White Hart Lane was left in a subdued atmosphere despite Gareth Bale’s winner against Sunderland on the final day of the season. News from St. James Park had broke loose that Laurent Koscielny’s second half goal was enough to secure Champions League football for the Gunners – ultimately leaving Tottenham out of Europe’s most prestigious tournament for the second consecutive season.
Tottenham finished the season with 72 points – the club’s record point total and the highest of a side that has finished outside the top four, which would’ve guaranteed the North London side second place two seasons ago. For the most part, Andre Villas-Boas’ first season at White Hart Lane was successful – despite finishing one spot lower than Harry Redknapp’s side a year prior. Although AVB’s influence saw Spurs develop tactically, the Portuguese manager’s side still encountered a few issues that saw them drop 12 points in their final 10 games – which Bale scored goals in the final five minutes against Southampton and Sunderland, to avoid further blemishes.
Defensive solidity has been a recurring issue for Spurs over the past few years, yet the large abundance of inferior teams in the league has benefitted the North London side. The main issue Tottenham has endured was in the final third, mainly at home, where they struggled to break down sides that sat deep, and stayed organized. Spurs dropped 19 points at home last season, albeit only being bettered by Liverpool for creating the most clear-cut chances in the league – simply highlighting that a no.10 and a striker was needed.
While Bale’s highly speculated move to Real Madrid has dominated headlines, AVB has added two quality players in Paulinho and Nader Chadli to his squad – as it looks certain Spurs will transition into a 4-3-3 side. Frankly, keeping Bale is essential, but it’s uncertain as to whether he’ll be able to replicate the 26 goals he scored last season – where he benefitted playing in a free role as a no.10.
Now, Bale’s departure wouldn’t be disastrous as many think, considering Spurs would receive approximately £80-100m for the Welshman. There’s no question that there was a heavy reliance on Bale, but the system switch would limit the freedom he enjoyed – and it would leave the creativity to the midfield three and the wingers, while they would need a reliable striker to provide the goals – which explains the purchase of Spanish international Roberto Soldado.
Soldado has reached the peak of his career, so there was no surprise that he was eager to be the main man of a potential contender. The 28-year-old has failed to consistently be the centre of attack for the national team, and a full season under AVB’s guidance, bolsters his chances of potentially solidifying a starting role in Brazil next summer.
At the age of 14, Vicente del Bosque, then Real Madrid youth team coach, persuaded Soldado to leave his regional side Don Bosco. Soldado was an instant hit at Castilla, Madrid’s B side, yet he was unable to display his skills for the first team, despite scoring 63 goals in four seasons. With a strike-force that consisted of Ronaldo, Robinho, Raul, Michael Owen and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Soldado found it difficult to feature regularly in a Madrid shirt, which led to Fabio Capello’s decision to loan the striker to Osasuna for the 2006-2007 season. 13 goals in all competitions for the Pamplona based side was enough to earn Soldado a second stint at Madrid, under newly appointed coach Bernd Schuster, but once again the Spaniard was deprived the opportunity to play.
Soldado was offloaded to Getafe the next season for €4m, where it looked like his career would amount to nothing, yet that’s where the Spaniard’s career took storm. Life abroad allowed the Valencia-born striker to flourish as the spearhead of the Getafe attack, scoring 33 goals in 66 appearances, which interested a Valencia side that was looking to replace David Villa. As humble, and soft-spoken as Soldado is off the field, he was quick to state his role with the club that eventually paid €10m for his services.
“I have all the enthusiasm in the world, but I’m not here to replace anyone,” Soldado said.
“I’ll contribute as much as possible with my work,” he added.
During Soldado’s three seasons at his hometown club, the Spanish striker slowly built his own legacy. The 28-year-old striker notched 80 goals in 146 appearances for Los Che, scoring a minimum of 25 goals per season in all competitions – while bringing his Champions League tally up to 15 goals, more than any player on the Spurs roster. Throughout the Spaniard’s career, he’s made it clear that he’s a genuine poacher, which could explain the player’s he admired as a youth.
