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Tottenham v Fulham - Three Questions

With a match this weekend at White Hart Lane, it's time to pick up the red phone to Cartilage Free Captain for another round of Three (usually many, many more) Questions. Dustin took the time to talk with us about Lewis Holtby, Tim Sherwood, and The Spurs Problem™. Be sure to check out the reverse interview at here. And give @dustingm a follow on Twitter for all things Spurs. He's a gentleman.

Paul Gilham

Cottagers Confidential: What happened? As a Fulham supporter, I've been asked this question numerous times by friends who expect the Cottagers to be a reliably plucky mid-table side. Obviously, things haven't worked out that way this campaign, but relegation is far from the certainty it once looked. As for Spurs, oodles of money spent in the summer, massive reputations brought to White Hart Lane, hell bent on a Champions League spot, but now it looks like the Europa League is the best bet. Diagnosis please!

Cartilage Free Captain: The Spurs Problem™ is complicated and doesn’t have a single, simple answer. Instead, there are a multitude of factors that combined to turn this season into one that was extremely disappointing to Spurs supporters.

1.  Overblown Expectations. After Gareth Bale was sold this summer and we spent £100m on players in the offseason, it’s easy to make the assumption that money = quality. After all, it worked for Chelsea and Manchester City, right? It’s a bit of a fallacy, though.  Sure, Spurs dropped a ton of money on players, but none of them had any prior EPL experience and all of them took a lot of time to bed in and acclimate to life in the Premier League. While all of us had stars in our eyes with the quality of the new signings, I think the loss of Gareth Bale hit the team much harder than anyone anticipated. He was, after all, the talisman of the team and won us a lot of points single-handedly last season. Many fans were expecting a title contention this season, but with the amount of turnover, even with a flagging Manchester United tempering expectations would’ve been more productive in what is turning out to be a rebuilding year.  Which brings me to:

2.  Underwhelming (for now) signings. Some would say selling Gareth Bale and bringing in the seven players we did is akin to trading in a dollar for seven dimes. I’m not sure I quite believe that (yet) but there’s no question that our signings underperformed. The exception is Christian Eriksen, who is clearly Spurs’ best player on the pitch right now, and Erik Lamela, who has struggled with injury and adaption to England all season, gets a pass. But the likes of Paulinho and especially Roberto Soldado have disappointed and have not been worth their price tags, at least not this first season. I have hopes that with the right manager and in the right tactical system all of our players can improve next season, but it’s been a painful period of acclimation.  The pieces are all there; the puzzle just has to be assembled.

3.  Managerial upheaval. AVB probably deserved to be sacked, though I was surprised it happened when it did. We at Cartilage Free Captain think that there were probably behind-the-scenes shenanigans of some sort that tipped the balance -- while AVB’s results weren’t stellar this season, they probably didn’t warrant a sacking alone, unless there were bridges being burned between AVB and Daniel Levy.  The timing of the sacking, however, was awful, and it contributed to the derailment of the season.  The appointment of Tim Sherwood was a high-risk high-reward gamble, even when the minimum expectations were to right the ship and prevent a tire fire. There weren’t many good options at manager at the time, so at best we had the next Bill Nicholson in waiting, and at worst we’re only stuck with him until the end of the season.  I don’t think anyone really expects "Tactics Tim" to be retained after season’s end -- he’s looked waaaaay out of his depth, and while I think he has the potential to be a decent manager, it won’t be as manager of Tottenham Hotspur.

Take all three of these factors, toss in a few 6-0 drubbings, and mix with a healthy dose of North London pessimism, and you end up with a recipe for seventh place in the Prem.  Tastes awful, too.

CC: Who's the man for the Tottenham job? Would you like to see a big name brought in to replace Sherwood (assuming of course that he's off)? Or would a more modest up and comer, someone like Pochettino, be your cup of tea?

CFC: Spurs are a tweener kind of club at present. We’re a bit like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill -- the top of the hill is perennial Champions League qualification, big name signings, and "destination club" status. And man, it’s hard to get there. We’re bigger than a mid-table club, we keep slipping while pushing that damn boulder. For that reason, Tottenham are never going to end up with the likes of Klopp, Guardiola, Mancini, etc. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of philosophy. Tottenham can either take a gamble on an up and coming young manager from either the middle of the Premier League (Pochettino) or from the continent (Frank de Boer at Ajax; Roger Schmidt at Salzburg, etc). They can get a so-called reclamation project manager that failed at another club (AVB comes to mind here). Or they can luck out and get a manager leaving a job and wanting to manage in the Premier eague (Louis van Gaal, Rafa Benitez).

I’m actually a little split on this issue. Van Gaal seems like the best choice if we can get him, though at his age he doesn’t seem like one for the long haul, so we’d want a succession plan in place if he comes to Spurs, though United or Arsenal could come sniffing around if they decide to make managerial changes this summer.  I’m not sold on Pochettino right now, and taking a gamble on a continental manager could pay dividends, or it could backfire.  My reaction to Rafa Benitez was viscerally negative, but I’m starting (STARTING) to come around on that. Put a gun to my head and I say Van Gaal, but either way it’s going to be a very interesting summer.

CC: Lewis Holtby has rapidly become a very, very popular player at Craven Cottage and I think most Fulham supporters would be happy to keep him in West London. He's got a touch of the Jimmy Bullard verve that was missing for the majority of the season. Is there a place for him in the Tottenham side? Or, more accurately, will there be a place for him in the Tottenham side once the expected summer clear out comes and goes.

CFC: Awww, Lewis.  For Spurs, Holtby was a "moneyball" purchase. We got him practically for five quid and a bacon sandwich, and he’s gotten opportunities this season to impress.  Unfortunately, he just hasn’t made the #10 position his own at Spurs, whether that be for managerial reasons or whatever.  I’d love him to find his feet at Spurs and turn into the player that he’s shown at Fulham, but I probably wouldn’t be too disappointed if he’s sold this summer. He needs to be at a team where he can play week in and week out. This loan was probably the shop window for Lewis, and if we can get a decent return on our (paltry) investment on him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go. And he’ll probably turn out to be bloody fantastic wherever he lands, because of course he will arrrgh.

CC: Thanks for your help and I guess I have to say good luck Saturday, but I'm sure you'll forgive me if I don't really mean it.

CFC: Hahahaha, honesty! That’s good!  I like that.