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.
imagine a warm, safe place - 15.03.2008
shut that window - 13.02.2008
telling transfer tales - 05.01.2008
route map - 30.11.2007
spurs appoint caretaker manager - 31.10.2007
the dan side - 10.09.2007
running the wrong race - 22.08.2007
starting afresh - 08.08.2007
previous and more fisher king articles ...
imagine a warm, safe place
... one cup in the bag, out of another and still a future to play for.
In case youíre still feeling blue after Wednesday nightís penalties, fear not, help is at hand, courtesy of the Guardian earlier this week:
ďAustrian psychologists are offering fans courses on 'despair management' ahead of Austria's expected Euro 2008 humiliation. 'Fans can turn defeat into internal joy,' says course leader Henriette Wursag. 'It's about avoiding the sense of catastropheí.Ē
The path to this sporting nirvana is surprisingly straightforward. ďFans must breathe deeply,Ē urges Frau Wursag, ďall the way from the stomach.Ē Thatís all there is to it, apparently, although in my case I had better give nature a helping hand and have an extra couple of puffs on my inhaler, just to be on the safe side.
Take a few seconds for calm relaxation. Visualise the moment when JJ hit that penalty and you realised, a fraction of a second before it reached the keeper, that it was a dud. Now breathe deeply.
Itís not working, is it.
Internal joy ? Frau Wursag, every Spurs fan can provide the very definition of internal joy, it was when the ref blew the chuffing final whistle at the end of the League Cup Final. That was internal joy with huge helpings of external thrown in for good measure, the first manifestation of which in my case could be observed in crazy jumping up and down and insanely hugging everyone within, well, hugging distance for at least the next half an hour, continued down Wembley Way and has persisted in the form of a self-satisfied grin ever since.
Perhaps this is the reason why our exit from the UEFA Cup has not required me to seek professional help. I feel strangely numb and disconnected from it all. Disappointed certainly, unquestionably rueful of missed chances and the inequities of penalties deciding a game we undoubtedly deserved to win, but not despondent or especially downhearted. For me this is a decidedly unusual reaction. Even after all these years I still take football far too seriously and continue to get into a lather about every Spurs match. During the final it all became a bit too much. Halfway through extra time I started to feel a bit wobbly. The blokes in front of me couldnít watch, they spent half the time judging what was going on by looking at my reaction, but I must have been bad because they were helping me calm down. Mind you, they were totally pissed, the stewards missed the hip flask on the way in. At my age I should know better, but I wanted to win so much. At least I have the distinction of being the only person at Wembley doing relaxation exercises.
My self-delusion that the Birmingham game didnít matter lasted until Saturday evening, when an involuntary and spontaneous rant at the defensive shortcomings exposed in the brief MotD highlights suddenly surfaced, as well as being reminded by my son, who went by coach to the game, that he and many others did not invest considerable time and money to watch the players take it easy. Even against the most appalling West Ham side that Iíve ever seen, my stomach was in knots during the second half, fearing that we were but one Robbo ricket from throwing away an easy three points.
After some reflection, Iíve concluded that in addition to the lingering Wembley joy, the main reason behind my untypical reaction is that the UEFA defeat does not have any great significance for our future. It cannot dilute the enormous impetus of winning silverware and the lessons learned, namely that we have to adapt to different opposition and not make silly mistakes (the first leg), finish teams off (the second leg), improve our overall team play (both legs) and secure better players in certain positions were all things we knew already. We have a quality squad and above all, an extraordinarily astute and driven manager who will undoubtedly lead us to bigger and better things.
In Ramos we trust and I sincerely trust that any complacency in my attitude does not mirror the playersí reaction. They need to find motivation for the rest of the season. Despite their recent liking for the number Ďfourí, the Hammers are still five points ahead of us and it would be easy for us to fade into mid-table mediocrity. Ideally, the simple desire to win everything will be sufficient, but this is a cynical old world. So, if I were Levy, I would offer to spread around some of the prize money for a higher placed finish and then ask Ramos to forcibly remind them that many are playing for their places next season.
Running through the current squad, in my view the following are certain to figure prominently next year, barring injury and assuming we can resist multi-million pound offers (a big assumption but weíll leave that for another day):
Hutton, King, Woodgate, Bale (and while we are about it, would you swap that back four for any other in the Prem Ė I wouldnít) Jenas, Keane and Berbatov.
Of the rest, itís unlikely that Huddlestone, Zokora and Malbranque would be sold (and neither should they be) and the recently acquired Gunter and Gilberto will surely be around too and these players have a real incentive to cement places in the starting line-up.
Others have a shorter shelf-life. Until now Iíve acknowledged Robboís downturn in form but have been reluctant to chastise him unduly. I like the guy: heís done well in the past, is loyal and respectful of the fans and seems a thoroughly decent bloke. But heís run out of chances for me. Against West Ham, in a game we totally dominated we were never entirely safe because of the anxiety every time the ball came near him. His positioning for free-kicks was exposed against Chelsea and Birmingham, and even in the penalty shoot-out he was committing himself so early that by the time the PSV players made contact with the ball he was virtually lying on the ground. These may seem trivial compared with the other mistakes in his wretched season, but they are significant because at dead-ball situations he has the time to think and plan, and indeed take heed of coaching advice, yet he is making terrible decisions even then. With Cernyís contract up, they will both leave.
Others with no future here are Gardner, Rocha and Lee. Chimbonda doesnít want to play for us, so the only comment I have is Ė goodbye.
Next, the Ďpromisingí youngsters. Kaboul displays ability and immaturity in equal measure, while Taarabt, hugely skilful, has yet to find a niche in the style and pace of English football. I wonder if he is best suited to a roving role playing off a main striker. Boateng has done absolutely nothing for me, but the manager wanted him. OíHara has come from nowhere (well, Millwall ... same thing) and has hugely impressed as much for his attitude as his talent. Dervitte and Rose will surely improve, but Assou-Ekotto may never recover from his serious injury. So they will probably all be around next year, but Kaboul and Boateng are the most vulnerable.
