the iain bishop column
return of those glory, glory nights
03.09.2010 no striker signed, but still a good window for spurs
18.05.2010 where we're at
17.05.2010 (not) being there
19.09.2010 why i think we'll finish fourth again
02.01.2011 the ground situation - what should we do ?
26.02.2011 this most memorable season
08.09.2013 pushing on - that final step
for previous from the bishop's fingers, click here.
Iain M Bishop
Pushing on – that final step.
In the last 10 Premiership seasons starting with 2003/04 and finishing with 2012/13 Spurs have finished fifth on four occasions and fourth twice (in 2009/10 and 2011/12).
In these days when, regrettably, it can be argued that a Champions League place rather than a trophy such as the FA Cup or League Cup is most important to a top club; Spurs have been on the fringe of gate-crashing the Champions League party for a long time now. Indeed they have been getting closer - in the last four seasons they have twice finished fourth and twice finished fifth. Also although Tottenham have only qualified for the Champions League once, they could easily have qualified on 2 further occasions.
In the 2005/06 season Spurs were fourth (one point ahead of Arsenal) going into the last round of fixtures so only had to equal or better Arsenal’s result to achieve the much coveted Champions League spot. However in what became widely known as ‘lasagne-gate’ a number of the Spurs players went down with food poisoning on the morning of the game (away to West Ham) meaning that key players either couldn’t take to the field at all or did so less than fully fit. Not surprisingly in these circumstances the team couldn’t sustain the form and energy which they had shown in the early part of the game and they ended up losing 2-1, losing out to Arsenal who won 4-2 at home.
Then in the 2011-12 season Spurs actually finished in fourth place with Chelsea only sixth but Chelsea got the fourth Champions League place because against the odds they won the 2011-12 final.
So luck hasn’t exactly smiled on Spurs in the battle to secure Champions League places, although I would argue that the Spurs management and arguably even more so Daniel Levy and the Spurs board could have done more to sway things in Spurs favour notably in the last two seasons when investment (especially in a good striker) in the last two January windows could easily have meant third rather than fourth in 2011-12 (which would have made Chelsea’s final success v Bayern academic) and fourth rather than fifth last season (2012-13). In both of these seasons we lost out by the finest of margins, finishing a single point behind Arsenal on both occasions. The rumour mill has it that Soldado was offered to us for £15m in last season’s January window - much less than we’ve now paid for him. Regardless of the truth of that, the purchase of a good striker or (in the case of last season) a quality holding midfielder to replace the much missed Sandro (Diame of West Ham who had a buy out clause would have fitted the bill) could easily have made the crucial difference especially when we lost out so narrowly.
The major squad overhaul this summer – and doing our business before the last day of the transfer window – suggests that notwithstanding the loss of our best player, lessons have been learned. No disrespect to the players who have left but Bale aside I think that certainly based on their CVs it is hard to argue that the incoming players represent a significant upgrade on those who have left. Soldado, Paulinho, Capoue, Chasli, Lamela, Eriksen, Chiriches instead of Huddlestone, Livermore, Dempsey, Parker, Caulker, Gallas. Of course Bale is a different matter – truly world class and a match-winner – but once the new players have had time to gel I have every confidence that we will emerge as a stronger team and squad than last season when we were way too reliant on Bale. Much doom and gloom surrounded the aftermath to the Arsenal defeat and the lack of chances created but of our two most potent creative players one (Lamela) only played a cameo and the other (Eriksen didn’t figure at all); while shakiness in defence will hopefully be decreased when Kaboul or Chiriches comes in for Dawson.
Realistically we are probably again chasing top four this season as Man U, Chelsea and Man City will probably fill the first three places though I think that with our strong squad we should certainly start of with the intention of mounting a title challenge and see how things pan out – you should always aim high. But it will probably come down to a battle with Arsenal for fourth once again with a chance that Liverpool will Also mount a challenge though I don’t think that they are strong as Arsenal and ourselves.
Ozil is a great signing for Arsenal, but they were already strong in attacking midfield and while he will make them stronger still in that area they lack depth of quality options in the striker, holding midfielder and central defender positions and I’m not convinced by their keeper either, although I note that they have signed one on loan. In short I see no reason why, when our new players bed in, that we can’t better them.
Much is psychological – if we finish above Arsenal not having done so since 1994-95 I think it will be a real monkey off the team’s back and they will be able to push on from that. I really believe that the quality players that we have brought in this summer, allied to the quality which we already possessed (e.g. Lloris, Vertonghen), can finally provide a team which can finish above Arsenal and add to our one solitary appearance in the Champions League. Maybe even win a trophy and in the coming years challenge for the Premier League title. As a famous man once said, “I have a dream.” But I think it is not just a dream but a realistic prospect – here’s hoping!
Iain M Bishop
That’s where I think we can and will finish the season – and I’ve only had one drink today!
