The 35-year-old had a free pass for much of last season as he was left hamstrung by poor transfer window dealings, but more is expected of him with a squad carrying his hallmark
By Jay Jaffa
It is unusual to see Tottenham approach a new season as one of the most settled teams in the Premier League, but with Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea welcoming new management, Spurs are nearing their weekend opener at Crystal Palace with a sense of calm.
Even with the future of star forward Gareth Bale up in the air, the overhaul of the first-team squad has provided welcome relief as deadwood is finally cast out to sea and significant upgrades have arrived at a steady rate.
Tottenham have spent wisely and plentifully, but the spotlight will focus not on their band of new recruits but the furrowed brow of Andre Villas-Boas. The 35-year-old may not have achieved a top-four finish in his maiden campaign at White Hart Lane, but he went a long way to extinguishing the lingering doubts a combustible time at Chelsea fostered.
Still, the progress Spurs made - a record points haul evidence of that - was largely attributed to Bale's brilliance, rather than Villas-Boas' tactical acumen. Tottenham were regularly referred to as a one-man team in 2012-13. Bale won 47 per cent of Spurs’ Premier League points (34 of 72) with his 21 goals and nine assists as the double Player of the Year winner ascended to superstar territory.
Accusations that Bale's form catapulted Spurs into top-four contention pricked the Portuguese's pride. It clearly irritated the former Porto man that many of the positives he brought to White Hart Lane were overlooked on account of Bale’s match-winning capabilities.
This, then, becomes the narrative for the new season. Daniel Levy has finally relented - in part thanks to the appointment of technical director Franco Baldini - and lavished funds this summer on Paulinho (€20 million), Nacer Chadli (€8m), Etienne Capoue (€11m) and Roberto Soldado (€30m). The north Londoners have broken their transfer record twice this summer - a sure sign that Villas-Boas is receiving proper financial backing.
The transfer acquisition team at Tottenham looks far healthier after Baldini joined Tim Sherwood, Levy, Darren Eales and Villas-Boas to form a diverse committee. It was little surprise to see Soldado sign after Baldini was pictured in Valencia a few days previously - he carries significant influence.
Villas-Boas operated under a similar set-up at Porto and clearly a man of Baldini’s experience offers a more sure-footed approach to the transfer game than bracing for the whims of Levy, a Cambridge educated land economics graduate.
Genuine planning and consideration has gone into the four signings this summer and Villas-Boas will begin to look at this Tottenham squad as one that bears his hallmark. Spurs will move to 4-3-3 formation if and when Bale departs and the midfield trio of Sandro, Paulinho and Mousa Dembele will provide a powerful foundation home or away.
As Goal revealed on Wednesday, Erik Lamela has emerged as the club’s priority signing and Baldini’s pulling power over his former employers may help Spurs land one of the most exciting prospects in world football.
Suddenly, by drawing up blueprints, Tottenham have reached a stage where they can justifiably confident, no matter Bale's decision. If the 24-year-old moves to Real Madrid it seems unlikely that the full transfer fee will be reinvested - indeed the cash spent on Soldado and Chadli may well have been taken from the future fee Levy expects to extract from los Blancos.
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This time, it’s all on Villas-Boas. He has his dynamic midfield trio - plus able options in Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lewis Holtby, Tom Carroll and he has variety up front. Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor did not perform anywhere near expectations last year and as a consequence they will now have to prove their worth again. This is a positive.
Out wide, Aaron Lennon, Chadli and Andros Townsend all offer something different, while Lamela or Willian would provide the spark of magic that Bale infused last campaign.
Villas-Boas rarely searched for excuses as he bedded in at Spurs, wary of the walls he surrounded himself with during the dark days at Chelsea, and he was given something of a free pass last year after such transfer window turmoil. There will be even less space for excuses this year but this offers Villas-Boas a prime opportunity to show why Roman Abramovich prised him from Porto for £13.3m [€15m] two years ago.
Tottenham amassed 72 points last year, evidence that they can still hang with the elite clubs in England. This season is the chance to show that they can push on again and oust a traditional top four heavyweight, with or without Bale. Achieve that and we’ll know for certain whether Villas-Boas is the real deal.
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