Tottenham: The Biggest 'If' In The World

Much depends on the conclusion of one of the most disheartening transfer sagas of the summer, as Philip Cornwall writes that Gareth Bale's future is crucial to their hopes...

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LAST SEASON

Premier League 5th FA Cup fourth round League Cup fourth round Europa League quarter-finals

Manager Andre Villa-Boas (since July 2012) Odds on being first out of his job 10-1 (4th=)

Players in Roberto Soldado (Valencia, £26m), Paulinho (Corinthians, £17m), Etienne Capoue (Toulouse, £8.6m), Nacer Chadli (Twente, £7m), Danny Rose (Sunderland, end of loan)

Players out Steven Caulker (Cardiff City, £8m), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, £5m), William Gallas, David Bentley (released)

Club turnover in 2011-12 £144m (6th)

Handicap betting to win Premier League +17 points (5th)

In the summer of three sagas, the most depressing one for the Premier League is the one at Tottenham. Luis Suarez, 26, has as much baggage as ability; Wayne Rooney, 27, has made plenty of unfortunate headlines during a decade in the top flight; and in both cases their principal suitors are rival clubs in England. Gareth Bale at 24 is in his peak years, he is one of the world game's outstanding talents (even if the British eye exaggerates this) and until he sought a move away from Spurs the sole blemish was his inability to keep his feet. He is the kind of player that you want to pay to see, seemingly capable of anything.

Anything, that is, except getting Spurs that final step into the Champions League.

Two years ago Harry Redknapp's would have done enough but for Bayern Munich's fallibility from the penalty spot, and could have done it had they taken the chances to claim third and leave Arsenal sweating on Chelsea's fortunes. Last season, after the 2-1 win at Arsenal, successive defeats at Liverpool and Fulham - the only losses after 9 December - undid the good work and Andre Villas-Boas came up just short, to the agony of Spurs fans.

Bale wants them to suffer more, if he gets his way, and with Real Madrid the proposed destination (despite late interest from Manchester United) it would diminish the Premier League in multiple ways. First, it would take away one of its big draws. Second, it would be another signal that England is no longer where it's at. Third, if as expected it diminished Spurs' chances of challenging for a top-four spot then the division will be less competitive.

It is worth asking whether Bale's departure would diminish Spurs if there was time to spend in excess of £85m on reinforcements. Had Daniel Levy set out in, say, March, to sell his prize asset for £100m then the right targets could surely have enhanced the team. But that is not the situation and as it is Spurs have had money to spend: close to £60m on Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Nacer Chadli.

Soldado is a gamble at 28 because the resale value is not there but his scoring record in La Liga has been excellent. Not all Brazil midfielders prosper in England - consider World Cup winner Kleberson - but Paulinho and the Frenchman Etienne Capoue should add greatly to the side's central strength. Chadli is a 24-year-old Belgium winger with a good scoring record in the Netherlands. It is a surprise that Steven Caulker has been sold but if Bale stays this is an appreciably stronger team, as well as squad, with Clint Dempsey the other significant departure and Danny Rose brought back from Sunderland a better player. There has been a lot of spending in the division overall but Tottenham can certainly look at the team that pipped them for fourth and be comparatively happy with their summer. If...

And let's all acknowledge it is a huge if. But, presuming that Levy stands firm and Bale is still a Tottenham player on the morning of September 3 and gets over himself fairly quickly, then it will be for a side that have visited Crystal Palace, hosted Swansea - and then made the short journey to the Emirates. That was the scene last autumn of a 5-2 setback that followed losses at Manchester City and at home to Wigan, a run that represented the low point of Villas-Boas's first season. One more win then - or even just a draw at Arsenal - and the finale could have been different.

That September 1 date is worth only three points but, like the Liverpool v Manchester United game the same afternoon, far more weight will be placed on it, not least because the window closes the next day and with it the last chance to fix any faults that emerge. But Spurs do not look to have too many faults, beyond a history of frustrating near-misses.

Bale signed a four-year contract a year ago, giving Levy a position of strength in his refusal to negotiate. There is a new stadium on the distant horizon and, while Bale will probably not be around to see it, Spurs need his departure to be on their terms. If they can reach an accommodation with the player now to give Villas-Boas a second season to reach the Champions League, then I fancy everyone concerned may be a winner in a year's time.

Philip Cornwall

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