When Andre Villas-Boas took control at White Hart Lane last summer it brought a distinctly mixed reaction. A lot of pundits remarked that anything less than a top four finish would be considered a failure. But with the league season finishing on Sunday there is a new question which now needs answered; Is this still the case?
AVB took over the job with certain sections
of the media, and indeed certain sections of the Tottenham fanbase, questioning
his appointment. His brief tenure at Chelsea had seen the glittering reputation
gained at Porto of being a young, forward thinking, talented manager severely
tarnished. Chelsea's subsequent success in the Champions League final
was seen as a further example of his inability to handle the complex personalties
of high profile players and the more intricate workings of a big club.
Alongside this was the fact he was replacing
Harry Redknapp, a popular manager both within journalistic circles and
on the terraces. His sacking was seen as a brave but ultimately foolish
decision by Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy. Redknapp had not only managed
to get the club out of relegation places in his first season in charge
but had more importantly had oversaw final league positions of 4th-5th-4th
in the last three seasons as well as a memorable Champions League campaign
Success therefore to some was to replicate
this 4th placed position at the very least. Many doubted his chances of
The opening months seemed to suggest
this opinion was correct. Defeat at Newcastle on the opening day of the
season was followed by home draws against West Brom and Norwich. Some newspaper
reports rather extravagantly proclaimed AVB had three games to save his
However slowly things started to improve.
A sequence of four victories, including a historic victory at Old Trafford
moved Spurs up the table. With new signing Jan Vertonghen among others
becoming an instant fan favourite things seemed to be on the rise.
There were still blips along the way.
Defeat at home to Wigan and heavy defeats to rivals Chelsea and Arsenal
raised further doubts but with the new players slowly bedding in and the
team responding to AVB's tactics and beliefs, Spurs continue to move forward.
Three defeats in the next 25 games followed
and catapulted Tottenham into the Champions League places. They now sit
5th, one point behind arch rivals Arsenal.
On the playing side there have been
ups and downs.
Spurs went into the season without talismanic
skipper Ledley King, playmaker Luka Modric and Dutch goalscorer Rafael
van der Vaart. Coupled to this centre half and last years player of the
season, Younes Kaboul has only managed 90 minutes this year. Arguably these
were Tottenham's best four players.
The players signed throughout the season
have performed well. Dembele has been solid but is a different type of
player to Modric. And the loss of the Croat hasn't helped Scott Parker
who has struggled to recapture last season's form.
Dempsey while not setting the world
alight has weighed in with seven goals, some at vital times. The same is
true of Gylffi Sigurdsson whose haul of four league goals have come predominately
from the bench.
The sensational form of Gareth Bale
has obviously been a key reason why Tottenham are at the top end of the
table. But AVB's decision to play him in a more central role has also been
pivotal. He admitted after Bale picked up the Football Writers Award that
he had held a frank discussion with the Welshman in order to help him enjoy
his football more. His handling of Hugo Lloris by keeping him on the bench
behind Brad Friedel brought condemnation from Didier Deschamps amongst
others but ultimately proved to be the right thing to do as Lloris was
given time to acclimatise to a new country and a new club.
It was a move that has reaped huge benefits
as Lloris has proven himself to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league.
Michael Dawson was another player who
had an up and down start to the year. Left out for the first few games
despite AVB making him club captain, he looked to be on his way to QPR.
Yet he chose to fight for his place and after another conversation between
player and manager he has done just that.
This seemingly more personable approach
is in direct contrast to his time at Chelsea. There he regularly locked
horns with some of the senior pros to the point where the personality clashes
played a major part in his downfall.
Now he seems more relaxed and has admitted
making changes to his management style after Chelsea.
Another pivotal moment came in December
at Everton. Two goals in injury time snatched defeat from the jaws of victory
and led AVB to change training to put more emphasis on improving concentration
and stamina in the last ten minutes of games. This change of focus proved
to be inspired.
Spurs would go on to score a multitude
of late goals which would see the club pick up valuable points. In the
last four games alone goals in the last moments of games have seen
an extra six points gained. Resiliency is not a trait that has been linked
with Tottenham over the years but it has been instrumental in their league
It hasn't all been positive though.
Home form has been sketchy at times and the home crowd has shown it's displeasure
on more than one occasion. There has been less clean sheets this time around
as well, just seven compared to last years 13.
However how successful or not of the
season for AVB and Tottenham would be judged primarily on their league
position and whether they qualified for the Champions League.
While not guaranteeing the club that
coveted Champions League spot, victory over Sunderland would see Tottenham
finish on 72 points, which would be their highest ever points finish in
the Premier League. Should Arsenal also win it would also set a Premier
League record as being the highest points total gained by a team finishing
fifth. (It would be the second highest points total by a team who did not
qualify for the Champions League. Newcastle hold that record with 78 in
1995-1996 when they finished second. 1995-1996 was in the days when only
the Champions qualified.)
And it is this more than anything else
that proves this year has been a success. Yes we may have overachieved
and yes at times it hasn't been as pretty but all things considered, we're
in a great position. If Champions League does elude us then so be it. It
will be down to a combination of bad luck more than a poor season. A total
of 72 points would have been good enough to get into the top four in 15
of the 17 previous Premier League seasons.
More importantly AVB seems to be enjoying
life at White Hart Lane. Gone are the days of crouching on the touchline,
the frowned expressions, instead there's smiles. This year has been a good
start to his Tottenham career. With a touch more luck and a bit of backing,
who knows where he can take this team.
To more success hopefully!