two of them coming after he announced he intended to leave White Hart Lane in the summer, has no doubt been a factor in Tottenham’s slow end to the season. The striker spent the first half of the year looking exceptionally moody on the Spurs bench, seemingly due to his lack of game time, and then spent the latter half looking exceptionally uninterested on the pitch, despite being given the opportunity to play that he’d been so miffed about previously.
However, it would take a brave man to deny a loan star a long-term contract after recording 17 goals and 11 assists in their first campaign. What Levy could perhaps be held more to blame for is the decision to leave the Spurs roster with just two senior strikers. The Lilywhites have spent the summer and January in desperate pursuit of Leandro Dalmao, but upon failing to sign the Brazilian, Villas-Boas has had just one selection choice up front in Adebayor for a good three months, and additionally Tottenham’s busiest three months, of their season.
It’s not only left Adebayor with a lack of competition, no doubt a factor in his unprofessional on-pitch laziness, but upon the Togo forward’s decision to return back late from the African Cup of Nations, which he was duly fined for, the gaffer had no choice but to field Clint Dempsey as a striker for their fixture against Newcastle, with the inexperienced Harry Kane being farmed out for the year.
It may well be acceptable against the Magpies, a rank and file Premier League club, but had Spurs come up against a serious divisional rival that weekend, the club’s lack of depth would have been heavily scrutinised by the fans and the media. Similarly, having only two strikers on the books pretty much dictates a team’s formation to being a 4-5-1, and a remaining competitive up front for all 38 games of a campaign is surely a pre-requisite for a team focused on Champions League qualification – it is after all, goals that win games, and it is telling that both Manchester clubs started the year with four forwards a piece in their strike forces.
Furthermore, it’s not the only area of AVB’s squad that can be accused of be lacking in depth this season. The use of wingers has been an integral part to the Portuguese coach’s simple game plan of width and speed on the counter-attack, and upon Aaron Lennon’s short spell on the sidelines, missing four games in the Premier League, Spurs suddenly became incredibly blunt on the break.
His orthodox approach was the ying to Bale’s yang, hugging the right-hand touchline, maintaining shape and width to allow the Welshman on the opposite flank to venture inside and take up a freer role. Lennon’s absence cost them two defeats against Liverpool and Fulham, with Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson proving to be rather inadequate replacements simply due to their lack of pace.
Suddenly, the Lilywhites’ roster, praised at the start of the year for being converted in quality throughout, began resembling a house of cards, with a few integral figures being taken away to bring the whole mechanism of Tottenham’s style of play grinding to a halt.
But can all the blame be attributed to Daniel Levy alone? He did bring in a stellar cast of new recruits in the summer, including Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele and Hugo Lloris, who’ve all served the club well this season, in addition to Dempsey and Sigurdsson, who’ve both played a role and contributed goals and assists. You can argue that there perhaps wasn’t enough planning, with a lack of like for like replacements for Bale and Lennon, and an overload of personnel in other departments, such as central midfield, defence and between the sticks, but his conviction to improve the overall quality of the first team is clear to see. Similarly, with Adebayor commanding a £100k per week deal, there is only so much that one can do in regards to signing better players that the limitations of finance will allow.
Similarly, whereas Harry Redknapp was given his marching orders in the summer for not being able to secure results against the bigger teams, judged as being the stumbling block between Spurs finishing up in the top four, AVB’s knack of recording points against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal appears to have come at a price of the Lilywhites being less successful against the teams directly below them in the Premier League, in addition to the teams at the bottom.
Spurs have come away with nothing or just a single point from fixtures against Everton, Liverpool, Fulham, Norwich, QPR, Stoke and Wigan, and despite the absence of Bale, Defoe and Lennon at times, excluding the two Merseyside clubs, the Lilywhites have more than enough quality to record a victory against these rank and file clubs. In my opinion, the failure to secure all three points against clubs teams like QPR, Wigan, and Fulham has as much to do with Villas-Boas’ leadership and tactics as it does a lack of depth.
Nevertheless, Champions League qualification is attainted through the course of an entire season rather than in just 90 minutes or any particular Saturday afternoon. A squad can only do as well as their quality will allow, and it appears that overall, the roster has come up short. The January signing of Lewis Hotlby was premature, unneccesary and uninspired, whereas a number of cheap wingers on the market, including Scott Sinclair for example, who was known to be on his way out of Manchester City as soon as he turned up for the first day of training, would have been a much more useful acquisition for Tottenham’s busy end to the season.
But could Levy really have afforded another winger and another striker – the two most expensive types of player to bring in, as it is often their end product which determines results and outcomes. The fact is, Spurs are not yet a Champions League club; their wage bill is £50million less than Arsenal’s, and their record transfer fee is the £17million spent on David Bentley. With the Chairman unable to bring in long-term target Leandro Dalmao, it makes sense that he’s bided his time rather than rashly acquiring an alternative that will be a burden on the club’s finances in the years to come.
Levy resisted the urge to take a risk in the transfer market, having already brought in a series of new personnel and a new manager, and perhaps it has cost them a place in the Champions League. But with plans for a new stadium on the horizon, and the expected arrival of another fresh batch of players in the summer, most likely including Dalmao and Joao Moutinho, in the long-term, it makes sense to walk before you can run. On the other hand, with Chelsea, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs set to invest heavily in the summer, the Lilywhites may have missed their best chance at European glory for years to come, and Spurs fans will be gutted if failing to qualify will cost them Gareth Bale over the course of the summer.