Seriously, as I write this in mid-November with a quarter of the season gone I think enough water has passed under the bridge for an informed view to be formed of our prospects and indeed those of our rivals.
And frankly I haven’t seen a lot to make me that concerned – and I didn’t think I’d be saying that as I exited the Lane after the Man City game in August with us languishing with no points from our first two league games and a goal difference of -8. Our undefeated run since then of seven wins and one draw has been little short of brilliant, most notably in the 4-0 win against Liverpool, although we did get away with it in two of those games (Blackburn and Fulham) when we didn’t perform so well. But every team rides its luck sometimes.
At the start of the season most pundits and indeed most fans thought that at best we would be competing for fourth place and that we probably hadn’t brought enough quality in, allied to letting a number of players go, to be likely to get that fourth place.
But of course in typical Spurs fashion we hadn’t completed our business at the season’s start and when we played Man City in what should have been our third league game but was the second due to the postponement of the Everton match, Brad Friedel was the only new signing in the team and we still had Peter Crouch up front. Additionally we had no ball-winner in midfield with Sandro injured and Palacios also injured and on the brink of leaving for Stoke. So we played that game with a significantly weakened and imbalanced team which was no match for a strong City team.
But within a few days of the City defeat we had Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor on board and a crucial factor has been that all three of our signings (i.e. those two plus Friedel) were not just squad players but bought to go straight into and to strengthen our starting 11 which they have done to great effect.
The other big boost since the dark day of the City defeat has been the return of the King – we are a totally different team with him in the defence.
So all very good, but why do I think we can and will finish as high as third. Well firstly I think that the 2 Manchester teams will come first and second and have just have that bit more than the others – United have the belief that stems from being Champions and for all her recent shakiness a strong squad especially in terms of forward options. City also have a very strong squad (arguably even stronger than United) and given their unlimited finances will probably buy big again in January.
But once you look beyond the two Manchester clubs, I really believe that we are the strongest of the other top four challengers, and of course we have got the United away and City home games out of the way. I know that Newcastle stand undefeated and have done incredibly well but they are about to play Man City away and the fixture list has been pretty kind to them so far, as has their injury list. I really don’t see the depth of quality in their squad to stay up there. So I see the battle for third and fourth being between Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and ourselves and can see us finishing above all three. Why?
Well I think that we have a stronger team than the other three when we all have our strongest line-up available and have decent cover too – Sandro, Defoe and Gallas all didn’t start at Fulham. I do think that an upgrade on Pavlyuchenko and Bassong up front and in central defence in January should be targeted to give us that bit more depth, especially given how injury prone King and Gallas are. But overall we are very strong indeed with quality in every area of the team. What of our rivals?
Chelsea IMO change their manager way too much to have stability and while on paper their squad is strong, there are many question marks over it – Torres still struggles to return to form, Terry is past his best and doesn’t have a regular or a convincing partner in central defence, Lampard still has much of his goal threat from midfield but isn’t quite the player he was, and the likes of Drogba can’t be happy to suddenly be a bit player. Certainly Cheslea are dangerous and a real threat for third and fourth and in Mata have made a great signing; but I honestly believe that we have a bit more.
Arsenal ? Again obviously a real threat but, while Vermaelen’s return has improved their defence, it still isn’t that convincing – I just think that overall as a team they rely too much on Van Persie and have lost too much quality in Fabregas and Nasri.
Liverpool ? For Arsenal with Van Persie read Liverpool with Suarez. Also I think they have signed too many players with question marks over them in terms of whether they are top four quality – Henderson, Downing, Adam, Bellamy. Fair enough to take a punt on one or two such players but four of them ? And their defence is far from convincing either.
To be honest our biggest problem in securing third could be found within with Harry’s health and pending Court case major potential problems as the manager is the most important man at any football club. But given the squad and team which he has assembled I am confident that we will have enough about us to get third even with our mange’s attention quite naturally deflected from matters on the pitch at times. Sometimes I think that we Spurs fans don’t expect enough from our team and indeed that the players themselves don’t realise what they are capable of – really with our squad we should be looking to challenge for the title itself but while that will be very tough to achieve given the strength of the two Manchester clubs we should still aim for the very top – and I think that third is entirely a realistic and achievable target.
This most memorable season
Here we are at the end of February – no competitions have been completed, we are out of two cups (F.A. and Carling) and not realistically in contention to win the league and yet I think that it is already safe to say that this is going to go down in history as one of our most memorable seasons. Why? Simply because already this season we played three games which are up there with the very greatest in our illustrious history, namely the ‘Lazarus’ derby win at the Emirates, the 3-1 win over the Champions League winners Inter Milan at the Lane, and most recently the 1-0 win at the San Siro v the leaders of Serie A and second most successful club in the history of European club competitions, AC Milan.