The rest have the incentive not only to start but to stay at the club. Lennon could, and perhaps should be classed as a Ďpromising youngsterí, to free him from the burden of expectation and allow him to develop. But whereas Hudd and OíHara have moved forward, Lenny has become increasingly frustrating to watch, especially with his final ball. Iím willing to be patient, but Ramos may not be so tolerant and a big offer could be accepted. Another vulnerable player is Dawson. Again, I would keep him, no question, but the point here is that from what Ramos has seen during his tenure at the club, he cannot be overly impressed. Daws was awful pre-Christmas and although he has improved since then, heís still making one or two mistakes in each game.
I think Tainio provides excellent balance in centre midfield (witness Arsenal and ManU), heís willing and energetic and I would keep him, but heís another who may fall well down the pecking order.
And then thereís Darren Bent. Promising, a proven premiership goalscorer, an international and an injury victim, but whatever anyone says, that huge fee is a millstone round his neck already. I think Ramos will see him as a challenge and can make something of him.
All of this is conditional on whether or not better players are available in the summer, and the likelihood is that Ramos and Levy will be able to improve the squad by the addition of a top-quality keeper and defensive midfielder, another centre half and striker, and perhaps another wide player with a strong work ethic and high passing/crossing ability, as opposed to Lennonís dribbling and pace. So whatever the potential of, say, Lennon, Bent, Dawson or Kaboul, if we can buy someone better then we will take the money. At least they have an incentive to pull their finger out for the rest of this season, which hopefully will not peter out after all.
shut that window !
... after the sales are over.
OK, now stand up straight, up on your toes and a deep breath in, hold it there, feel the oxygen working through your body, exhale and down Ė and relax. Soothe your fevered brow and sleep soundly in your beds; the transfer window frenzy is over, at least until the summer. Sadly I have no such remedy for the apoplexy caused by conceding injury time goals from set-pieces.
One diligent soul calculated that in January the media linked us with 157 different transfer targets, proof, if any were required, of Uncle Alís message to you all last time Ė itís all lies. In the end weíve done very well. Hutton and Woodgate were terrific against ManU, Gunter is one for the future while a player of Gilbertoís pedigree must bring something to the club. Stalteri, Gardner and Routledge are not good enough to achieve the heights to which we aspire, and my only worry is that Everton will discover how poor Tony G is before the time comes to stump up a fee in the summer.
Like many people, Iím surprised Defoe left the club, at least without a replacement being signed. I suspect both sides played out their hands to the last. Ramos gave him not only the captaincy but every opportunity to sign the new deal, while JD made all the right noises about wanting to stay. Notice how in particular he loved the club and especially loved us, the fans, we were the reason he wanted to stay. Oh, but wait a moment, heís left and now Portsmouth have great fans and thatís one of the reasons he wanted to move there. Money has nothing to do with it, I suppose. Perish the thought.
Iím sad to see him go. If he wonít sign for a few more years, then I understand and wish him well, but it gets my goat how these players always take the fansí name in vain. If you want the money, then take it Jermaine, but donít drag me into it.
For me, the central significance of the transfer is as much how we bought players as who we bought. Before the start of this season, I wrote a passionate piece claiming that success was likely not just because we had a strong squad, but mainly because the three key people at the heart of this club, manager, chairman and director of football, were united, working as one in the pursuit of glory. This quickly turned out to be a triumph of optimism over reality. Several months on, if nothing has changed then we are merely storing up problems for the future rather than raising the club to the status of serious challengers at the very peak of English football.
Everything that Ramos has done since he arrived contains a single message Ė this guy is his own man. This guy is in charge. Even when his team selections and daring substitutions have not come off, which so far is thankfully rarely, what stays with you is his decisive, bold and commanding persona. Heís supposedly close to the players and spends time with them on an individual basis, but you sense that no one is going to argue with him.
And so it is with the transfer window. Here he is in his own words from the Guardian:
Ramos has sought to clarify his position regarding transfer business. Under his predecessor, Martin Jol, the sporting director Damien Comolli had the power of veto over potential signings but Ramos insisted he had similar authority within Spurs' committee system. "I've already said no [to a player] on various occasions, maybe six to eight [times]," he said. "They have been players that I don't like and that aren't right for the team. The decisions at the moment are taken communally. There is a consensus on whether a player can come related to his quality, price and availability. We take those decisions together. It is not only one person that decides."
Ramos is happy with the present situation. If he says no, then no means no. This was simply not the case when Jol was in charge of team affairs. The guy who manages the team must in my view have ultimate authority over the personnel at the club, and Ramos has that. The main evidence to support this is simply that Ramos is here; I do not believe that he would have accepted the job if it did not come with a guarantee of a right of veto regarding transfers.
In searching for further evidence of the clubís renewed organisation and purpose, I was drawn to a series of posts on various message boards by someone using the alias Devonian. I have no idea who he is. Maybe heís a MEHSTG regular. What he has to say is a thought-provoking insiderís view that may make you revise your ideas of the way Spurs go about their business.
Devonian is a long-standing supporter who is also a major investor in the club. To safeguard his investment, he treats the club as he would any other business, namely he combines information in the public domain with a carefully cultivated contact list in order to make informed decisions about his money. He concludes that Spurs are an extremely well-run business. In particular, our ratio of salaries to income and turnover is one of the best in the Premier League. As a result, we are financially sound whereas many other clubs will over the next few years be desperately seeking to cut unfeasibly high salary bills, or else they will face serious financial problems. Clubs like Man U and Liverpool are in an even more fragile position because of the huge interest payments on the loans taken out as part of their recent re-financing. Liverpool pay £20m a year just in interest. Even Chelsea are scrambling to cut costs.
At Spurs, our parent company ENIC set a ceiling for the total wage bill, which we have not yet reached, but there is no cap on the salaries of individual players. The commonly held belief that this salary cap means we miss out on players is false. Simply not true. Keane was on 60k a couple of years ago, and the bonus system can take his wage over the 80k a week mark. No wonder heís stayed loyal.
Within this, Levy has the freedom to pay what he likes. For each transfer, a group of four men weigh up the pros and cons of each transfer, set a value on the importance of the player for the club, then decide what to offer in terms of fee and salary. These four are Levy, Ramos, Comolli and John Alexander, the club secretary, who has no input on the footballing side. Ramos has a veto on purchases for the first team squad. Comolli has overall charge of the purchase of up and coming talent, i.e. not quite ready for the first team. He also manages the scouting network. His role is either to recommend players he has seen, or to take as his brief a certain type of player that the club needs and then to go out and find them. Ramos will then make his own mind up about the selections, having seen them himself. No first-teamer is bought without Ramosí specific agreement.
