A Q+A with Tottenham Hotspur blog Cartilage Free Captain

Ian Walton

Ahead of the season-ending clash at White Hart Lane, Dustin from SB Nation's Spurs blog Cartilage Free Captain stops by for a chat.

From an outsider's perspective, this season seems like it's been a bit disappointing for Spurs. Is that a fair assessment, or was the perception that this was going to be something of a transitional year?

In many ways, this has been an extremely disappointing season for Spurs.  Let's list the reasons:

  • We sold Gareth Bale.

  • We brought in seven new players with zero Premier League experience, several of whom have been disappointing.

  • We fired our manager midway through the season.

  • We appointed an interim manager who turned out to be a crazy person out of his depth.

  • We struggled with injuries all season.

  • We are Spurs and can't have nice things.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and while we all acknowledged that it would take some time for the team to mesh this year I don't think any of us expected us to take such a step backwards as we did this season. The rational among our number expected us to challenge for top four. The irrational among us thought we could muster a title challenge.  I think most of our wounds this year were self-inflicted, which makes this summer so pivotal to Spurs' progress as a club going forward.

Thanks in large part to the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Spurs did quite a bit of shopping in the summer and brought in Christian Eriksen, Roberto Saldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, and Nacer Chadli. With the exceptions of Eriksen and Paulinho, all seem to have struggled to adjust. How many of these players do you think will be part of the team's core going forward? Are you ready to call any of them busts?

I've joked in other interviews that the sale of Gareth Bale and the financing of the Spurs Seven that came in this summer was a bit like trading in a dollar for seven dimes, man.  I don't really believe that, because I don't think we expected any of our signings to fully replace the offensive output that Bale provided us over the past several years. That said, all of the above players came into Tottenham with exceptional pedigrees and with the expectations that they could hit the ground running. That didn't happen.  Out of all of our summer signings, the only home-run has been Christian Eriksen, who has been masterful for us this season, and is the one player whom we should build the offense around going forward. The fact that we got him for around £11m is absolutely criminal and still makes me cackle with glee when I think about it. He's probably worth twice that already.

Roberto Soldado, on the other hand, has been hugely disappointing, and there's no denying that. I'm not sure if he's just not a good player in English football, if he's not getting the level of service he relies on, if he's been misused by the two Spurs managers this season, or if he's just not as good as what we thought. Probably a bit of all of them. I still have hopes for Soldado and believe he can turn things around, but I can't say that he hasn't been poor for us.

I'd also actually disagree with your assessment of Paulinho. Nearly universally, the writing staff of Cartilage Free Captain have been hugely disappointed with his performances, which is an odd thing to say about a player who is essentially a lock-down starter for World Cup favorites Brazil.  In the majority of his matches for Spurs he's been put into a box-to-box or forward-running midfield position and paired with a "holder" like Nabil Bentaleb or Mousa Dembele, and Paulinho has struggled to impose himself on the game. He's scored a few goals and had a couple of really good games, but more often than not he's looked like he's not sure whether to find passing lanes to the inside forwards or lock down the midfield with key tackles and pressure, and so consequently has done neither.  I suspect we're misusing him -- we have yet to really see him paired with Sandro in a double pivot, for example -- and maybe a change of leadership might be what he needs to kick on. But he's been linked with a move to Chelsea this summer, and I'm starting to think we should maybe let him go, if we can get a good price.

Erik Lamela gets a pass. This kid has bags of talent, but has really struggled with injury and we haven't seen him since January. Some Spurs fans have put out "HAVE YOU SEEN ME?" posters with Erik's face, and others with less vision have questioned whether he's not just a bad player.  There's a recent article from Neil Ashton (I know, I know, lol) that suggests that he was hiding a muscle injury before his transfer which led to a serious back injury, which is why he's been MIA for pretty much the whole season. I think it'd be foolish to dump him, as he's still really young and has the biggest chance to turn into The New BaleTM of any of our signings.

