Tottenham Hotspur: How Close Are Spurs to Being Premier League Title Contenders?
If you want a measure of Tottenham Hotspur's progress in recent seasons, how about being able to mention them as a Premier League title contender? And it not sounding completely ridiculous!
By this time next week we will know if Tottenham are heading into next season on the back of a second consecutive top-four finish. Should they be, Andre Villas-Boas and his side will be feeling confident about their prospects.
Is a title push a realistic proposition for Spurs next season, though? Bleacher Report takes a look at just how close Tottenham are, their own plans to achieve it and what might stand in their way.
Brief Hope in 2011-12
For a time during the 2011-12 campaign, the notion of Tottenham mounting a title challenge was not beyond the realms of possibility.
Heading into their visit to Manchester City in late January, Harry Redknapp's side had lost just once in 19 games and were third. As well as being in good form, Spurs were playing some of the most entertaining football in England.
The Guardian reported that Redknapp did not dismiss the idea of his team competing for the title, and indicated his players were of a similar belief too. Most (including this writer) thought it unlikely, but were willing at least to contemplate it.
Spurs' 3-2 loss to Man City ended any title hopes, symbolically if not mathematically. Having gone two goals down, the visitors leveled before Jermain Defoe went agonizingly close to putting them ahead. Mario Balotelli, who should have been sent off earlier for a disgraceful stamp on Scott Parker, then scored a penalty winner.
The North Londoners had come up short, the eight-point gap they now had behind the eventual champions seemed too much to traverse. As it was, Spurs' poor spring form showed they were not good enough to go all the way.
Emphasizing the idea that this group of players might one day be capable of doing so was a wistful, post-sacking Redknapp.
“I leave behind some fantastic players," Redknapp told the Daily Mirror in June. "The only disappointment I have is that I think it was a team which could have gone on and eventually won the Premier League in the next year or two."
Villas-Boas' Plans and Intentions
The appointment of Andre Villas-Boas, and the subsequent changes around the club, meant a Tottenham title challenge in 2012-13 was unlikely.
It has panned out as such. Manchester United have run away with it, with nearest-placed Man City not even close. What Villas-Boas has done, though, is maintain Spurs' status as a club capable of competing for the Champions League places.
You only have to look at how hard it has been for Liverpool to get back into the top four to understand the level of Spurs' achievement in just being in contention so late in the season.
For Villas-Boas and his team to really push on next season, they are going to have to overcome even tougher challenges.
The Portuguese manager is well aware improvements are needed to his squad, for them just to maintain their progress. He told various media outlets last week, including The Telegraph, that Spurs will be spending this summer regardless of whether they are in the Champions League or not.
"The objective is always to better what you did last season," Villas-Boas outlined. It may be a simple statement, but there is an intriguing undercurrent to it. Should Tottenham qualify for the Champions League, bettering that would be to cement that status again next season with an improved finish—perhaps in second or third place.
The thing is, to finish in one of those places, you are likely to have been in contention for the title at some stage in the course of a campaign.
Villas-Boas is a confident manager. While he might not dare let it cross his lips for a while yet, it would not be surprising for him to believe a push for Premier League glory is something his team might be capable of.
The Limits and Potential of the Playing Staff
As noted on the previous page, Villas-Boas is well aware fresh faces are needed to be added to his playing staff. Spurs are either going to be the fourth- or fifth-best side in England this season. That is good, but obviously some way below being the class of champions.
There is so little title-winning experience in the Tottenham squad it is hard to get a gauge of their trophy-winning capabilities.
Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen are among those with previous title successes, while they, along with an experienced international like Hugo Lloris, offer obvious class. Besides them, there is undoubted talent at the club. But in respect to challenging for a title, it is not totally clear who can be classed as untapped potential and who has reached their limit.
Gareth Bale would certainly be regarded as being in the former class. Bright things are hoped for other young members including Lewis Holtby, Steven Caulker and Tom Carroll too.
On the other hand are players like Jermain Defoe, Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon. Long-time servants at White Hart Lane, they have played their part in the progress the club has made over the last decade.
Those in this group are fine players in their own right, but it is clear plenty more besides them is needed for Spurs to bridge the gap to the title winners still in residence in Manchester and at Chelsea.
It makes Villas-Boas' transfer business all the more intriguing. Are there players out there who could transform this team to title contenders within a year? Or is it a case of finding the talent that will bring the side along to a point they might challenge a season or two after that.
You would err towards the latter being a realistic target for Spurs. That is assuming the likes of Bale and Lloris will be happy to wait on this more measured progress.
The biggest obstacle in Tottenham being a Premier League title contender in 2013-14 will be the strength of their rivals. As good as Villas-Boas' side might potentially be, others are shaping up well for it to be a most competitive campaign.
One thing on Spurs' side is consistency. They will almost certainly have the same manager as before, so the players will have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.
Sir Alex Ferguson's departure at Manchester United means the newly crowned champions do not have that luxury. All the same, even with David Moyes coming in as manager (and the settling in period that might entail) they will still be a top team full of young players who are only going to get better—Phil Jones, Rafael, Shinji Kagawa, David de Gea etc.
Attempting to reclaim their title will be Man City. The uncertainty over who their manager will be next season will affect their build-up to the season. Rest assured, whoever is in charge will be managing a squad likely to be bolstered by some expensive, big-name signings.
Chelsea look in good shape playing-wise. What is primarily needed is clear leadership. Should they get that (perhaps again with Jose Mourinho), they will get the focus needed to make the most of the talent they possess.
Arsenal should expect to be coached by Arsene Wenger. But should they finish outside the top four, the reaction of the Gunners fans and what that might mean for the Frenchman could be interesting. If they do, Wenger and the club have been talking big about their plans to spend on some quality signings.
This is before we even get to Liverpool, Everton or any potential surprise package up the top of the Premier League table.
If Spurs come out on top of this lot, they will have earned it. Just being among the top four again would have to be regarded as an achievement.