This fits neatly with Ramosí statement. The club is well-run and solvent, with money available to improve the playing staff still further but not prepared to cave in to the unreasonable demands of players with an inflated view of their value for the club. We can match high wages if necessary.
In the end much of this is a judgement call. In the summer we allegedly lost out on Elano and Petrov, both of whom were offered considerably higher salaries by Manchester City. However, a few months on, itís fair to question whether these able players would have pulled their weight as part of the Ramos inspired work ethic. Elano has faded after a bright start, while Petrov will not track back. These players are luxuries we could afford but decided not to bother. In my view, thatís a good call.
My season-opening piece stressed that success depended on everyone in the club pulling together. These sources of evidence prove (as far as we can ever really know of course) that the harmony, drive and purpose of the Ramos era are being replicated off the pitch. For me, thatís the biggest success of this transfer window.
telling transfer tales
... gossip columns in January.
Itís fashionable in football circles this New Year for managers to whinge about the iniquity of the transfer window, which if you have only just emerged from your post-Christmas feast of the ĎBest 2734 Spurs Goals Everí, or indeed the new Spurs Opus (does anyone know anyone who has actually bought one of these?) is suddenly upon us. Coppell, Warnock, Allardyce and Curbishley have all been doing their duty on behalf of the poor downtrodden and misjudged minority group that are football managers.
Iíve no sympathy. They know what the rules are before the season starts, itís a level playing field for everyone (except Yeovil) and if they could screw the very last penny from one of their colleagues desperate enough to judge their 3rd reserve striker as the new messiah, then they will do so without blinking.
If thereís sympathy to be had, it should come the way of fans exposed to the endless repetitive and ill-informed round of rumour and innuendo. We know what awaits us every January, yet we are drawn in irresistibly, like Brittany Spears to boundless humiliation or Robbo to punching a cross. We scour the back pages and wear out the F5 button in a desperate trawl for information on this weekís Spursí saviour.
The only thing you really need to remember about the transfer window is that 99% of it is rubbish. Managers lie. Agents lie. Players lie. Clubs lie. Whatever is going on, you will not find out about it in the media. To be fair, and I donít feel like being fair but Iíll try really, really hard, some tell barefaced porkys while others merely mislead, offering tantalising glimpses of the truth but never letting slip the full story. The media sometimes make things up, but mostly they perpetuate the sham by regurgitating other peopleís deceptions and misrepresentations without making any effort to independently verify the information. No matter, the end product is, how shall I put it, bollocks. That will do. New Yearís resolution Ė improve the vocabulary. But bollocks is precisely the word to convey my true and precise meaning, so bollocks it is.
Letís take some examples from our wonderful, glorious club. Transfer gossip - easy. Spurs have a crap defence. Ramos is Spanish. Therefore we want to buy a Spanish centre half. Surely this will get me a career on the Daily Mail site, which according to Newsnow appears to have a new Spurs story at least every three quarters of an hour. It worked for the guy who writes it now.
As I write, two main transfer sagas are unfolding Ė they may well be over by the time you read this. Iím talking about Alan Hutton, the Rangers full-back and Dimitar Berbatov.
Rangers have supposedly accepted a bid of £8m, which, depending on which report you read, Hutton has either turned down or is thinking over. Berbaís agent, meanwhile, states that he wants a move to a club that Ďmatches his ambitioní. Hutton turns us down, cue gnashing of teeth and wailing from Spurs fans, if we are not already overwhelmed with grief at Berbaís imminent departure.
Yet these two stories tell us nothing new. Right now there is precious little at Spurs to attract or keep players of the highest quality. The comments of Berbaís agent are designed to raise his profile amongst the few high quality teams who want and can afford him, or at the very least to remind Levy of his clientís worth if and when his contract is re-negotiated.
One consequence is the procession of hacks and ex-pros who indulge in lengthy Tottenham-bashing, and frankly they seem to enjoy it. The same pundits who praised our squad in pre-season now solemnly intone that we are not a big enough club to keep Berba, who, it is said, is clearly not happy. The level of analysis is puerile and superficial, based not on the merits of his footballing talent but rather on the angle of his head and shoulders in relation to his torso.
The result? Itís open season on Spurs. We are surrounded by stories of our problems and are left with reminders of past glories and dashed hopes. Sky Sports News are particular culprits.
The reality? The Hutton episode is not a commentary on the trials and tribulations of our club in 2008, itís a normal transfer negotiation. Of course the guy needs time to think things over. Rangers will be foolish if they don't float the boat to see if they can get a higher return on their investment. If ManU are interested, it's obvious Hutton would at the very least want to see what's on offer, so his agent has told him to hang on.
In all of the media coverage that I have read and heard, nothing has shed any further light on the reality. Fergie says he wonít buy anyone in this window. This is a lie. Of course he will, if it is the right player at the right price. Smith says Hutton will stay. This is a lie. He will stay if he wants to but will be sold if, and hereís that key phrase again, it is at the right price.
But we know that already. So why bother with the media.
Neither are the comments from Berbaís agent doing any additional damage. He's just telling the truth, however indigestible it may seem to us, and the football world can see this for themselves. We as a club have constantly promised more than we have delivered. The reality is that we have plenty of potential but once again we are in a phase of rebuilding. This one will not take as long as previous 'transitional seasons', because we have a decent squad and a determined, shrewd manager, but that's where we are.
This rebuilding may have to take place without the most charismatic player to be seen at the Lane for many a long year. After a slow start it soon became apparent that this was a precious, unique talent, then, the instant we gloried in our new star, the clock started ticking. Berbatov was prepared to wait, but it was only a matter of time before he and other high quality players would become restless in an understandable search for glory and riches before their short career petered out. We had to invest in a team to lift us into the top four and to challenge for honours, but 18 months on, time is fast running out.
The rumours raise our hopes, and thereís no problem is aiming high when we seek the right players to take us onwards and upwards. After all, Berbatov came, didnít he. Beware of the downside, however, and donít be downcast because our hopes are more than likely to be dashed, because in most cases other, bigger clubs have the scent of the chase too. The unpalatable but realistic conclusion is that that if a Champions League club makes a serious offer for a player, they are not going to come here. As fans we take these rejections to heart but I repeat, these stories tell us nothing that we donít already know.
