All the talk ahead of a pivotal campaign for Juande Ramos was of the eye-catching additions Tottenham Hotspur's manager had made to a squad rich on midfield flair and creativity. Yet the new Premier League season is only in its infancy and already the focus has shifted dramatically to the one who got away - and the one seemingly destined to follow.
Robbie Keane would leave a void in any team and his smart running, aggressive style and poacher's eye for goal were sorely missed following his move to Liverpool, when Spurs slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough on Saturday. To lose Bulgaria striker Dimitar Berbatov as well would be nothing short of a disaster for a London club expected to challenge English football's 'big four' this season.
It is all very well packing a side with the prodigious skill of Croatian Luka Modric, Giovani dos Santos of Mexico and England winger David Bentley, but what is the point when there is neither a Keane nor a Berbatov to benefit from slide-rule passes and defence-splitting balls? With only the static Darren Bent to aim for at the Riverside Stadium, none of Tottenham's new kids on the block was able to justify the incredible hype or the spiraling fees. In fact, Tottenham suddenly look anything but UEFA Champions League contenders.
Publicly Ramos refuses to admit defeat in his brave bid to retain the services of Berbatov, but privately he must have bowed to the inevitable and begun to panic. By naming his most prolific striker on the bench at Middlesbrough, the Spaniard might as well have urged Manchester United to make their best offer.
Sidelining Berbatov until midway through the second half probably cost Tottenham a share of the spoils on Teesside but, according to his manager, the decision had nothing to do with reported overtures from Old Trafford. "For the moment he's a Spurs player and I'm happy with him," explained Ramos.
"He's part of the squad and I've nothing else to say about him. There has been no transfer request and I like great players. when they tired late in the game."
All the more bizarre, then, that it was the youngster signed from Barcelona who gave way to Berbatov in the 65th minute. Ramos might have believed Dos Santos would trouble Middlesbrough, but in reality there was a feeling of relief within the Riverside camp when Berbatov's omission from the starting line-up was confirmed. "I was very happy. He's a world class player and a big threat," admitted Boro manager Gareth Southgate.
Berbatov looked exactly that when, within three minutes of his introduction, he exchanged passes with Jermaine Jenas and created an inviting opportunity for Tottenham's captain. But the chance was missed and with it, perhaps, the Bulgarian's last chance to influence a Spurs performance.
With or without Berbatov, a reflective Ramos must galvanise his newly-fashioned squad sooner rather than later. " so early in the season. We've got to see if we can add players in one or two areas and put this result behind us," he concluded.