the fisher "king" column
|Alan Fisher is a long time supporter of
Tottenham Hotspur, who has seen a lot of things in football (although some
he wouldn't mind seeing again !!).
In his column, Alan will take a regular
look at how he thinks things are going down the Lane and he welcomes your
feedback on his comments.
standing still 02.02.2007
i want it
suckers barca-ing up the wrong tree 23.06.2007
closing in 02.08.2007
more fisher king articles ...
on the season and fourth place ?
The close season exists
for just one reason Ė to make you realise just how wonderful football
is. As much as I enjoy the game, even I have to acknowledge that
one game sometimes blurs into another. Fun at the time but at my
age thereís plenty of competition jostling for space in my fast receding
memory banks, and some matches just give up and sidle silently away,
lost forever. Ask me about which game Jimmy Neighbour had two
attempts at taking a corner, because on the first he kicked the corner
flag instead of the ball and snapped it. Or when Alfie Conn sat on
the ball in the midst of a tense relegation battle. But the
Blackburn game at home, the last time I saw Spurs play, no idea.
Defoe scored, apparently Ė I had to look it up even though it was only
two months ago and I was there at the time.
Take our Tottenham
away and the appetite swiftly returns. Senses heightened,
faculties return, the feeling of anticipation as the season nears is
palpable. This year, however, there is a big difference, because
the close season could become one of the most significant periods in our
The men in charge of
our great club have this summer drawn together various strands that have
step by step been put into place over the last three years. Having
guided us to the threshold of taking the Great Leap Forward into
uncharted territory at the very peak of the Premiership, they have
committed totally to that objective. In terms of their investment
in the transfer market and perhaps in a new stadium, onwards and upwards
is the only way to go. Itís nothing short of an attempt to bring
back the glory days.
History is a process.
Itís like a long reel of film Ė run it at the right speed and the story
unfolds as it flows along. However, to understand fully what is going
on, sometimes we have to slow the action right down, examine the detail
almost frame by frame. Certain moments in the action are critical,
and I believe that this will be one of those pivotal times upon which
the future of Tottenham Hotspur turns.
Over the last few
years there has been a clear sense of direction and purpose throughout
the club. Everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing and
why. From chairman to tealady, personnel are pulling together with
the same goals in mind. On the field, the team has gradually
evolved into an effective, attractive force capable of successive fifth
place finishes. Off it, we are well-organised and financially
sound. The fans have been treated to good football and exciting
players, led by a popular manager. Seldom in the modern era has
the Lane basked in such a harmonious glow.
Iíve remarked on this
gradual but significant improvement regularly in my MEHSTG pieces, and
the need for fans to be patient as the seeds of progress flower and
start to bear fruit. All the while, another notion has lurked in
the background; the time will come for the team to step up to another
level, and that step has been taken this summer. Lately we have
seen some cracking football, but this has not always been matched by
results. Weíve consistently failed against the top four.
Last season, for instance, for every Chelsea or Bolton at home there was
a Sheffield United, Watford or Reading away. Weíve not remotely
come close to winning anything, and when the heat was on we threw away
two cup leads at home to Arsenal and away to Chelsea.
Rewind to the end of
the 2003/4 season, to my mind the most hideous of recent times, when a
manifestly inadequate squad struggled under temporary manager David
Pleat to remain in the Premiership. There was a silver lining,
however; the sheer abject awfulness of it all convinced the relatively
young and inexperienced chairman Daniel Levy that root and branch
changes were required. He chose a continental model. Jacques
Santini came in as an experienced safe pair of hands, with a reputation
for being a good organiser and skilled in bringing through young
players. As coach we brought on board Martin Jol, well-regarded
but lacking experience at the highest standard. Key to future
success was the third member of the triumvirate, Frank Arnesen. As
Director of Football, his supposedly unparalleled knowledge of the
European game and eye for talent would, so the theory went, transform
the playing staff whilst minimising the outlay. Levy may not have
had much experience in football but he was a prudent, cautious
And so we settled in
for the long game. Stabilise, bring through young players,
primarily buy British and above all donít put short-term success before
the long term well-being of the club. The squad was transformed.
A clutch of new signings arrived, predominately experienced, many at
international level, but who with the exception of Naybet and Champions
League winner Pedro Mendes had never tasted success Ė Davis, Defoe,
Carrick, Edman, Paramot, joined in the January transfer window by Reid
and Dawson. They were supplemented by youngsters, ones for the
future, such as Atouba, Ziegler, Hallfredsson, Defendi, later Mido.
The new regime worked
Ė up to a point. Fortunes on the field stabilised as we parked our
bus in front of the goal. However much I rhapsodise about the
Tottenham way of attractive football, secretly I was so glad that for
once we did not look like were going to cave in whenever the opposition
upped the tempo. Then suddenly Santini left, increasingly
uncomfortable as Arnesen asserted himself as the dominant partner, as
many suspected he had intended from the outset, and backed Jolís claims
to a more significant role in team affairs.
Fast forward 18 months
or so - almost all of them, young or old, gone. Decent players who
for the most part performed well enough for us. Theyíve didnít
become bad players, it is we who have moved on. Naybet retired,
Carrick sold once Jol turned him into a world class midfielder.
Those two apart, how many would be in the team now ? For me, the
answer is one Ė Mendes, who is in my view a high quality defensive
midfielder who could have brought welcome stability to the team last
season during a couple of periods when the cracks began to show. I
even confess to almost pining for Paramot to be around as defensive
cover. Those men gave us good service for the most part but if we
were to progress they were not good enough for the standard that we now
aspired to. They accomplished their job, thank you and goodbye.
And so the process
continued. In came Mido, Ghaly, Murphy, Lee and Stalteri: all will
be either sold or second choice as this season begins.
Now the club had a
sense of direction and purpose. Jol was clearly in charge, making
a few mistakes and learning as he went along but popular both with fans
and the dressing room. Levyís confidence grew too as he stamped
his personality on the club, working hard in the background and avoiding
the limelight, just the way I like a chairman to be. He sought
value in salaries and transfer fees. If the player was right then
the money was there, but the future of the club was not going to be
mortgaged for the sake of an overpriced, over the hill so-called star on
the wane or an over-rated Championship player.
With the perspective
of hindsight, perhaps Levyís most noteworthy acquisition was also in the
backroom. I bet none of you knew who Damien Comolli was when he
arrived here to replace the fickle Arnesen, who was rapidly found out as
being more interested in personal prestige than the Spurs vision.
Yet in a relatively short space of time I have complete confidence in
his player judgement. Heís brought nothing but quality to the
club. We know who we want and why. Thereís no desperate
pre-deadline scramble for players or buying on the strength of a video.
Now, we identify important transfer targets well in advance and
diligently pursue them. Not all work out; the deal for Petrov was
done but he chose Citehís cash instead. However, when we come in
for a player, they know they are wanted. The prime example of this
process is of course the signing of Dimitar Berbatov, a truly world
class centre forward. We pursued him over several months, made it
clear to him that he was really wanted and didnít flinch when the time
came to hand over £10.9m for the privilege.
This summer the
process has been repeated for Darren Bent, who turned down the Icelandic
millions because he was better off with Tottenham. Many baulked at
the fee, but missed the point; itís not the price but the value that is
key. If he can enable us to step up (there it is again) to the
Champions League then heís a bargain. Nothing has changed
radically. Levy is still prudent; his salary is well within our
finances given the income from Europe and the new TV deal, maintains the
salary cap of around £55k a week and by all accounts the fee is spread
over three years. The CL will more than cover any outgoings, thank
you very much, and if it doesnít work, heís young and will command a
reasonable fee should he move on. So whatís not to like ?
