Illustration by Sam TaylorSo, after four league games without a victory, Spurs managed to overcome Meulensteen’s mighty Fulham last night. A good result for a side with an implausible inability to play like a team. And maybe that’s because Tottenham are actually about eight teams, trying to fit themselves onto one pitch. In fact, right now, more than anything, the Spurs squad resembles one of those ensemble movies that no one has ever seen. One of those ones with expensive casts amassed with all the forethought of a 12-year-old puking mint choc chip and marzipan behind a self-service ice-cream buffet.
Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, Mike Myers, Ryan Phillippe and Mark Ruffalo “starred” in 54. Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams suffered The Big Wedding. Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Taylor Swift and Queen Latifah queued up to butcher their careers in Valentine’s Day. And now, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Sandro, Mousa Dembele, Andros Townsend, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Lewis Holtby, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Etienne Capoue jostle every week to make it into Villas-Boas’ latest turgid eleven.It’s remarkable to remember that two years ago Spurs basically had the most effective midfield five in the league: Parker, Modric, van der Vaart, Lennon and Bale. Compare that to the sad herd of decent nobodies currently meandering around the White Hart Lane dressing room, fidgeting for space like a room full of Disney orphans: Jan Vertonghen squeezing into a desk drawer, Adebayor and Holtby top-to-tail in the bathtub, little Aaron Lennon curling up in Michael Dawson’s huge top pocket; all watched by AVB, his heart heavy with the guilt of a hapless father.It all seemed so simple back in the summer. Plaudits were raining in for everyone around the club, from the manager to Baldini, to Daniel Levy. Sure, they'd lost their Welsh Galactico, but for the price of one genius they’d festooned their squad with international talent enough to ensure the club need never again rely upon one man’s last-minute 30-yard wonders. There was a joke back in August that the next time Real Madrid turned up on Tottenham High Road to pinch a superstar, it’d be Daniel Levy they were after.
But then Arsenal signed Ozil and everything started to crumble. Today, Gareth Bale is Madrid’s “Prince of Goals” and 40 years of Tottenham attacking tradition has abruptly halted, like a beached warship.Spurs spent the summer swooping through the transfer market emboldened by the praise they were receiving from both the press and football insiders. With each canny signing the hype grew, and Tottenham were happy to believe it. It’s only now that the dust has settled, that perhaps Levy is peering into his over-populated dressing room – watching Chadli and Danny Rose fighting for the last pair of shin pads – that he might be questioning those signings. I mean, Capoue looks great and back in July, Paulinho was a Brazilian first-teamer, but did he really need to spend around 27 million on two positions Dembele and Sandro had sewn up last year?It’s rare you see a club go for quantity over quality when trying to secure their trequartista but Spurs had a bash at it. Eriksen is a good little advanced midfielder, but is he actually any better a cut of meat than Holtby or Sigurdsson? Aren’t they all simply slightly different flavours of fancy mashed potato ordered from the same superior pub menu? Depressingly, Bale, Modric or van der Vaart would all still walk into that spot and improve the team immeasurably.As, right now, might Peter Crouch. There isn’t a Spurs fan alive who wants that Peperami sausage back, but it’s undeniable that he did more upfront than Soldado’s been able to. Soldado looks like a guy who’s been sold a dud and is enjoying his revenge. He’s a one man filibustering strike force, waiting down the clock of Premier League games, punishing AVB for isolating him in front of a midfield playing with as much imagination as a tractor. When the alternative large man up front is Adebeyor, the devil incarnate, perhaps buying a second striker to put pressure on the Spaniard might have been a good idea? Yesterday, AVB resorted to Defoe – a man who may well score for you, but whose very presence says something about the team. It doesn’t matter how many goals he gets – and he will get a few – no side he starts for, at club or international level, will ever reach the stars. Right now though, he might be the best option Spurs have.
And that must hurt. It must hurt Levy, because despite all his wise investment, the club is still a Defoe club. Not a Soldado club. It’s a place talent goes to fizzle while mediocrity rises to the top. It also must hurt AVB – after all, if his young promise and hard work can’t take this football club further than a self-serving crook like Redknapp, then what’s it good for? Levy, AVB, Soldado: they’re all victims of the Tottenham tragedy.Spurs are a tragic club because they’re so desperate to win they’ve been overplaying their hand for decades. Since 2006, they’ve put £390,000,000 on the table and had their bluff called at every turn.In his black suits, Levy looks like some sort of Machiavellian genius – Darth Prada, perhaps – the kind of subtle bastard who’s been cleverly carving up the spoils from a distance. But, tragically, he’s not Richard III; he’s Pinky and the Brain. Every day he wakes up, schemes and plots and never gets anywhere. 'This time,' he thinks, while forcing the Madrid President to travel to his Miami house to unload the largest sum of cash for a player that has ever been unloaded, 'this time, I’ve done it.' Two months later and West Ham beat them 3-0 at home.For AVB, losses cut deep too. In a way he is the first of a generation of Premier League student managers – people who could barely kick a ball, but obsessed over tactics – to feel under real pressure. Both Wenger and Mourinho have won so much they’ll always be feted, but Villas-Boas hasn’t been so lucky. Certainly at Chelsea, his age and lack of playing experience held him back, and you can see the urge to prove his worth dripping off him. Perhaps that’s why he fell out with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who famously couldn’t give a shit about football. It’s taken endless hard work to get AVB here, so imagine what it’s like to watch a half-decent left-back mock the game which comes so naturally to him, yet so torturously to you.Meanwhile, up the road, Arsene laughs in his smug French way, having pulled the rug from beneath Spurs for the 17th time. Not with lasagne this time, but with a German Galactico, and – horrifically for Spurs – a hitherto underrated Welsh goal machine who probably won’t be leaving for Madrid next year.Things could still turn around for Spurs this year. They have the best keeper in the league. The further up the pitch Paulinho plays, the better he looks. Once Rose returns they’ll have Vertonghen back at centre-half. But, for now, one victory isn’t enough to shake them out of a familiar narrative arc, one of false dawns and expensive disappointment.Follow Alex (@terriblesoup) and Sam (@SptSam) on Twitter, or visit his website at samtaylorillustrator.com.Previously – We Need to Talk About Joe Hart's Existential Crisis