Spurs Women – The project, the players, and the plans for the future

Picture the scene: After a majorly disappointing 2022/23, Tottenham identify a coach who plays high-intensity, attacking football cemented by a bedrock of winning mentality. Sound familiar?

That was certainly the case for the men’s side and Ange Postecoglou, but also applies to Tottenham Women and manager Robert Vilahamn.

In the wake of a 1-0 victory over Leicester City, – a league rehearsal of the huge FA Cup semi-final on April 14th – we spoke to Spurs Women expert Alex Mitton to review the season so far.

The Project

Robert Vilahamn arrived at the club after a tumultuous season in the Tottenham hot seat. Vicky Jepson became interim boss after Rehanne Skinner was let go after over two years in the job.

While Skinner had done well to build the side into a solid Women’s Super League team, her tenure was capped off with an eight-match losing run in the league and early exits in both cup competitions.

A change was certainly needed, and Spurs looked to the south of Sweden to find it. Robert Vilahamn had been in charge of BK Häcken for a season and a half, finishing second in the Damallsvenskan and runners-up in the Swedish Cup twice.

Vilahamn’s qualities were duly noted by the Tottenham hierarchy. “It’s a similar story to Ange Postecoglou on the men’s side,” Mitton explains. “Spurs directly targeted a manager with attacking and high-pressing football. Vilahamn impressed with Häcken in Sweden for that exact reason.”

The Swede came to replace Jepson (who is now the assistant manager) in the summer of 2023. “Since arriving, the fitness levels have increased, the confidence has improved massively and Spurs, just like the men’s team, have a clear plan in place.”

After a 9th placed finish last season, any sort of improvement was almost guaranteed given the core of WSL-level players. The trajectory, however, has been somewhat mixed – some of the highest highs and biggest achievements combined with middling results and winless runs.

“Personally, it’s mainly because of the style of play,” Mitton says of the inconsistencies. “It takes a lot longer for a team to learn to press together, consistently shut down chances and keep possession than it is to spring moments on the counter-attack.”

This also extends into attacking patterns where Spurs lack conviction and are creatively unsure at times. Conversely, when it clicks, like it did for Matilda Vinberg’s goal against Leicester last weekend, it looks very promising.

It’s a transitional season from what Spurs have been into what they want to be. But those bright sparks should not be overlooked.

At the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Spurs claimed their first-ever league victory against title-hunting Arsenal and reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in their history, beating Manchester City on penalties. 

Considering it was the same City side that handed Spurs a 7-0 mauling back in November, the overturn shows how the team is acclimatising more to Vilaham’s methodology and playing with continuously increasing confidence.

Arsenal FC v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Women´s Super League
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The Players

The shift in mentality and purpose can be symbolised by the alteration in the captaincy. Shelina Zadorsky was moved on loan to West Ham and the armband was given to Bethany England.

“Zadorsky, for all her qualities in recent years, wasn’t the calibre of player Spurs wanted. England brings immense experience and leadership on and off the pitch.”

Beth England signed midway through 2022/23 and still scored 12 of the team’s 31 league goals, almost single-handedly freeing Spurs from the clutches of relegation. A perennial winner of silverware at Chelsea, England exemplified the kind of top-level quality Spurs lacked.

By giving her the captaincy, it’s clear that building a side that can match her ability is the strategy going forward.

England hasn’t quite replicated the goalscoring form that earned her a place in her namesake national team that reached the World Cup final (though she was injured at the beginning of the season). Instead, responsibilities have been shared around more, with Scotland international Martha Thomas leading the scoring chart currently.

“Thomas joined from Manchester United low on confidence. She’s now like a different person and offers Spurs goals and a superb work-rate,” says Mitton. As the squad has gelled with Vilahamn’s more collective approach, a number of players have been able to make their mark.

Namely Red Devils’ loanee Grace Clinton, whose efforts make “Spurs click in transition” and have been rewarded with an England debut, on which she scored. Fellow loanee Amanda Nilden (of Juventus), who has provided defensive solidity since arriving.

Mitton also points to Kit Graham, Molly Bartrip, Celin Bizet, Eveliina Summanen and Amy James-Turner as those who have thrived in the new system after spending previous seasons at N17.

The reality is though that, although FA Cup glory could still yet be on the horizon, the kind of team Tottenham want to be is still a season (or a transfer window) or two away. “The squad is still not at a level good enough to perform that well consistently, but that will only improve with time.”

The Future

So what team do Tottenham want to be? Well, the benchmark in the WSL is the trio of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea. “Spurs have plans to continually invest,” says Mitton. “But being able to match the top three over the course of a season is never going to be easy.”

Manchester United finished second last season, just two points off champions Chelsea, and became the first side since Birmingham City in 2014 to rupture that monopoly, but they haven’t been able to maintain that standard this time round.

One of the myriad of reasons for this is losing key players, such as Ona Batlle and Alessia Russo, and failing to replace them properly.

The tribulations of squad investment is an all too familiar tale to Tottenham fans, but it is necessary if Spurs ever want to develop and rub shoulders with the elite of the women’s game.

Keeping hold of Grace Clinton, for instance, would be a start. “Any move would come at a heavy cost,” Mitton notes. “But she’s enjoyed life at Spurs and, however unlikely it is, the possibility of a transfer will be looked at.”

As is the case with Nilden, and the acquisitions of Vinberg and Charlotte Grant – both brought in from Sweden – further point to the growing talented young players within Vilahamn’s tactics alongside more established quality.

In the more immediate future, things are exciting. Clawing back points on Liverpool is the mission in the league, but “the FA Cup match is without a doubt the biggest match of the season. It’s a chance to play at Wembley for the first time — and Spurs players have always had the belief they can win it. They’ve shown they can beat the Big 3 clubs.”

The road to success is fraught with difficulty. As with Ange Postecoglou’s team, there are obstacles but also many positives. As Tottenham prepares for its first FA Cup semi-final in any professional regard since 2017/18, a date at Wembley would be the perfect block to build on going forward.

A huge thank you to Alex Mitton for speaking to Spurs Web. He covers Spurs Women for VAVEL and also writes for GiveMeSport.

Alex Mitton, VAVEL: vavel.com/author/alexmitton10

Alex’s X/Twitter: twitter.com/Alexmitton10

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