I'm pleased that Spurs are acting decisively to go for quality players like Hutton early in the window. Every quality player will be in demand and we've shown our hand early, but these risks are worth taking. There's a message to these footballers that they are wanted by us.
Otherwise, Iíve had it up to here with the wretched window. Iíll flick through MEHSTGís White Hot Lines and a couple of decent fan sites, and thatís the lot. Poyet has said that we know who we want and that we will be doing business early in the window this time. Fine by me, now letís leave them to get on with it. And donít lie to me any more.
... getting there in the end.
If life is a journey, then supporting Spurs is like going from Landís End to John OíGroats on the B roads. You get there in the end, and along the way youíll meet some nice people and see a few of the sights, but if you arrived earlier you could have spent more time enjoying the view. Having taken yet another wrong turn, another driverís tipped up to take the charabanc of us happy campers a little further towards our destination, whether that may be the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, something, anything, shiny. Are we nearly there yet ?
A throwaway remark in my last column, referring to Jolís impending demise, Ďit may be happening as I write thisí became eerily prophetic. It was. The following day he was gone, apparently the last one to know, the crowd, the media, the watching TV audience all prioritised ahead of Jol and his hapless assistant. Much has been said in the interim about Jolís departure and I donít intend to pick over the bones. I wish him well, and if he ever returns to the Lane in any capacity he will receive a genuine, warm welcome, but while the mess was not entirely of his own making, heís left us in a parlous state and undeniably action was required.
The boardís dogged pursuit of Juande Ramos has brought us a man with a proven track record, most recently at Seville where he elevated a mid-table club to the status of serious contender. He strikes me as being driven; never a top class footballer, heís paid his dues in the Spanish lower leagues and when given the opportunity to shine in the spotlight, hell will freeze over before he lets slip that chance of glory. That single-mindedness had been missing in the more relaxed atmosphere cultivated by Jol, and it is the single most important quality that needs to be instilled in our players. Until January at least he will have to make do with the same squad that has performed so poorly this season. How will he go about sorting out the rabble ?
For Ramos, it is all about organisation. The team is the thing, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Rather than the flexible vision of total football Jol espoused but seldom achieved, the Spaniard gives each player a clear role. They know what is expected of them, what they are supposed to be doing and where they are supposed to be. Already the players look more confident in their work.
There is an unambiguous injunction to pass and move. Players are working harder off the ball in order to obtain space and thereby remain available to colleagues. Our attacks are built quickly, usually via a series of swift passes or runs. Under Jol, our strikers were encouraged to stay well forward when we held possession, the intention being to create space within which the midfield could work, but in reality too often it led to undue separation between the lines and opposition defenders comfortably marking the strikers. It encouraged a longer passing game which suited Carrick. Groomed to take over his mantle, Huddlestone has been banished to the reserves while he loses a stone, but even if he earns the Slimmer of the Year Award, Ramos will take some convincing that his undoubted talents can be accommodated in this style.
Ramosí Spurs line up with two defensive midfielders. Either can go forward, and so far Jenas has been the man most likely, but not both, and neither will do so until the ball is in a safe area, far enough forward to minimise the dangers from an opposition counter attack. Lennon has been told to stay wide, stretching the play and maximising the creation of space. The flanks are where we launch many attacks and the full-backs will be instrumental in our offensive strategy. Bale will be used extensively in the coming months as Ramos learns what we know already, that this young man is a footballer of the very highest quality.
In defence the centre halves stay tight together and one covers for the other. Itís a shame the message hasnít quite reached Kaboul, who needs to quickly learn that in the Premiership you donít have as much time as you would necessarily wish. On the plus side, Dawson is emerging from the doldrums, a good example of how perceptive coaching can release potential. Heís still young, and without Ledley beside him, he tried to do too much and as a result managed very little.
Finally, a powerful message to keep possession has been conveyed. Particularly against Wigan, admittedly not the sternest test of the new system, we moved the ball around from defence to attack and from side to side, before achieving an opening. These tactics tend to be unwelcome amongst British crowds accustomed to the ball being played quickly into danger areas, so patience can be our contribution to the Ramos revolution.
In his first game as coach against Middlesboro, Poyet could allegedly be heard to bellow, ĎItís only 4.20, why have you stopped running?í Iíve omitted other words he added for extra emphasis as you may be reading this before the watershed. It may merely be confirmation of long held suspicions, but the poor fitness levels remain a scandalous indictment of the previous regime. Modern Premiership teams have at their disposal a staggering array of technology to measure and evaluate fitness. I read recently that Milan monitor their playersí metabolism, fat levels, endurance etc several times a day, whereas we let our men carry 110kg of superfluous blubber around with them. Our lack of ability to get forward and then back to cover has long been a complaint in this column, and hereís the reason why Ė they couldnít run.
Most impressively of all, Ramos has already stamped his authority on the shape of the team. He exudes the air of someone who is most definitely in charge. The players are feeding the media positive images of the work he does, including the fact that he spends time with the players as individuals, but the impression is that no one would dare mess with him. Equally, they know the consequence if they fail. Ramos is decisive and bold. Substitutions are made earlier so that they may have an influence on the game and he showed not a trace of compunction in hauling off Kaboul early in the second half on Sunday. We had no ready made replacement on the bench but something had to be done, and it was.
Early days, but the signs are highly encouraging. Hard work and structure are the order of the day, but for Ramos these virtues enable an attacking approach, rather than as is so often the case in English football, these being euphemisms for excruciating negativity. I donít anticipate too many personnel changes this January. Good players are in short supply until the summer, so unless he has stupendous contacts, Ramos will be content with an experienced defender and maybe defensive midfielder.
Already he appears to have invigorated the existing squad. JJ is responding particularly well, Steed is unusually bouncy and Zokora, given a clear role, is looking a better defensive midfielder all the while. Itís a pleasure to see Lennon flying down the wing again Ė he lost his way for while. Last year I read how Burnleyís player of the year (stay with meÖ) was a full back transformed into an effective attacking left midfielder after he repeated training sessions where he crossed between 500 and 1000 balls at a time. Take note, and get down to the training pitch forthwith, my man. Bent has really impressed me in the manner in which he has taken the few opportunities that have come his way. Keano is un-droppable while he keeps scoring, but a partnership of Bent and Berbatov is an exciting prospect. Both can take chances and make them, can be effective in the box and make runs wide, and are decent in the air. The defence has however to be the main and urgent priority. All the attacking prowess in the world means diddly if we continue to concede bad goals.
