The nightmare played out in front of Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy at White Hart Lane on Sunday was simply too grim for manager Andre Villas-Boas to survive – and so it proved as he was sacked only 16 games into the Premier League season.
Spurs are only six points behind the vibrant Liverpool side that dismantled them piece by piece in that 5-0 defeat and five points adrift of the Champions League places that represented the minimum requirement for Villas-Boas this season.
But it was the scale of the gap in style and quality between Spurs and Liverpool, with the recent 6-0 loss at Manchester City no doubt still fresh in Levy’s mind, that was the final straw for this demanding chairman.
And to trace the roots of Villas-Boas’s demise requires a journey back to the summer and the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in an £85.3m move.
Villas-Boas lost his match winner, the game-changer – but many observers, myself included, wondered if the coach, Levy and highly-regarded technical director Franco Baldini had pulled off the seemingly impossible trick of parting with your best player while at the same time raising optimism and expectations.
Yes Bale had gone, but Villas-Boas had been handed every penny to supposedly shape a more rounded squad, less reliant on the deeds of one undoubtedly world-class player.
Instead, in a season of disappointment and mishap, the feelgood factor of the summer has been replaced by questions surrounding the quality of the raft of players brought in with the Bale money, and an increasing sense of the inevitable culminating in Monday’s parting of the ways.
Villas-Boas will be desperately wounded by the decision, even more so as he was on a mission to prove he was a victim of circumstance in his previous Premier League existence at Chelsea, when player power was used as a mitigating factor as owner Roman Abramovich cut his reign short after nine months in March 2012.
Many regarded Villas-Boas as fortunate to be handed such a high-profile appointment so soon after the Chelsea experience, but Levy felt there was an outstanding young manager waiting to get out despite the failure of Stamford Bridge.
Now, for the man labelled “The Special One Mark II” after being mentored by Jose Mourinho in his early career, it seems there will be no more Premier League opportunities of the sort he was afforded at Spurs and Chelsea.
As with his Chelsea exit, there will be plenty of sympathy for Villas-Boas after such an unceremonious departure. It may be used as the latest example of the game’s short-termism that he was clearing his desk despite a Premier League position that hardly counted as a catastrophe.
The big problem for Villas-Boas, and presumably the key factor in Levy’s deliberations, was two such heavy and high-profile beatings by City and Liverpool, two clubs he would have expected Spurs to be rivalling this season. The loss of confidence was complete and Levy acted.
There was a hint of irony that Villas-Boas’s departure was announced just as the last 16 draw for the Champions League was starting. This is where Levy expects Spurs to be and he clearly feels the Portuguese is not the man to take them there.
The clouds started to gather over Villas-Boas following that beating at Manchester City, a performance he admitted left him feeling “ashamed” and led to other frustrations about those summer signings and a sterile playing style bubbling to the surface among Spurs supporters.
Levy was perhaps able to write that off in part as something City could do to anyone – see Arsenal’s 6-3 loss at The Etihad on Saturday – but the hapless shambles against Liverpool was never going to be excused.
The cracks had appeared and there were echoes of those closing days at Chelsea when Villas-Boas adopted a siege mentality and reacted very publicly to the scrutiny he was being placed under by the media.
But the key factor has been the failure of those brought in to act as replacements for Bale to even come close to replicating the excitement and defining moments produced by the man who scored 26 goals last season.
And those who, after his failure at Chelsea, still harboured doubts about Villas-Boas may have evidence to prove that Bale’s presence last season was merely providing a spectacular cover for the shortcomings that undermined him in west London.
Levy ensured Villas-Boas was handed the money as Bale went out – but there is little on offer so far to suggest the majority of it was spent wisely.
Erik Lamela has barely been seen since his club record £30m move from Roma while Roberto Soldado came for £26m from Valencia but has looked short of what is required in the Premier League, despite scoring 26 goals for Valencia in La Liga last year.
He is essentially a penalty box player and those who saw him flourish in Spain suggest he is ill-suited to the methods Villas-Boas has adopted, using a single striker. It has also led to Jermain Defoe, their most reliable goalscorer after Bale, being marginalised.
Belgian Nacer Chadli has also been poor although there has been enough to believe that Christian Eriksen and Paulinho will be sound investments.
The appointment of Baldini, a close confidante of former England coach Fabio Capello, as technical director suggests he will have been instrumental in these deals – but will he actually be charged with any of the responsibility for their failure?
The Italian must surely take his share of the blame if Levy has deemed the summer spending a failure.
And what of Levy himself? Harry Redknapp was sacked after Spurs finished fourth in the table in 2012, only to be deprived of a Champions League place by Chelsea winning the competition.
He felt Redknapp could do no more at Spurs. There was an undoubted element of gamble in his appointment of Villas-Boas after Chelsea – and the decision to part so swiftly this season means the gamble has failed.
Villas-Boas has not helped himself, however, by publicly criticising the “negativity” of Spurs supporters after the home win against Hull City in October. A manager has to be in the strongest of positions to break what is almost an unwritten rule – and it is the sort of comment that sticks in the memory of fans when things go wrong.
He was also questioned for allowing goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to continue in the goalless draw at Everton in November after he sustained a head injury in a collision with Romelu Lukaku. A week later he was forced to leave Lloris out of the home defeat against Newcastle United after he underwent an “impact test” that raised concerns among medical staff.
All these peripheral matters could have been reduced to side issues had results measured up – but Levy decided to pull the plug after watching Liverpool expose Spurs in all departments on Sunday.
Plenty will feel Villas-Boas deserved longer with the season still at such an early stage. The reality is that time, as Villas-Boas will know only too well after his time at Chelsea, is not a commodity that waits for a manager who has had £100m to spend and with expectations high.