We're not there. There are a lot of things that we as fans and fantasy managers feel qualified to have an opinion on based on what we see on the pitch each week. It seems incredibly obvious to all of us when you see a manager make a choice - a particular line-up or formation - that doesn't go well or, more obvious still, when he gets better results after a mid-game change of player or formation. The same can be said of a manager's choices in the transfer market. If players who are acquired don't make the grade we feel fully qualified to judge the decision-maker as competent or not. None of this is unreasonable. We, as supporters, make the Premier League and our teams specifically into big money businesses and the price for that is scrutiny.
There is a point, however, where we should draw a line in our criticism. That line comes when we - as supporters or the media - decide we know what's going on behind closed doors and that becomes the basis for our opinions. I bring this up because it feels like we - and by "we" I mean people who follow and comment on the Premier League collectively, no one outlet or person - crossed the line with the sacking of AVB. The results - which started out great - haven't been fantastic in recent weeks but objectively for a team that finished fifth last season and lost one of the top ten players in the world over the summer sitting in sixth close to halfway through the season doesn't seem like reason enough to sack the manager. To further underscore the point that sixth isn't an unreasonable to be in at this point, Spurs' wage bill is very likely sixth highest in the league (they were sixth last season in wages with a large margin between them and both fifth and seventh) and wage bill and ultimate position in the table are often very highly correlated.
If objective measures don't give us any justification for the notion that AVB was worth sacking then it must be something a little less tangible. It is entirely reasonable for Spurs management to decide that there is something about HOW AVB was going about his job, as opposed to the results, that made it necessary to fire him. What isn't reasonable is for any of us outsiders to presume that we know the answers to these questions. There have been suggestions in the media that the manager "lost the dressing room". If that is true then by all means they were right to fire him. The danger here is that there is no way for we outsiders to know how any Spurs player really feels about the manager. Athletes are now trained to say very little of substance regardless of what we feel so regardless of what we do or don't hear from the Spurs locker room in the wake of the firing, we still have no idea what was going on in there.
The other thing that has been discussed a great deal in the wake of the AVB sacking is that he at least agreed to the series of expensive acquisitions over the summer that, at least in the short term, aren't working out as hoped. Once again, we have no idea what the truth is here. We outsiders don't know exactly how the acquisition strategy was formulated, vetted, and carried out. We don't know if AVB towed the company line in the face of the new acquisitions because, well, that's what you do if you want to keep your job. We don't know what the realistic alternatives were to the players that were brought in. Finally, we don't know how these players will turn out over the long haul. Looking across North London for recent history you'd find the following...
- After his first three months, Marouane Chamakh looked like a strong acquisition...before he dropped off a cliff.
- Per Mertesacker looked out of his depth and awkward in his first season leading to rumors that he'd be headed straight back to Germany.
- Olivier Giroud was judged a lightweight in his first season and exceptional early this season and only now, 18 months later, are we probably settling on the truth which is that he's a very good complimentary piece but not a consistent match winner.
- The Mathieu Flamini signing over the summer was widely laughed at as the desperate act of a manager in love with making moves on the cheap.
- Finally, Aaron Ramsey - who has been the best midfielder in the Premier League so far this season - could have been shipped off to the Championship on loan for the season as recently as August and no one would have thought it a bad idea.
I want to be clear. I'm not saying that Spurs were right or wrong for sacking AVB. What I'm saying is that the only reasons that make sense for having let him go are the ones that we have no way of knowing. Did the players tune him out? Did he advocate for transfers that not only aren't working out but appear to those who watch training every day to be unlikely to ever work out? Is he, in his desire to be right - about players he prefers or formations he favors - not using the resources at his disposal to the best effect? To know the answers to any of the above questions, you'd have to be a true "insider" (not to be confused with those in the media who claim this designation because they do interviews with players and maybe even have strong personal relationships with a few).
I'm OK admitting that I don't know if they did the right thing or not because I'm not there every day. I'm subbing in for Nik today on Player Picks and I know he has a strong negative reaction to the sacking. He and I traded emails yesterday about it and I played Devil's Advocate but as I looked back on the conversation, this is where I landed. I can see feeling like Spurs overreacted to a couple bad losses to one very good team and one very good player on a good team. I can see feeling like AVB should have been given more time with a roster that changed significantly over the summer. What I can't see is feeling like we know what was going on behind closed doors when those in power at Spurs got together to discuss why things were going as well as hoped. In that reality is the answer to whether AVB "should" have been fired or not.