These men are of a
different stature. If the CL clubs come in for someone, we usually
cannot compete, but the best of the rest want to play at White
Hart Lane. We arenít second best, we are a positive choice, and so
many of our squad, able though they are, surely are going to become even
better. Itís a mouth-watering prospect.
Our achievements are
in stark contrast to the efforts of our erstwhile competitors,
struggling to free themselves from the quicksands of mid-table
mediocrity. The Premiership is awash with billionaires and TV
millions but they are all way behind us. Newcastle have finally
got round to the realisation that (shock!) clubs need a manager who can
actually organise the club. Villa canít spend the American money that
must be burning a hole in their pocket. Theyíre desperate Ė Marlon
Harewood at £4.5m, need I say any more ? Saddest of all are
Manchester City. Iím sure Sven will do well for them, but like
Newcastle and Villa theyíve had no continuity in terms of mangers and
have sold out to a corrupt Thai fugitive from justice, condemned for
human rights abuses by Amnesty International but apparently a fit and
proper individual to run a football club. Other clubs are copying
our methods; stabilise with experience and go from there.
Portsmouth and Fulham are even using many of the same players.
No other club has our
combination of stability, security and ability on and off the field.
It remains to be seen how it all pans out. As Spurs fans we have
seen the sun rise on many a false dawn and set at the end of another
transitional season. At the training ground, the vision statement
for this season is on display - qualify for the Champions League.
Whatever happens, we have come so far in four years and messrs Jol, Levy
and Comolli are to be congratulated for their commitment to the cause.
If Spurs are to become a force in club football again, I wonder if you
might pause to look closely at this summer as the time when it all came
Sharing is good for
suckers barca-ing up the
where's your Henry gone ?
look back at Henryís departure in a few years time, it will mark the
point at which the oscillating graphs marking the fortunes of the north
London clubs crossed in mid-flow. Arsenal, for so long in the
ascendancy, on the way down, and Tottenham, once equal rivals, on the
rise after so long in the doldrums.
was growing up, and even not so long ago, part of the enduring mythology
of the North London derby was that both clubs had an almost identical
record. In recent times, however, we have experienced the undignified
spectacle of a once proud club desperately scrabbling to gain a foothold
as we slid gradually down the slippery slope towards mediocrity.
Henryís transfer is in fact merely a moment, significant certainly but a
single moment nevertheless, within a broader process of change.
Tottenham have been second best in recent years in terms of both league
position and in the derbies, but the key to the shifting balance of
power lies off the pitch. It seems hard to believe now, given the
success of our rivals in the last decade, but in August 1996 Arsenal
were a club in disarray. Having sacked Bruce Rioch just as the season
began, their first team coaches took charge until October whilst the
club waited for the arrival of their new boss, an unknown Frenchman who
had never played professional football at a high level. In those days
English football was far more insular than now, and the notion of Arsene
Wenger taking over one of the countryís top clubs appeared preposterous.
Arsenal were ridiculed.
soon found out, however, that the Arsenal board, and in particular their
vice-chairman and power behind the throne David Dein, had done their
homework. Wenger quickly created a fine footballing side without
breaking the bank, complementing the backbone of British players left
from the previous era with little known foreign stars, mostly French,
who went on to become world-class.
Meanwhile, a couple of miles away, Spurs struggled to establish any kind
of continuity. After Francis left, we aped our rivals and went for an
equally unknown foreigner. His name was Christian Gross; I think thatís
all I want to say on the subject.
despise the Gooners, truly, madly, deeply. Iíve probably been doing so
for longer than most of you reading this piece, and just when I think
Iím getting older and softer, the old feelings come flooding back (see
my column after the semi-final at the Emirates last season). They are
arrogant, condescending overbearing glory-hunters. I wish a plague of
locusts, boils and famine upon them, although Iíll stop short of smiting
their first-born. But the thing that has made matters worse in recent
years, and I trust you will understand from the previous comments the
context of the remarks Iím about to make, is that they are better than
us. Much better. Not only that, they play football the way it should be
played. Quick, fast passing made possible by intelligent, skilful,
mobile players, many of whom were stylish and graceful, superbly
organised by their coach.
other words, they played the Tottenham way. Not content with usurping
our league position, they stole our tradition and culture too. Remember
when they stole our record of being the only team ever to win the Double
? Back then, the riposte Ďboring, boring Arsenalí brought a small
measure of comfort but we have even been deprived of that.
at the Lane, another year, another false dawn, another Ďtransitional
seasoní. This culminated in what for me was the most inglorious year of
all, 2003, as we viewed Pleatís increasingly desperate attempts to
organise a threadbare squad with little transfer cash and even less
motivation. However, herein lies the seeds of our recovery and to find
them again we have to look to the boardroom. Daniel Levy had a plan.
Like Dein, he looked abroad and brought in a foreign manager, proven
this time, and perhaps more significantly a continental management
structure, with a director of football, Arnesen, and a head coach,
Martin Jol. He took the long view; cash was available but he was
determined to be financially prudent, so the transfer and wages budget
was generous but not bottomless. This meant that youth was the key.
Aspiring young players replaced the aging crocks like Anderton, Poyet
and Redknapp - coming to Spurs was a step up the ladder - whilst Arnesen
was charged with scouring Europe for cheap, unproven talent whose value
lay in their potential, hopefully realised a few years down the line.
has stuck to his guns. Itís not all gone smoothly; Santini was the wrong
man but we had an able, popular head coach already at the club, so there
was no need for another painful interregnum. Having advocated so hard on
Jolís behalf, Arnesen found that the grass was, ah, bluer in South West
London, but again the departure of an individual did little damage to
the solidly based Tottenham plan. The young players gradually blossomed,
and the scouting, now in the hands of the shrewd Comolli, came into its
own, with Berbatov the jewel in the crown.
fifth places mark genuine progress but there is some way to go. Now,
however, players want to come here. Bale turns down Manchester United.
Bent shrugs off £20k a week because he wants to play under Martin Jol.
Contrast this with the Arsenal. Weighed down by the financial burden of
the Emirates thereís little money for new blood to re-invigorate their
team. Once the bastion of sensible management, the directors split
asunder as new money from America infiltrates the staid conservativism
of the boardroom. Dein, the architect of a triumphant decade, is ousted,
and the tremors of doubt begin to shake the foundations of confidence
within the dressing. Henry, their leader, figurehead and talisman, goes,
with Wenger probably not far behind.
that moment, we passed them on their way down. We have got it right.
Thereís so much still to do to rejoin the Premiership elite and to
become winners, but we are on the up, bubbling, buoyant, full of
anticipation for the coming season. It is just a moment, but the moment
is ours. Enjoy it; there will be more to come.
Feel free to comment:
case going through the American courts at the moment where a former
employee of a multi-national computer corporation is suing for wrongful
dismissal. He was sacked for spending too much company time on the
internet, viewing porn sites. His contention, however, is that he
is a porn addict, linked to a traumatic event in his past. Rather
than take disciplinary action, his benevolent employer should instead
provide treatment for this debilitating compulsion.
in America ? Many of us may recognise a milder strain of said condition.
Itís the close season and, starved of our footy fix, we resort to
desperate measures: Newsnow. This site sifts through the net and
gathers all references to our club on one handy page. If there is
any transfer gossip, it will appear there first, and itís updated every
15 minutes, thus legitimising at least four hits an hour by any poor,
sad, addict with a laptop with a worn-out F5 button.
transfer window deadline nears, the site is irresistible, easily tucked
away on the work computer behind a bogus Word document but that
unassuming, comforting little tab at the bottom of the screen is ready
to be revealed as soon as the coast is clear. Beware of
temptation, however. The hardcore amongst us are strangely drawn
to forbidden territory. The word-recognition software includes
references to the San Antonio Spurs, and if a sub-editor on the
Lincolnshire Evening Chronicle feels that any local has been Ďspurredí
on to some success, well, good for them and I am delighted to share in
their achievement. And when the journalists on sites in Britain
and around the world, many of them trained, qualified professionals,
headline a piece heralding the success of a Tottenham player with so and
so ĎEarns His Spursí, do they really lean back, flush with
self-satisfaction at their wit and originality ? Couldnít get away
with it on MEHSTG, let me tell you.
