Less than 12 hours after the referee blew the final whistle on the monthlong distraction of the World Cup, Tottenham Hotspur injected a little Premier League reality check into proceedings. They announced their striker, Emmanuel Adebayor, was suffering from malaria and would miss the preseason tour to the USA. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After a year in which nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Spurs fans were hoping that the a new season with a new manager, Mauricio Pochettino, would draw a line under the past. It seems not.
Malaria is a wretched, debilitating disease that still kills hundreds of thousands of people per year in infected areas. It's also one that is usually preventable if the right medication is taken: one can assume that either Adebayor failed to take the correct dosages of his medication or has fallen victim to a strain that is drug resistant. The Togolese striker will be cursing either his forgetfulness or his misfortune; missing the preseason tour to the USA is the very least he can expect.
Long after patients have recovered from the more immediate and most dangerous symptoms of malaria, low grade ones can persist and reappear for several years. The lungs, kidneys and blood can all suffer long-term damage, and patients often experience acute fatigue: none of which is life-threatening but is a serious problem for a professional footballer expected to compete at peak fitness. Unless Adebayor has been very lucky, or his bout of malaria has been exceptionally mild, it's unlikely that medical staff will sanction him to play first team football before Christmas.
This is a huge blow for Adebayor personally. At 30 years of age, he doesn't have many years of Premier league football left, and everyone will wish him the speediest of recoveries. It's also a big problem for Spurs; however uneven his performances may have been at times, and however much his commitment to the club -- any club -- may have been doubted, he is still the club's star striker. Roberto Soldado still has a lot to prove and Harry Kane is very raw; Spurs will have to make buying a new striker a priority in the coming weeks. The club have been linked with Swansea's Wilfried Bony and that would be as good a place as any to start.
While some big clubs have been using the World Cup as a time to add to their squads -- Luke Shaw to Manchester United, Adam Lallana to Liverpool, Luis Suarez to Barcelona -- Spurs have been biding their time. The hope is that Pochettino has been using the time wisely to assess the merits of his current squad and to work out which players he rates and which ones can be shipped out. You can't always count on Spurs being that sensible, but fans continue to hope.
This week, Pochettino will have a chance to meet those players who have been away on World Cup duty. Most of them will have to up their games significantly if they are hoping to make a good impression. The one unequivocal good piece of news from the World Cup was the form of French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who has also signed a new five-year contract at Spurs. He was the one consistent class act last season.
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Jan Vertonghen may have caught the eye of Barcelona, who are rumoured to be chasing him, during the World Cup, but Spurs fans will have noted some familiar lapses and decline in standards from his towering displays in the first few months of last season. He looks good going forward; defensively he is confused. The less said about the rest the better. Mousa Dembele started just one game for Belgium, played anonymously and was never seen again. Nacer Chadli was similarly ineffectual. He was brought on as a late substitute in Belgium's quarterfinal against Argentina and the television commentator said: "Is Chadli the man to turn the game for Belgium?" Every Spurs fan already knew the answer.
And then Paulinho.
He took his club form as one of Spurs's most ineffectual players into the World Cup to become one of the least helpful players in a poor Brazil team. For some reason, Juventus appear interested in paying 20 million pounds for him, and if I was Daniel Levy, I'd bite the Italians' arms off for that. Spurs are a team with a great deal to prove this season. Pochettino is the man charged with turning them from a bunch of underachieving, squabbling prima donnas into a team with desire, cohesion and intelligence. A team that is more than the sum of its parts.
The good news for all of them is that expectations have never been lower.