Despite the recent negativity displayed by many in the media, the Spurs blogging world, and the Twittersphere, I personally think this can be deemed a successful first season for André Villas-Boas even if we *don’t* finish in 4th place. Am I crazy? Maybe…
Of course a top four finish was always our aim after the dismissal of Redknapp, who achieved two fourth place finishes in three years. However, at the start of the season – having lost King to retirement, Modric to a bigger fish, and van der Vaart to… well, having lost van der Vaart – this seemed an entirely unachievable target.
I wrote back in August that we should aim to finish in the top six with the squad that we had (albeit that was before we signed Mousa Dembele). I saw this as a realistic aim given the rebuilding job required – rebuilding of the spine of the team, rebuilding of the squad and rebuilding of the remaining squad’s fragile confidence.
Rebuilding of the spine, because losing three players as vital as King, Modric, and van der Vaart was inevitably going to have an effect – little did we know that Kaboul would soon get injured too.
Rebuilding of the squad because a number of our squad players became disenfranchised under Redknapp; capable players, the likes of Corluka, Kranjcar, Pienaar and Pavlyuchenko, just didn’t get enough games to make it worthwhile sticking around. Finding similar quality to deputise was always going to be an issue.
And rebuilding of the remaining squad’s confidence because we ended last season on a low – not only because we had a run which saw us win just five of our last fifteen games, but because we lost out on a Champions League place due to Chelsea’s win over Bayern Munich.
Change of approach
Many fans felt that should we finish lower than 4th this season, we might as well have kept Redknapp. Of course, that is entirely missing the point that AVB was a long-term appointment, with new priorities very much on the agenda: the development of youth, full and proper use of the new training facilities, and a club pulling in the same direction from top to bottom.
The slimming down of an admittedly bloated squad – much of which was initially done by sending players on loan – seemed to signify a greater confidence in homegrown youth players – the likes of Caulker, Livermore, Townsend and Carroll. Whilst this hasn’t necessarily been the case so far, AVB has shown trust in Caulker certainly, and increasingly so in Carroll too – hopefully a sign of things to come.
When a new manager joins a club, there is generally an initial upturn in form – be it players wanting to impress, fresh ideas giving everyone a lift, or something else. There then tends to be a dip, as a manager begins to instil his methodologies and ideas. I would suggest that most managers don’t get their ideas across until a good halfway through a season – with that bedding in period in mind, managers should, under most circumstances, be given time and leeway by everyone concerned with the club – be it executives or supporters.
Villas-Boas had the advantage of a strong start to the season – to be in the top four in January was a terrific achievement – but we should not forget that this is his first season, that he is still getting to know his players’ strengths and weaknesses, and that key players have been missing for long periods of the season – not least Kaboul, who I voted as our Player of the Year last year, and now Sandro, arguably our most consistent performer of the first half of the season.
A distraction? A chance of glory? Both? AVB has a reputation for taking cups seriously. Whilst a League Cup run never materialised and an FA Cup run ended disappointingly, our Europa League run continues. The knock-on effect that this has on league form is obvious, but it is a difficult balancing act, and decisions will never please everyone. Some fans would rather sacrifice further progress in the European competition to prioritise a stronger league finish, whereas others want the glory and historical memento that a trophy brings.
The modern-day football fan demands success and demands it now – I can understand the frustration; we are “closer to success” than we have been in many fans’ lifetimes – certainly mine, in terms of being one of the four or five best clubs in the country. This is why so many fans went ballistic when Levy and co failed to land a big-name striker in January, in the summer, in the January before that, etc etc. But, without a sugar daddy investor, the key is sustainability – and that means building towards “success” over a period of time. This is why Villas-Boas is a perfect fit for our club – a club with resources, but limited resources compared to some. His focus on getting the best out of what he has, on integrating youth, on utilising psychology, on using modern methods generally, will take time to embed, but, in my opinion, have a greater chance of delivering regular Champions League football, as well as delivering trophies. Maybe not this season, but we have to look beyond the now and realise that he has laid foundations this year that will stand us in good stead.