And so it begins. In the wake of Tottenham’s obliteration at the hands of Manchester City, the odds on Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking have tumbled. Ominous stories fuelled by axe-grinding sources have begun to appear in the press. It’s all gone horribly wrong at White Hart Lane.
“We’ve sold Elvis and we’ve signed The Beatles!” beamed Tottenham’s supporters in August, and it was hard to disagree. Unfortunately, far from producing a new “Sgt Pepper”, Paul keeps singing the Frog Chorus, John is scribbling bleak cartoons that no-one gets, Ringo is reading Thomas the Tank Engine books out loud and George won’t stop bloody clapping. Meanwhile, in Madrid, Elvis has just started filming ‘Love Me Tender.’
Poor Villas-Boas. When the impressive looking new signings arrived, their recruitment was credited to Franco Baldini. Now they’re struggling, it’s the Portuguese coach who has apparently ‘wasted’ £107m. Last season when Spurs were challenging for second place, it was down to the players, and one player in particular. This season, the players are blameless and it’s all Villas-Boas’s fault. Well, of course.
Villas-Boas has long been a lightning rod for blame, as the Hugo Lloris controversy demonstrated. In September, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku hit his head so hard that he couldn’t remember scoring the winner. He remained on the pitch and the incident was barely mentioned. In October, Arsenal’s Mathieu Flamini was allowed to play on for five minutes after a sickening clash of heads with Norwich’s Alex Tettey. The incident was barely mentioned. Villas-Boas’ decision to allow Hugo Lloris to remain on the pitch after his head injury was unquestionably the wrong one, but on this occasion the incident dominated the headlines.
There is, however, some truth in the recent criticism of the manager. His tactics, the strongest part of his repertoire, simply aren’t working. Tottenham’s consistently high backline may allow them to pile pressure on their opponents in their own half, but it also leaves them heartbreakingly vulnerable at the back. Ordering the wide players to cut in and shoot all the time may have allowed Andros Townsend to score one league goal and put some nasty looking dents in the advertising hoardings, but it’s also led to stifling congestion in the final third. Poor Roberto Soldado seems to spend life his shuffling uncomfortably out of the way.
But if it’s true that the Tottenham players are angry with Villas-Boas for saying that they should be ashamed of their performance at the Etihad, then that’s the most hilarious abdication of responsibility since David James tried to blame Playstation for his floppy hands. Some of the individual performances on Sunday warranted written warnings for gross misconduct, though in fairness, they all played really well up until the first City goal.
But of all the aspects of this story that should concern Spurs fans, it’s the attitude of the boardroom that sets off the most alarm bells. Apparently, the Tottenham directors felt that, despite selling their best player and signing seven new ones, this season would herald a genuine title challenge. That’s the kind of view that you’re only allowed to hold if you’ve never, ever watched football before.
Tottenham haven’t finished third since 1990, they haven’t finished second since 1963 and they haven’t won the title since 1961. With unrestrained spending far in excess of £107m, it took Manchester City four years to win the title. Roman Abramovich spent more than £107m in his first summer at Chelsea, he still had to wait two years to get his paws on a title and that was ten years ago.
The dominance and spending power of City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal is not going to be overturned in a season by a paltry £107m. It didn’t work for Liverpool in 2011 and it won’t work here.
Villas-Boas has a dressing room full of new faces. Whatever balance there was in the team last year has been blown away. It will take time for the players to settle into their roles and to build an understanding with the people around them. Along the way, they will lose games and sometimes they will lose them very badly indeed. This is football.
Tottenham were never going to win the title this year, even in a season as unstable as this one. Champions League qualification was the aim and, at the time of writing, Spurs are two points adrift of fourth.
Villas-Boas - and I fear I’ve written this line before about him at a different club - needs time. Time to bed his new players in, time to assess what they can and can’t do and time, at least, to finish a second season. Talk of his sacking is surely premature.
Which Premier League team will be next to sack their manager? Tottenham are favourites at 1.80.
Read more from Unibet columnist Iain Macintosh here.