“I favoured the finishers [when growing up], the goalscorers. [Ivan] Zamorano – I loved him when he was at Madrid. Jimmy [Floyd] Hasselbaink at Atletico, Ronaldo when he was at Barcelona. They really were the best of the best,” Soldado said in a UEFA.com interview.
However, although Soldado’s demeanor off the field was reserved, the bullish, yet gritty side of the Spaniard, which is often seen on the pitch, came out when speaking to reporters about his Valencia departure.
“The reason I’m leaving is because I don’t have faith in the current project and because the president has been lying for a long time, to me personally over the telephone,” Soldado said.
“A lot of the information you have received I believe was leaked by him. He has caused a lot of damage for me and my people, who are like family to me,” he added.
As the Spaniard reaches the latter parts of his career, a move to Spurs was logical, seeing as he fits the mold of a player the North London side need. Soldado prefers to play as the lone striker, and has made a living off of poaching goals in the 18-yard-box – all 24 of the Soldado’s league goals came in the penalty area. The Spanish striker tends to play on the shoulder of the last defender, while his movement off the ball and link-up play has gradually improved.
His performance against Uruguay in the Confederations Cup was an indicator that the Spaniard can thrive as the main striker in a 4-3-3. Soldado constantly linked play with Cesc Fabregas, allowing the Barcelona midfielder to get into advanced positions when he dropped deep – not to mention his game-winning goal with his preferred right foot.
Statistically, Soldado is an upgrade to the two strikers that Spurs have at their disposal. His 24% shot conversion is twice as good as Jermaine Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor’s, along with scoring more league goals than the both men combined. Of the 511 chances created by Spurs last season, the duo scored 16 goals and without a proper no.10, AVB’s men lacked a player that can play an incisive final ball. Soldado is a step up from the current Spurs strikers – his awareness in the box and ability to get on the end of chances can prove to be pivotal next season.
In hindsight, Soldado does rely on quality service from the midfield, and with players such as Moussa Dembele, Paulinho and Lewis Holtby behind him, the Spaniard should suffice. Although the trio isn’t known for their incisive direct passing, Soldado can link play, allow the midfield to penetrate the space behind him, and provide ample space with his off the ball movement so the midfield could supply the service required.
For all the good Soldado offers, the Spanish striker does have the tendency to drift out of games. It’s been one of the few pieces of criticism the 28-year-old has received over the past few years, yet Soldado doesn’t let the negativity affect his game.
“You have to have the belief that if you try to get away from your marker twice and you fail the third time you will succeed. In fact they can be winning the battle for almost the entire game but then you get the better of them once – and often that is enough,” Soldado said in an interview with the Telegraph.
Yet, even though the Spaniard has been ridiculed for being shaped in the form of a limited striker, Del Bosque, now Spanish head coach, encourages Soldado to stick to his game. Del Bosque believes that Soldado’s movement away from the play, not only keeps pressure on the opposition’s defenders, but it also gives the midfield space to orchestrate.
With that being said, Soldado’s arrival did come at a hefty price, and pressure will be on the Valencia-born striker to produce, but Spurs now have their first legitimate proven goal-scorer since the departures of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane.
Spurs still face a few deficiencies at the back, and could improve on their squad depth, but as AVB’s tenure continues, the chances of Champions League football returning to White Hart Lane increases.
With-or-without Bale, Spurs are building a team to fit AVB’s philosophy, which proved to be successful at Porto. The Portuguese manager adds another piece to the puzzle that he’s attempting to solve – hence, Soldado’s fantastic goal-scoring record can be the difference between Champions League football and another substandard finish outside of the top four.
It’s evident that Spurs’ transition to a 4-3-3 is beneficial to their long-term success but they need to score more goals, and Soldado is the answer.