Villas-Boas is right on target for Champions League… but now his players want more
22:30 GMT, 30 December 2012
The owners’ original target, he revealed, was a return to the Champions League and Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas is warming to the idea. But his players have even bigger ambitions now.
The 2-1 victory at Sunderland on Saturday was a good win for AVB’s players, if overshadowed by Martin Atkinson’s booking of Gareth Bale for a perceived dive, the third such punishment for the Welshman in little over a month.
The north London club dominated but fell behind to John O’Shea’s first Sunderland goal. They dominated some more in the second half and thanks to 90 seconds of horrific Sunderland defending, won it thanks to Carlos Cuellar’s own goal and a fine Aaron Lennon strike.
Euro vision: Tottenham head coach Andre Villas-Boas congratulates Gareth Bale on a brilliant performance in the 2-1 win at Sunderland on Saturday
It further cemented their challenge for a return to the Champions League next season — putting them third until overtaken by Chelsea yesterday.
And it has provided further evidence that Daniel Levy may have got it right with his controversial sacking of Harry Redknapp and backing of Villas-Boas so soon after the Portuguese had been discarded by Chelsea.
There are signs that the majority of the Spurs players are growing in comfort and confidence with the Villas-Boas methods which were prematurely curtailed by Roman Abramovich last March.
Despite that very public setback, the coach has never lost faith in himself, or his belief in delivering for an expectant White Hart Lane hierarchy.
‘I’ve always believed in my ability as a manager,’ he said. ‘Football is unpredictable, but you just have to keep going because you can’t live on mid-term success. You have to take it up to the finishing line.
‘The Champions League is the objective, but we’ve only just finished the first half of the Premier League, so there are still a lot of games to be played and the problem with the league this season is that everybody is very tight together.
‘We’re still rebuilding a team that lost very, very important players, but that’s what makes us tick.’
Frustration: Martin Atkinson books Bale for diving, earning him a one match suspension for accumulating five yellow cards this season
Scott Parker returned briefly on Saturday but in his absence Sandro has set a standard to ensure the England midfielder has a fight on his hands to play for the new-look Tottenham.
Not only does the Brazilian exemplify the improvement in the side, but he embodies the ambition which he believes makes Spurs title contenders.
He said: ‘Everybody talks about Manchester United and Manchester City and even Chelsea for the title, but never Spurs. Why not Spurs
‘We can go for the top. Why not Spurs at the top this season We have a good coach, a good squad and everything is working well.
‘Nobody is speaking about Spurs. And that suits us. But we are not content to just be a top-four side. We are looking up, not down.
‘I hope it carries on with nobody talking about Spurs as champions right until the end of the season. Then bang, we win. They will all be talking about Tottenham then.’
Ambition: Tottenham's Sandro questioned why the club are never considered for the Premier League table
Although substitute Clint Dempsey’s unnecessary late debate with coach Steffen Freund suggests not all the new recruits are happy with life, one notable performer was French keeper Hugo Lloris.
The 12million summer signing has played the last nine Premier League games, kept four clean sheets and conceded just seven goals, including two against Arsenal.
He was rarely tested by Sunderland, and made a superb reflex save to deny Steven Fletcher before O’Shea hammered home the rebound. His main preoccupation was punching the home side’s relentless aerial bombardment as far from his goal as possible.
Villas-Boas said: ‘It was a big, big performance from him, with difficult balls into the box, a proper English fixture, a difficult team, strong in the air, big players and he handled it fantastically well.’
Top form: Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has played the last nine Premier League matches, keeping four clean sheets
Another player very much a part of Villas-Boas’s plans is defender Danny Rose, who was sorely missed by temporary club Sunderland. The left back has been so outstanding fans have been chanting for Martin O’Neill to sign him permanently.
For now, O’Neill is just pleased to have secured an extension to the loan until the end of the season. He can concentrate on other targets this week and vowed to work on Rose’s future in the summer.
The Sunderland manager said: ‘I was really disappointed he (Villas-Boas) said he will have Danny back.
‘Lots of things can change: if we put in an offer of 38million that might change things, I think he would taxi him up here.’
GRAHAM POLL'S OFFICIAL LINE: BALE'S REPUTATION GOES BEFORE HIM
Players often complain that their reputation goes before them and having received his third caution of the season for simulation, Gareth Bale will probably claim just that.
However, Martin Atkinson is a very experienced Premier League and international referee who was absolutely sure that Bale dived. Looking at replays, there is contact but only after Bale’s leg is crumbling.
I understand that Andre Marriner had a meeting at Tottenham’s training ground to discuss this recurring problem with Bale, who now has five cautions for diving since the start of last season, but this meeting does not appear to have had the desired effect.
Andre Villas-Boas and Bale himself both feel sure that he is merely trying to avoid injuries and not seeking to con the referee. However, three referees this season cannot see their point of view.