Criticising a team's performances when they're playing well, or are perceived to be in the midst of their good times, is like insulting someone's hometown or little brother. For them, it's fine, but for an outsider, it's overstepping the mark somewhat. André Villas-Boas took a new twist on that notion when he criticised the home fans at White Hart Lane this weekend for failing to get behind the team. The subtext of suggesting that such criticism, even when warranted, is clear: it's my team, not yours.
For the same reason it is indeed Villas-Boas' side, the criticism certainly was warranted. For all the money spent, the creative imports, and the sprinkling of stardust even in Gareth Bale's departure, Spurs have still laboured away this season, struggling to break teams down, playing poor football, and generally not offering a great return on money spent on both tickets and transfer fees.
If there is one positive to be said about Villas-Boas' new Tottenham side, though, it is that there never seemed to be any doubt that they would win the league game against Hull at some point. A dodgy penalty in the eighty-somethingth minute seemed to be the most likely source, too. That wasn't always the case, and it now probably puts them at the level of other clubs who are certain to win games against lesser opposition, like Manchester Uni- well, like Che- well, you know, just a big club.
The fact that that art appears to have been lost by some of the big teams in recent years gives every indication that this could well be the year that they begin to emerge as genuine title challengers. It could also be the year they finish fifth again, having sacked Harry Redknapp and spent millions but failed to improve on the job he did. But they've certainly sacrificed a lot of their entertainment value.
It's questionable how thorough their scouting has been, in fact - in their desperation to rid themselves of the imminent Gareth Bale windfall, Spurs took a pretty scattergun approach to their signings, but the squad seems heavily imbalanced, with a big gap between crunching, box-to-box tacklers and waifish passers. Erik Lamela appears to be struggling to settle into the system, while Roberto Soldado's immobility makes him a questionable choice for a team which is struggling to gel.
It's hard to see what Spurs have to do to improve. None of their positions are obviously upgradable, with strikers probably the position most in need of reinforcements but little available in the current market. Yet with all the talent on the pitch, the only possible conclusion can be that they simply need to be more proactive. There have been few performances under Andre Villas-Boas where we can really say that Spurs were let off the leash, and showed what they could do.
The argument that the team needs to gel holds little water when the team are so well organised. True, they can at times resemble an international side, where the players haven't played together too much and so are focused on doing the basics and defensive tasks so there are at least no costly errors, but the team's pressing and defensive organisation so far has been very good. They don't exactly look like a team of individuals, and certainly in the case of the likes of Lamela, who have failed to bring any of their own magic to the pitch so far.
Spurs fans have every right to criticise their team for playing in such a way. Villas-Boas may also be right in that it harms the team's chances, but that's the decision for the fans to make themselves. Sam Allardyce once claimed that if he were foreign and called "Allardici" he would have a far better reputation. He was in fact slightly wide of the mark: if he could wear a suit that didn't look like it had to be constructed in a shipyard, and had some slight facial hair and a coiffured hairdo, he'd probably have more admirers. It certainly appears to have worked for Villas-Boas.
As one Tottenham supporter recently put it: "Spurs fans need to work out what they want. We're ending up like Chelsea fans, not knowing what we expect the team to actually do." Well, not necessarily. They were going to win one-nil at home against a newly-promoted side. Just like they now, apparently, always do.