Andre Villas-Boas still struggles to understand why the Europa League is valued so poorly in England.
To paraphrase Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “if you ain't first, you're last”. Or, in this case, if you ain't fourth, you’re last. British football is obsessed with the grandeur of the Champions League.
Spurs reached that zenith once – and they have been desperately trying to get back there since.
So, when Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 in March last year to move into third place, seven points clear of their north London foes, there was excited talk of a changing of the guard.
It looked increasingly likely that the Lilywhites would finish a season ahead of their staunch rivals for the first time for 18 years, and, more importantly, return to the Champions League.
Wily old fox Arsene Wenger would not be drawn – merely asking any journalists who posed such a question to ask it again come the end of the season.
Of their last 10 Premier League games, Tottenham lost two, drew three and won five.
Both losses came after Europa League participation. The games straight after their last-16 fixtures against Inter ended in defeat to Liverpool and Fulham respectively.
Playing Everton after the first leg of their quarter-final against Basel, Gylfi Sigurdsson rescued a point in the 87th minute – that’s eight points dropped from a possible nine.
They had no fixture after the second leg and their 10-day rest saw them respond and effectively end Manchester City’s title aspirations while simultaneously reigniting their hopes of Champions League football.
Alas, it was not to be.
Villas-Boas’s affinity with the competition was understandable having burnished his reputation there a few seasons previous, winning it with Porto. However, the cold facts do not lie: the Europa League cost Spurs a top-four spot last season.
However, a summer of transfer wranglings has given Villas-Boas the opportunity to re-define the prevailing attitude toward a competition that his predecessor Harry Redknapp once described as a “punishment”.
Gareth Bale has facilitated this. His sale set in motion a complete re-balancing of the Tottenham squad - not only do they have far more strength in depth with greater European experience but they are also a more physical presence.
Most of the re-shaping has come in midfield. A three picked from Etienne Capoue, Paulinho, Sandro and Mousa Dembele, augmented with creative additions Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and last January's acquisition Lewis Holtby, will provide a stern test for many a side - home or abroad.
Having been hamstrung by Daniel Levy’s transfer window intransigence that saw key players leave at the end of the previous season’s summer window with little time to bring in adequate replacements, Villas-Boas ultimately led a two-pronged assault with largely Redknapp’s squad.
They came close to achieving quite an admirable feat but, by Bobby’s reckoning, they ultimately finished last.
However with the personnel now to fit his tactical acumen, Villas-Boas could very well set about changing a laboured view of Europe’s second competition in this country, bringing silverware to the club, while simultaneously claiming the much-sought Champions League spot.
Marcus Foley | @mmjfoley
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