Those three successes (apart from the quality of the opposition and the fact that two of them were away from home) were memorable for quite different reasons. The 3-2 derby success because we hadn’t won away in the league to Arsenal since 1993 and because of the quite incredible comeback from being apparently down and out at 2-0 down at half time before we staged the mother of all comebacks in the derby to triumph 3-2 with Kaboul heading the winner.
The Inter game was special because we comprehensively outplayed the reigning Champions League winners with Gareth Bale giving s truly remarkable display to destroy one of the best full backs in the world, and put us in poll position to win the group and avoid another group winner like Barcelona or Real Madrid in the first knock out round.
The AC Milan win was special as it was achieved in the cauldron of the San Siro where we had started so badly (and ultimately lost the game despite Bale’s second half heroics) to Inter and because it was such a mature ‘coming of age’ good all round team performance achieved without Bale and with Modric only fit to play a bit part.
Yes it is true that none of the above mentioned wins gave us a trophy but then the most memorable wins often don’t. When we remember the cup winning season of 1990-91 which game do we remember first and most fondly? Well I’m maybe a bit biased as I was there but for me the ‘Gazza’ 3-1 semi-final success v Arsenal will always be ‘the’ abiding memory of that season, much more than the final itself even though we won that v Forest.
Often winning finals don’t linger anything like as long in the memory as other games of the same season or era. Who hand on heart can say that the 1981-82 FA Cup Final and replay v QPR have lingered in their memory? Similarly the 1972-73 League Cup Final success v Norwich and the 1998-99 success in the same competition v Leicester City. Yet other matches do linger long in the memory even though they didn’t secure a trophy – last season for example who can forget those run-in wins over Arsenal and Chelsea at the Lane and over Man City at the City of Manchester Stadium.
But memorable as those three wins were I don’t think that they compare with the Arsenal, Inter and AC Milan wins this season; each of which for me are truly among the greatest in our history. To record three such wins in a single season is truly amazing and something which I cannot recall in my Spurs’ supporting lifetime. And of course the season is far from over. A win in the return v AC would be a nice addition to the already awesome list – here’s hoping (and not just because I’ll be there with my son on 9th March) !
Of course when a match is memorable in it’s own right but also secures a trophy that is best of all – the 1981 Cup Final replay v Man City, the 1984 UEFA Cup Final second leg v Anderlecht and the 2008 Carling (League) Cup Final v Chelsea spring to mind in that regard. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to us adding to this season’s list of memorable wins with Champions League glory at Wembley in May. It is the year of the one after all! Unlikely maybe but then so were those three memorable successes which we have already recorded this season. For now though I’ll just be happy if we successfully negotiate the second leg v AC Milan – one cliché at a time as the saying almost goes !
situation – what should we do?
Originally when the idea of us moving to the Olympic Stadium was mooted I thought that it was just a ploy by Levy and ENIC to put more pressure on Haringey Council, the Mayor of London and indeed the government to try to ensure that they fully supported and co-operated with our plans for a new stadium at WHL adjacent to the current one.
However, all the vibes from the club suggest that Stratford is viewed as a serious option by Spurs, basically because it would be much more affordable. Let’s face it, a time of serious recession and spiralling costs is not a good time to look for finance or to incur large, potentially crippling debt. We only have to look down the road at the New Library to see the effect of massive expense on a stadium as it has undoubtedly (whatever their official spin is) had a significant effect on Arsenal’s ability to compete in the transfer market and thus challenge effectively for the big prizes. And they built the Emirates before the costs of both building and of borrowing money spiralled to anything like the degree that they’ve done since. The other side of the coin is of course that they are now bringing in massive gate revenue through their increased capacity and in the long run this should make their financial situation and ability to compete in the transfer market pretty good.
I – like most Spurs fans – am very emotionally attached both to the old stadium at WHL itself and to us being in Tottenham. We have always been in Tottenham since our foundation in 1882, and have been on the present site since 1899. Those are our roots and where we have so many great memories of wonderful matches down through the years. We are ‘Tottenham’ Hotspur – not ‘Stratford’ Hotspur and if we move to Stratford which is neither north London nor even a Tottenham area (mainly Wet Spam) it could be argued that we are no better than Woolwich who relocated to north London, although arguably a distinction can be made in that they moved to north London to try to get a better support at the expense of teams already established in the area (notably ourselves) – we would not be moving to try to get more fans or threaten the clubs already established in that area.
I think that staying at WHL as the ground stands at present is a non starter. A capacity of 36,534 is quite simply totally inadequate for a club aspiring to regularly challenge for top four and to being regular participants in the Champions League. And it seems that an expansion of the existing ground could only be done to a very limited figure – about 45,000 I understand - which would be an inadequate increase if we are looking to compete with the likes of the Arse and the cost would be very substantial just to get an increase which would not be enough to let us generate anything like the gate revenue that the arse and Man U are bringing in.
