In many respects, there was nothing notable about the manner of Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-1 victory at home against Aston Villa on Monday evening.
After all, the Villains arrived at White Hart Lane on the back of six consecutive defeats in all competitions, and with new manager Remi Garde yet to take formal charge of the first team squad.
The feebleness of the opposition should not detract from the significance of Spurs’ victory in the context of the club’s push for their first top four finish since 2012.
Monday evening’s victory marked the occasion of Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s 10th league fixture without a loss and moved the London club up as high as fifth in the table, just a point back from Manchester United after 11 matchdays.
With Chelsea struggling, Liverpool adapting to a new manager in Jurgen Klopp and United failing to convince, it is beginning to look as though the 2015/16 season has afforded Spurs an unexpected route back into the Champions League.
Few could have foreseen this circumstance at the end of August when Tottenham were winless in four in the Premier League and seemed far too reliant on a worryingly goal-shy Harry Kane in attack.
The London club implemented an uncharacteristically conservative transfer strategy during the summer window.
Chairman Daniel Levy focused on purging the squad of high-earning, under-performing “deadwood,” most of whom lingered from the summer of 2013 when Spurs responded to the record-breaking sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid by embarking on an ill-fated £100 million-plus spending spree.
Etienne Capoue (Watford), Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Roberto Soldado (Villarreal), Vlad Chiriches (Napoli), and Benjamin Stambouli (Paris Saint Germain) were all offloaded for impressive fees given their meagre contribution at White Hart Lane. Meanwhile, Younes Kaboul (Sunderland), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg), Aaron Lennon (Everton), and Emmanuel Adebayor (free agent) were some of the older faces who the manager and club agreed were surplus to requirements.
The money raised by these sales was such that Sky Sportsquote Spurs as having only spent £5m on the five players that they recruited during the summer: Kevin Wimmer (Koln), Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Kieran Trippier (Burnley), Clinton N’Jie (Lyon), and Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen).
This prudence was seen by some fans to signal a lack of ambition.
“A post-window daze” reigned at Tottenham in the first weeks of September, the Guardian’s David Hytner observed, as “a section of the fan-base…rebelled against Levy over the gaps in the playing staff.”
Such a response, of course, was wholly understandable in the context of Spurs’ sluggish start to the season. But while there are clearly areas of Tottenham’s first team squad in need of strengthening, the upturn in the club’s results since beating Sunderland on September 13 suggests that there was more logic to Levy’s summer dealings than first met the eye.
For most of his chairmanship, Levy’s sole ambition was to qualify Spurs for the Champions League. It was this “zero-sum” approach that led him to dismiss 10 managers in 13 years prior to the appointment of Pochettino in the summer of 2014.
These developments stand to make Spurs a hugely profitable enterprise with or without Champions League football and the increased revenues the club can expect to generate from 2017 will put them in a far stronger position to break into the top four.
Thus, although consistent Champions League qualification remains Tottenham and Levy’s long-term ambition, the short-term goal for the club seems to be stability, to remain in a position whereby they can push into the top four when increased transfer funds become available.
This is precisely what made Pochettino such a shrewd appointment: a coach in possession of a clear tactical vision, an ability to develop young players and a track record of out-performing his budget.
Stability is what Spurs have been crying out for throughout Levy’s reign. Now that they have it, the club might break the top four ahead of time.
[Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images]