Newsnow is a trawl through the transfer rumours on the web, it nets the
detritus from the gameís murkiest depths, footballís Tescos trolleys,
the worn rubber tyres, discarded fridgefreezers and rusting bicycle
frames. A better title is ĎNoNewsnow.í The site itself is
blameless, of course. It only faithfully reports what is out
there, and most of the time that is a disagreeable mixture of baseless
rumour and agentsí Fantasy Football as they agitate for a move on behalf
of their clients. Donít read it, donít believe it.
Itís a simple, straightforward sort of a word, honest even, but in the
hands of football writers it means everything and nothing. Use it
and you are never wrong. Real Madrid and Barcelona could be
interested in Anthony Gardner, chances are that they are not. Itís
a favourite in blog and so-called fan-site headlines Ė Spurs could be in
for Ronaldinho, probably not but the sites make money on the number of
hits they receive, and if you saw that headline youíd give it a second
glance, letís be honest. Once on the web, the rumour, however
spurious, gains a life of its own. Regurgitated within minutes
throughout the world, mere repetition gives it greater credence.
donít matter in football reporting. No other branch of news gathering
operates to these low standards and yet we fans donít have any
alternative. I donít know who I detest more, the journos who write
it or myself for reading it.
this summer, my take on transfers is Ė let Jol get on with it.
This column has repeatedly suggested that as fans, our biggest
contribution to the clubsí fortunes is to demonstrate patience.
Over the last few years, since Jol was appointed in particular, we have
been gradually moving forward. Sometimes itís been two steps back
and one forward, but that is all in the nature of building a team.
On the pitch, our away defeat against Sheffield United represented a
point where the players seemed to pull themselves together. A
strong finishing burst saw us through to a deserved fifth place, and
perhaps more significantly offered a glimpse of what is to come as the
potential stored in this squad is unleashed.
also provided further vindication of our transfer policy. To the
core of British players, young (ish) and ambitious, has been added high
quality players from Europe. Whenever I write or speak the name
ĎBerbatoví I feel an undeniable impulse to rhapsodise once more about
his sublime skills, for me the most skilful Spurs player since Hoddle.
Here, in a piece about transfers, Iíll contain myself; the point is that
we scouted him and gave pursuit over a lengthy period, so when he came
to take his decision he felt wanted. No other club had the courage
of their convictions. Similar comments apply to Zokora, of whom
can I be the first to cast my vote for him as Player of the Season
Comolli undoubtedly deserves much of the credit. His knowledge of the
European scene is also enticing promising youngsters to the club, like
Taarabt and (probably) Kaboul. Looking back, receiving the
equivalent of a transfer fee for the much-vaunted Arnesen looks like a
great deal. Where are his signings now ? Shipped out to
second class foreign clubs via the reserves for the most part, and his
new club have money but no back-up players, so they lose the title when
injuries catch up with them.
Success brings its problems too, inviting envious glances from jealous
competitors who covet our prize assets. Learning from the Carrick
experience, we have secured key men on renegotiated contracts, which in
turn rewards them for their contribution and loyalty. Dawson,
Lennon, King, Robinson and Keane are all now on long-term contracts,
which offer at least some protection if the top four come calling.
I trust Berby is next. Thatís why European qualification this year
was so desperately important; without it we could not have held on to
all of these players.
will prove to be an expensive business. Our policy of not paying
exorbitant wages means that in some cases salaries are doubling;
apparently Berby signed for only 22k a week. Again, money well
spent, an example of both our prudence and then willingness to change
club is adeptly staying ahead of the game in another aspect of transfer
policy. This summer, competition will be fiercer than ever before.
You canít move for foreign billionaires, swimming in the sea of cash
from the new T.V. deal. Leaving aside the top four, the new owners
of Villa and West Ham will not settle for another season of failure, Man
City are about to be taken over and even Newcastle have finally realised
that actually a manager with some background of success and organisation
might help them.
Ďdonít blinkí tactics of last minute transfer brinkmanship have served
us well but are definitely last yearís thing. With a confidence
born of sound judgement, we know who we want and are moving to secure
their signature now rather than later, Bale being the best example.
Regardless of who is available, undue change will be counter-productive
to the gradual evolution of this new Spurs team. Sign Berby on a
longer-term contract Ė pay him whatever he wants, heís worth double.
Next, the left side. The left-back has been sorted, with Baleís signing
and Leeís resurgent form, although letís not expect too much of a 17
year old, however promising he may be. In left midfield, rather
than look for another flying winger, opt for someone who has the basics
sorted, someone who can defend as well as attack and above all someone
who can cross a ball. The best example in the Premiership is
Pedersen. He did comparatively little against us at the Lane
recently, but three or four telling crosses provided a headed goal plus
chances every time. Think of Berby on the end of some of those.
you know your history ... Tony Galvin is a shining example of what I
mean. Coming from non-league, his skill level was not the highest
and he wasnít even a left-footer, but he got up and down that left side
all day and was always available for the out ball from his more skilful
colleagues, thus giving the side balance and enabling them to show their
talents to the full.
need another striker to compete at this level in all competitions.
Bent will do for me and it looks like he wants to come here, but we will
have to pay over the odds. Pearceís sacking at City was
disappointing, because he was willing to fork out £3m for Mido, but
thereís always a market in Britain for a fat, immobile centre forward.
Similarly, in defence we need cover. Rocha will show well next
year and it looks like the signing of Kaboul, the young French centre
half, is done and dusted, hopefully with Gardner on the way out,
finally, before he plays regularly enough for people to realise that
heís no good.
will do for me. Otherwise, let Jol get to work with what we
already have. Our strong finishing burst masked to some extent the
problems at the back. Dawson and Chimbonda must stop letting
forwards get in front of them on crosses, but with Ledley back there is
talent in abundance, so letís wish the coaching staff a restful close
season, returning refreshed to do the work that will take us to another
Comments always welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org
... no Stuart Hall, but some
in all honesty say that Glasgow ever rated especially highly in my list
of places to visit before I die, but over the last few weeks it has
exerted a growing fascination. After last night this erstwhile
city of culture has assumed its rightful place alongside, say,
Wolverhampton, Catford or Chatham.
morning after the night before, I feel downhearted, but not desperate or
despondent, curious for me because I would normally be utterly
crestfallen after such a defeat.
yesterday progressed, I became more skittish and excitable as kick-off
time grew closer. Iím pretty certain my employer doesnít read MEHSTG,
therefore itís safe to say that my output at work yesterday was frankly
poor, as lousy as our midfield in the first half, in fact. I wonít
tell him if you wonít. Concentration levels wavered as thoughts
strayed increasingly frequently to the game, nothing else mattered.
In the end I took a couple of hours owing to me; why fight it, just roll
how I revelled in that feeling, that wonderful experience of being a
Spurs fan on a night like this. This was the real thing, Spurs,
Europe, under lights, packed crowd, having to chase the game. Walk
round the ground to imbibe the atmosphere, senses heightened.
Scarves and hats a richer blue. Burgers and bagels taste meaty and
sweet, the smell of onions and fat enticing somehow. Discover in the
eyes of perfect strangers that same delighted anticipation, resist
joining overheard snatches of conversation; after all, they are only
saying what you are thinking.