So it looks to be a straight choice between the new stadium adjacent to WHL and Stratford. If we stay as we are or increase WHL’s capacity quite modestly it looks highly unlikely that we will be able to sustain over the coming seasons a challenge for the big prizes and competing on anything like equal terms with clubs with big ground capacities (the Arse and Man U) or bankrolled by the mega rich (Man City and Chelsea).
Thee pros and cons of each? Well, while moving to Stratford doesn’t attract me, it does appear that relocating there and redeveloping the Olympic Stadium could be significantly less expensive than building the proposed new stadium at WHL. And that in turn would mean that more funds would be available to strengthen the team which IMO must always be a massive consideration – no point in having a world class stadium if we are crippled with debt to the point that our ability to compete on the field is seriously compromised. Also, transport links appear to be better to Stratford though I admit it is not an area that I really know. Transport links are likely to be a much more significant factor with a greatly increased capacity than they are at present.
The cons – well mainly and most importantly Stratford isn’t Tottenham – we have no affinity with the area and would turning our back on the area that we do have an affinity with and whose name is part of the club’s own name and where we have much more of a fan-base than in Stratford, albeit that most of our fans nowadays travel to games from outside the Tottenham area. Also, if as is widely reported, we would plan to essentially demolish the Olympic Stadium due to it not being suitable for football (e.g. running track) and rebuild pretty much from scratch is it likely to be that much cheaper than the new stadium at WHL.
The proposed new ground at WHL? Well the main pro is the very obvious (but important nonetheless) one of us remaining in our traditional area and indeed right beside the existing ground. That may partly be an emotional thing but it also is in a very real sense what we are about and it would be a huge step to turn our backs on that. And, while most of our fans come from outside Tottenham, we have much more support in Tottenham and affinity with the area than we do with Stratford. Also we have plans in place, have already spent quite a lot of money and the plans are now being supported by Haringey Council and by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
The cons in respect of the proposed new WHL? Well clearly the cost which could saddle us with huge debt and affect our financial ability to keep and bring in players. But also transport links which just about cope with the present 36k capacity WHL but would need to be much better for a massively increased crowd on match days.
In conclusion, I think that, as with most things in the 21st century, cost is likely to be paramount – unless of course we don’t win with our bid for the Olympic Stadium (though I think we have a good chance as am not sure that Spammers can put forward the sort of viable business plan that we can). My preference would definitely be to remain in Tottenham and as it doesn’t seem that their is any other way of doing so (e.g. another cheaper site) that would mean the new WHL. I am not convinced from all that I’ve read and heard so far that Stratford would necessarily be that much the cheaper option though if the figures when analysed fully and accurately mean that Stratford would indeed be much cheaper than the new WHL we face a very difficult choice. I really don’t want us to go there though that is partly an emotional attachment to WHL and Tottenham. But if going to Stratford would be the only way that we could compete long term at top level for the big prizes I might but only might come round to it, though I’m really not sure. In some respects, if we don’t win the bid I’ll be happy because the decision will not then be one for the club or the fans (i.e. it would have been taken out of our hands!). A very difficult issue indeed and one which divides fans.
A Happy New Year to all contributors to and readers of this site and of course to Wyart for all of his hard work in running it.
The recent spate of sad news of the deaths of a number of Spurs legends – Bobby Smith, Eddie Baily, Mel Hopkins – has got me thinking about our need as fans to have heroes; guys who transcend being just another player either because of their special qualities as a player regardless of how short their stint at Spurs (eg Gazza, Klinsmann), the longevity of their career at Spurs (Perryman) or both (Greaves, Hoddle).
I suppose the ‘holding out for a hero’ mentality is why we all have
our favourites and kids (and many adults!) have
shirts with a
So where in the pantheon of favourites and legends do the current batch of players stand ? Well I’m not (quite!) old enough to have seen the Double team but the feats of that team and era speak for themselves and quite frankly I don’t think that at this stage any present day star comes close to their legend status, though if Gareth Bale carries on as he has in the two Inter Milan matches he will soon be knocking on that door!
Bill Nicholson of course stands alone as indisputably the greatest figure in our club’s history having played in our first league winning team (season 50-51) and then managed the greatest team we’ve ever sent onto the field to the Double success in 1960-61, and followed that up with many other great triumphs in the 60’s and early 70’s. ‘Sir Bill’ in many ways transcends the status of legend but, in my opinion, the stars of the Double team (it is the only team 1-11 that I know off by heart) are a notch above our many other great stars over the years. Any debate about the greatest ever Spurs player tends more often than not to come down to the great triumvirate of Blanchflower, Mackay and Greaves, although the other stars of the Double team (especially Smith, Jones and White) are not far behind and there is always the debate over whether, were it not for his untimely and tragic early death, John White could have become the greatest of all.
