I liked AVB’s swagger when he first arrived. I bought into ‘the project’. The young Portuguese Coach had a solid first season unluckily missing out on a Champions League place. His clever deployment of Bale as a forward generated 26 goals. Spurs visibly grew in confidence and AVB was linked with a move to PSG, which he says he turned down. Everything looked rosy. Then Bale left. AVB said he had been assured by Spurs’ Chairman, Daniel Levy, that Bale was not for sale but the old adage ‘every player has their price’ came true with Spurs unable to resist a world record fee of £85m for the Welshman. Spurs have form in selling their top talent: in recent seasons Berbatov, Carrick and Modric have all been moved on for fat profits. The club has been unable to convince its stars they can win trophies by staying at White Hart Lane. Liverpool’s retention of Luis Suarez and their subsequent ascent of the EPL has shown what can be achieved when a club digs its heels in and refuses to sell.
Should Spurs have kept Bale? I believe they should have. One more season would have probably seen them get that elusive Champions League football they covet and who knows where that could have led. Daniel Levy moved quickly to mitigate the loss of Bale by signing seven new players costing a cool £100m. It was said Spurs had sold Elvis and bought the Beatles but as it will transpire, perhaps The Monkees would have been more apt. The club’s supporters were buzzing with pre-season excitement but unfortunately this was not matched by the performances on the pitch. Warning signs first appeared in September against arch rivals Arsenal at the Emirates. Spurs were torn apart by fast, energetic, free-flowing football. Ironically the same style Spurs had developed a reputation for playing themselves.
Spurs without Bale looked like a completely different team. Slow, pedestrian passing, low confidence and the infuriating urge to turn back or pass sideways whenever they crossed the half-way line. Loaded with defensive midfielders Spurs were not conceding many goals (at one stage having the fourth tightest defence in Europe) but they were seldom hitting the back of the net either. The new signings were taking time to settle and AVB was persisting with some very strange tactical decisions: Wingers who never crossed; A high defensive line with one of the slowest centre back pairings (Dawson and Vertonghen) in the league; A right footed player at left back; a striker who cannot play with his back to goal designated as a lone target-man. The performances were poor and the White Hart Lane faithful were beginning to grumble (something they are very good at!) Raised on a diet of Hoddle, Gascoigne, Ginola and Bale, Spurs supporters have a penchant for stylish, attacking football but AVB’s team were not exactly setting pulses racing. His obsession with risk-averse keep-ball in a negative 4-2-3-1 formation made Spurs plod where they had once purred.
However, somehow the results were going AVB’s way with wins being nicked here and there and Spurs remained around 4th despite some awful performances. Then Sam Allardyce’s West Ham rocked up in N17, without a recognized striker and smashed Spurs 0-3. Strike 1! It was the beginning of the end for AVB. Spurs stumbled on before getting totally dismantled at the Etihad 6-0 by a rampant Man City. Strike 2! Spurs had become the laughing stock of the league and AVB came under intense scrutiny from a press-pack who were beginning to smell blood. AVB had a spat with Daily Mail Correspondent, Neil Ashton and it seemed things were turning ugly for the besieged Spurs manager.
However, a decent point in the following game against Man Utd steadied the ship before two wins, albeit unconvincing ones, against Sunderland and Fulham had AVB declaring the ‘crisis was over’. If only. Liverpool without the in-form Sturridge and Gerrard were next to visit WHL. What happened was one of the worst Spurs performances for many a year. Spurs were spanked 0-5 and to be fair it should have been 7 or 8. Strike 3! Not only had Spurs forgotten how to score, they had now forgotten how to defend. AVB had no defence. Unlike previously, he could not blame the supporters who had actually sang loudly (well, until the 4th goal went in). His team. His tactics. His responsibility. Less than 24 hours later the Portuguese was toast. The smoke from Levy’s gun had barely drifted away before Spurs were being linked to all and sundry: from Sherwood to De Boer, Laudrup, Hiddink and Hoddle.
It will be a challenge to get this team playing as a unit but nobody can doubt this squad’s potential. Personally, I’d go for Hoddle. He is a Spurs man and deserves another opportunity. He is undoubtedly a master tactician and I think his spell away from the day to day of the game has matured him. Compare the squad Spurs have now to the one during Hoddle’s last spell in 2003 when Gary Doherty, Chris Perry and Oyvind Leonhardsen were the spine of the team! There is no comparison. I sincerely hope we get the chance to see what Hoddle can do with the talents of Lamela, Soldado and Eriksen. Hopefully no Eileen this time though
By Spurs Fan, Leon Butler (@theboybutler)