Floodlit games bring unsurpassed thrills and passion. Itís the
contrast of the blinding white sea of light with the surrounding
darkness. As the drama unfolds, the ground is everything, nothing
whatsoever exists beyond the dazzling brilliance contained within the
bowl of the stadium. Reality is Tottenham Hotspur, nothing else
hoped for a stampede of goals leading to triumphal progress against one
of the best teams in Europe. What emerged maybe was something better,
something more lasting and permanent. The intoxicating, heady,
breathless, heart-pounding joy and pain of a European night at White
Hart Lane reaffirmed that Spurs, and only Spurs, can touch the emotions
glad that at an age when I should know better, I still feel giddy and
stupid over my club, that my enthusiasm may be weather-beaten but
remains largely resistant to the eroding forces of commercialisation,
ticket prices, Sky and the Blackwell Tunnel.
was not alone. The message boards throbbed with news and eager
speculation. So many differing perspectives but united in
expectation. Reading accounts of how people were preparing for the
game brought home how we are all part of a devoted, passionate,
worldwide community of Spurs fans. Hereís me worrying about the
North Circular, meanwhile people are rising at some ridiculous hour to
catch the game at the only all-night bar with a T.V. within a hundred
mile radius, or have installed satellite dishes the size of Jodrell Bank
to ensnare a signal on the other side of the world, while others will be
grateful to catch a dodgy internet stream even if the commentary is in
course I wanted the evening to end in glorious victory. Mulling it
over, perhaps what I desired even more was the feeling that at the end,
nothing was left. That whatever the result the team had given
everything. No regrets. And thereís where the disappointment
comes from. We did not give of our best. For much of the
game we had no idea how to break through on goal, or even how to hold
onto the ball, and Sevilleís movement, both in attack and when on the
defensive, put us to shame. Yet we battled on regardless. If
Dawson had scored with ten minutes plus injury time to go, or even
Berbatovís chance a few minutes later, Seville were wobbling.
tempting to draw broader conclusions from last night, tempting but
wrong. We donít know any more or less than we knew already.
The team continues to evolve and progress is tangible in key areas like
organisation, teamwork and player quality. By no means are we the
finished article, but the building of a side capable of stepping up to
challenge the top four and become winners should continue along the same
path. Specifically, we need better quality in certain areas,
starting in defence, followed by left midfield and a fourth striker,
plus above all greater resilience and resolve so that we may play poorly
and win, not concede so many stupid or late goals and, if we do so, to
you know that by now. The plan for the rest of the season is
essentially unchanged too Ė press on for 5th or 6th
and a UEFA place.
examples from last night of what I mean. Jol is doing a fine job,
and Iím proud that the team is in the hands of this decent, committed,
astute man. Iím not going to alter that view just because I
disagreed with some of his decisions last night. We knew there was
a weakness at full back, but moving the outstanding Chimbonda to left
back compounded rather than solved the problem. Disoriented, his
defensive prowess and attacking instincts were nullified far more
effectively than any tactical measure the Seville coach could have
created. Also, more daring substitutions towards the end, when we
were running out of ideas, could have at least shaken up the mix.
understand his reasoning Ė Tainio could have been further exposed if he
played on the left, the lack of experience on the bench meant he stuck
with the tried and tested Ė but I donít agree with him, and I confess
that I really cannot fathom why Zokora came off, unless he carried an
injury that I didnít see. However, this does not indicate a more
fundamental problem with his management. Maybe the ability to
agree to disagree is a sign of a healthy relationship, and hopefully the
sustained support from the crowd in the second half (where else in the
world but Britain would fans roar on a team who were effectively four
goals behind?) plus the fact that many of us stayed to applaud the team
from the field let them know our relationship is strong.
Jermaine Jenas is my other example. Heís perhaps the most talked
about player in the team, partly because opinion is so divided on his
abilities and value to the team, partly because of his potential as the
box to box midfielder we require as part of our growth. We knew
before now that he has to graduate from a developing talent to mature
first team midfielder, one who dominates and leads rather than follows.
He didnít do it yesterday Ė he had a poor game in my view - but the
potential remains, and he deserves more time.
Several players looked despondent at the finish yesterday; letís hope
they can motivate themselves for Wigan on Sunday. That game doesnít have
the power or romance of yesterday but every match between now and the
end of the season is so, so important.
Feel free to comment, email@example.com
a semi defeat sees us go halfway and no further.
Extra time at the Emirates was the most
utterly depressing half hour that I can recall in a long, long time.
The tie had turned in our favour and was there for the taking.
What happened was that for the next thirty minutes we didnít get a kick.
If players canít respond in those circumstances, thereís no hope.
A dreadful performance in the 90 minutes, and in extra time Spurs
managed to create something even worse. Thatís not easy, you know.
The first leg was downright embarrassing; this was a great big steaming,
foul, rank, putrid pile of excrement. Desperate stuff, made worse
because the kids and I were standing right by the gloating Arsenal.
Two nil and we f***ed it up, and they were right. Even after forty
years of supporting Spurs (or perhaps because of), my dislike of the
Arse and their glory hunting fans still runs deep. I know this is
daft, but I was looking at them and thinking, íHow could you ? You
look normal, how can you support them ? Calling us scum Ė no,
everyone knows youíre the scum.í I know it is the ultimate
taboo on MEHSTG and other Spurs sites to do anything to praise the Arse
in any way, shape or form, so please understand I detest them to my very
coreÖBUT Ė why can they find space and pass the ball when we canít ?
Why can their kids do it when we canít ?
This column remains a staunch
supporter of Martin Jol. Heís decent man doing a decent job in
gradually building a strong team. This is the most talented squad
of players in donkeys years. However, as Iíve said before, Jol is
learning too. Heís comparatively inexperienced at the highest
level, and in the home leg he made his first high profile mistake.
Going to 4-5-1 after Berby went off, when we were two up and had the
Arse all over the place sealed the fate of tie right then and there.
It handed over the initiative and confused our players. The Arse
defence had nothing to worry about any more, they could come forward as
we sat back. Granted this formation worked against Chelsea in the
second half, but that was when we had half an hour or so to see through,
not 2 Ĺ hours of football.
It was change for change sake ... too
clever, too complicated. Such complexity is effective only when
the basics have been sorted, and right now for Spurs they are not.
In the English game the midfield must get back to defend and get forward
to support the attack. Itís physically and mentally demanding but
thereís just no alternative. In the second leg, the four
midfielders drifted around aimlessly for the most part, neither
attacking nor defending and frankly for some of the time tragically
spectating. Iíll give Jenas some slack because heís coming back to
full fitness, but if heís not fit then he shouldnít have played or he
should have been subbed earlier, although Jolís options were reduced
because of Gardnerís recklessness and the need to sub him off before he
was booked again and sent off.
Second, we sit back too deep in
midfield. Sure, I get the theory Ė surrender the first ten yards
in your half to crowd space in danger areas closer to your own goal.
Except it doesnít work. Too clever again. These seem to be
Jolís chosen tactics, especially away from home and our away record says
all you need to know about its effectiveness. It might work in
Europe because teams donít compete in the same way, but in the
Premiership you may as well forfeit the points, which would at least
save our travelling fans some time and expense. You have to get
back, get goal-side and get in.
The last thing that I want to see at
Spurs is a team of hulks whose idea of practicing technique is to go
home and kick the cat and who run for 90 minutes and then go on a 10k to
work off excess energy. That doesnít excuse Lennon, Ghaly or
Malbranque from the imperative to work back. A couple of years ago
I had a brief chat with John Pratt when he was in the Spurs store.
