Tottenham Hotspur Fans Should Be Quietly Pleased as Season Draws to a Close
Heading into this final run-in, Spurs fans should feel quietly pleased with their season and the direction their club is heading in.
Depending on the team's success in the campaign's conclusion, that general feeling could yet alter somewhat. On the whole though, there are reasons to be optimistic.
Champions League Qualification Is Still Within Reach
It was never a given Tottenham would still be within reach of Champions League football come this late stage of the season.
The progress the club made in Harry Redknapp's tenure meant a significant drop-off was unlikely. But given the change in manager and the ensuing, collective adjustments the club made to life under Andre Villas-Boas—as well as the departure of key players like Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and Ledley King—a big effort was needed.
Hopes of repeating 2011-12's brief title hopes were comparatively unrealistic this time around, but matching or bettering last season's fourth-place finish seemed a sensible target. With five games left, Spurs can still mathematically finish as high as second.
To be in contention here should count as a strong first season for Villas-Boas and an impressive year's work from a team that has changed considerably since this time last season (barring a dramatic collapse from here).
Tricky trips to relegation-battling Wigan Athletic and rival Chelsea are among the challenges that must be navigated in finishing strongly, but Spurs stand a chance; which is the main thing.
Villas-Boas Increasingly Winning Spurs' Fans Hearts and Minds
Andre Villas-Boas' first season at Tottenham has been covered in depth by this writer and others, at Bleacher Report and beyond. There has been plenty to analyze and examine about this intriguing young manager and his methods—especially off the back of the extremes he had gone between in his short career preceding his arrival in North London.
Tottenham fans cautiously greeted his appointment, wondering whether this highly-touted coach was the Villas-Boas who thrived at Porto or buckled under the expectations at Chelsea (admittedly in an extremely difficult environment).
The best part of a year has gone by in his Tottenham reign. The Portuguese has some work to do before he can be classed as matching Harry Redknapp's achievements (let alone a club great like Bill Nicholson or Keith Burkinshaw), but the signs that Villas-Boas is one of the good ones are encouraging.
Off the back of recent seasons, a manager was needed who could keep Spurs competitive at the higher end of the Premier League table. Villas-Boas is close to succeeding here in the first possible instance. Positively too for the White Hart Lane faithful, his side has generally played football the way they like it to be played.
A greater ease has been apparent in Villas-Boas' approach following his stormy Chelsea stay. A more amiable manner in dealings with the media has helped his cause, but most importantly it has been a greater willingness to engage with his players that has paid dividends in getting them on his side.
Villas-Boas has plenty to do to make a successful go of his stay at Tottenham. On-field success is the primary objective, and achieving this will not be easy, even with the dual aid and incentive of Champions League football. Establishing a working relationship with chairman Daniel Levy will largely depend on the speed with which he makes progress (at least going by Levy's relationships with previous managers).
For the club's supporters, there will be a cautious optimism about their manager's ability to get better and better in his job. For Villas-Boas' most ardent backers, the hope will be extenuating circumstances are favorable in allowing him to proceed with his plans.
A Good Squad with the Potential to Get Even Better
The loss of three of the club's great recent players last summer (King, Modric and Van der Vaart) coupled with the arrival of several new signings meant time was going to be needed for this season's squad to adjust to one another (not to mention getting used to new coaches).
Generally though, Tottenham's players have performed well this season. Those already at the club like Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson have notably excelled, while new arrivals including Mousa Dembele and Hugo Lloris have settled in impressively.
The process of establishing a collective understanding of Villas-Boas' methods and tactics, and putting them into practice, has not always gone flawlessly. Adjusting to playing further up the pitch (particularly for the defenders) has seen them caught out on occasion, while establishing an effective attacking identity without the pace of Bale and Aaron Lennon has been one of the season's greater struggles.
The latter especially has repeatedly made evident areas need of improvement (notably quality reinforcements in attack). Save for one or two disappointments (the mostly underwhelming Emmanuel Adebayor, to a lesser extent an inconsistent Benoit Assou-Ekotto), Spurs' have not been wanting for effort though.
Recent weeks emphasized the team's essential spirit as they kept plugging away in games against Basel and Everton. Against Man City on Sunday, this perseverance was crucially topped off with a(n eventual) performance that capitalized on it by securing the three points.
Spurs fans will now be waiting to see whether the City win was a one-off showcase in the limelight, or the spark for a late-season surge. Though Bale is the notable standout in this team, there is talent enough around the Welshman to see them finish strongly.
A good finish is important for this squad to have a chance to achieve its potential sooner rather than later (if at all). Champions League football will not mean instant success—Spurs already know that—but it will give them a greater chance of retaining their best players and augmenting it with the talent necessary to genuinely push on.
That possibility is something for Tottenham fans to be excited about. If everything comes together as they hope in the coming weeks, they might have reason to be more than quietly pleased with their club.