Sitting aboard multi-billionaire Joe Lewis’ boat in the early summer of 2013, despite the pain of missing out on a place in the Champions League by a solitary point to rivals Arsenal, André Villas-Boas and his squad must have felt an air of invincibility. Squad morale was high; superstar Gareth Bale was ready to help his side shoot for the Champions League in the following season; and discussions were taking place as to how much money AVB would be given to improve the squad.
Even when Gareth Bale decided to join Real Madrid to realise his dreams, the mood around the Tottenham fan-base only slightly dipped. Real would have to fork out over £85m for the 21-goal midfielder and there was a belief that the squad could be strengthened beyond recognition, albeit in the absence of their talisman. When Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado and Etienne Capoue were added for £60m before the season began it looked as if the imminent sale of Gareth Bale was a blessing in disguise. And on Friday 30th August, the Lilywhites completed the signings of Vlad Chiriches, Erik Lamela, and Christian Eriksen, to round their summer spending off at £109m. The supporters were in delirium.
A tight defeat at the Emirates served as a gentle reminder that this team would take some time to gel, but Spurs moved to 2nd in the league by the time September drew to a close. However, there was an underlying issue with the style of football that AVB’s Tottenham were employing – a slow and lethargic passage through the midfield more often than not allowed the defence to get into position and block any potential advances, and to the eye it left a lot to be desired. It simply was not ‘The Tottenham way’.
Then the first true blow on the pitch came. Humiliated by London rivals West Ham in a dismal 3-0 defeat at the Lane, with a treble of second half goals causing Spurs to lose to a Hammers side that possessed no strikers. However, it was seen as only a temporary blip, with form remaining consistent up until the end of October, including progress in the Capital One Cup and Europa League. But then, permanent cracks began to appear. AVB blasted the fans for a lack of atmosphere inside White Hart Lane after a tense victory over Hull and there were the first indications that all was not right within Tottenham.
After that victory, Spurs endured a torrid spell of form in the league, with just 2 points coming in the league between early November and early December. In the midst of that was a horrific thrashing at the hands of City, which humiliated Daniel Levy to such an extent that his impatience with AVB, coupled with the realisation that his £100m spend in the summer was not achieving instant success, was heightening week-by-week. Defeats such as that against City and the home embarrassment against Newcastle only served to accentuate the increasingly fragmented relationship between chairman and manager; Levy was becoming frustrated that, despite the Lilywhites’ evident goal-scoring issues, Villas-Boas would not recall Adebayor to the first team, save for a 45 minute cameo at the Etihad. There is a certain irony in the notably shrewd businessman Daniel Levy forking out £100,000 per week for a striker who couldn’t even make the bench.
The manager too was struggling to hide his frustration. The attack on the supporters, the falling out with Steffen Freund that saw Luis Martins step up as assistant, the attack on Neil Ashton, and a lack of passion in celebration compared with last year’s exuberance. The signs were there. Was AVB’s heart still at Tottenham?
The impatience and frustration of Levy was not lifted by tight away wins against Fulham and Sunderland, which unfortunately only exemplified in his mind the struggles that Spurs were having to win any games; the stint of AVB was at breaking point. Goals still weren’t coming freely, £30m Erik Lamela still struggled to get a game and Roberto Soldado couldn’t score from open play. Ultimately, the 5-0 degradation at the hands of Liverpool saw Levy reach the end of his tether and feel the need to cut Villas-Boas from the club. The dramatic fall from grace of the Portuguese hotshot, just a few months ago backed to the hilt to succeed with his project and bring silverware back to White Hart Lane, was complete.
I wish André all the best for the future and hope he eventually achieves deserved success. His passion and determination as manager of the club was evident until the dying stages of his time at the club, and we will not forget moments such as the win at Old Trafford.
And good luck to Tim Sherwood as he takes charge of Spurs, at least temporarily, and hopefully he can lead Tottenham Hotspur back into the Champions League.
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