James Maw dissects a season of underachievement after a summer of change...
For a club that spends so much time harping on about the past, Tottenham Hotspur often seem to fail to learn from it.
Last summer's protracted sale of Gareth Bale was dragged out long enough to earn the 'saga' tag, although Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will argue it was worthwhile, with £86m made available to reinvest in the squad. Most of the money had actually already been spent with the predicted gargantuan fee in mind. Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Ettiene Capoue, Christian Eriksen, Vlad Chiriches and Erik Lamela all arrived at White Hart Lane before the Bale deal was signed off. The calculated gamble didn't work - the new players didn't slot into place effortlessly enough and the team's performances suffered as a result. Fans got restless, Levy's trigger finger got twitchy, and before you knew it, Andre Villas-Boas had been made the scapegoat.
The last time Spurs were strong-armed into selling their talisman was 2008, when Dimitar Berbatov sulked his way to a £30.75m move to Manchester United. Again, in the knowledge that a monster transfer fee was heading their way, Spurs splashed the cash over the course of the summer, with Heurelho Gomes, Luka Modric, Vedran Corluka and Roman Pavlyuchenko among the players arriving at the club. Again, the new players failed to immediately match expectations, and again the team's performances suffered. Again, the manager - League Cup-winning Juande Ramos, in this case - bit the bullet.
The lesson here isn't 'Spurs need Harry Redknapp back', rather 'Spurs need to learn teams are not built in a day'. Gareth Bale was once written off as a flop, while Luka Modric was labelled 'not big and strong enough' to make an impact in the Premier League upon his arrival in England. The bulk of the team assembled in 2008 that infamously picked up just two points from their first eight league games went on to seal Champions League qualification the very next season.
There may have only been flashes this season, but there is little doubt Spurs possess a talented group of players (even Paulinho, whose often dismal performances seem to have gone largely unnoticed) - the key will be developing that into a strong team. This season may have been a chastening one for Tottenham's previously optimistic fans - three defeats to Arsenal and three defeats to West Ham will do that - but with the right manager and a bit of patience, the future can actually be rather bright.
Would they have taken this in August?
Gareth Bale still played for Spurs in August...
Would they have taken this in January?
No. Although their season hasn't derailed quite as spectacularly as many would've expected, falling so far off the Champions League pace won't be viewed as a satisfying outcome.
Manchester United may have not quite been Manchester United this season, but January's win at Old Trafford was still as close as Tottenham got to 'glory glory' in 2013/14.
The 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool which led to the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas and the sobering realisation that Spurs had fallen a long, long way behind the top sides.
Hero of the season
Few players have excelled consistently in a Spurs shirt this season, but Christian Eriksen's form in the latter stages of the season has at least given the fans some hope. The Dane may be lacking the physical attributes many of the Premier League's all-time greats have boasted, but his quick thinking and impressive use of the ball could make him one of the league's biggest and best in years to come.
Villain of the season
Tim Sherwood may not have been particularly popular with the fans and quite often seemed out of his depth (no surprise, given he was thrown in at the deep end...) but blaming him for all Tottenham's problems is akin to blaming a small child for writing on your living room wall in permanent marker - you've got to take a look at the parents. Daniel Levy has done plenty of good in his 13-year tenure as Tottenham Hotspur chairman, but the rash sacking of Andre Villas-Boas in December has arguably been among his most damaging moves. Having overseen a major squad overhaul in the summer of 2012, Villas-Boas started 2012/13 slowly, before the team clicked around Christmas time when the players and manager had adapted to one another. This must have passed Levy by, because with seven new players arriving in the summer of 2013 and another two (Andros Townsend and Danny Rose) returning from extended loans with other Premier League clubs, the upheaval was even greater second time round. Surely the man who delivered Tottenham's best ever Premier League points total deserved longer to mould his new team into his own image? There has been talk of a 'clash of personalities' between manager and chairman - not the first time we've heard this said of the Spurs set-up in recent years. Maybe it's not the managers who are the problem...
The season in microcosm
Spurs started March's fixture at Stamford Bridge with great promise. A few bold tactical changes had seen them frustrate Chelsea, while carving out one or two good chances at the other end too. Once again, Tottenham looked capable of mixing it with the big boys, and contentedly strolled off at the interval with the scores level at 0-0. Then a smattering of slapstick individual errors (Jan Vertonghen, Sandro and Kyle Walker the guilty parties on this particular afternoon) saw them walk off the pitch well and truly beaten 4-0 an hour later. So near, yet so very, very far.
D. Must pay more attention...