We were talking about Steve Carr and I said something about liking full
backs who tackle hard. He politely replied that a lot more was
required these days. In fact, players who fly into tackles run the
risk of over-committing themselves, fine if the tackle successfully
dispossesses the opponent, but thereís no margin for error Ė miss and
youíre out the game for that attack. And this from the
archetypical 70s all-action and effort midfielder ! Just get in
the way, get goal-side, stick a foot in, channel the opposition infield,
anything but donít sit back. This was an underrated aspect of
Carrickís game, hardly an intimidating presence, but he learned to take
up the right defensive positions and used his technique to nudge the
Third, for the umpteenth time, Iím
sick of our strikers drifting around waiting for something to happen.
In the second leg, as we built up a head of steam towards the end of the
ninety minutes, as the ball came into the box Defoe takes up a position
on the far post. Fine, but that means there are two or three
defenders between him and the ball. Keano meanwhile is finding
space around the edge of the area Ė cunning like a fox, except the ball
is invariably somewhere else, hopefully going into areas that cause more
danger and panic. Both are taking the soft option Ė they need to
get in where it hurts in the six yard box.
I was writing this stuff last year but
it seems we are treading water. The players have to take some
responsibility. Iím particularly disappointed in Zokora, who is
not having the impact I anticipated. Heís mobile, very fit, a good
passer of the ball and above all experienced in what is still a
comparatively young team. I envisaged that he would be sweeping up
in front of our defence, organising and prompting attacks with the
occasional incisive foray forward. Weíve tantalisingly seen him do
all of these things, but right now heís not doing any of them, and when
he tracks back he loses players as they come into the box. Maybe
Iím asking too much too soon Ė foreign players take a surprising amount
of time to adjust to the Premiership, whatever their background.
He is high quality and Iím sure he will find form in the future.
As I am briefly in charitable mood, letís just say that Ghaly has plenty
of room for development. The way heís operating now, that should
definitely be in the reserves. Against Arsenal, simply rubbish.
So weíre back to Jol again. He
still hasnít sorted the basics and the Arsenal tie has exposed failings
that have been around for a while now. Weíve become a soft touch
again, and teams in the Premiership have quickly caught on. You
can imagine the team talk for any opposition manager now Ė they donít
need a UEFA advanced award or pro-zone computer graphics, just get
amongst them. A goal down at half time Ė donít worry, apply a bit
of pressure and theyíll cave in.
On the field there is a distinct lack
of leadership. Players look bewildered when things turn against
them. If we go a goal down confidence evaporates and they struggle
to come up with any ideas or craft. If a late equaliser, then a
near winner, with 5,000 away fans and the prospect of a cup final cannot
lift them, then there is a big, big problem. Thereís a lot of talk
about the need for a leader on the pitch. Iím sceptical about the
suggestions that all our problems will be solved by shouting and fist
pumping. Ledleyís been criticised because heís not in your face
all the time, but leadership can be by example, and this is where we are
really missing his calm assurance and authority. Itís what you do
that counts, and nobody else can counterbalance our timid uncertainly in
the face of adversity. One player who could and should be offering
some reassurance is Paul Robinson, and sadly this most committed and
genuine of individuals wobbles every time he has to do anything other
than make a reaction save, in fact any time he has to think about
anything. Again, a quality player, so he needs our support not
criticism, but I donít see us making great strides until he too
reasserts his dominance of his penalty area.
Maybe I need a bit of perspective.
Letís not get too carried away here. A painful defeat,
undoubtedly, both in terms of the opponents and in the manner of the
defeat, but although the Arse were the better team they didnít get ahead
until well into extra time and then only because of a crazy mistake.
And hey, itís February and we are still in two cup competitions.
The League Cup was spiced up because of the tie against the old enemy
but no amount of titillation can obscure the fact that this competition
is the leftovers. The match at the Emirates was the only game in
the cup run where I invested my hard earned cash. However, it did
expose some potentially serious problems that have been covered up by
our home form and cannot be explained away just by the absence of two
outstanding players, Lennon and Berbatov. Time for some harsh
words and hard work.
Comments welcome on this or
any of my pieces in the mag or on the site:
Rotationís Making Me Giddy.
I know someone who knows
someone who knows Jermain Defoe. Well, not so much knows him as has met
him a few times. Briefly. Now admittedly this is a shaky basis upon
which to draw any conclusions about the man. Indeed you may well have
already consigned the forthcoming insights to the recycle bin of the
mind alongside those ubiquitous urban myths. Thereís always a bloke in
the pub who is certain of dodging the breathalyser in the same way his
mate did, by sucking a two-penny piece (Ďbeat the breath test, suck a
copperí), or is convinced his mateís labrador was eaten by giant
alligators living in the sewers, having been flushed down the toilet as
unwanted baby pets. Funny how these things always happen to friends of
friends, but never to you anyone you actually know.
Anyway, I can not so
exclusively reveal that Jermain is a personable sort of bloke, friendly,
chatty and unsurprisingly not short of self-confidence, with an eye for
the ladeees. In keeping with his image he drives an Aston Martin,
which can become a target for the expectorating talents of certain local
youth, no doubt a sign of appreciation dating back to í77 and the days
of punk. Heís good mates with Carlton Cole and SWP, plays poker with
Anton Ferdinand and pays for a West Stand box so his mum can watch every
None of which holds any
particular interest. After all, this column is about Spurs: itís not so
much ĎHeatí magazine, more ĎAbsolute Zeroí, if not ĎHelloí then
ĎGoodbye, Good Luck and Good Riddance.í However, when my
friend-of-a-friend commiserated with him after the Port Vale game,
saying how tough it had been, JD replied, ďItís O.K., it wasnít
Now Iíve got news for
you, JD, actually it was important. Important for the clubís chances of
a cup-run and earning some of the cash that pays your ludicrously
inflated salary, important for your self-respect so you donít carry the
tag of losing to a team composed of players who are nowhere near as
talented as you are, and important for the simple glory of Tottenham
Hotspur winning a trophy after all these years. Did I forget the fans
who paid cold hard cash to watch you take it easy ?
In my pre-season piece
for the fanzine, I suggested that Defoe could use the motivation of his
shabby treatment by Sven to overcome his lack of positional and tactical
awareness and mature into a top class striker, as befits someone of his
undeniable talent. His comment about Port Vale may have been just a
throwaway line, except that in the context of his early season form, it
makes sense. If the attitude is not right, this explains the chances
that came and went. It reached the point where his mis-kicks became the
norm Ė even his stock-in-trade, the ball into the six yard box, suddenly
became impossible for him to convert and on the pitch his confident
swagger morphed into a slumped-shouldered trot.
The Reading game summed
it up. On as sub, he straight away had a chance, a sharp angle but
eminently gettable. He chose to blast it and missed, whereupon Reading
counter-attacked and from a similar angle Doyle, a bog standard
premiership striker, chose to obey the basic law of striking, get it on
target, and the ball rolled inside Robinsonís post. As the season went
on, he didnít learn the lesson. Whacking every opportunity from way out
may garner a few gasps from the crowd but it masked a lack of
self-belief in his ability to take the ball on. Against Charlton,
one of them went in, and far be it from me to complain about a fine
goal, but it was actually his third attempt at a twenty-five yarder in a
second half where he had enough time and space to set up a table and
deckchairs in the centre circle and not be bothered by anyone.
A couple of weeks later
and the Defoe strut is on show once more, just when we were starting to
wonder whether this was to be another example of a player never quite
fulfilling his potential after a high profile move to the Lane. Two
against Villa to add to the beauty against Bucharest, one touch control
from Robboís throw, another to simultaneously take the ball away from
the defender and create an angle, then across the keeper into the net.
Goal-scoring of the very highest quality and itís a joy to behold.
