The 200% Premier League Pre-Season: Tottenham Hotspur
Gareth Bale, it would appear, casts a long shadow. Sitting in his bedroom pouting over the apparent “injury” – or, to put it another way, a lack of match fitness which means that he probably won’t be starting the new season for Spurs – that will last until conveniently after the transfer window closes, it would appear that this player has burned his bridges with the club, and the manner of his apparently impending departure means that it may be difficult for many of the club’s supporters to look back upon his time at the club with a great deal of affection. But Spurs supporters, who have seen their team plundered for its choicest assets with wearying regularity over recent years, are probably more used to this sensation than most.
One man, however, does not make a team and, whilst the loss of Bale is clearly a blow to a club for whom the end of the rainbow that is perpetual Champions League qualification and making a serious bid for the Premier League title remains tantalisingly out of reach, this particular smear shouldn’t be allowed to completely mask what has otherwise been a very successful summer in the transfer market for the club. For a club that has previously been a little dithersome in the transfer market, the arrival at White Hart Lane over the last couple of months of Paulinho, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue can only be considered a successful summer and these signatures offer more than a hint of a club that isn’t treating the departure of The Annointed One as the death throes of its chances of reaching that aforementioned target.
This time last year, of course, the man under the spotlight at White Hart Lane was Andre Villas-Boas. Fresh from being unable to tame the backstage basket-casery that is Chelsea Football Club, the new manager arrived at the club under a cloud of suspicion over whether his previous success at Porto had been a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, but even though Spurs narrowly missed out on the holy grail of Champions League football, his estimation in the eyes of the club’s support has risen considerably and Spurs, who have made more than their fair share of terrible managerial choices over the years, can now sit back and take considerable satisfaction of having a talented young manager who has now had a year under his belt stamp his authority on the club and his personality on the team.
None of this means, of course, that last season was the success that Spurs supporters might have hoped that it would be. The team suffered from a lack of attacking options and often seemed drained as the season started to wind down, whilst disappointing defeats in the cup competitions allowed another season to pass without a major trophy for it. For Tottenham Hotspur, a club whose record in the domestic cups is almost as strong as anybody else’s, for a team capable as this one clearly is to not even get particularly close to winning a major trophy feels like a degree of under-achievement. Or, to put it another way, less talented Spurs teams than the one that played out last season have ended up with silverware of some description. It might just be time for Andre Villas-Boas to push hard to rectify this state of affairs.
In a summer during which several other clubs, including several of those that Spurs would consider to be their rivals in the rarefied atmosphere at the top of the table, have been undergoing periods of flux, Spurs supporters could be forgiven for thinking, “Welcome to our world.” After all, although performances have, on the whole, been substantially better than they were for most of a thoroughly underwhelming 1990s, the feeling remains that this is a club that is a perpetual work in progress. Slowly, though, things seem to be starting to move, albeit at what frequently feels like a glacial pace, in the right direction. The club’s new training ground at nearby Enfield is now complete, and it is a facility that is worthy of a club with the ambition that Spurs currently have. The new stadium, however, remains some way off, and it may prove to be that development that really unlocks the potential of the club to get beyond the fourth place or fifth place rodeo in which it has found itself in recent years.
For the coming season, however, Spurs seem strong enough to put in a sustained challenge for a Champions League place again this season with or without the Welshman whose name must not be uttered. In Hugo Lloris, the club has one of the very best goalkeepers in the whole of the Premier League, whilst the defence and midfield were reasonably cohesive last season and the somewhat unsatisfactory attacking options of Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor now have greater competition for their places on the team-sheet. From the point of view of squad-building, Spurs have shed some of their excess baggage and now look a little leaner than they did last year. Whether that will be enough to translate into improved performance in the league, however, remains to be seen.
There is, however, a feeling that there is a long-term plan in place at Tottenham Hotspur. Regardless of what happens regarding players who have decided they’re too big for the club, this summer’s new signings are encouraging and if the club can overcome the inevitable sense of rejection that comes with that grinding reminder that “you’ll never be as big as Real Madrid”, then there is an opportunity for progress to be made on the field this season. With the possibility of further reinforcements before the closure of the transfer window, the likely loss of one player should not be allowed to determine the fate of this club over the coming nine months. A shot at a domestic trophy or the Europa League coupled with actually returning to the Champions League would probably be the wish-list of most Spurs supporters on the eve of the new season, and none of these wants are beyond the realms of possibility. To dare is to do, indeed.
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