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Mar 9, 2014

Tottenham have to face some hard facts

Another week, another humiliating capitulation to a top-four Premier League club. The gulf in class between Spurs and the four teams above them is far bigger than their league positions suggest. Can anyone really still believe Spurs are worthy of a Champions League place? Does a football team with serious aspirations have a goal difference of zero with nearly three-quarters of the season played?

Nice-But-Tim Sherwood was always long odds to out-think Jose Mourinho. His decision to play Kyle Walker on the right wing and Aaron Lennon as a No. 10 always threatened to destabilise Spurs more than Chelsea -- Emmanuel Adebayor didn't receive any worthwhile service throughout the game -- but even he couldn't have expected his team to gift Chelsea three goals and the referee to gift them the other. By the end of the game Spurs looked no better than an average pub side.

- Worrall: Chelsea's pursuit of glory intensifies - Fitch: Names may change but errors do not - Lythell: Chelsea make most of generous defending - Delaney: Three things: Chelsea vs. Spurs

After the game, Sherwood openly criticised the heart, desire and professionalism of several of his players. It was probably the sort of criticism that would have been better kept behind closed doors, but it was hard not to have some sympathy for the Spurs manager. He knows he is unlikely to still be in the job by the end of May and his players aren't making it any easier for him. If he is going down, he's going to take a few likely suspects with him.

Spurs fans have to face some hard facts about their club and its players. First, the players. The days of club loyalty are long gone. Most modern Spurs players would be hard pushed to locate Tottenham on a map of London, let alone a map of England. They have no attachment to the club or its traditions. They are there for the money and to advance their careers. End of. Any idea that more than a handful have any pride in wearing the shirt is a fiction created by fans who need to believe that the players share their own ideals and ambitions.

The main man whom Sherwood was calling out was Jan Vertonghen. In his first season at Spurs, he looked a genuinely class act. A centre-back around whom Spurs could build a defence. But it's been obvious for some time that Vertonghen has gone mentally AWOL. In my opinion, he is fed up playing for the team and thinks he could do better elsewhere. For weeks he has spent as much time squabbling on the pitch with his teammates as he has doing anything productive; finding out he was being made to play in his hated left-back position again -- presumably Sherwood doesn't trust Zeki Fryers -- looked like the final straw. The irony of this was that if Vertonghen carries on playing as badly, he may just find the only team who will give him a game is Spurs.

Then there's Aaron Lennon. Everyone at White Hart Lane has been waiting for him to step up a level since he arrived from Leeds in 2005. He hasn't. He still plays the role of the promising youngster rather than senior professional. The frustration is that he so obviously has more talent, but he seems comfortable with being average. His performances this season have been more anonymous than usual. Most unforgivably he is almost always the first to go missing when the going gets tough.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is another who seems to have mentally already checked out of White Hart Lane. He may not appreciate being asked to play on the left wing anymore than any fan appreciates him playing there. He has no left foot and no pace so is totally unsuited to the role. But he could put in a shift. Against Chelsea it was hard to think of one telling contribution he had made before he was substituted midway through the second half. I could go on. Kyle Walker seems to believe he is far better than he actually is and Paulinho plays as if he is dreaming of lying on the beach in Rio.

But tempting as it is to call out the players, the real villains of the piece are the club's management hierarchy. These are men who are paid well to understand how a football club is run and how players think. Daniel Levy et al know full well that the average professional footballer is a bit of a spoilt brat with no loyalties to anyone but himself; their job is to make that work for the club. Something that successful clubs do by employing a manager whom the players fear -- respect is a bonus -- and can create a collective ethos, a desire to win, out of a group of disparate, talented individuals.

By sacking AVB midseason and having no replacement in mind, the Spurs board showed they had no real respect or faith in Sherwood. Many of the players didn't have enough professionalism or self-discipline to do anything but follow suit. To say that Sherwood has lost the dressing-room is to miss the point. He never had the dressing-room in the first place. Most of the Spurs team have been on cruise control since December. They'd rather win than lose -- who wouldn't? -- but when the chips are down, few of them are prepared to fight to the death.

But that's not the end of the Spurs' board's incompetence. Of the seven players whom Spurs brought into the club with the Gareth Bale money, none were considered worthy of a place in the starting XI. That is almost the most shocking detail of the Chelsea debacle. Paulinho came on in the second half, but he might just as well have stayed on the bench. The 100 million pound Bale money -- a chance in a lifetime to rebuild the club -- has been chucked away.

It's not just the players, but the whole club that should be ashamed of the Chelsea game. If the club had any decency it would refund those supporters who forked out 60 pounds at Stamford Bridge to witness it. But players and the Spurs' board don't generally do decency. Worse, there aren't any obvious short- or midterm remedies. It's hard to see this side salvaging anything from this season. It's also improbable to imagine what players remain making any kind of challenge in the next couple of seasons. The defending may have been pure comedy on Saturday, but it's Spurs who are, right now, very much the joke.