Comments always welcome, I even reply you know - email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
mehstg exclusive - spurs appoint caretaker manager
... a new hot seat occupier just warms it for .. ???
I can exclusively reveal that Spurs have appointed a new caretaker manager in response to our poor start to the season. Well-regarded in his native country of Holland, he already has two years managerial experience in the Premiership, a league he knows well from his playing days at West Bromwich Albion. A tough, no-frills defender and defensive midfielder, he should bring some order and stability to a Spurs team woefully short of confidence after their worst ever start to a Premiership season, with only one win in ten games.
Said the new man, íConfidence is short but Iím sure the boys will respond to me. I may only be temporary but I already know the club and the players. All we need is a win to turn things around and for Ledley King to bring experience back to the defence. We must cut out silly goals at set pieces. We are brimful of attacking talent Ė I donít know who to chose and Iím bound to offend someone, but theyíre professionals. Itís a good problem for a manager to have !í
Asked about how this new appointment relates to Spurs well-publicised and rebuffed summer approaches to top Spanish coach Juande Ramos, Spursí chairman Daniel Levy said, Ď The new boss has the total backing of the board.í
Thatís what Martin Jol has effectively become, a caretaker manager. Spurs have always been trailblazers Ė push and run, the first double winners, now the first Premiership club to turn a successful manager into a caretaker, rather than the other way around. The scenario is fictional but the quotes are pretty much an accurate account of what Jol and Levy are saying at the moment. Levyís mealy-mouthed bluster is intended to pacify us into the soothing illusion that all is stable and secure inside Bill Nicholson Way, that the summer was merely a misguided hiccup and his masterplan leading to the Champions League holy grail is back on track. For Jol meanwhile, itís fluster not bluster. Utterly bewildered by his teamís performances, heís reduced to lame excuses and ill-concealed frustration at his keeperís and defendersí inability to use any means possible to propel the football away from the goal. When heís not bemoaning missed chances, he chants the comforting mantra, ďLedley will back soon, Ledley will be back soonÖĒ Except heís not, weíre in the relegation zone, with little apparent prospect of immediate escape and Jol is feeling sorry for himself. ĎIf only..í Ė the final refuge of a doomed manager.
I feel for him. This is the sort of language and behaviour that he has conspicuously avoided in the past, unlike the majority of his Premiership counterparts who are only too ready to blame the ref, linesman, lack of technology, pitch, media, the weather, the ref (again) for each and every defeat, anything and anybody but themselves. Heís been royally shafted, everyone knows it, the media are constantly on his back and heís crumbling under the strain. No wonder he feels sorry for himself, but this will not produce the major action required to motivate and reorganise a demoralised rabble.
Jolís on borrowed time. Literally every day I turn on the news expecting to hear that he has finally been put out of his misery. It may well be happening as I write this. In normal circumstances I would argue that the significance not so much of single games but of short sequences. In the next month or so, our fixtures include Getafe, Blackburn, Wigan, Boro, Birmingham and Blackpool. In normal circumstances these are all matches that we could reasonably expect a win or at the very least secure 80% of the points. Our reality is now that it has become impossible to predict anything, except that however well we graft, make or take chances, a simple ball into our box or any dead ball within 40 yards of our goals will induce fear and panic into our defence. Contrast our current plight with Blackburnís form. On Sunday they will come to the Lane well-drilled and disciplined, with muscular defenders and strikers able to turn the few opportunities they create into goals. Player for player we are largely superior. As a team, they excel at everything we perform poorly. We are weak, they are strong. Champions League? Europe? We fear Blackburn at home. Blackburn.
Having succumbed to the fatal hubris of assuming Ramos would leave high-flying Seville and rush to join an average Premiership team, Levy further compounds his blunder by returning to the caretaker regime so disastrous in 2003. Whether that caretaker is Jol, or Clive Allen when Jol is sacked, or an outsider to tide us through until a top class manager becomes available in the summer, we will labour under a caretaker regime until the end of season. However able the incumbent, this creates inertia and uncertainty. Itís often said that football is a business like no other, but all successful organisations require a clear hierarchy with defined leadership who in turn have the confidence of the workforce. That direction, motivation and confidence can be provided in a number of ways. Ferguson and his disciples Bruce, Keane and Hughes, use a combination of stern, unquestionable authority and an arm round the shoulder. Wenger offers a quieter, more cerebral and caring approach. All have the unquestioning loyalty of their players.
None of these methods are available to a caretaker. The very temporary nature of the appointment means players have little incentive for loyalty and ultimate effort. However well they perform, when the real boss arrives their face may not fit and they are out the door. Itís absolutely true that players should play for the club, the fans, their own pride and of course because they are paid handsomely. But the reality is that for most, and this goes for employees in any business, this is not enough to produce the ultimate, their very best, and this is what required to ensure success in the ultra-competitive Premiership. Nothing less. For some this may be deliberate, for most itís sub-conscious, but the end result is similar. Commitment and loyalty to one or two key individuals, thatísí what turns any good business into the best, and that is totally lacking at THFC PLC.
Itís not as if Levy does not know this from personal experience. The 2003 season was an ignominious catastrophe. Never mind flirting with relegation, we wined, dined, seduced and bedded it, before jilting it at the altar. Obviously this means nothing Ė to be a poor leader is one thing, but to fail to learn from the past is a fundamental, irredeemable flaw. Itís completely inexcusable.
If this comes over as a bleak and dank vision of the future, that is exactly how I feel right now. This isnít the start of the season, this is the season. Hopes and dreams dashed, again. Actually, not dreams Ė we were genuine contenders at the start of the year and itís been thrown away. Faults in the leadership and coaching have been cruelly exposed by the irresponsible actions of the board. We are not set up for a fight against relegation. Our young squad do not have the experience or character to cope, whilst the more mature players were enticed by the glory of Europe, not the hustle, graft and grime of the lower reaches of the Premiership. Make no mistake, we are in deep, deep trouble. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory Ė still keeping up that old Spurs tradition after all.
the dan side
... which way will Levy come down in favour of.
