Spurs Genuine Title Contenders If They Sign Pablo Osvaldo—and Keep Gareth BaleAugust 16, 2013
News that Tottenham are set to steal in ahead of Southampton to complete the signing of Pablo Osvaldo (as first reported by The Sun) may just be greeted with a tinge of regret from the club’s fans.
If it were not for the ongoing Gareth Bale saga, the signing of the Italy international would make Spurs genuine Premier League title challengers.
Andre Villas-Boas has worked astutely in the transfer market this summer; while club chairman Daniel Levy has been busy holding firm when it comes to Bale and Real Madrid, the additions of Paulinho, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue have improved upon and expanded the options available to Villas-Boas in midfield and further forward at White Hart Lane.
However, it is in attack that Spurs were most deficient last season. While it is hard to argue that it cost them a run at the title (their defence was perhaps too porous for that ambition), it was almost certainly the key reason they fell to fifth and out of Champions League qualification.
Spurs notched 66 times last season, six less than Arsenal and nine less than Chelsea, their two primary rivals for the top four. Matching their north London rivals in the goalscoring department would almost certainly have seen them gain the two extra points they needed to outlast them.
Drafting in Roberto Soldado for a club-record fee of £26m rectified that issue in part—according to the statistics, the Spain international is roughly twice as prolific in front of goal as the occasionally profligate Jermain Defoe. But Spurs’ issue was not so much the quality of their strikers as the quantity: with only Defoe (11 league goals) and Emmanuel Adebayor (five) to call upon, Villas-Boas had few options if one or both found themselves sidelined.
That’s why Defoe—used a lot early in the campaign—seemed to fade badly as time went on. A Europa League campaign did not help in this regard, something that held true for many of Spurs’ regular starters.
Adebayor—whose attitude occasionally leaves much to be desired—improved greatly when he was asked to pick up Defoe’s slack and therefore felt important to the team.
Soldado’s addition diminished that threat but, with both Defoe and Adebayor linked with summer departures, it seemed like the underlying issue was not going to be addressed. Adding Osvaldo ensures it will be; indeed, if Defoe and Adebayor both stay, the Portuguese manager will suddenly be overwhelmed with options.
Osvaldo brings a similar style of play to Spurs as Adebayor (as outlined here) and, perhaps worryingly for fans, has a similarly temperamental reputation. Unlike Adebayor, however, the 27-year-old has a real incentive to behave if he comes to the Premier League: a World Cup trip with Italy, in the continent of his birth—he originally hails from Argentina—is his for the claiming if he retains a high standard of play.
Adding Osvaldo, or any comparable lead forward, would effectively ensure Spurs are set in both midfield and attack—although another creator, perhaps Christian Eriksen or Osvaldo's club-mate Erik Lamela, would be a welcome luxury—if Bale remains at White Hart Lane. Paulinho and Capoue join Sandro in providing a firm base in midfield, allowing Mousa Dembele to take on more attacking responsibility after being pressed into a deep-lying role last season.
Chadli offers width to match Aaron Lennon, with Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson giving Villas-Boas a number of chess pieces to play with behind his selection of four strikers.
Defensively, Spurs were more suspect than some of their rivals last season: they conceded 12 more goals than Manchester City’s league-best 34. But then again, Manchester United let in the exact same number and walked away with the title. The difference between Spurs and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side was that they scored 20 more goals—the Robin van Persie effect, if you will.
Osvaldo will not be Spurs’ answer to Van Persie, but he is the solution to their most pressing deficiency. Together, he and Soldado can erase a large part of the advantage United have in possessing an individual of the Dutchman’s quality.
Spurs have their own talismanic star, of course, and Osvaldo’s potential arrival only heightens the importance of resolving Bale’s future.
Selling Bale—who grabbed 21 league goals, nearly a third of Spurs' total, last term—for £80m would cover the entirety of the club’s summer outlay and even leave some money for a defensive addition.
While it is debatable whether the team would have the same game-changing ability if Bale departs, the squad looks to be more rounded.
Considering how little transfer business Arsenal have done so far this summer, it is difficult to see them being better than their arch-rivals this season, even shorn of Bale’s majesty.
But if the Welshman stays—and Osvaldo signs on—then there is no reason Spurs cannot set their sights even higher than fourth.
With the new season upon us no challenger has every piece in place, but no side has added more of them this summer than Spurs.
The only question now is whether or not they lose the biggest one of all.