After a weekend where Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham lost at home to Fulham following Thursday night madness in Milan and with the upcoming international break offering a week of reflection and planning, how should the north London side approach the remainder of the season?
Perhaps that question should be followed by another. Which one of these two outcomes would move the club on further- 4th and Champions League qualification or a Europa League title? It must be remembered even if Spurs finish 4th then they are by no means qualified for the group stages of the Champions League the club so readily craves as the play-off round could easily draw Spurs against a strong European team, a round this season that included teams such as quarter-finalists Malaga and Europa League quarter-finalists Fenerbahçe. And placing more emphasis on the Europa League would not guarantee a trophy in a competition still including the likes of Benfica, Lazio and Chelsea.
As a viewer of a variety of leagues across Europe, AVB’s attitude of taking the Europa League seriously is commendable and refreshing. England’s extreme Champions League or nothing attitude is nothing short of Premier League arrogance with Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa and Tottenham under Harry Redknapp just two prime examples of clubs recently turning their backs not only on an exciting European adventure for the fans but also turning their backs on a very winnable trophy. And AVB knows all too well the positive effect a Europa League title can bring to a club after his record breaking 2010-11 season with FC Porto. That initial trophy could prove to become a launch pad for the club moving forward.
However that launch pad might not be enough to keep hold of key players who deserve regular Champions League matches and while the sale of stars such as Gareth Bale would no doubt attract big bucks, spending that money on a replacement could prove to be a tricky task. Besides Spurs are in desperate need of investment in a wafer-thin and vulnerable Premier League squad and losing players would only increase this pressure. If Tottenham were to lose 3 or 4 key players to injury as could so easily often in the blood and thunder tempo of the English game then a fixture assault on two fronts could be too much to handle.
Whatever might be said and written about Spurs’ Europa League efforts and its knock on effects on their league form too much has been made about Spurs’ recent form. Admittedly three defeats on the bounce doesn’t make for great reading (Liverpool, Inter Milan, Fulham) however AVB has had experience this season in bouncing back and has proved he is capable of turning around the performances of the squad. After all, Spurs failed to win any of their opening three Premier League games, and only won once in five games in all competitions between the end of October and mid November. Each time they have responded, having won three games or more in a row in all competitions an impressive five times this season.
After all said and done finishing in the top four doesn’t quite offer the glory of a European title. And the glory of that title would not guarantee the financial returns of a top four finish. And this is significantly important not only in light of the impending financial fair play regulations but for a club which prides itself on its financial self-stability.
Mr. Villas-Boas has done a fine job this season in getting Tottenham to this point but must consider his options carefully at this juncture of the season. No doubt the introduction of Aaron Lennon in Milan on Thursday night confirmed to many he is willing to prioritise the Europa League and make good on his claim back in the summer to put Tottenham “back on track with titles”. Those Spurs fans ready to criticise AVB should take a step back and trust a manager that has already achieved a great deal at this embryonic stage of his managerial career.