The most common view of their playing and managing contemporaries is that Dave Mackay was the greatest Spur of that double era – though interestingly Bill Nick, while viewing Mackay as his greatest buy, lauds his former teammate and captain of the 50-51 push and run team Ronnie Burgess as the greatest. But of the Double era players Mackay is most often credited as being the greatest of all, albeit that it is possible to make a strong case for any of Blanchflower, Greaves and Mackay. Danny clocked up the most Spurs appearances of the three, 337 in the league (just ahead of Greaves) and of course captained the Double team. He was voted Footballer of the Year in 1958 and 1961 and is also credited with the famous rallying speech to the players before the stunning 5-1 Cup Winners Cup triumph v Atletico Madrid.
Greaves for his part is the all time leading Spurs goal-scorer (220 league goals in 321 games – an unbelievable tally) and finished top scorer in the old First Division (forerunner of the Premier League) an unbelievable (given the number of great strikers around then) four times during his Spurs career (in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1969).
So why do so many respected observers reckon that Mackay was greater still ? Well he was the team’s heartbeat and driving force and his Spurs career ran right through from the double (when Greaves hadn’t been signed) to the club’s last trophy success of the 60s, the 1967 FA Cup Final, by which time Blanchflower had left. Mackay was the constant of that era and the one who really drove the team on (a 60s version of Graham Roberts except better) and took over the captaincy when Blanchflower retired in April 1964. It is ironic therefore that he only won the Footballer of the Year title in 1969 after he had left Spurs (he was transferred in 1968 to Derby County and went on to win the league with them – their manager the legendary Brian Clough, while clearly not unbiased, was one of those who rated Mackay as Spurs’ greatest ever player).
The feats of the Double era speak for themselves and explain why any debate about Spurs’ greatest players tends to focus on those playing at that time but every era has it’s heroes – Jimmy Dimmock who scored the FA Cup winning goal in 1921; even further back Sandy Brown who scored twice v Sheffield United in the 1901 Final and then scored again in the replay success; the aforementioned Ronnie Burgess who captained the team which won the old Second Division in 1950 and the First Division title itself in 1951; Martin Chivers the star striker in the trophy successes of the early 70s; Glenn Hoddle probably the greatest star among many who featured in the great Spurs teams of the 80s; Gazza whose star shone so brightly for a few years culminating in the 90-91 successful Cup run and ‘that’ semi.
There have been many other Spurs heroes down the years and some have even become legends. In the present climate where it is highly unusual for a player to stay with only one (or even two) clubs in their career it is much more difficult to see players emerging as legends like the great players of the past. But feats such as the win v Inter and in particular Bale scoring three and creating two goals in the two matches v the European Champions in the premier European competition where we hadn’t featured since 1961-62 certainly presents a very considerable step towards legend status. I just hope that he and our other present day stars remain long enough at Spurs to become the legends that they already promise to be – I have a sense that this team and these players could be on the brink of one of the most successful eras in our club’s illustrious history. It certainly is an exciting time to be a Spurs fan and there is no shortage of heroes and, just maybe, potential legends in the current squad.
Why I think that we’ll finish fourth again
After our win v Wolves we moved into the top four, albeit possibly temporarily with others playing today.
So can we secure a top four finish again this season? Well I think we can.
We’ve not been very impressive in our games thus far - apart from first half v Man Citeh. But the only really bad points we’ve dropped were the three at home to Wigan. And the good news is that our rivals have been dropping points too.
Maybe I’m wrong in doing so but when I talk about our rivals I am really thinking about fourth place – in spite of our ever strengthening squad and Harry’s much publicised comments that we can challenge for the title; I think that, especially with the (very welcome) distraction of Champions League fourth place again is the most realistic target. Anything better than fourth would be a huge unexpected bonus.
Realistically the title is likely to be contested by Chelsea and Man. U again, with the Arse who have strengthened in the summer and are used to the distraction of Champs League likely to get third.
But fourth is a different matter. Who out there has a better shout at a fourth place finish than us ?
Well our rivals for fourth for me are Man Citeh, Liverpool, Villa and Everton. Let’s take each of these in turn.
First Citeh. Well they pushed us hardest last season and have spent massively in the summer on the likes of Milner and Silva. So why do I think that we can and will finish above them ? Well firstly their manager Mancini doesn’t convince me. He has a propensity to be overly negative often going with two or even three holding midfielders (De Jong, Barry, Ya Ya Toure). He also has a collection of massive egos there – it will be interesting to see how likes of Adebayor reacts over the season if he’s not a regular starter. Does he even know his best team and does he have the players to have a balanced team ? A lot of big name ‘stars’ doesn’t necessarily make a good team. Does Mancini have the man management skills to get the best out of them and keep those not in the team onside ? Well he fell out with one of last season’s best players, Bellamy (OK he joined a very large club on that one), but more alarmingly for Citeh even the guy he has now made captain (Tevez) last season criticised his training regime. So they have a lot of good players (e.g. Johnson, Milner) and will clearly push for fourth, but the whole set-up is too volatile for me and not presided over by a manager who convinces me that he can bring it all together.