The current lull in the Premiership fixtures provides a natural pause for thought as the fledgling season gathers pace. For Spurs fans this is thrown into sharper relief as Arsenal provide our next opponents, traditionally a key benchmark in our fortunes. Too much can be made of this. It is not the be all and end all of the season and I donít subscribe to the often heard view that itís a good year if we have a decent run and beat Arsenal. Having said that, we all want desperately to win, except perhaps one Spurs fan who as he walks to his seat high in the West Stand may entertain equivocal feelings regarding the outcome, and that man is Daniel Levy.
A few short weeks ago, just as the vast majority of Spurs fans around the globe were eagerly anticipating the start of the new season, Levyís assessment of our prospects was infinitely more gloomily. Not content with the prospects of a fighting chance, he staked the house, car and the kids on what he thought was a winning hand. His hubris led him to believe that Ramos would leave behind two UEFA Cups and a place in the Champions League to come to North London. This astonishing miscalculation has caused immense damage: whatever the final outcome it could set us back years.
And it is scant consolation that in the long run Levyís reputation has been irrevocably undermined, because in the process our club suffers too, along with its millions of loyal supporters. Me and you. Weíre used to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on the field, but now itís the same off it.
Perhaps I exaggerate Ė his biggest mistake was to get caught. I have no doubt this sort of thing goes on all the time behind the scenes. Jol himself has been linked with Ajax and Newcastle in the last year. However, even if I maintain this uncharacteristically generous approach for a moment longer, the lack of a contingency plan remains a fatal flaw. All in for the big pot; lose and thereís nowhere to go, not even the bus fare home.
Whatever, the media are treating the club with a mixture of amusement and disdain. The Private Eye style front cover of ĎWhen Saturday Comesí pictures Keane and Bent in conversation. ĎWeíre ready to make the big push..í declares Robbie, his thought completed by Darren, ĎÖ.into the top half of the table.í Too easy, far too soft a target.
Having been away this past week, itís a sad commentary on the state of my life that one of the highlights of a holiday is reading the paper, but weíll let that pass. Being the wishy-washy pinko liberal old Labour bleeding heart that I am, itís the Guardian for me. Bearing in mind that the Ramos affair took place a few weeks ago and is distinctly chip-paper news, every day someone in this bastion of damn bloody reasonableness still sees fit to have to have a go at Spurs. We have become a byword for footballing incompetence. Even the Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster for goodness sake has been given half a page (it could only be the Guardian, bless Ďem!) to properly get stuck in. A supporter all his adult life, apparently, our good football enticed him to return to the Lane but no longer. How could we behave like this, never again will he set foot etc., etc. Mind you, he has a useful turn of phrase, describing Levyís actions thus: Ďyour grasping, disloyal, short-term, ungrateful cynicism is the Spurs Ratner moment.í Now why didnít I think of that ?
As I predicted in my last column, every single article, interview and match report has but a single angle Ė how long will Jol last ? So in response, do we embark on a charm offensive to at the very least attempt desperately to limit the damage ? Of course not Ė this is Tottenham, and we ban the Evening Standard because of the views of one columnist. I do not know what he said and I donít care. Heís entitled to his opinion and unless he was downright libellous or mendacious his invective could not have been any more damaging that the actions of the board. The surest way of guaranteeing unsympathetic press is to attack the papers. If Levy feels he cannot publicly justify his decisions then it is an admission that they are worthless. It is the response of a coward, afraid to hold up a mirror to his own actions.
A quick search of the clubís website fails to reveal the names of those dealing with the clubís public relations (typically we have a company who deals solely with financial PR for the PLC). Whoever it is, I suggest that they leave and donate their salary to the one thing the club have got right these days, our contribution to charitable giving. Even Michael Barrymore could get better press.
All of which is bad enough, but Levy still has the problem of what to do next. His carefully worded statements of mealy-mouthed appeasement clumsily mask a series of threats with a thin veil of false unity. Nothing less than Champions League will keep Jol safe. During the season, the only way this can be achieved, presumably, is if we race clear by the end of the month and stay 15 points clear of fourth for the entire season. And that simply is never going to happen, however well we perform. The media have Jol as a dead man walking, and the manager is left in no doubt that he is not wanted and is living on borrowed time. He looks visibly shattered Ė after the Fulham game his face was ashen and puffy, sagging bags beneath haunted eyes.
At the moment the vast majority of fans are behind Jol, almost touchingly so. Most of us recognise his faults but prize his achievements. However, a run of poor results will undermine that confidence, and Levy knows this. Any match against Arsenal focuses our attention wonderfully. A defeat at home could provide Levy with the ammunition he needs to pull the trigger.
Our hopes that Jol will turn things round, so runs this scenario, will be crushed not just by the vulnerability of our defence but by the weight of expectation. It seems an age away now, almost part of another era, but in fact it was only a few short weeks ago that many of us confidently predicted that at last we would catch and overtake our bitter rivals. As our rebuilding took us onwards and upwards we would pass them on the their way down, the organisational and motivational skills of their manager no longer sufficient to counter the loss of their talismanic striker, their boardroom chaos and financial burdens imposed by the Emirates theme park. Just writing this now, a mere five games into the new season, it sounds like a crazy fantasy, but only a few weeks ago I could gather more than enough evidence to write a considered piece to that effect. How times have changed. At least WSC went for a top half finish.
So to follow this logic through to the inevitable conclusion, an Arsenal win is in the interests of Levy and his co-conspirators on the board. Nothing short of Jol running off with the chairmanís wife, the proceeds of Carrickís transfer and Dimitar Berbatov could possibly justify Levyís decisions, but at least defeat provides some pretext for rightful, reasonable action. The fans will begin to turn against Jol as yet another failure against the old enemy crystallises the anger and frustration. His dismissal will be greeted in some sections warmly, in others with mere indifference. Either way offers protection to the board.
In reality I doubt that Levy will be actively rooting for the away team on Saturday. However, perhaps the defeat will not have quite the same emotional impact as it will on you, me or for that matter Martin Jol. I suspect that BMJ will be given more time but if something is required to hasten his departure, an Arsenal defeat would undeniably be handy.
