Andre Villas-Boas' Youthful Tottenham Vision Is Beginning to Take Shape
All this talk about Arsenal, but while Arsene Wenger's perennial underachievers continue to live out Gunners' Groundhog Day, their North London neighbours are laying down the foundations for a return to their glory days.
Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham are on the up. Spurs have won nine of their last 11 matches and scored 12 goals in their last four. They're third in the Premier League and have got there by playing smart, clinical football.
Villas-Boas, a meticulous manager afforded the patience he didn't get at Chelsea, is looking to the future.
Promising midfielder Lewis Holtby will arrive from Schalke in the summer, where he'll join the youthful ranks of Kyle Walker (22), Gareth Bale (23), Steven Caulker (21), Gylfi Sigurdsson (23) and Sandro (23) in a Tottenham squad that is as heavily invested in youth as any in the Premier League.
Holtby—profiled by B/R's Clark Whitney here—is a 22-year-old attacking midfielder with undoubted potential. He's captain of the Germany Under-21 team and has already picked up a good amount of top-flight experience in the Bundesliga.
The capture of 20-year-old defender Ezekiel Fryers from Standard Liege—much to the chagrin of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (per The Guardian)—is another forward-thinking move by Villas-Boas. Fryers has some rough edges, but time is in generous supply and there's no doubting his raw talent.
Holtby and Fryers, coming in at a combined cost of under £4 million, will be shrewd signings whatever happens next.
And there are sure to be more to follow—be it in January or over the summer—as Villas-Boas gets ever-closer to realising his Spurs vision.
When you look at the 26-and-under Spurs team laid out here, it's easy to see why Villas-Boas is keen to add a striker. Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe are 28 and 30 respectively, while summer signing Clint Dempsey is 29 and preferred as an attacking midfielder these days.
Villas-Boas won't let their clocks tick down. The Portuguese initially talked of 19-year-old Harry Kane as a potential "third-choice" option behind Defoe and Adebayor this season (per The Guardian), but Kane was loaned to Norwich and Spurs only have two of the three strikers Villas-Boas likes to have at his disposal.
When you consider Adebayor is about to jet off to the African Cup of Nations, leaving Spurs to cope with just Defoe and a makeshift striker in Dempsey, the need in January could barely be stronger.
Said Villas-Boas in August, as per The Guardian:
Normally there is one that doesn't get game time. That's not because you don't rotate enough but because when you play a system with one striker, it is very difficult to get the third one to play enough.
Normally on my teams, I like to promote the third one as a young striker, who is competing for that place a bit more aggressively. Last season, with the way Tottenham played, Pavlyuchenko had to leave in January and the situation is more or less similar.
Brazil international Leandro Damiao is one name that's been mentioned, though Villas-Boas said a move for the imposing 23-year-old was "highly unlikely" in a press conference on Thursday (per Eurosport). The fact that Spurs are talking about Damiao at all says everything about their recent progress and the ambition driving them forward.
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At 27, he's older than Villas-Boas might like, but his goalscoring record is strong and the success of Michu at Swansea is further proof Spanish strikers can adjust quickly and thrive in the Premier League.
It's only a matter of time before Villas-Boas finds a good striker who wants to play for him, because Spurs are a good team who attack at pace and create chances. Bale and Defoe are both in the Premier League Top Five for shots per game this season (whoscored.com), while Lennon makes the Top 10 for assists.
Who has the best young players in the Premier League?
As B/R's Dan Fitch lays out here, you might very well argue Spurs are a more attractive proposition than Arsenal these days.
Villas-Boas already has them inside the Champions League spots and he's only just getting started. His squad gets deeper with every signing and is being shaped for a consolidated time at the top.
Another good sign for Spurs fans can be found in the success of their Under-21 development team this season, who are three points clear of Manchester United atop National Group 2 and have been nothing short of prolific.
Tottenham's Under-21s have scored 43 goals in their 12 games, compared to United's haul of 20 and the 28, 25 and 15 scored by Under-21 teams representing Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City respectively.
Are Spurs about to benefit from their version of the early-1990s Fergie Fledglings at Manchester United? Are we potentially watching over the gradual emergence of a genuine Premier League title contender in North London? It might sound far-fetched, but Spurs are doing everything right to be in the equation.
Villas-Boas could be onto something special and he may yet see his miserable end at Chelsea as the best thing that ever happened to him.
It's hard to imagine a sweeter retort for Villas-Boas than leading his bright young Tottenham team to a higher Premier League finish than the team who never trusted him to begin with.
The early signs suggest Chelsea's loss really could prove to be Tottenham's eternal gain.
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