As Tottenham prepare to continue a busy start to the new season with a League Cup tie at Aston Villa and a massive Premier League fixture against Chelsea, Spurs hero David Ginola tells FFT's James Maw that Andre Villas-Boas must be sure to make the most of his newly-strengthened squad...
After all the talk of upheaval and impending doom following the protracted departure of Gareth Bale, Spurs have come out of the other end looking in good nick.
They have conceded just one goal in their first eight competitive matches of the new season, and their newly-assembled squad is gradually starting to gel.
The transition hasn’t quite been seamless – Spurs have scored just five goals in their five Premier League outings thus far – but there are more positive signs than negatives.
Yet it could all have been so different had Villas-Boas been tempted away from the bright lights of London, by the brighter and, let’s be honest, far prettier lights of Paris.
The Portuguese tactician was reportedly high on Paris Saint-Germain’s hit-list of potential replacements for Carlo Ancelotti, who – like Bale – left for Real Madrid.
However, David Ginola – a man with links to both Tottenham and PSG from his playing days – doesn’t believe Villas-Boas was ever really in danger of hopping over the channel.
“I’m not sure he really had a chance; most managers are linked to Paris at some stage,” Ginola tells FFT.
“It would have been a huge disappointment for Spurs,” he continues. “Not just because of how good AVB is, but because of the stability at the club. If you want to bring players and you’re looking at the future in a brighter way, you need to have a manager working at a club for at least four or five years.
“You have to wait, you have to build, you have to make sure the people around you are thinking the same way. That’s what they did in Barcelona. Big clubs have never been at the top straight away. For Tottenham and AVB, it’s maybe the same situation."
Having seemingly had has hands tied during his first summer at White Hart Lane, Villas-Boas has overseen an overhaul this summer. Out have gone Steven Caulker, Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, Clint Dempsey and, of course, Gareth Bale. In have come Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado. Although the wage bill may have swelled a tad, the net spend on transfer fees was very roughly zero.
GINOLA AT SPURS
David Ginola arrived at Tottenham in a £2.5m move from Newcastle United in the summer of 1997. He quickly became a fans' favourite at White Hart Lane, with his dazzling wing-play dragging a struggling Spurs side away from the relegation zone. His performances in 1998/99 not only helped Spurs win the League Cup and reach the FA Cup semi-finals, but also won him the PFA and Football Writers' Player of the Year awards. Despite his success, the Frenchman left N17 under something of a cloud, having seemingly fallen out of favour with Spurs boss George Graham. He moved to Aston Villa in 2000, having played 124 matches for the Lilywhites, scoring 22 goals.
Tottenham’s summer transfer activity and steady start have led some to tout the North Londoners as potential title outsiders, and despite his insistence Spurs must look to build slowly, Ginola insists that they can compete for the Premier League title immediately.
“Why not? Last season they were very, very good until the end of February. I don’t know what happened in March, April: it seemed like they lost some silly points.
“There were some games when they conceded some late goals to draw or lose. And it seems like they have got this problem at the same time every year.”
Ginola has a point. Although Arsenal pipped Spurs to fourth thanks largely to their own sensational form as they hit the season’s final straight (the Gunners dropped just four points from the last 30 available), Spurs also failed to get maximum points in some winnable matches.
A defeat at Anfield in a match they were dominating and leading 2-1 stands out most, although a home defeat to Fulham and a 2-2 draw at Wigan also rankled. The previous spring's run of five wins in 13 league matches – a slump that ultimately cost Harry Redknapp his job – suggests Tottenham’s squad lack bottle. But Ginola believes the cause of this pattern is physical rather than psychological.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a mental thing; when you are a player, you don’t think as much about these things.
“It’s about being consistent over the full season, not only for six or seven months – applying the same levels to every match. You have to play FA Cup, Europa League and League Cup - it’s a lot of games and without a break for Christmas. It’s a huge season – very long.”
Although the campaign is only a few weeks old, Villas-Boas has already aired concerned about the affects of being involved in so many competitions. Tuesday’s League Cup third round tie at Aston Villa comes less than 50 hours after the full-time whistle blew on their Premier League win at Cardiff.
Speaking ahead of his side’s first domestic cup fixture of the season, Villas-Boas was rueful but hopeful. “This is an impossible game for us to play, but hopefully our team spirit and motivation can get us through," said the Portuguese manager. "The Capital One Cup is not our absolute number one priority, but I don't think we have been given a fair chance to play in this competition this year."
AVB has got options; he can adapt his team rather than relying too much on Gareth Bale..."
He went on to suggest his team at Villa Park would be made up of players who didn’t feature at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday. Although that list includes the likes of Brad Friedel, Zeki Fryers, Sandro and new-boy Vlad Chiriches, the statement suggests Tottenham will be fielding something akin to a reserve side.
Still, the fixture will be a good chance to give competitive minutes to players yet to be tested much so far this season, and Ginola believes squad rotation will be key to Tottenham’s hopes of major success this season – particularly with so many new faces to integrate into the side.
“AVB has got options. As a team they can play with 4-4-2 or 4-3-3; they're flexible, with a bigger squad. He can adapt his team, rather than relying too much on Gareth Bale, like he did in the past. It was focused on Gareth making the difference during the game – now they can really focus on building a team."
And what of the new players, brought in this summer while Spurs patiently waited for a satifactory sale of their much-wanted Welshman?
“I know Etienne Capoue from Ligue 1 and he is a very good player, and I hope Roberto Soldado will score more than 20 goals this season – Tottenham haven’t had this kind of striker for a while. But I think Christian Eriksen will be the most interesting to watch and the most important signing. He’s a young guy, very technical.
"For me, they have got a more balanced team than last season. Tottenham don’t have the kind of player who will make the difference all on his own. It’s not like they’ve bought Ronaldo or Messi. We’re talking about team players that will settle in the squad."
David Ginola is a pundit for BT Sport. Watch BT Sport’s exclusively live coverage of Tottenham v Chelsea on BT Sport 1 from 11.30am on Saturday 28 September.