Darren Anderton is a man who knows something about the ‘Tottenham Way’. The former England star spent 12 seasons at White Hart Lane, made almost 300 league appearances for the 1961 double winners and was part of Ossie Ardiles' fabled (but deeply flawed) 'Famous Five' alongside Nicky Barmby, Jürgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham and Ilie Dumitrescu.
The only thing that could match that side's insatiable appetite for goals was their inability to keep anything approaching a clean sheet at the back, with all defensive duties viewed with deep suspicion. Between them, though, that famous fivesome came to symbolise all that was good about Spurs and their unfailing commitment to the sort of attractive football that gets bums off seats and leaves Alan Hansen apoplectic.
While Anderton and his chums were running riot in 1994, Andre Villas-Boas was a 17-year-old dreaming of a career in football in the Portuguese sun, and doubtlessly turning his nose up at an approach which had more chance of inducing a heart attack than delivering a trophy.
Now, 19 years on, Anderton tells FFT that he feels it was the abandoning of the attacking principles demanded by White Hart Lane regulars that ultimately finished AVB – despite the club enjoying its second-best start to a Premier League campaign. A goals for column that reads just 16 and thumpings by Manchester City and Liverpool spelled the end for the Portuguese.
“I was quite excited at the start of the season with all the new signings, but I have found it quite negative and dull to watch at times, if I’m honest,” says Anderton. “Villas-Boas did do well last year but a lot of that was probably down to Gareth Bale, if you look at the points he won and the goals that he scored. Sometimes the performances weren’t that great but it was all about getting the ball to Gareth.
I was quite excited at the start of the season, but I've found it quite negative and dull to watch at times
- Darren Anderon
“It’s almost a question of whether there’s enough belief from the players and from the manager that these players can win something, because when you look at it they’re probably never going to get a better opportunity.
“Manchester City had a new manager, it was always going to be difficult for David Moyes at United, and Chelsea, (with a former manager returning) which is never easy. It was really good opportunity to start well and get themselves involved in it.
“Things looked okay at the start of the season but they were nicking results with penalties. When the Arsenal game came along I really fancied Spurs to do well. But that was the game when I really thought it was really negative; just a case of keeping the ball without getting crosses or shots in. It was really frustrating.”
Anderton was a Tottenham player for 12 years
While the Arsenal defeat was a blow, it was the capitulations to fellow Champions League rivals Man City and Liverpool that really had chairman Daniel Levy squirming in his seat.
In retrospect, the City result was perhaps forgivable, particularly bearing in mind the way Manuel Pellegrini’s side dismantled Arsenal shortly after. The 5-0 home thrashing by Liverpool, though, certainly wasn’t.
“In a season you might have a one-off result like the one against City, but to get two like that in such a short space of time was disastrous,” says Anderton. “Manchester City are probably the strongest team in the league and will probably go on and win it. But Liverpool? I watched them two weeks previous losing 3-1 at Hull, so to get battered by them was tough. It could really have been 10 (nil).”
AVB is very stats-orientated, but when it comes down to it he has always preferred to play one man up front and not really get at teams
- Darren Anderton
Villas-Boas is just the latest in a long line of managers to be charged with the task of bringing some glory back to a club that has sampled precious little in recent decades. And although the Portuguese almost delivered Champions League football last season, the search is now on for another man to fulfil the club’s undoubted ambitions.
Whoever that man is will need to show more style on the pitch that Spurs have done so far this season.
“Some of the recent sackings perhaps haven't been handled in the best way,” says Anderton. “The way Martin Jol left was poorly handled. Then Harry Redknapp was being talked about as England manager one minute and sacked by Spurs the next. To me that was crazy because Harry had done so well from day one. They did great things, played great, exciting football and that was what you’d expect with Tottenham.
“AVB is very stats-orientated and that sort of thing, but when it comes down to it he has always preferred to play that one man up front and not really get at teams. Last year Bale had the freedom to go out there, get at teams and win games, which he did. They haven’t had that (this season) and they’ve really won games while struggling. When you look back at Palace away at the start of the season, it has been a little bit like that ever since - lots of possession but no real cutting edge.”
AVB: Had to go, says Anderton
Whoever does take over, however, is hardly being fed a hospital pass, with the club in the last 32 of the Europa League and still within striking distance of the top four. Whether they can make that jump could well depend on the type of football the new man embraces.
“They can still qualify for the Champions League and with the squad that they’ve got that’s what they really should be doing,” says Anderton. “There were signs in the League Cup match against West Ham that they were trying to get back to the style that Spurs fans love.
“There’s out-and-out wingers in Andros Townsend and Aaron Lennon. They’re both lightning quick and can cause full-backs problems. When you look at it, people have been giving Roberto Soldado stick but the service he's got has been pretty poor. That will have to change because he’s a quality player and I’ve felt sorry for him at times.”
There will be those at White Hart Lane feeling equally sad at the demise of AVB. A greater number, though, will be hoping some much-needed festive sparkle is about to return to north London.