A long-winded answer that can essentially be summed up thusly:  a lot of our signings have been disappointing this year, but I don't believe any of them are beyond redemption. With the right manager, I think all of our signings could shake off their disappointing 2013-14 campaign and improve a lot next season.

Any thoughts on Tim Sherwood's performance since taking over for Andre Villas-Boas? Do you expect him to be the manager at the start of next season?

The Tim Sherwood era has been, in my opinion, an unmitigated disaster. That said, I think his appointment was, at the time, probably the right call. We still don't really know what led to Andre Villas-Boas' leaving the club, but it was probably not entirely due to on-pitch performance. I'm pretty convinced that there was a good deal of behind the scenes stuff that poisoned the well between Daniel Levy and AVB. It's the only thing that makes sense considering the timing of his dismissal. This put Levy in a difficult spot since few managers of significance were willing to come to Spurs at that point in time. Having Tim Sherwood, a rising star in the Tottenham coaching ranks, ascend from Youth Coordinator to manager made sense in a lot of ways -- he already knew the club, he was already on the payroll, and theoretically would be able to easily slip into the position. It makes sense when you think about it. At best, Tottenham had the new Bill Nicholson waiting in the wings ready to take flight. At worst, Tim Sherwood is a stabilizing factor able to steady the ship and prevent the players revolting.

Well, the play certainly has been revolting. It became quickly apparent that Tim Sherwood is a crazy person who is completely out of his depth at this level. His tactics have ranged from the uninspiring to the bizarre (Kyle Walker as a #10? A midfield of Nacer Chadli and Gylfi Sigurdsson? Wut?). His interactions with the media have been petulant and somewhat tone-deaf.  He's already thrown his players under the bus and alienated a number of prominent players like Sandro and Jan Vertonghen.  And the on-pitch results, though initially promising, have been fading lately along with Spurs' Champions League hopes. The good news is that he's all but certain to get a firm handshake, a "thanks for your service, mate," and a healthy severance package, and he's done a good enough job that he should land on his feet somewhere with a decent Championship or League 1 team.

The one thing that Tim has done well is bring in youth players. He's responsible for Nabil Bentaleb ExperienceTM, which has proven that the youngster has the chops to hold his own in the EPL, and has given starts or bench spots to other promising youth players like Harry Winks and Milos Veljkovic. For that I thank him, if for nothing else.

There's clearly a ton of talent in this Spurs squad, but they're seemingly still a little ways away from pushing into the elite tier. What are the missing ingredients? Do you have faith the club will address its weaknesses in the summer?

We are in desperate, desperate need of a left back. If this season has shown us anything, it's that Danny Rose is not the answer, despite how well he played for Sunderland on loan last season. So long as we continue to play Eriksen as a left-sided inside forward who likes to cut into the middle, we leave that left side completely exposed, and Rose has shown himself to lack the defensive fortitude when on his own.  We also could use another center back or two -- Younes Kaboul, bless his gigantic French heart, is no longer the player he was before his season-ending injury last year.  Michael Dawson is now a step slow, and Vlad Chiriches isn't quite ready to step into the #2 spot. We need a solid partner for Jan Vertonghen, and perhaps another backup CB since our backs tend to spend good chunks of the season injured.  Finally, I think we could probably use one additional striker. Spurs will be on the hook for all of Emmanuel Adebayor's £150k/week salary starting next season, and it wouldn't surprise me if he's sold in the offseason. Soldado I think will come good, and Harry Kane has displayed some glimpses of brilliance late this season, but we could use a depth or rotation signing, maybe a poacher along the lines of a Chicharito or the like, perhaps.

More importantly, I think we need a competent manager to take all the pieces and put them in the right places. I have my little heart set on Frank De Boer, but we've been linked to Mauricio Pochettino, Roberto Martinez, Louis Van Gaal (though this is now unlikely with United sniffing around) and a number of coaches from the continent. If we make a smart hire early on and give him some time to work on a new system, I think Tottenham Hotspur could surprise a lot of people in the league next season. That's my hope, anyways. Audere est facere.

You can follow Dustin @dustingm and CFC @cartilagefree.

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