The glory days for Tottenham Hotspur were supposedly kicking off three holiday seasons ago. Spurs got rolling after a slow start to the campaign, during which midfielder Luka Modric was informed that his dreams of moving on to a Champions League club would not be realized that August, and a prosperous run during the festive period had Tottenham two places from the top spot of the Premier League table heading into January 2012. Fans and respected analysts alike were hailing Spurs as legitimate contenders for the league throne heading into an away fixture against Manchester City, a match that would change the fortunes of both clubs moving forward.
City opened the scoring with a pair of goals, but Tottenham rallied back thanks to tallies buried by Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale, the latter being a magnificent curling strike that would prove to be but a preview of what the Welsh wonder would become. Then came the stoppage time moments that remain heartbreaking for Tottenham supporters nearly three years after the fact. Defoe pushed what should have been a match-winner wide of the right post, Tottenham defender Ledley King surrendered a penalty, and controversial front man Mario Balotelli delivered from the penalty spot to lift City and sink Spurs.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Tottenham were bounced from the top club competition in the world despite finishing fourth in the Premier League table when Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. Spurs have never managed to make a return to the Champions League, the club has been filled with instability minus one individual many diehard Tottenham followers want ousted, and White Hart Lane has been reduced to a venue filled with paying customers left sitting on their hands watching squads fail to produce positive results.
There is no one problem ailing Spurs just as there is no one thing holding down any professional sports franchise that is failing to reach expectations. It is easy, for example, to claim that a National Football League team unable to reach the playoffs would immediately become a sure Super Bowl contender upon signing a great quarterback. That quarterback would not fix what could be a disappointing defense or the lack of a rushing attack that could be the foundation of his offense. Tottenham are void of depth in the talent pool, and blaming chairman Daniel Levy alone for this is both silly and misguided.
While England striker Harry Kane has been a bright spot for Spurs over the past couple of months, Roberto Soldado continues to appear absolutely lost while wearing Tottenham Lilywhite. Yes, Soldado puts in the work and helps create opportunities for others, and yes, supporters continue to sing his name in appreciation of his efforts during matches. Three goals in 34 total strikes across all competitions this fall is a downright embarrassing stat line for a striker who was purchased for € 30 million, especially when you add in that only 12 of those attempts were registered to be on-target.
Fellow striker Emmanuel Adebayor has largely been an invisible man since the departure of fill-in boss Tim Sherwood. Erik Lamela, advertised to be a replacement for the departing Bale during the 2013 summer transfer window, has been nothing short of a flop in Premier League play. Defender Younes Kaboul has, at times, performed as a man past his prime and unable to keep up with top-tier athletes, while fellow center back Jan Vertonghen, thought to be the future Tottenham captain when he signed for the club in 2012, has appeared disinterested at points of matches.
This isn’t to suggest that the Tottenham squad lacks any gems. Acquiring Hugo Lloris in the summer of 2012 has been nothing short of a brilliant transaction, as Lloris has evolved into arguably the best overall goalkeeper in the world. Midfielder Christian Eriksen has been a revelation during his 16 months at Tottenham, offering memories of when Modric would pick teammates out with perfectly-placed assists or hit the back of the net with swooping strikes that caused those at the Lane to leave their feet in celebration. A squad built around those two and the likes of Kane could grow into one capable of qualifying for the Champions League.
To get there, Levy has to be all-in on current manager Mauricio Pochettino so long as Spurs are able to avoid relegation battles. Tottenham have had four different managers since May 2012 – Harry Redknapp, Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood and Pochettino. That is four different men, four different personalities, four different methods for approaching squad training, four different preferences for picking lineups, and four different styles of play. It is no wonder that Spurs have not been able to keep up with the likes of Manchester City and north London rivals Arsenal.
Critics can knock Redknapp and the man’s tactics all they want, but the numbers tell you that Spurs have yet to recover from Levy and the former Tottenham manager parting ways in June 2012. Redknapp remains the only manager in Tottenham history to take the club to the Champions League. Villas-Boas failed to land Spurs a top-four finish despite Tottenham breaking a club record by earning 72 points in the 2012-13 Premier League season. Unlike Redknapp, Villas-Boas was unable to convince a superstar in-the-making to remain at the Lane for one final campaign in an attempt to carry Spurs back to the Champions League.
A book could be written about the transfer saga involving Bale that went down in the summer of 2013. The Player of the Year had reportedly committed himself to Spurs and to Villas-Boas, but rumors of backdoor meetings and of conversations that technically break transfer regulations leaked in late July that Bale had been successfully courted by Real Madrid. Tottenham, left in a panic, acquired seven players to replace Bale, and it is believed that AVB did not sign-off on at least some of those purchases. Villas-Boas watched as his plans for the 2013-14 season exploded before him, and he wouldn’t make it through the end of 2013 before he was shown the door following multiple lackluster Tottenham performances.
What’s done is done, and Levy must learn from previous mistakes and misfortunes and give Pochettino a true shot at getting Tottenham back into the Champions League. That includes Pochettino having multiple transfer windows to build his squads, and Levy allowing the manager to have the final say in who sits, who plays, who goes, and who stays. Failing to do so will only result in the revolving door of managers and players filtering in and out of the Lane to continue, and it will leave the club on the outside looking in on where it wants to be.
The journey now returns to the original question asked: Just what is wrong with Tottenham? The answer is that nothing is actually “wrong” with Spurs this holiday season. Tottenham are an above-average team, sitting on seventh in the Premier League table and capable of either landing in the top-four if they get hot or falling down into the lower-half of the table if they, as has been a tradition for the club, enter a winter swoon. Events and decisions made over the past three years have turned Spurs into what they are today, and Pochettino is the next man up to erase the damage that has been done.
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