I'm not sure I've ever written that much about Spurs before and I don't know if I'm putting myself in danger of spontaneously combusting so without delay, I'll be moving on to my player picks for the week:
- Manchester United Forwards - Wayne Rooney would be the obvious choice here but he missed the Capital One Cup match yesterday with a groin injury and it isn't entirely clear whether he is going to play this weekend or not. If Rooney can't go or the prognosis isn't clear then Danny Welbeck is the choice against a weak West Ham United team.
- Alvaro Negredo - No Aguero means that Negredo should be the leading man at a pretty reasonable price against a rotten Fulham team. Hard to say "no" to that;
- Loic Remy - He's cooled a bit and Crystal Palace are improving but both changes aren't enough to make selecting him a bad idea.
- Jozy Altidore - If you're looking for something other than one of the usual suspects (although I'm not sure why you would be), the American international is improving and gets Norwich City at home.
- Luis Suarez (c) - And we're back to the usual suspects. Oh, and if you don't think of his name as "Luis Suarez (c)" for every match that he's healthy and eligible to play this season then I don't know what to tell you.
- Philippe Coutinho - Liverpool has a good match-up and while Jordan Henderson got the midfield points last weekend, Coutinho is the better week-to-week bet while Steven Gerrard is still out of action.
- Yaya Toure/David Silva/Samir Nasri - Yes, I excluded brace scorer vs. Arsenal Fernandinho from this group. I didn't exclude him because I'm still bitter about that result but because everything about his two-goal effort screamed "fantasy outlier" and we try to avoid those. As for the rest of the group, hard to argue with whichever (or however many) you choose/can afford.
- Mark Albrighton - He returned from out of nowhere to remind us why we were excited about him as a fantasy player a few years back. With Stoke City the opposition it isn't unreasonable to think he can make an impact again this week (again, file this one under recommending someone outside of the usual suspects so that this doesn't end up looking like a recitation of the top scorers at each position).
- Adam Lallana - Managerial switches usually go in one of two directions - the team starts playing better in the short term because they hated the old guy or he was doing something wrong tactically OR the team starts playing worse because it turns out the old guy was doing well to keep things from falling apart entirely - one Capital One Cup loss to West Ham later there's some evidence that it wasn't the former which puts Lallana and the Saints into a solid position at home this weekend.
- Aaron Ramsey - Theo Walcott got the points last weekend but Ramsey doesn't have many bad matches fantasy-wise (only five times not in double digit points and only once under 5) and with Chelsea offering fairly strong opposition I'm only inclined to go with one Arsenal player at full price (presumably most managers still have Ozil at a big discount who is worth keeping either in your line-up or on the bench).
- Adnan Januzaj - But for a few inches, Danny Welbeck's brace would have gone to Januzaj. He hit the post only to see the rebound come to Welbeck for the first and he was on the same spot as Welbeck for the second but the forward got his foot in first. You might consider Kagawa as well if Rooney doesn't play.
- Joel Ward - He just keeps churning out double digit performances regardless of the opposition.
- Mathieu Debuchy - He's a bit more up and down than Ward but the match-up is better and the price is slightly lower too.
- Phil Jones - With so much variance in United's defensive line-up, the nice thing about Jones in a week where United have a good match-up is that he's almost certain to start somewhere.
- Vincent Kompany - A clean sheet against Fulham - even away - doesn't seem like a huge stretch and if you're looking to save some money somewhere then 7.27 on the City captain seems like a reasonable spot.
- Jon Flanagan - He's probably not going to score again like he did last week but his price is still reasonable and the match-up makes a clean sheet a reasonable expectation.
- Erik Pieters - A classic "match-up play" whose price isn't too far from his actual value this weekend. At home to Aston Villa is solid time to spend less with someone like him.
- Tim Krul - If you have the money, there are better bets but at 8.66 against low-scoring Crystal Palace Tim Krul is a strong value play.
- Brad Guzan - Villa's trip to Stoke has the makings of a nil-nil draw which isn't incredibly appetizing but for a reasonable price (6.71) Guzan could return some value based on the number of saves he typically gets.
- Azmir Begovic - See Guzan above but Begovic costs more and gets even more saves on average.
- Costel Pantilimon - The price is reasonable and the optics are all there but look at his stats over the last three matches he's started and you'll start to feel less certain about this pick. I'd recommend going with only one player from City's defense/goalkeeper grouping. If you're in on Kompany or someone like Zabaleta then I'd look elsewhere for a goalkeeper. Otherwise, it seems reasonable to expect a City win and few goals against, what you feel uncertain about is the clean sheet away from the Etihad.