LONDON (AP) — Tottenham's gamble of selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and using the proceeds of the world-record fee to bolster its squad with a slew of new, expensive players has backfired.
The evidence? Less a glance at the Premier League standings, more a scroll down Spurs' team sheet for Saturday's Premier League match against Chelsea.
For one of their biggest games of the season against a rival they hadn't beaten away in 24 years, none of the seven players they splurged a total of about 110 million pounds ($180 million) on last year was selected in the starting XI.
No Brazil international Paulinho, who cost a then-club record 17 million pounds. No Spain striker Roberto Soldado, who eclipsed that fee when he arrived for 26 million pounds. The less said about Erik Lamela, on whom Spurs splashed out 30 million pounds but who has been a major flop this season and is currently out injured, the better.
Instead, Tottenham played three center backs in a four-man defense, had a right back playing in midfield and a winger roving across the frontline.
Chelsea won 4-0, without even playing well.
The result just about summed up Tottenham's chaotic season that has featured one-sided defeats of 6-0 and 5-1 to Manchester City, 5-0 at home to Liverpool and a change of manager when Andre Villas-Boas was replaced by a rookie, Tim Sherwood. Indeed, it's a wonder how they are still fifth in the standings, albeit with fading hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.
Meanwhile, Bale is beginning to hit his stride after a tough start to life in Madrid, scoring six goals in his last eight games for club and country and being branded "super-human" by an international colleague last week.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy backed up his reputation as the ultimate hard-nosed negotiator by forcing Madrid to part with 100 million euros (then $132 million) to sign Bale in August.
But there must have been many times over the last few months when he wondered: What if?
What if he had played hard ball with Bale, ignored the eye-popping offer Madrid put on the table and kept the brilliant forward at White Hart Lane to the terms of his contract, which still had three years to run?
Some say Bale wouldn't have accepted that, and may have gone on strike. By giving Spurs the silent treatment while a deal was being negotiated, he certainly appeared to be heading that way.