Liverpool ? Morale was clearly rock bottom in the last throws of the Benitez regime and I think that Hodgson will improve things. But a lot of people are only waking up to how far back Liverpool have gone and I think they just don’t have enough quality overall to get fourth. Also the players they have brought in all have question marks over them. Can Joe Cole ever perform regularly at a high level both on basis of consistency and of him being injury prone ? Does he have a position ? Can Meireles adapt to the Prem, especially when he has not yet played in a major European league, let alone one played with the intensity of the Prem ? For Jovanovic, see Meireles comment. Is Konchesky good enough for a team seeking to challenge for top four ?
I think that Citeh and Liverpool are likely to our main challengers for fourth but a case can be made for Villa and Everton too.
Villa ? Curious appointment in Houllier after O’Neill threw his toys out of the pram. And ultimately I think likely to prove to b a bad one. Hasn’t managed for some time and his fallouts in his latter days at Anfield are the stuff of legend. Just as significant as the managerial change is the loss of their best player last season, James Milner. OK they bounced back very well after Barry left, but Milner for me gave them so much more and will be sorely missed. Even with last season’s team intact they were not quite good enough for top four and I just can’t see them pushing on. Can also see them being further weakened in January if they are going poorly and Ashley Young pushes for a move.
Everton ? Their form in the second half of last season was outstanding after their start was badly affected by a litany of injuries to key players like Arterta and Jagielka. Without Europe to distract them I thought they might really push for fourth but they’ve had a shocking start which already sees us six points ahead of them. I think that Moyes has slowly built up a pretty strong squad - a slightly inferior version of us in many ways. Still think that they could hit form and be in the shake up for fourth but overall they IMO just fall that wee bit short in terms of quality, though they are very decent indeed. Also a bit overly reliant on a few key players like Cahill and Arteta.
I don’t think that other decent teams like Fulham have the squad depth to maintain a challenge for fourth.
So there it is - we have to learn quickly to cope with the extra physical and mental demands of Champs League involvement but I think that we have the squad strength to do so (significantly strengthened last summer especially by the addition of the world class Van der Vaart) and the right manager presiding over things. The next five games after our pretty benign start will tell us a lot more - we have West Ham (a), Villa (h), Fulham (a), Everton (h) and Man U (a). However I really believe that we can get top four again and will do so. If we could bring in a top striker in January even higher might not be beyond us. But maybe that is just a bit too optimistic – we’ve plenty to do to cope with Champs League and the long term injuries to Defoe and Dawson. But a fourth place finish again ? Why not ! I really don’t see a stronger candidate to get fourth than us. Fourth and a decent run in the Champions League would mean a very good season IMO.
Return of those Glory Glory Nights
They can talk all they like about Anfield or Old Trafford on a European night but for me there is nothing quite like the atmosphere at White Hart Lane on one of those Glory Glory nights.
The last time I was at one of those special European nights at White Hart Lane was the never to be forgotten night of 25th May 1984 when we won the UEFA Cup against Anderlecht in a night of high drama; the high points being Robbo’s goal three minutes from time to level the tie on aggregate and send it into extra time and Parksy’s save in the penalty shoot out that secured the win. I emerged from the Lane that night with two large scores down my forehead where my glasses got pushed when I got knocked to the ground when Robbo scored. Well worth it though even if I got some funny looks when I returned to the hotel I was staying in ! There were more than a few pubs open late on the High Road that night as Spurs fans celebrated a memorable success.
A month earlier I had my first sample of the magic of the Lane on a European night when a Mickey Hazard goal was enough to secure an away goals aggregate victory v Hajduk Split in the semi. After that, although I couldn’t really afford to travel to the final, it was a must and I was one of the official 46,205 crowd (closer to 60,000 in reality with cash on the night admission – remember that ! - to terracing packed so much that you could barely move in ‘The Cage’ where I was standing). What an atmosphere though and what a match and performance with Roberts driving the team on against a very good Anderlecht almost by sheer will power.
Of the ultimate European night as any student of Spurs history will tell you was the Benfica European Cup semi final on 5th April 1962 when by all accounts Spurs through everything bar the kitchen sink at Benfica but due to a combination of good defending, bad luck when the woodwork was struck and bad reffing to deny us penalties only a 2-1 win was ultimately secured after a first leg defeat of 3-1 in Lisbon.
