According to Graeme Souness on the post-match TV analysis following Spurs’ 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, Andre Villas-Boas is “lucky” to have inherited a great squad, and will have failed if he finishes lower than last season’s fourth. I’ve rarely heard such nonsense, but I’m sure we’ll get more of the same as the season reaches its end and the Redknapp lobby dusts off the articles it’s had written and filed in a drawer since “ungrateful” Spurs said goodbye to Harry and hello to AVB.
There’s no doubt this is a very good squad, with experience, confidence and steel that owes much to Harry’s stewardship. On his watch, Spurs began to believe in themselves again, and gained invaluable experience at football’s top table. This isn’t a revisionist hatchet-job on Harry’s reign. It is a plea to look at the facts, rather than peddle an agenda. In finishing fourth last season, Harry could call upon the services of Luka Modric, Rafa Van der Vaart and, in key games, Ledley King. The loss of those three players would have an impact on most teams, and Spurs this season have certainly missed the creativity that Modric and Van der Vaart could bring.
In midfield, Spurs have attempted to fill the gap with Gylffi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey and – after a deal of prevarication in January – Lewis Holtby. Without wishing to insult any of those players, it cannot seriously be argued that any are of the quality of Modric or Van der Vaart. Mousa Dembele, arguably the best of the more attacking-minded midfield imports, has been injured for vital parts of the season. And Sandro, a vital member of the side, has been injured long-term. In defence, while Jan Vertonghen has been a quality addition, the loss of Younes Kaboul to injury has been a blow.
Add to this injuries at vital stages to Aaron Lennon, whose usefulness to the side tends to be overlooked as Gareth Bale lights up the pitch, and the loss of form for large parts of the season of Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor and the argument that AVB either “inherited” or has a better squad than last year looks a little thin.
AVB has not got everything right. But he has fashioned a team able to be more adaptable than Redknapp’s, while building on the resilience he inherited. He’s been blessed with a fine goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris, and coaxed new heights of performance from Jermain Defoe when forced to use him as a lone striker. And, with two games to go, his side is still in contention for a top 4 finish. That’s a pretty good first season, and one that deserves some credit in its own right.
Arguing that he’s not done as well with what Redknapp gave him as Rednapp did when he was in charge not only doesn’t stand up to examination, it looks like indulging a grudge. If we end up not getting that Champions League place, who will be the more culpable? AVB or the club’s board? Take a look at the number of points we’ve missed out on CL qualification by in the last five or six years, then look at the number of points dropped in August as Levy pursues his transfer brinkmanship policy. Reflect on why it’s surely better for a manager to have a squad to work with over the summer rather than last-minute additions thrown in after the season has started. Think why we haven’t bought the striker we have so obviously needed for so long. And wonder why a new manager’s top target was not secured.
Think about those things, look at the realities of squad comparison between this year and last, and make a conclusion based on what is in front of you.