Tottenham Hotspur – Title contenders or just pretenders?

Blog by: Naveen

Andre Villas-Boas is under pressure to deliver

Andre Villas-Boas is under pressure to deliver

Ah, the irony. Fresh off my first article here about my beloved Arsenal, and later, a goldmine about Suarez and then Lampard, I am now tasked with evaluating our unsightly neighbours’ chances at the League title this season. But we, Gooners, are above such bias (now that we have Mesut Ozil, anyway. And a very happy Galactico scampering the other way too, don’t forget him). So this will be as objective as David Moyes’s insomnia curing press conferences (I miss Fergie).

Andre Villas-Boas is known to be an articulate man, adapt at performing all those little niceties that an old-schooled Sir Alex Ferguson found so irksome. Charming the press, diplomacy, level-headedness – the multilingual Portuguese ticks all the boxes when it comes to upholding the image of the club he represents. It came as a surprise then, when a refreshingly blunt Villas-Boas confessed to the press that his team were not, in fact, genuine title contenders. Not one prone to moments of self-doubt, Villas-Boas’s statement opens up what looked to be a very well-sealed Gareth Bale-shaped-hole in the Tottenham armour.

Despite the repercussions that are sure to follow from losing the man who is now the most expensive player on the planet, morale at White Hart Lane has been sky high, and one that doesn’t need to look very far to see why. The much-hyped super team of Villas-Boas and Daniel Levy have had a very busy summer by any standards, with a whopping investment of around 107 million pounds to stem any negativity that may have followed from the inevitable departure of Gareth Bale. Although Levy’s bullish attitude during the long drawn-out Bale saga may have suggested a repeat of the Luka Modric episode, to even compare the two cases would be an exercise in futility.

The one point of similarity – other than the inexplicable urge that seems to be in-born in every professional football player to call himself a Galactico – that emerged was that both parties were happy at the end of all the negotiations – and for that, Levy deserves considerable credit. Not all the praise that has gone his way is justified, but the man is certainly more than a “glorified accountant”, as some have suggested.

But the Tottenham chairman is a businessman before all else. An unhappy player is an unproductive one. And when there are so many willing suitors at hand; all it takes is a little bit of patience to see who blinks first. And Real Madrid being Real Madrid (rich and spoiled with an insatiable appetite for only caviare), you could almost see the pink glee bounce off that shiny, round bald head of his, all the way from the Tower of London. All of this is not to suggest that Levy is in it for the money alone, he seems to be genuinely serious in his pursuit of having Tottenham join Europe’s elite – something that Villas-Boas admitted was a major factor in his decision to take the seemingly jinxed Tottenham hot seat.

Villas-Boas himself remains the most pressing factor in Tottenham’s climb. The whole Chelsea assignment had a touch of inevitable doom to it from the start – the man himself has admitted that the never ending comparisons to a certain compatriot were always playing on his mind whilst at the Bridge.

Although very different to the current Chelsea boss (funny game, football) both in personality and in his approach, it was always inevitable that Mourinho’s reign would be the yardstick for Villas-Boas’s time at the club. Both men are of Portuguese nationality, with no professional playing careers of their own to talk about (in itself an unusual occurrence). Both owe their breaks in the jungle (that we know and love as professional football) to the late Sir Bobby Robson. Both were imperious in their reigns at Porto (although Mourinho did win the Champions League as opposed to AVB’s Europa League triumph) before moving on to Chelsea.

One of the new signings, Roberto Soldado, has already scored twice in two goals

One of the new signings, Roberto Soldado, has already scored twice in three league matches

You can almost forgive Roman Abramovich for shelling out a remarkable 15 million euros to meet Villas-Boas’s release clause at Porto. He buckled under the pressure, never really gained the respect of the Chelsea dressing room, and stuck to that absurdly high defensive line that had Chelsea conceding left, right and centre. But it has made him stronger, no doubt; there is a fire to go with the undoubted footballing intellect. Hell hath no fury like a manager sacked. Amen to that.

Erik Lamela, Cristian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli and Paulinho – sounds like a few of the names discussed ad nauseum in transfer rumour circles over the last couple of years or so. And somehow they have all conspired to end up at White Hart Lane this summer. The first three names rival any wonder-kid in modern day football for their skill, pace and that elusive stroke of genius only the truly blessed possess. It is another thing to go on and capitalize on that potential, so many have fallen by the wayside over the years.

But if you are looking for replacements for a recently departed Welshman, you would be hard-pressed to find better potential. Even so, Paulinho looks like he could be the key signing – the Brazilian was majestic at the Confederations Cup earlier in the summer, and will surely usurp a wildly inconsistent Sandro to the role of the rock in the centre. Further defensive reinforcements in the form of Romania’s Vlad Chiriches and Étienne Capoue, not to forget a much needed goalscorer in Robert Soldado, and you can forgive Spurs’s fans for thinking they have a legitimate shot at the title this year.

Villas-Boas’s immediate concern, of course, is gelling this incredibly talented group (the rest of the team are no pushovers, let me tell you) into a cohesive unit, a real team. And it is likely to remain his objective for the remainder of the season. You do not win a Premier League title without considerable Premier League experience, and this team is a little too wet behind the ears for a sustained challenge (that goes for the manager, as well). It is why Manchester United won the League last year (and a few times before that). Despite not being, on paper at least, the strongest team around, Sir Alex’s side practically cantered to the finish line. Tottenham’s early season loss to Arsenal was another case in point.

All in all, this is the strongest Spurs team in years, one that won’t stand down without a fight, but still, one that doesn’t have enough fight and guts to bleed its way to the title. That’s what it takes every year, as Villas-Boas knows only too well. Or maybe he’s playing a very clever game, and all those words were to take the pressure off his side. If that is his game plan, no wonder the serious players went all “gangsta” on him at Chelsea. This league doesn’t tolerate shielding and spoon feeding. The players have to be able to take everything on the chin, and still stand up for more. That is, by definition, a champion (Rocky Balboa, ladies and gentlemen). And that’s the bottom line.

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