Jermaine is a god-fearing
young man, apparently, but personally Iíd rather place my trust in the
service heís receiving from Berbatov, wonderful again against Villa, and
the exquisite passing of Tom Huddlestone. But thereís another factor,
which brings me to the thorny subject of rotation. If ever Jol needs to
be reminded of the failings of his rotation policy, itís Defoeís current
form. The manager is purring in the press about Defoeís abilities, but
itís Keaneís injury, not his team selection, that has given JD the run
of games that has gradually seen him rediscover his form. The value of
continuity cannot be overstated. Defoe has been able to establish a
partnership with Berbatov, settle into the teamís pattern of play and
have the precious opportunity to take risks and make a few mistakes
without always looking over his shoulder. Delighted as I am for him, I
feel for Keano, who Iím sure would have equally benefited if the plaster
cast had been on the other knee, so to speak.
I fully accept that it is
nigh on impossible these days to play the same team for 60 odd matches a
season. I was reminded the other day that in the season in the 80s Villa
won the Championship (yes, younger readers, Iím not joking) they only
used 14 players, a stat straight out of Charlie Buchan, leather
footballs and top-capped boots. However, too much chopping and changing
doesnít help build teamwork. Iím too lazy to look up our comparative
stats Ė the team couldnít be bothered against Arsenal so why should I
make the effort? I am therefore indebted to the Times for an article
stating that just before Keanoís injury, Jol changed one or both
strikers for 14 out of 21 matches.
Itís all very well
ringing the changes when the squad are comfortable with a familiar shape
and pattern, but this is manifestly not the case with us. This is
especially difficult for all our young players, who need time to grow.
Weíve started scoring again because the midfield shape is better defined
Ė different players sometimes but a similar pattern, with the
outstanding Huddlestone visibly profiting from a run in the first team,
Tainio or Zokora alongside him and Malbranqueís touches and probing both
wide-left and coming off the wing into centre-field.
It is for this reason
that I advocate caution in the transfer window. Jol needs to resist his
impulse to add to our 37 midfielders and instead work hard with the
excellent quality we already have. If everyone is fit, three out of four
places are already taken: Lennon and Zokora are certainties and Jol
hasnít pursued Malbranque for a year just for him to make up the
numbers. That leaves one centre midfield spot up for grabs, which I
would give to Huddlestone but itís great to have Jenas, underrated in my
view, and Tainio around too. Murphy is very able, another man who
started to show glimpses of real form when he had a short run in the
team earlier in the season, whilst Ghaly is a good prospect but not
ready yet for extended first team activity.
Letís concentrate on
embedding these players into our system and abandon the Holy Grail of
the left-sided midfielder, which I am coming to believe is actually
another urban myth. The only expenditure I would consider is in defence,
where the extent of Ledleyís injury is an unknown but should there be a
problem we cannot risk having him out for several weeks without
top-class cover, so that excludes Gardner for a start. Another left-back
could help, but only if again this is someone of the highest quality,
anyone anywhere as good as Chimbonda would be perfect. Lee is
unconvincing, although heís having a reasonable time at the moment,
whilst the suspicion remains that Assou-Ekottoís cultured passing and
tackling dissipates when heís put under any serious pressure.
Iíll leave you with a
final chilling thought. Fact Ė it was recently reported that 36 children
have the given name, ĎArsenalí. Clearly this sad abuse is a child
protection matter. I have contacts in Social Services and I promise
action will be taken.
welcome ... I donít get out much these days: firstname.lastname@example.org
... and it all looks so familiar.
Tradition is a word that
frequently comes up in my MEHSTG pieces. Itís part of a sense of
who we are as supporters, why we are Spurs fans, what type of football
we want to see. An important part of our tradition has resurfaced
this season and Iím positively drooling at the prospect.
Iím talking of course
about the prospect of a cup run. The most effective of Spurs teams
in the modern era have been able to beat anyone on their day and to play
above themselves when the challenge is there to be met. Our
flowing, attacking football means that we are always in with a chance Ė
we try to go out and beat teams, not bore them into submission.
Another theme of mine is
how this current squad has the potential to grow and mature into a high
quality team, and as this season pans out it looks like this will
manifest itself in cup success rather than a sustained league challenge.
Iím completely certain that we will gradually climb the table (weíre
thirteenth as I write), and by March I believe we will be challenging
for a Champions League spot, as we did last year. However, right
now our best football is reserved for the cups and Jolís team selections
quite properly avoid complacency against lower league opposition in the
European football has
brought out the best in our pattern of play and thereís no reason why we
canít duplicate this in other competitions. In the league our
strikers get too far forward too early. This creates excessive
distance between them and the midfield, and makes it easier for
defenders to settle in and mark them. Their movement is largely
restricted to lateral runs, severely limiting the possibility of
through-balls because there is so little room to run into. Keane,
Defoe and Berbatov thrive on running onto the ball, so their
effectiveness is nullified.
Contrast this with many
of the goals we have scored in Europe. Theyíve started with our
strikersí movement, coming deeper to pick the ball up. This
enables the midfield to support play better and creates space between
strikers and the goal. In turn we have more options, playing to
our strengths. Keane, Defoe and Berbatov are fast and mobile, so
they can run with the ball or get on the end of passes directed into
that space. Defenders are uncertain. If they come forward to
mark tightly they can be easily turned, or beaten for pace if the ball
is played in behind them. If they drop off, they leave lots of
room in front of them, or become isolated if we take them on one-on-one.
Lennon can slaughter any defence if heís given room to breathe in, let
alone time to work up a head of steam or get behind the opposition back
Thereís no reason why we
canít play like this in the league. Granted our opponents have
been generous in giving us plenty of room, more so than their
Premiership counterparts, but this style is about creating that space.
An experienced Besiktas defence simply had no idea where to go or what
to do, and in Keane and Berbatov surely we have the ideal partnership to
make the most of it. Rotation is out of the question when we have
quality like these two, fine individuals who will blossom into a
terrific partnership. Strikers come in pairs, so the clichť would
have it, and in their case itís true.
It takes all players time
to adjust after a transfer, wherever they come from and whatever they
are used to, and Dimitar Berbatov is no exception. His injury
didnít help his settling in period, but more of a problem has been our
patchy form of late. As we struggled to make chances, heís been
hanging around the box, swallowed up by big defenders as he waits
forlornly for scraps or gets knocked off the aimless long balls belted
vaguely in his direction. Get him to come deeper to lay the ball
off or then run onto a pass or cross, now thereís a different player.
He has the touch of an angel, sufficiently sublime and sure to generate
gasps of appreciation from the Shelf just for his ball control.
For him, hard work is about concentration and application, with effort
expended not so much on mindless physical activity but on focusing on
making the right run at the right time. He fashions space where
there is none, instinctively drifting between defenders and anticipating
the play. Shame his colleagues arenít always tuned in to the same
Tall without being the
biggest, he has to rely on his intelligence to get into space and on his
spring to meet the cross. With the skills and confidence to use
either foot, he only needs one touch, either to lay it off or to achieve
the sweetest of volleys.
He does all this with the
languid insolence of a natural. Itís not so much arrogance, he
just knows heís that good. He celebrates goals with no more than a
smile, turning to the crowd and his team-mates to receive their
congratulations, arm raised in salute, the minimum of fuss. The
choreographed routines of inferior goal-scorers are frankly beneath him.
This is quality, you all saw it, to say or do anything more would serve
only to diminish the moment.
The Spurs player he most
reminds me of is Steve Archibald. Archie was the forerunner of the
modern centre forward. He wanted to be on the move, ball at his
feet, get into space, wait for the right moment rather than slog it out
with Neanderthal centre halves for 90 minutes. His brain was his
most potent weapon, and like Berbatov he could operate at the highest
level without apparently trying. It didnít seem to matter all that
much Ė get up, (and most of the time he looked like he had only just got
up), have a kick-about with the lads, get the beers in. It was
left to us to marvel and wonder; for Archie it was just another day.