The truth is that the defining factor shaping Jolís future is not so much our league position but the availability of a suitable replacement. At this stage of the season, the number of able candidates willing to leave their clubs must be distinctly limited. Iím not going to dignify this speculation by listing names. To borrow the stock phrase of all managers linked with other jobs, we have a manager and until that situation changes thereís nothing more to be said. Anyway, I want Jol to succeed despite, and now also because of, everything he has had to face. Letís hope that in his desperation to save face, Levy does not panic and go for someone who is not good enough or over-the-hill, just because they possess the attribute of availability. The fact is, I no longer trust his judgement, so goodness knows how he will approach this. Remember this is the man who appointed a caretaker manager for half a season, in order to wait for the right man. Surely not again Ö
Me ? Iím looking forward to the Arsenal game, naturally, but mainly I feel bewilderment and sadness, rather than anger. Talking to people about whatís happened to our club, I find myself swiftly lapsing into wordlessness, accompanied by a shaking of the head and much shrugging of shoulders. Who knows what the hell is going on ? You know what would put that right Ė a thumping good win on Saturday.
running the race all wrong
... the Tottenham board show their manager mismanagement.
In the space of a few short days we have gone from being the model of a club that is well organised off and on the pitch, whose blueprint for finding a way out of the mid-table swamp is being copied by many others, to being a laughing stock. The clubís prudent strategy for developing a top four team, much praised, has been chucked out of the window precisely at the point where it might all come to fruition.
Itís not as if we are able to rewind a few days and just get on with things again. Jolís position has been irredeemably undermined. The board can issue as many carefully worded statements as it likes; the message is loud and clear, they believe Jol is no longer good enough to achieve our aspirations. At a stroke the goodwill between club, manager and board, a powerful force for progress seldom seen in modern professional football, has been shattered.
Predictably the rumour mill is humming with innuendo and conjecture, claim and counter-claim. The key fact is crystal clear, however. Last week Ramos met with a Spurs director and the company secretary in Spain. It is inconceivable that the main topic of conversation was anything other than the managerís job. Whether a formal offer was made or not is irrelevant. The board wanted Ramos and he left that meeting safe in the knowledge that the job was his if he wanted it.
Once this decision was made, Levy wanted to move quickly. A clean, decisive thrust to remove Jol, accompanied by the wringing of hands but little blood on the floor. He reckoned without Ramos, who understandably now sees himself in a position of some strength. The Spaniard, who remember is not a member of the footballing elite but has worked his way up to the top with hard work over many years, has options, and he wants to consider them, thank you very much. Maybe he stayed with Seville because heís loyal to the team he is building, or because he used the Spurs offer as leverage for an improved contract, we will never know, but the outcome is that he is staying put, at least for a while.
I have no personal knowledge of Daniel Levyís character. He presents as fairly discreet and mild-mannered, but no one who achieves his success in business is truly like that. Whatever, one suspects that his rage and fury on hearing the bad tidings matched and perhaps exceeded the ferocity of Hurricane Dean. Because, of course, meanwhile news had got out. Levy has no Plan B, so itís back to Jol with a patronising ticking-off and the dreaded vote of confidence. A club statement will make it all better again.
To the rest of us it is simple; board lets manager spend in close season, panics after two bad results, gets turned down by Ramos. Levy does not know what he is doing. His judgement is flawed, a fact now exposed to the world. Make no mistake, that is what will hurt most. For a successful businessman, the effect on the team or the share matters, but it pales into insignificance compared with this crushing hammer blow to his ego. In commerce you live or die by your decision-making ability. To the world of football, Levy is a fool.
What on earth were Levy and the board thinking ? Even his supporters (I am one) would readily acknowledge that some of Jolís decisions about team selection and substitutions have been puzzling, and his learning curve has included distinctly lacklustre periods, e.g. our away form at the beginning and later during last season. He has yet to instil the ruthlessness that allows us to kill off matches or sweep aside weaker teams, and as I noted in my last column a few question marks remain about his coaching ability.
Surely, however, the evidence of his success far outweighs the doubts. Successive fifth places. The most successful Spurs manager for donkeys years in terms of win percentage and points per game average. A stylish, attacking approach. The confidence of the players. The ability to unearth young talent. Loyal, committed, passionate about our club. Above all, things were slowly, gradually but incontrovertibly getting better. Pleat, Graham, Hoddle, Gross Ė do we forget that easily how awful most of that period was. Add Francis, ArdilesÖ
We will never know exactly what was the trigger for the decision to remove Jol. Sources suggest that the board queried his transfer judgement this summer, that he wanted to swap Lennon for SWP, or sell Berbatov to strengthen the rest of the team. I suspect strongly that the context for all this was that the board were actually far less patient than was apparent to the outside observer. Perhaps last seasonís rumours that he was saved by the Fulham cup victory held more substance than I gave them credit for at the time.
Whatever, the question remains Ė if the board were not confident, why did they allow him to spend so much money in the summer ? Even if these were players bought by Comolli (which I donít believe), even if the actual outlay is less than the £40m quoted (because the payments are spread over several years and are in part contingent upon success) any new manager likes his own people, who fit his style. The conclusion is inescapable: this was a rushed, ill-thought out decision.
The fans have expressed their support for Jol in an almost touching fashion. I believe this sort of protest is essential if the club is going in the wrong direction, now and in the future, because we the fans are the only true representatives of the club's heritage and culture. However, in this case I don't believe the board gave diddly squat for our opinions. Jol is still the Spurs manager because Ramos turned Levy down. That's it.
So Jol is still our leader but he holds a poison chalice. He has been completely undermined. Every point dropped, the media will question how long he will remain at the club. Every interview from now on will hold the question, however it may be phrased, ĎMartin, how long will you be at the club ?í The players will feel he is on borrowed time, his authority damaged beyond repair. Already we are hearing that Berby is unhappy, Defoe is unhappy. Itís not a question of whether or not this is true Ė players have gripes and niggles all the time - it is why these things appear in the media whereas by and large they have been conspicuous by their absence thus far in Jolís reign. Again this focus on our private business is the boardís fault for drawing attention to us.
But maybe thatís part of it. In issuing yesterdayís statement in the way they have, the board have deliberately set Jol up. Itís obvious they want rid of him. By their criteria, itís now almost impossible for him to succeed totally, so in their eyes all they have to do is wait, then remove him, saying that itís a sad day for THFC but Jol has not met their expectations. I suspect theyíve already written the statement ...
That said heís a strong man, and so maybe he can rally the players behind him, manager and players united against the world, stick it to everyone who gets in our way and sod the board. Iím with you on that one, Martin.
