Roberto Soldado’s chance for a Tottenham renaissance 5

2013/14 was a horrible time for Roberto Soldado.  He arrived at Tottenham from Valencia for close to £28m and, unbeknownst to him, he was moving to a club who were about to drop into a season of upheaval and transition.

Soldado came to England with a reputation for slick, intelligent link-play and efficient goal-scoring and he was viewed very much as the kind of the forward who the club had needed for some time.  He may not have been from the very top shelf of European forwards, but his signing felt relatively ambitious and was undoubtedly a progressive move.

Of course, Daniel Levy was already in the process of selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and that really created the environment in which Soldado would labour for the next nine months.

Bale’s departure caused a number of problems beyond the obvious, galling loss of the player himself.  Andre Villas-Boas had spent the season before constructing a side that could facilitate the Welsh forward’s strengths, and so rather than merely selling a single player, the club had effectively forced themselves into a situation in which they would have to reconstruct their entire playing ideology.

The response?  Replacement by numbers.  Along with Soldado, in came Erik Lamela from Roma, Paulinho from Corinthians, Christian Eriksen from Ajax, Nacer Chadli from FC Twente, Etienne Capoue from Toulouse, and Vlad Chiriches from Steaua Bucharest.  Seven players in one Summer, five of whom were realistically expected to go straight into the first team.

Before the sacking of Villas-Boas in December, Spurs had been a very ponderous side.  The games with Manchester City, Liverpool, and West Ham excepted, their season was characterised by cautious, slow-paced attacking football and defensive resilience.  They were winning and they were in a favourable position in the table, but there was a distinct lack of speed or chemistry to their football and they had found even mundane opponents difficult to break down.  Between August and the middle of December, Spurs may have only lost three times but they also failed to score more than twice in every Premier League game they played.

At the time, that felt like a fair reflection of the problems that had developed post-Bale: the front-half of the side was disjointed, and the lack of goals or incision felt like a product of a general, team-wide lack of understanding.

Soldado was a frustrated figure during that time; he would show isolated moments of quality and he would fleetingly demonstrate his attacking nous, but he was generally isolated and starved of the kind of support play that he obviously needed to be successful.  Neat and tidy though he was, a lot of his football in the final-third was very benign.

By the time Villas-Boas departed, Soldado’s case for inclusion in the first-team was not that strong and, rather predictably, Tim Sherwood took very little time to marginalise him in favour of Emmanuel Adebayor.  As derided as Sherwood was and is, that was arguably a very smart move - the team were not playing in a way that suited the Spaniard, and Adebayor provided a less subtle but more immediately effective focal point.  The Togalese was a sticking plaster: a player who may lack the finesse of someone like Soldado but who ultimately isn’t that reliant on a team performing well around him.

And that, for Soldado, was really that; the statistics tell us that he played relatively frequently between Christmas and the end of the season, but his appearances felt incidental and his confidence was quite clearly shot to pieces.  He tried ever so hard and he never shied away from chances as they fell, but there was a forlorn quality to everything he did and for that last six months it was obvious that he needed the season to finish and to have a break from the struggle.

In the space of two months, a lot has changed at Tottenham.  Sherwood’s removal seemed to lift the sense of ennui from around White Hart Lane and Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment has provoked a cautious optimism.  And, for Roberto Soldado, the Argentine’s arrival may have given him the opportunity to make a second first-impression.

From being in the wrong place at the wrong time in 2013, the Spaniard now finds himself in a very fortuitous situations.  Given the unfortunate series of events which befell him last season, it’s now ironic that every little detail within Tottenham’s world seems to be aligning itself in Soldado’s favour.  They have appointed a head coach who preaches pacey, floor-based attacking football, his only serious rival for a starting berth was forced to miss the pre-season tour with malaria, and the kind of supporting players who were so lacking a year ago are now starting to show signs of life.

Pre-season may be a false economy, but a feature of Tottenham’s three-game tour of America has been the movement and potency of the embryonic attacking unit that Pochettino has been fielding.  The objective is already fairly clear: move the ball quickly into the attacking areas and allow a four-man attacking unit to play with fluency and positional freedom.  Players who were previously so ponderous and so reluctant to express themselves - Erik Lamela and Aaron Lennon - are suddenly playing with both far more flair and with a greater tendency to interact effectively with surrounding teammates.

And, right in the middle of that has been Roberto Soldado.  Good link-up play, the occasional clever flick, and the odd goal-creating bit of vision.  It would be absurd to claim that the scars of last year have completely healed at this stage, but there’s been enough about his play and his body-language to suggest that that process has at least begun.

In Premier League terms, a pre-season in America is proof of absolutely nothing.  However, this tour has shown that Pochettino - whether by intention or through circumstance - is cultivating a side which is built around Soldado-friendly principles.  The heavy movement, the one or two-touch football, the positional drift - it’s ideal and it’s a perfect match for his set of attributes.

That’s very encouraging.

Follow @premleagueowl