Similar goal celebration too, single arm raised, no bother.
I recall one goal,
against Leicester I think it was. At 2-2 the crowd were baying for
just one extra ounce of effort. Archie meanwhile was strolling
around in midfield when an awkward, bouncing ball was played through to
him about 30 yards out. As the errant pass sailed high in the air,
instead of preparing to take it down and build the attack, he swung his
right foot as it fell, volley dipping into the corner, top right, turned
away with a shrug and ambled back to the halfway line.
Weíve seen many great
footballers over the years at the Lane, but the ones that stand out in
the memory, the special ones, the heroes, are those that do things just
that little bit differently, and I do believe that with Dimitar Berbatov
Iím on the verge of hero worship at an age when frankly I should know
In the past thereís been
a price to pay for the cup runs, which is a corresponding inability to
achieve the consistency required for a sustained championship bid.
Iím talking here about the championship in the proper sense of the word,
rather than its modern pretensions that is yet another example of the
contempt in which football authorities hold the fans. ĎLetís call
the second division the championship, that will make it more important
and the beauty of it is, no one will ever notice.í Itís the
SECOND DIVISION, for goodness sake. For this year at least, itís a
price worth paying. Weíre not ready for the Champions League, and
Iím definitely up for some silverware, hopefully not the Second Rate
Cup. Actually, Iíll survive if we donít win anything, what I
really want is a return of a feeling that has been absent for at least
fifteen years, that we are genuine contenders (I know we won the League
Cup in 99 but thatís not what Iím talking about. That team didnít make
the heart race, be honest). Writing this makes me realise just how
much I yearn to sense again that intoxicating mixture of excitement and
Turning to a couple of
other gems, does anyone share my feeling that in watching Lennon and
Huddlestone at the start of their careers we are looking at players on
the threshold of greatness ? There are moments in their
performances that are the raw material of legends, the times when you
will turn to your grandchildren and say, ĎI was there.í And in
case you think Iím getting carried away, much has been written about our
little Aaron, but stop and think about it Ė when have you ever seen, and
I mean ever, anyone who is this fast, this adept with the ball at his
feet, this able to bamboozle any defender ? Jimmy Johnstone was
hard to stop, and I never really saw Cliff Jones, whilst other wingers
tended to be stronger, like David Wagstaffe, Leighton James and Tony
Morley. Willie Morgan and Charlie Cooke were tricky, but didnít
have the pace, whilst Best wasnít an out and out winger. Lennon is
an absolute 24 carat, Koh-in-Nor of a diamond, letís look after him
With Huddlestone, he has
great passing ability and picks out people very early. His total
lack of pace may prevent him reaching the highest heights but he has
that air of calmness and time that characterise all the midfield
masters, or central defenders come to that. Heíll learn not to go
to ground so swiftly, and how to use his brain to make up for the speed
Having written all this
on Sunday morning, I canít let the Chelsea game pass by without comment.
I wonít bore you Ė the match surpasses the need for analysis or debate.
This was about those moments when players discover what playing for
Tottenham means, when fans and team are as one. Special kudos to
Robbie Keane, who kept his brain working despite running himself into
the ground in an unfamiliar position, and Michael Dawson, who won
everything and got in the way of everything, because above all he wanted
it more than the overpaid Chelsea whinging fops. An honourable
mention in despatches to Pascal Chimbonda on the day when he truly
became a Spurs player. That Lampard tackle really hurt Ė it was
right in front of me and I heard and felt it from 14 rows back Ė but he
got up to make countless tackles and headers as we were penned in during
the second half. At his best when the pressure is turned up,
thatís the mark of quality and heís worth every single penny.
A thought to leave
you with. Hereís a quote from Ashley Ďgreedy bastardí Cole in
'At Arsenal it used to be some of the other players who
got the abuse,' said Cole, who described the experience of Sol Campbell,
who moved from Spurs to their hated rivals, as 'frightening when we went
there. I was intimidated.' See, we got through. S.Cumball
tried to pretend that we didnít matter but we do, Sol, we do.
Feel free to comment
email@example.com. Go on, itís lonely out here
The Premier League is upside down.
OK. OK. I know.
I should have seen it coming. Inevitable. Should have known.
Only to be expected. The natural order of things is restored.
Normal service has been resumed, do not adjust your sets.
Oh, come on, youíre to
blame too ... you canít get away with it that easily. When you
predicted fourth after five games, you didnít mean fourth from bottom.
Even after all these years together, we never learn. After all,
Spurs are a club steeped in tradition, a quality that has reasserted
itself in spectacular fashion. Yes, once again we are
under-performing. With the Spurs, one thing is certain. When
it comes to letting us down, they never let us down.
The Spurs websites and
forums buzz with accounts of our fall from grace, but following deep and
careful consideration, Iíve discovered the true cause and I can share
the powerful explanatory theory exclusively with you, dear reader. The
problem is not so much the failings of individual players, although some
are doing little to justify their first team place. Rather, it is
about the glaring failure of teamwork. Iíve named this grand
theory Deficiencies in Collective Strategy, or D.I.C.S. for short.
DICS can be defined as ďthe inability of a collection of players to
combine for 90 minutes to implement a tactical plan or strategy towards
the common goal of winning a football match.Ē To put it another
way, as a team theyíre thick. Thick as a brick. Thick as a
The DICS are everywhere
at the Lane at the moment, exhibiting classic symptoms of chronic DICS.
DICS sufferers suddenly forget the most the basic of footballing skills.
Spurs, for example, have forgotten that most goals are scored by passing
the ball to players in or near the penalty area. Stricken by DICS,
we become totally unable to do so, powerless in the face of an
overwhelming desire to slot precision passes right onto defendersí feet
or to welly the ball forward aimlessly.
Different DICS for
different players, as the saying goes. Mido, for example, believes
that adopting a hopeful and purposeful expression will excuse him from
the need to contribute anything remotely meaningful. Defoe on the
other hand suffers from the deranged delusion that Premiership defenders
will be outwitted by a cunning combination of scowling and standing
DICS often exhibit
amnesia. In our case, we have forgotten totally the tactics that
enabled us to defeat teams last year, and Sheffield Utd this term, such
as swift passing, forward runs and interchanging positions, with Keane
coming deep to outwit packed defensive midfields. Instead, chasing
the game against Everton and Fulham, we bring on three strikers, all of
whom hang around up front, leaving colleagues to provide long balls and
plenty of heading practice for opposition defenders. Some say it
is a sign of our generosity that we offer this service of extra
training, but Iím not so sure. Itís DICS at work again.
Fear not, help is at
hand. Trauma and addiction can be overcome with appropriate mutual
advice and self-help. Daniel Levy has therefore created a DICS
support group. All you have to do is hand over at least £700 a
year and then you can get together to share with the lads two or three
times a month. You know itís for their own good.
The real solution lies in
the hands of Martin Jol, or Doctor Jol as he will henceforth be known.
Heís been given a smooth ride so far, and quite right too. Since
he has been in charge the club has made steady, satisfactory progress.
Now weíll see what heís made of, as he faces up to the first real
problems on the pitch that he has had to deal with. Heís no nearer
to the solving the puzzle that I posed in my last column, namely how to
turn defence into attack, and thereby create shape and purpose.
Billed as a defensive midfielder, Zokora has the potential and ability
to become a top class all round midfielder. To be fully effective,
he needs to be released occasionally from defensive duties to make more
of those thrilling forward surges. Problem is, Murphy is not the
perfect partner for him. Murphy is a neat player, who at his peak
is an accurate, perceptive passer of the ball. Heís a midfielder
whose best position is just that, in the middle of the pitch, neither
shielding the defence or making attacking runs into the box.
