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.

          Updates :
          kuyt-us interruptus 04.09.2006
          snafu 30.09.2006
          it's tradishnul  06.11.2006
          motion sickness  28.12.2006
          standing still 02.02.2007
          jeux sans frontiers  13.04.2007
          i want it now  05.06.2007
          suckers barca-ing up the wrong tree  23.06.2007
          closing in  02.08.2007
 

more fisher king articles ...

            Page 2
            Page 3

closing in

... on the season and fourth place ?

 

02.08.2007

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 entire history.  

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 businessman. 

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 together.  

Sharing is good for the soul, alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk or mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk 

 

suckers barca-ing up the wrong tree

... where's your Henry gone ?

 

23.06.2007

When we 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. 

When I 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. 

We 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. 

I 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. 

In 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.  

Back 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. 

Levy 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.  

Two 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. 

And at 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: alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk or mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk

 

 

i want it now

... instant_transfer_gratification_required.com

 

05.06.2007

Thereís a 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.  

Only 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. 

As the 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. 

If 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. 

Could.  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. 

Facts 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.    

So 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. 

This 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 2007-8.   

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.  

This 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 and adapt.  

The 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.  

Our 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.  

And if 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. 

We 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. 

That 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 level.
 

Comments always welcome, alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk 

 

jeux sans frontiers

... no Stuart Hall, but some slapstick nonetheless.

 

13.04.2007

I canít 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.   

The 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. 

As 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 with it. 

And 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 matters.   

I had 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 so profoundly.  

So Iím 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.   

And I 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 Mandarin.  

So, of 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.  

Itís 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 keep going.  

But 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.  

Two 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. 

I can 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, alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk  

 

 standing still 

... a semi defeat sees us go halfway and no further.

 

02.02.2007

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 ball away. 

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: alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk 

 

 

motion sickness

... Rotationís Making Me Giddy.

 

27.12.2006

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 game.  

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 important.Ē 

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.  

Comments always welcome ... I donít get out much these days: alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk

 

 it's tradishnul  

... and it all looks so familiar.

06.11.2006

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 Whateveritisandwhoreallycaresanyway Cup.  

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 four.  

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 wavelength.  

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 better.     

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 belief.   

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 carefully. 

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 deficiency. 

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 Saturdayís Guardian: '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 alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk. Go on, itís lonely out here !

 

 snafu    

The Premier League is upside down.

30.09.2006

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 thick brick.  

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 still.  

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, agonisingly slow.  

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 Unmentionable. 

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 obnoxious.  

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 alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk

 

 

 kuyt-us interruptus  

The transfer window shuts ...

04.09.2006

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 touch. 

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 Bolton goal.   

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 class player.  

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 Lennon. 

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 alfie.conn@yahoo.co.uk

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