Premier League: Do Tottenham Need Star Power to Succeed?
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The definition of star power in football—be it at Tottenham Hotspur or elsewhere—is tricky to define. Like making a distinction between world-class players and those just a notch below, categorising who is and who is not a star largely comes down to opinion.
There are further sub-categories in such an argument. For instance, one must decide if a player transcends the beautiful game globally, or just at a national or perhaps continental level.
Football's multifaceted popularity worldwide ensures there are no simple answers in defining it. A fan in Hong Kong could be just as likely to know who Tottenham's goalkeeper is as one in North London (as shown by the great reception received during their summer tour in China).
Excuse the exposition, but in examining Tottenham's possible need for star power, establishing a basic understanding of what it incorporates was needed before we go any further.
The recently departed Gareth Bale's growing fame beyond the British Isles was a significant driving force behind his world-record move to Real Madrid (of course, this was as a result of his extraordinary talent).
But to different degrees, arguments can be made for current Spurs players like Jermain Defoe and Christian Eriksen being stars too.
The latter was signed as part of Spurs' attempts to move on from Bale. Indeed, the purchase of Roberto Soldado, Eriksen and Erik Lamela are a concession to the need for stars (although the latter two come in the form of young players whose respective stars have hopefully not yet shined their brightest).
For Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas, it has not so much been about putting together a team of stars, though, but rather a group of quality players who might reap the benefit of becoming more widely recognised through success achieved as a unit.
In what we might call football's modern age (from 1980 onwards), it is difficult to draw parallels between teams who have excelled using such methods with the heavily spending Tottenham of the present. And after all, having money doesn't preclude teams succeeding because of a group effort—usually it only increases the chances of it working.
However, as a decidedly aspirational project, Spurs' current attempts do have slightly more in common with those who have been unable to spend millions on buying up the best talent at will (as Chelsea and Manchester City did, though even then there was a lot more to their achievements).
The closest thing they had to it was England striker Alan Shearer. Though he was already a renowned goalscorer, his stock became considerably higher after firing Blackburn to the title.
Kenny Dalglish was given substantial financial backing by millionaire owner Jack Walker, but most of the players he recruited would truly make their names at Ewood Park. Shearer and David Batty (a league winner already with Leeds United in 1991-92) were perhaps the exceptions.
Looking at the sides across Europe's major leagues who have won titles in the aforementioned period, it becomes increasingly clear that the influx of money into football—from television revenue, Champions League football and rich owners—has made starless champions such as that smartly assembled Blackburn side a rarity.
In Italy, Hellas Verona's Scudetto winners of 1984-85 were probably the last of that kind. Being lenient, you could argue for Sampdoria's class of 1990-91, seeing as their big names Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli established themselves during their time in Genoa.
Spain's La Liga has largely been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona for the last half-century. Up until a decade ago, though, others were capable of occasionally breaking through. Worryingly, none have done it since Valencia in 2003-04.
The German Bundesliga should make for a fascinating case study over the next few years. Bayern Munich are in a different league financially to their peers, but have not been allowed their own way in the race for titles.
Their greater spending power may allow them to begin establishing a greater dominance. It leaves the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen—among their stronger domestic rivals right now—in an intriguing position as to how they will compete.
Of course, success for Spurs is not necessarily winning titles. Qualifying for the Champions League is the more realistic aim right now, while a cup victory would not go amiss either.
It is within the reach of their current squad to achieve at least one of these. Yet in the examples of the past—from England and beyond—it is clear that more is needed in the current climate to win football's highest honours.
This current crop of Spurs players may have it in them to reach such levels. Villas-Boas will have done a remarkable job if he can get them even competing for the Premier League, let alone winning it.
Make no mistake though, considerable progress still need to be made by Eriksen, Lamela and Co. to get there. In the meantime, it should be a thoroughly entertaining ride—no matter the destination.
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