It was around the time that Man City rattled in their fifth goal last Sunday that a billion snarky armchair enthusiasts reached for their smartphones to riff on Erik Thorstvedt’s assertion that Spurs, in flogging Gareth Bale to Real Madrid’s marketing team, had ‘sold Elvis and bought The Beatles’. Hands a’tremblin’ with the excitement of injecting the internet with a hit of wit from a syringe marked ‘FUNNY’, and desperate to see Spurs’ title-chasing pretensions unceremoniously bludgeoned to death, the smirking know-it-alls went for it.
The Beatles! As if! Villas Boas, it was clear, had not bought John, Paul, George and that other twat. Nope, he’d landed himself with…. oooh, let’s see now… Steps. ZING! Or… S Club 7! The Monkees! BOSH! That that, David Baddiel! Take that, humour!
Personally, I went for Little Mix. It was either that or Gay Dad, but, obviously, I got it wrong. The Twitter mob decided ages go that, since the fat one in Little Mix who wasn’t fat anyway isn’t fat any more even though she wasn’t fat in the first place, Little Mix are the total opposite of Spurs and awesomeballs after all. Gah!
After the laughter had subsided to a rolling boil, the world awoke to news that, despite having been entrusted with job of rebuilding Spurs in the post-Bale era, Villas-Boas was, incredibly, TEETERING on the BRINK of the PRECIPICE of, y’know, the BRINK of another premature and inglorious exit from one of London’s high rollers; mission incomplete, job not even half done. Again. Just who IS this chancer?
A surprise? Perhaps. Bedding in seven players, his supporters rightly claim, will take time. But ‘on the brink’ stories rarely make it to print without someone blabbing to someone else, who blabs to someone who happens to write for a major national newspaper, who uses his fingers to type some stuff before sitting back to see if it’s true or not. Everyone knows it, and nothing fires the imaginations of the nation’s columnists more than a manager losing the dressing room.
Thus the rumour mill cranked into life, the bloggers began a-bloggin’ (well, here we are, aren’t we?) and the papers began to fill with the usual speculative conjecture. The players were in revolt. Joe Lewis was furious. There was an inquest. More players were in revolt. AVB the messiah, the buzzword lover, was in fact a hapless chancer. Or was he? Column inches dedicated to AVB’s sorry plight as soon-to-be-ex-Spurs-gaffer grew and grew until it all exploded into a sorry mess when Martin Samuel took charge of things in the Daily Mail. And when Martin Samuel sticks his oar in, you know you’re as good as shafted.
Daniel Levy stayed silent, of course, as Daniel Levy is wont to do, lest he prick the aura of a man who Gets Things Right, even though he tends to get quite a lot of things wrong. And how things are going wrong at the Lane. They’re a point behind Manchester United, for God’s sake. This is a catastrophe.
I’m being facetious. There are problems, and they are evident; you certainly don’t need to have written a book about football tactics of 1960s Yugoslavia to understand that Spurs are a curiously inert side, capable of dominating possession while the opposition goalkeeper sits in a deckchair playing Coin Dozer on his iPad. They do the technical stuff great teams do, zinging the ball around midfield like they really want to hurt you quite badly, but it’s all a bit futile. Spurs play with an air of joyless precision that ultimately ends with them going absolutely nowhere and the crowd wondering, for all the ability on show, what the point of it all is. They’re the football equivalent of math rock.
At the front of it all stands the magnificently isolated Beatle #1 -Roberto Soldado. When he hasn’t got his hands on hips wondering when the ball might come within fifteen feet of him, Soldado trots around in a passive-aggressive funk like a poor man’s Berbatov, as if he’s been ordered home from the pub to put the shelves up.
Beatles 2 through 7 are so far memorable for their price tags alone. Paulinho was, we were told, a free-scoring midfielder in the Frank Lampard mould, which sounded great to Fantasy Football managers across the nation until ‘free scoring’ was corrected to ‘not very free scoring’ and ‘Frank Lampard’ was updated to ‘Charlie Adam’. Erik Lamela is truly the stuff of sleepless nights, the kind of big ticket purchase player who could yet turn out to be the Tomas Brolin of our time, or perhaps even the new Elano if we’re lucky. No-one yet seems sure. Villas-Boas is probably as mystified as the rest of us.
Then there’s Christian Eriksen, who, like the dodgy hob on your cooker, sparks into life only intermittently, but when he does he threatens to take your fucking eyebrows off. Intermittently entertaining but not exactly conducive to reliably heating your Stag Chilli. Which is why you never use the dodgy hob on your gas cooker. Meanwhile the world continues to wonder what the point of Lewis Holtby is, nearly a year on from his premature arrival.
Villas-Boas, for his part, remains a strangely sensitive figure, roughed up by the press and bristling at every awkward question. Despite his claims to the contrary, he’s far from immune to criticism. Thin-skinned and sensitive, he is everything the media crave – a man who reacts to the slightest provocation. The media know their words hurt him, and when they smell blood they can be unrelentingly cruel. And when the hacks smell blood, so too do fans. Even, it seems, if they’re in the Arctic Circle.
Tottenham’s win at Tromso on Thursday night was uninspiring and routine in the same way that absolutely every game in the godforsaken group stages of the godforsaken Europa League are uninspiring and routine, yet AVB, in having a fan booted out of the stadium by bouncers for singing ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’, did at least gift us a slight insight into the manager’s current psychological malaise. Precarious in his job. Precarious in his own mind.
“I’m happy for the players,” he said after the win in the land of eternal darkness (at least until the sun comes back), before droning on about ‘bouncing back’ on Sunday against a Manchester United side with a record at White Hart Lane so fearsome they think of the place as their second home. Meanwhile, the hairdresser from Tromso – Reidar Stenersen Jr – was gleefully racing from paper to paper, media outlet to media outlet, putting the boot in, as if poor old Villa-Boas really needed an extra side order of boot.
And so we reach the climax of this particular plot arc. When David Moyes brings his side to London on Sunday, he brings with him all the necessary tools for the final, emphatic demolition of AVB’s reputation, at least in England. By Monday we’ll know whether Villas-Boas has a future, or is destined to be the Portuguese Phil Brown. Which would be, since we’ll only just be into December, an incredible collapse. In August we thought Spurs in the post-Bale era were the real deal, a team that could swipe Manchester United’s status as a top four team – perhaps even win the whole damn thing.
It turns out the post-Bale era may not even have started – and a hairdresser from Tromso might have called it right. Football, eh?