Therefore, if Zokora is forward thereís no cover and if he defends, then
there is no support for the strikers at the other end.
Much has been made of a
lack of width, especially in Lennonís absence and without a left-sided
player. However, with a solid central midfield, we can get round
this by getting the full-backs forward. The real problem for Jol
is to instil a sense of urgency and pace into the team. Itís the
passing and movement throughout the whole team that is so desperately,
This isnít about waiting
on Lennonís return. Heís fabulous, naturally, but heís young and
gaining experience, not the Second Coming. We must treasure this
precious jewel and not crush him with the burden of our expectation.
Not everything Jol has
tried in the past has come off, but at least he appears to have the
courage of his convictions and is decisive, unafraid to change things if
they are not working. Heís facing his first serious challenge now,
and Iím just getting a tiny sense that heís not sure why itís not all
going according to plan. His disgust at Ledleyís miss against
Liverpool betrays his underlying frustration.
So far the media have
been kind to him. There have been few Ďcrisis at Spursí stories,
but watch out - even media darling Stuart Pearce has come in for the
treatment in the last fortnight as the press suddenly realise that there
is more to effective management than jumping around hysterically on the
touchline for 90 minutes. Of course thereís no crisis, but who
would have thought that we would approach a home match against
Portsmouth with such anxiety. Defeat could put us into the bottom
three. Mendes and Davis will play a blinder, thus questioning
Jolís judgment in the transfer market, and of course thereís Mr
And while Iím on the
subject, I detest his very presence at the Lane because of the way heís
treated us fans. Believe me when I say this, please. But do
we really have to express this via a chant that expresses some of the
foulest, defamatory and discriminatory sentiments I have ever heard at a
football ground. If nothing else it makes Spurs fans look
Iíll leave you with a
final chilling thought. Grzegorz Rasiak is the highest scorer in
the top two divisions. Fact.
Comments on this
or any other of my pieces are welcome Ė
The transfer window shuts ...
So after several months
starved of our Lilywhite fix, off we go and suddenly it all grinds to a
halt for a fortnight. Teased to a fever pitch of excitement, the
international break is a footballing coitus interruptus. The
passion of the premiership is swiftly dampened by two dull and dreary
England fixtures. Thoughts drift to the really important issues
surrounding the national team, like when will McLarenís face become so
red it glows in the dark (my top three red-faced managers, in reverse
order Ė McLaren, Ferguson, Clough), or at the current rate of progress,
how long before Gerrardís forehead disappears totally and his eyebrows
and hairline meet ?
At least the fans got
aroused in the first place, which is more than can be said for Spurs.
The worst thing about this break is that we have two whole weeks to
ponder on the Everton game, the sort of desperate and dire performance
that I truly believed the Jolspurs had forever banished.
That match was lost in
the first five minutes of the second half. Presumably fortified by a
combination of an inspirational team talk and energy drinks (whatever
happened to the half-time cup of tea ? Oh how I long for those long-
gone simpler times), Spurs sat back and, well, bottled it. There is a
real problem here about the psychology of a team that responds in such a
directionless, unmotivated manner that no amount of business in the last
days of the transfer window can put right. Itís a fundamental
flaw, broadcasting the message loud and clear that Spurs are a soft
Carrickís departure has
had a greater effect than was anticipated. Over the last 18 months we
gradually developed a style of play that has been disrupted now. In my
pre-season piece in MEHSTG, I enthused with great certainty, perhaps
misplaced, that Jol had this sorted tactically, with Zokora the fulcrum
of a Ďpass and moveí style. However, the evidence so far points to a
distinct lack of creativity and a collective inability to consistently
perform the key task of any midfield, to turn defence into attack. We
donít have to do this in the same way Carrick did, but we do have to do
it, and the lack of shape and ideas against the massed ranks of Bolton
and Everton defenders shows that so far we donít really know how.
Carrick is missed in
other ways too. We donít know the full significance amongst the squad of
Robinsonís comments in the News of the World that we should not have
sold him. More prosaically, thereís no six footer at the near post to
head away a near post corner or free kick, contributing further to our
dangerous fragility at dead-ball situations and directly to the first
We continue to invest
heavily in new players to put things right. Chimbonda comes highly
rated by perhaps the best judges, his peers, as he was voted right-back
in last seasonís PFA team of the year. 6 million is way over the
odds for a full-back but worth every penny if he solves that problem
position, although I am always worried about players with only one good
season behind them. Itís a shame that Leeís proposed transfer to
Roma fell through at the last minute. Heís done nothing in his time at
the club and despite his experience he has never looked a premiership
Chimbonda should settle
quickly. Heís used to England, the Spurs French contingent now
outnumbers the Dutch and anyway he and Jenas have plenty in common as
they reminisce over their bench-warming in the World Cup:
ďZut alors JJ, Spurs
really are a big club, just look at these seats in the dugout, cíest
magnifique. Just like the ones in Hamburg.Ē
ďGood call Pascal, but
not a patch on Stuttgart. The plastic roof creates such a
delightful early evening sun-trap.Ē
Steed Malbranque comes
recommended by unimpeachable sources, no less a judge than the Prime
Minister himself. Politicsí Special One named Malbranque as a top
player during his recent appearance on Football Focus. Blair of
course is about as spontaneous as a solar eclipse, so no doubt an
unimaginable amount of taxpayersí money funded the spin-doctors who came
up with this gem. To squeeze every last drop of supposed
credibility from his 15 minutes on the BBC sofa, Blair had to come over
as someone who knew his football, so rather than go for the obvious
England stars he opted for a skilful, creative player whose class is
undoubted but not immediately obvious.
I hate to admit this, but
actually Tony, or rather his staff, have got it just about right (now
try the same process for Iraq, maybe ?) and a snip at £2.5 million.
Expect ripples of appreciative applause from the East Upper, rather than
unadulterated adulation from the Park Lane. Routledge will gain
valuable premiership experience on loan but he must wonder about his
future at the Lane. We pursued him so vigorously for so long, yet thus
far his only claim to fame is that in his single home appearance he
suffered the ignominy of being substituted after himself being brought
on as a sub. If heís not up to it, then why not sell him, or am I
being entirely cynical in wondering if heís being kept as insurance in
case ManURowdies come in with another £18.6 million, this time for Aaron
Jol is apparently relaxed
only when he has about 37 midfielders to choose from, so right now he
must be feeling good again. However, without a left sided player
someone will still have to fill in, potentially unbalancing the whole
team. Heís also got to bite the bullet and drop Davids. However
much Mr. Ed is Jolís mouthpiece on the pitch, he is becoming
increasingly ineffective. No amount of dashing around can hide the
fact any longer that he is half a yard slow, hence all his bookings for
mistimed tackles, and his poor passing and decision-making in attack
hampers our ability to create chances for our able strike force.
Jol also seems hesitant
to give Zokora a prominent role. Maybe he is tired after the World
Cup or is not settling well in this country, but he needs an extended
run in the team, including permission to make a few mistakes along the
way, to boost his confidence and influence our pattern of play.
The excellence of the
performance against Sheffield Utd cannot be explained away just by their
inadequacies, obvious though they were. Once Keane dropped deeper,
it nullified their five man midfield, used his awareness and passing to
the full and created space both for Berbatov and for midfield runners,
resulting in a fabulous display. So why didnít they do that
against Everton ? In stark contrast, he stayed forward so our
three strikers got in each otherís way, and once Jenas switched to
full-back he was easy to keep in safe areas. Letís be optimistic;
Sheffield Utd showed that we can create exciting, purposeful football
and we certainly have more than sufficient talent amongst the current
squad. Oh, and Ledleyís back soon ! Itís time to stop and
think about what we can achieve Ė maybe the break will do us all good.
Comments on this
or any other of my pieces are welcome Ė