the richard kelly articles
In a fortnightly contribution, Richard
Kelly's look at what is currently happening
at White Hart Lane provides a thought provoking view on the club
04.05.2007 The Spurs Odyssey
A Case For The Defence
The Death of a Selling Club
14.06.2007 Home Is
Where The Hart Is
Tale of Four Strikers
It happened later than
usual this year; normally I get 'the Itch' after a couple of weeks of
summer, not in the third week of July. In fact, truth be told, Iíd
rather enjoyed the liberation it gave me not to suffer through 'the
Itch' this summer, but I must admit Iím relieved if anything that itís
finally arrived and I put it one hundred per cent down to the first
Spurs tickets going on sale.
By 'the Itch' Iím
talking, of course, of that horrible feeling all football fans suffer
through the summer months; when time seems to drag, links with mundane
centre backs get your heart rate flying and thoughts naturally turn to a
drastic improvement in fortunes. It gets worse when youíre in one of
those protracted transfer sagas; the Tevezesque ones which seem never
ending and where, because itís summer and thereís nothing else to think
about, you seem to pore over the details in much finer detail.
I blame the World Cup
and the number of matches in the previous season for the late onset of
this feeling; I know by the time the final fixture came around, and we
trotted out against City on the last day, I walked out of the ground
happy we finished fifth and more than ready for a post season rest.
There wasnít a break over the previous summer, what with the World Cup
joining one season to the next and then a season where Spurs pushed to
the latter rounds on four fronts, playing more games than they had done
for well over a decade. It was wearying, and the stress and worry Spurs
put me under left me crying out for the break.
But now that has
passed and I am refreshed and ready. This season will be one of the
most crucial campaigns in recent memory; the push for fourth is a
realistic one, and the chance for silverware is within grasp too. Letís
consider the chance for silverware first, as surely the whole point of
football is for clubs to win glory through the acquisition of silverware
Mourinhoís confidence, I donít think we will challenge for the title,
that trophy will be won by either a resurgent Chelsea or an irresistible
Manchester United. The FA Cup would be fantastic to win, but you never
can tell with that competition, my own suspicion is we will focus on the
UEFA Cup and League Cup as winnable trophies.
Last season we could
have beaten Seville. There is little doubt they are a decent outfit,
but they beat us in Spain through one of the worst refereeing decisions
of all time, and the tie was put beyond us at home due to our horrific
injury list. Now that we actually have a degree of quality cover across
the board, the latter situation should not repeat itself to such an
extent, although the former will always be unavoidable.
Bayern Munich are the
stand out team in this competition this time around, and no-one should
doubt their quality. After a poor season last year they have
embarked on a spending spree to rebuild their side and regain their
position as the dominant team in Germany. Even so, I think last season
showed the UEFA Cup was to the playerís liking, and I expect the same
this time around, with the added bonus that the team have already tasted
defeat last season, and they will be hungry to avoid that this time
The League Cup is
another trophy we can win, because a number of clubs within the Premier
League donít take the competition seriously. That no longer includes
the top three sides, who all put out strong teams, yet I think with some
of the purchases we have made over the summer we can afford to rotate to
a degree and rest key players, such as Berbatov, King and Lennon, in
favour of squad players without disrupting our chances of progression.
In the latter rounds it will be a case of sending out a stronger team to
ensure progress, but I think one important lesson was learned by Jol
last season, and that was that if we are to improve and break into the
top four, we need to show consistency in the league.
I think this is the
problem with football these days. There once was a time when a club
would go into a season looking to win a trophy, and any trophy would be
one worth winning, although naturally some were regarded as more
prestigious than others. Nowadays clubs aim to finish as high as they
can in the league, disregarding all other competitions as the most cash,
and the best players, end up in the hands of the top league sides. Itís
a sad fact of life that a sixth place finish is probably more important
to a club than winning the League Cup.
Of course the FA could
solve the problem in one simple move; by giving the Champions League
places to the League Champions, runners up, and League and FA Cup
winners. Naturally, they donít have the bottle to do that, so the
Premier League remains the king of competitions, and we will continue to
see clubs throw out weakened sides in the FA Cup in order to ensure
their first eleven are fit to play a mid-table clash a few days later.
Jol learned this
lesson last season, when following the Fulham FA Cup match the club won
eight, drew three and lost only one of their last twelve league
matches. That form took us from mid-table to fifth, and without
question saved our season which was flagging and looking increasingly
reliant on progress in the cups, something which can never be certain.
Even though I want
silverware next season, you canít bank on it being won. Two years ago
Middlesbrough ignored the league, and progressed far in the three cups.
Yet look at them now; the manager who took them there has left, and
their best players want to leave, all because their league form is not
what it was a few years before. If we want to progress, and reach the
level to compete with the top sides as we once did, we need to ensure
the league remains our number one priority.
