You had to be living in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan last summer not to know that Gareth Bale was set to leave Tottenham. The sale of the Wales winger would clearly bring the club many millions. And it did, on a record-breaking scale.
Some of the reported 85.3 million pounds had already been earmarked in a nice little kitty to bring in new stars – not just to replace Bale, but also to secure a much-coveted Champions League spot.
The players bought from various leagues across the continent came with a decent amount of pedigree and talent. Striker Roberto Soldado and midfielders Paulinho, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen all seemed exceptionally promising – and Spurs looked like they meant business.
Yet so far they have largely failed to impress. A prolific and consistent golascorer at Valencia, Soldado has netted just six league goals for Spurs, and few from open play. Thirty-million-pound record signing Lamela has been plagued by injury. Paulinho has been inconsistent and so has Eriksen, whom Tim Sherwood dropped for much of February.
In contrast, Willian’s less heralded arrival at nearby Stamford Bridge has proved to be a revelation as Chelsea push for the title under the returning Jose Mourinho.
Meanwhile, the Special One’s protégé and one-time predecessor Andre Villas-Boas had led Spurs to an impressive start. The only significant blips were a local pride 1-0 loss at Arsenal and a 1-1 draw at home to the Blues.
By the end of September, the club were doing better than expected, sitting pretty in third in an unusually open and competitive top flight. Chairman Daniel Levy was delighted.
Then it all started to go pear-shaped and by the end of December Spurs had slipped to seventh – and AVB was gone.
During his time at Chelsea, I thought AVB was a good scout. He can spot young talent – but not necessarily players who can slot into the team or become a cohesive side.
And it seems he did much the same at Tottenham – either not buying to fill positions, or curiously overfilling them. Perhaps because he stubbornly refused to budge from the style of play he was keen to employ, combined with a severe lack of man-management skills, AVB couldn’t get the best out of the host of new players he’d brought in.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs supporters claimed it was sometime between September and AVB’s sacking that their current disgruntlement really began.
When Sherwood took over, things looked up for a while as he altered the system and brought back players who had been alienated, particularly the forgotten and reinvigorated Emmanuel Adebayor, and the squad seemed to respond to him.
However, recent results have begun to slide. A lacklustre 1-0 defeat at Norwich and 4-0 hammering at Chelsea angered Sherwood, who blamed his players’ lack of heart – and put his own future in doubt.
While in Europe, Spurs’ failure to qualify for this season’s Champions League meant their stint in the Europa League offered a realistic chance of winning a trophy. But a 3-1 home drubbing by Benfica means that dream has likely slipped from their gasp, barring a miracle comeback in Lisbon in next week’s return leg.
I believe Spurs is failing under Tim Sherwood because he does not have enough experience or tactical know-how to manage in a way that suits their needs. While he initially rallied the players- the formerly isolated ones in particular- as well as the support, he now seems to have lost the dressing room as well, almost completely blaming the players for the club’s shortcomings. The refreshment that he brought in is now gone, and he does not have what to replace it with.
Can Spurs bounce back after the Chelsea humiliation and the Benfica shambles by using the charged atmosphere of this Sunday’s North London derby as a motivator? Could denting their archrivals’ title aspirations prove key to Spurs’ revival?
Here’s to a mouthwatering and pivotal six-pointer…..