Of course there have been many other great European nights at the Lane over the years, but I hadn’t experienced another one since the UEFA Cup final in 1984 until I was lucky enough to secure tickets for my son and I to the Young Boys Champs League qualifier second leg on 25th August; an occasion which we particularly looked forward to as our last trip to the Lane had been prevented by the volcanic ash cloud which downed flights.
What a night Wednesday 25th August was – the weather was horrendous (torrential rain) but none of the 34,709 packed into the lane cared a jot. Spurs were back in the European big time and one match away from the group stages of the Champs League and a run in the top club competition in Europe for the first time since that Benfica game back in season 61-62. And the team didn’t let us down with an assured display securing a 4-0 win on the night and an aggregate 6-3 success which had looked rather unlikely to say the least at 3-0 down after half an hour of the first leg ! Spurs never do things the easy way but they really rose to the occasion in that second leg. A real good all round team effort, even if the goal-scorers (Crouch 3 and Defoe) and Bale, who was involved in every goal, got most of the plaudits. The crowd too played it’s part; engendering a brilliant atmosphere and really getting behind the team. Credit also to the club for their foresight in leaving flags for every fan which created a sea of white which must have been quite a daunting sight for the opposition.
Yes, those special Glory Glory European nights with Spurs in their European all white kit are well and truly back.
Bring on Inter, Werder Bremen and Twente in the group stages ! Bring it on !
No striker signed but still a good window for Spurs
One of the strangest transfer windows I can remember from a Spurs point of view.
The consensus among most Spurs fans at the start of the summer was that the one signing we really needed to make to push us onto the next level was a top class striker. Pav still flatters to deceive; Keane has shown little in the last few years and does not appear to be part of Redknapp’s plans; Crouch is good as an option but arguably not as a regular starter; Defoe’s goals dried up in latter part of last season.
Well the window has been and gone and we haven’t signed one and nor have we offloaded players who clearly aren’t in Harry’s plans and who could destabilize the dressing room as a result eg Keane, Jenas, Hutton.
And yet in spite of the above I think that we’ve had a very good window for the following reasons:
1 We’ve retained all of the payers who got us a top four finish and into the Champions League, including star performers like Bale.
2 We’ve strengthened areas which needed strengthening – Pletikosa is likely to be better cover for Gomes than Cudicini is. Gallas is a very experienced and adaptable defender (can play CB or left back) and likely to be better cover than Bassong who has looked shaky in any recent outings. Just so long as we don’t make Gallas captain – most of the problems with him seemed to stem from him being made captain at the Arse. Sandro is an emerging star - one of the great hopes of Brazilian football - and good competition for the likes of Huddlestone and Palacios for the holding midfielder role.
3 We’ve brought in a world class midfielder in Van der Vaart with a good career scoring record which is likely to add goals to a midfield where the likes of Modric, Lennon and Thud don’t chip in with many. This should go a long way towards offsetting not bringing in a world class striker. VDV is also likely to create more for our existing strikers who let us not forget, for all the criticism of them, played in and contributed to a team which got top 4 and Champions League football. van der Vaart’s arrival also increases the profile of the club and will surely lift everyone connected with Spurs.
4 The 4 new arrivals increase our options eg more midfield options and more possibility of going with only one up top as van der Vaart is a genuine goal-scoring attacking midfielder.
Now don’t get me wrong I’d still have loved us to sign a top class striker and was very disappointed when we missed out on Fabiano. But weighing everything up I still think that for the reasons outlined above we’ve had a very good window.
One final point – it wouldn’t be Spurs if the Van der Vaart signing had just gone through smoothly – there had to be some last minute drama! My suspicion is that Daniel Levy got lucky as we’d missed out on landing a top class striker and Van der Vaart was not a planned signing – by all accounts Real contacted us on the afternoon of the 31st to see if we were interested. But be that as it may, we got the payer and never mind the twists and turns that got us there we still ended up having a good window IMO and credit to Levy and Redknapp for that, whether or not luck played any part.
Where we're at
Well almost but not quite in the promised land of the group stages of Champions League - one, possibly quite tricky, qualifier away.
A hell of an achievement to break into the self preserving top four ahead of last year’s runners up (Liverpool) and also big spending Citeh and very decent teams like Villa and Everton. Harry and the players deserve massive credit, especially for that run-in when we bear the Arse, Champs elect Chelski, and Citeh. We showed bottle that I wasn’t sure we had, as well as no small amount of skill.
Our squad is both deep in terms of good quality and also pretty well balanced so where do we need to strengthen if we are to consolidate that top four finish and also make an impact in the Champs League ?
Well we clearly need another keeper as cover for Gomes. Thank Gawd there was nothing at stake at Burnley as Alnwick again - like when he played last season - did not inspire any confidence at all. OK, Cudicini may return to full fitness, though that remains to be seen, but frankly he didn’t convince me when he played before anyway - little presence and especially shaky on cross balls. So even if he recovers full fitness, I’d like to see another keeper come in. It sounds like it may be David James, but I have serious concerns re: his injury record and at his age that is not likely to improve - no matter how good he is, he is no use to us if he’s not fit if required to come in for an injured Gomes.