I genuinely thought the club were over this serial cock-up management style. We had a plan, and we were going to stick with it. Or so I thought. Last night, I was drawn to the words of a wise old sage and seer, which for me summed this all up rather well. On Nickelodeon, Daffy Duck looked solemnly at the camera and said, ĎObviously Iím dealing with inferior mentalities.í He was referring to Elmer Fudd, but in all honesty, right now, Daniel Levy in comparison looks the more incompetent.
... a new season and new hope rises.
Step up: intensify, deepen, enhance, beef up, give a boost to, -a notch, -a level, accelerate. You donít need a thesaurus to know what Iím getting at. After successive fifth places, we now aspire to becoming more than merely the best of the rest. Apparently, the vision statement on display at the training ground states our ambition for the coming season Ė qualify for the Champions League. In my piece last week, I empathically argued that everything was in place for the Great Leap Forward. Much has been made of our activity in the transfer market. This new blood will undoubtedly refresh and invigorate the team, but the critical factor lies off the pitch, or more accurately by its side. Coaching is the key, and the place to start is at the back.
Manager of the Season is predictably bestowed upon the man in charge of the Premiership Champions. The true definition of a top manager, however, is a man who obtains the very best from the players at his disposal, where the team is greater than the sum of its parts. Surely it is a greater achievement to, for instance, gain promotion on a zero budget or keep a poverty-stricken club out of the conference than win the league with American or Russian billions safely tucked under the mattress.
By that criterion, I have always rated Venables very highly, dodgy character though he may be. A team with a back four containing Edinburgh, Sedgley and Van den Hauwe had no right to compete for honours, let alone finish third and win the FA Cup, back in the day when that actually meant something. Or how about the three card trick that transformed a dyspraxic centre forward like Paul Stewart into a commanding midfielder. And those of us who were there will forever cherish the memory of Paul Gascoigne in his golden years, alternately nurtured and cajoled towards the finest football of his career.
That defence was of course marshalled by the incomparable Gary Mabbutt. However, in a Fantasy Top Trumps competition Iíd take a back four of Chimbonda, Dawson, King and Bale any time, even allowing for the latterís inexperience. Yet last season I contorted in paroxysms of anxiety whenever the ball came into the area; while this is entirely justified if Anthony Gardner is playing, otherwise that was pretty irrational, but however a top of the table team is supposed to defend, we didnít.
As individuals they have talent in abundance; itís how they perform as a unit that will be the difference between success and failure this year. King just improves all the time. Fast becoming a Tottenham legend, I revere his calm, unostentatious security. Dawson reminds me of the old style centre half, unyielding, dominant in the air, perhaps not the quickest, never gives up the struggle. Yet too often last year we were undone on crosses that found an opponent in between our two centre halves. This basic flaw has to be sorted out. The defender, Dawson in particular, must not allow the opponent to come between him and the ball. If he comes across to mark, the full back must similarly shuttle across. If this leaves us short, a midfielder must track back to mark the runner or cover at the far post. The coaching team has to instil discipline, organisation and a 93 minute concentration span into that defence.
Jol and Hughton were both defenders, and Jol also played defensive midfielder, so they have knowledge aplenty to share. Our failure to respond raises some questions about the effectiveness of their coaching methods. Jol is the public face of the footballing side of the team; as outsiders itís harder for us to gauge the impact of Hughtonís role. He must be highly rated within the club and the broader game; heís outlasted Hoddle, Pleat and Santini, and was for a time the coach of the Republic of Ireland too. My idea of a coach, as opposed to manager/head coach, is that he is responsible for the details within the broader tactical shape defined by his gaffer, specifically in this case the defence, and for working with the players day in day out on the training pitch. As a defender himself, he must convey the message.
Similar demands must be made of the midfield. Last year we were pretty good at turning defence into attack, especially in the latter stages of the season, and whilst we have to become consistently incisive in the final third, we will score bags of goals. What must develop is the midfieldís capability as a defensive unit, shielding the back four and dominating that crucial area immediately in front of our own box. We performed this task majestically against Bolton, when the role was clearly defined Ė two banks of four and caution with the attacking Ė but if greater individual flexibility and decision-taking (forward or back, cover or attack the space?) is required we sometimes flounder.
Our attacking options represent a mouth-watering prospect, but in identifying my players to watch for the coming season, Iím sticking largely with the defence and last seasonís squad. Please would the following step forward so THFC can step up:
Paul Robinson: a fine keeper, fully committed to the cause. He must learn to dominate the box. Great keepers are more than good shot-stoppers, they marshal their defensive colleagues and rule their area. Robbo looks uncertain when he comes off his line Ė that infects the whole defence and itís got to stop.
Ledley King: stay fit.
Didier Zokora: my prediction for player of the season 2007-8. After a stop-start season due to injury and illness, a run in the team, fully fit and aware at last of what is required of him in the Premiership, demonstrated his value to the team. His role is to pick the ball up from the defence and/or to be available if his fellow midfielders are under pressure, then distribute it on to launch attacks. So much of our play will flow through him. If he makes one of his trademark forward surges, someone must be alert to cover. He has great ability in my view, and will live up to these high expectations.
Jermaine Jenas: this time last year I implored JJ to step up and show us his true worth on a consistent basis. No other current Spurs player is the subject of so much disagreement as to his value to the club. Iím a fan Ė he has great running power that he exerted in the last twenty minutes of several games, his runs into the box are increasingly effective and if you need cover for Zokís forward surges, he should be your man. However, doubts remain Ė his passing could improve and heís not done enough to dispel the lingering doubts that he surrounds himself in a comfort zone. Lose it and you will become a great player, JJ.
Like many of us, Iím optimistic about the season to come, several seasons to come for that matter. However, these defensive problems require intensive surgery to expunge them. If not, no amount of shrewd transfer dealings, electric strikers or vision statements can make up the shortfall, and we will fail. Danny Murphy was interviewed on Talksport today. He had nothing but good things to say about BMJ. The players all relate to him and heís a good motivator. He also praised Chris Hughton, particularly in his role as the link between players and manager. Murphís days at the club can probably be counted in single figures, so maybe heís trying to keep everyone sweet. On the other hand heís not had many opportunities, Jol canít be his favourite, so on balance take this at pretty much face value. If the coaches have the confidence of the team, thatís half the battle.
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