My other big priority and the marquee signing which would be a real statement of intent re: our ambitions to push on would be a real top striker. Crouch for me is OK as an impact sub and on certain occasions to start but not to be a regular starter in a top four team. Defoe’s form and goals tailed off though word is that he was carrying an injury for the last month or so. We need better options in terms of goal threat to either partner him or if he’s off form to play with likes of Crouch. I like Pav but after his short purple patch his form and goals tailed off - not sure that overall he has ever shown enough over any length of time. Gudjohnsen ? An impact sub at best – if we do deal to sign him permanently or extend his loan. Keane ? Has not been up to level needed at top end of Prem for two seasons now. If we bring in a top striker - and I’d be pushing the boat out to sign if at all possible the likes of Dzeko or Fabiano - I’d certainly offload Keane and maybe Pav too.
The other area I’d look at strengthening is right back where Corluka IMO is too slow, Walker still learning his trade, and Kaboul did great in the run-in but still had his moments as he’s really a central defender covering a position where we lacked options. I see that we’re again linked with Micah Richards – if Harry thinks he can get best out of him why not ?
To be honest with Sandro coming in and likes of Lennon returning to fitness I’m very happy with our options elsewhere, so it’s only really a cover keeper, a top striker and a right back that I’d be targeting. And at same time I’d be looking to sell Jenas , Keane and Hutton. Actually think Hutton is decent but it just hasn’t really worked out for him and he’s clearly not Harry’s preferred choice for right back so best cash in.
Overall, I am very happy indeed with our squad - ‘if’ we can bring in a top striker, a right back and cover keeper I honestly could see us going from aiming for top four again to aiming to challenge for the title itself. I really don’t think that is fanciful with the squad that we have built and continue to build under Harry.
As this is Spurs there is always the chance that we’ll bomb in the qualifier for Champs League and underachieve in the Premier League next season; but I really am optimistic - much more so about Spurs than I have been for a very long time indeed. Do you share my optimism ?
(Not) Being There
From 23rd February 2010 onwards one thing above all others dominated my thinking – Spurs v Chelsea at the Lane on Saturday 17th April at 5.30 pm.
On that February day I had secured tickets for myself and my son (we are both bronze members) as part of my son’s birthday, for our annual pilgrimage to WHL from our home in Northern Ireland. And as the game neared it became clear that even more than normal was likely to be at stake in the Chelsea game – namely our quest for the holy grail of 4th place ensured that every single result in the run in became ever more critical as the final games of the season came into sight.
By the time that we beat the Arse on the Wednesday night prior to the Chelsea game we were so excited about going to the big game on the Saturday that we could have floated to WHL on the cloud nine that we were on after our beloved Spurs saw the Gooners off.
However as it turns out not only could we not float there on cloud nine, we couldn’t get anywhere near the clouds at all as that was the week when the bloody Icelandic Volcano did its worst and the volcanic ash cloud grounded flights. At first my emotion was relief that the problem had arisen on the Wednesday and Thursday as I assumed that by the Saturday all would be well. How wrong I was and in spite of monitoring the flight situation all day Friday and then trying to organise alternative journey by boat and train (the schedule was way too tight to make it) I ultimately came to the shattering conclusion that we were simply not going to get there. Every last plan had been made – accommodation was booked and we were to meet up with a succession of Spurs mates at different times and of course best of all was the prospect of the game which was huge for us as we had looked forward to it for so long and it had turned out to be such a massive fixture.
The club were great about the tickets when I explained the situation and said if I e-mailed by 1pm on the Saturday we could get a refund (I’d rung at 4.45 on the Friday when I realised that it was very likely not to happen for us).
We were very emotional watching the teams coming out on the ESPN coverage knowing that we should have been there – of course far and away the most important thing is that the team won, but it was still a gutting experience to miss out on being there when we’d looked forward to it for so long.
The strangest thing of the lot is that the person who most closely related to how big a loss it was and how I felt (and it was even worse for my son) was a work colleague who – whisper it – is a Gooner, and like me only gets over to a game once or twice a season. Normally the banter between us can border on the nasty as we have no time for each other’s teams but he seemed to instinctively know that this was not the occasion and that the bond of being football fans was, on this rare occasion, more important than club loyalties. His words and genuine sympathy meant a lot to me.
I have never ever been blasé about getting to Spurs games, especially when I’ve been lucky enough to get a ticket or tickets for a big one – but after missing the Chelsea match I appreciate and cherish even more my many great visits to WHL and only hope that never again will we miss out like we did on 17th April. Hopefully we will get over for a game early next season to at least partly make up for missing out on this occasion.
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