A good start to the
season could really put the cat amongst the pigeons. Manchester United
and Chelsea might be certain of their positions in the Champions League
next term, likewise Liverpool should make their place, but I know a
number of Arsenal fans who are uncertain as to their own future. My
view is that it will be closer than a lot of people think, and for us it
will depend on our start. If we start well, as we did two seasons ago,
we can grab the Champions League place, as confidence will grow and we
will start to get on a roll.
If we can win at
Sunderland that will give us a massive boost, as we saw last season how
difficult it became for the side when they began to suffer in away games
on a regular basis, and that all came from the start. True, we werenít
given many favours with the opening away games we faced; after all Old
Trafford and Anfield are never easy places to go and win, and the Reebok
was a fortress under Allardyce. But what really set the rot in were two
draws with Villa and Watford on the road. Both were winnable games, yet
we failed to capitalise in either.
That took us up to the
start of November without an away win, and you sensed that it was
starting to affect the confidence of the side. We need to make sure we
start well this time around, and that means getting something from
Sunderland and Fulham. Personally, I think we can win both, although
the minimum we should seek is four points from these games. Home wins
over Everton and Derby, are both possible should really set the ball
rolling, and anything that we manage to grab from Old Trafford would be
That would take us
into the North London Derby in good shape, and if they are suffering
with an indifferent start to the campaign, then they could well be there
for the taking. I think its an advantage to play Arsenal earlier rather
than later; people have tried to tell me that we will suffer due to it,
but if they know that they need to points to deny us or for their own
benefit, they will play that much more intensely against us, whereas if
we play them earlier we can catch them cold.
That brings me to my
next point; matches against the top four. I think most of us would say
that one of our big failures was in the games against the top sides;
this has been our biggest let down. In the previous two campaigns we
have won four points from those eight matches. Compare that with the
points the top four won against the top sides, including ourselves, and
you will see that Manchester United picked up fourteen from eight,
Chelsea got ten, Liverpool twelve and Arsenal fifteen. Last season
Arsenal were eight points ahead of us, and if we had been better against
the big sides there is no question we would have been closer to them
We have to start
making it hard for them to come to our ground. Clubs need to fear
playing us, and they need to be concerned about coming to White Hart
Lane. Bolton managed the same thing with the Reebok, and Liverpool have
had it for years with Anfield, but we need to do the same with our own
home ground. I believe there is an element of this already, and
obviously it takes time, but we need to make it so the big clubs donít
relish their annual trip to our ground either. That step will be a big
one in our progression, and one we must take if we are to break into the
Champions League places.
But that is all to
come, and hopefully this season will bear itself out to be a successful
one. For now I am looking forward to a return to the Lane, a return of
European football and a return to the Bell and Hare. Roll on the start
of the season, and roll on with a glorious 2007/08 for Tottenham.
If you agree
with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at
give us your view.
A TALE OF FOUR
There was a great deal of speculation this season
regarding the relative merits of two strikers and their respective
transfer fees. I think every Spurs fan in the country had the same
reaction to Darren Bentís arrival; good player and a real prospect but
overpriced. Within the same week Henry ended his eight year association
with Arsenal and made a hasty exit to Barcelona, predictably professing
his love for them down the road, and his belief in their future.
What followed this was nothing short of vitriol
against our new arrival. In the media we heard about how Spurs had paid
over the odds for an overrated player; how Bent struggled to make an
impact for England and how he wouldnít reach the required heights to
fire Tottenham onto the next level. Most notably, this attack came
across on the BBC website, an article by one of their journalists
slating Bent and praising Henry, ridiculing one transfer and mourning
another. I wholly disagreed with this manís comments, and the more
articles of his I read, the more I realised he hasnít got a clue about
He has recently written a piece on why Carragher is
right to retire from international football. Whilst I can see his views
there is a pathetic cheap shot at Ledley King within it; a wholly
pointless and unjustified attack. If I was more paranoid I would say
that he has it in for Spurs, and you donít need to delve very far to
find yet more evidence of this trait in the media; just look at the
recent speculation surrounding Defoe and Berbatov, despite assurances
from both that they will remain with us next season. My own suspicions
point towards fans of Arsenal and West Ham trying to stir up discontent
with our club.
Yet Bent and Henry werenít the only strikers making a
move in the Premiership around the same time. Torres and Da Silva joined
the ranks at the two clubs who finished directly above us last season.
I have to say I found it bizarre that so much negative reporting
surrounded Bentís signing; a player who had proved over the previous two
seasons he can cope with, and score in, the Premiership. Neither of the
other two strikers are proven at this level, and Torres was supposedly
signed for an additional £10m more than Darren Bent.
I do believe Torres will adapt to the style of play
within the English leagues and eventually will prove himself to be a
quality signing, yet there was nothing in the media regarding his price,
or questioning his ability when any Premiership fan will tell you the
major obstacle a foreign player has to overcome is adapting to our
Some people might by now be questioning why Iím
discussing the merits of these four strikers on a Tottenham website, and
the reason is that they could very well have a massive impact on our
season. We have a chance to snatch a Champions League place next
season, and to do that means displacing one of the four above us. We
all recognise that of those teams Arsenal are the weakest; with their
well documented discontent and underachievement within the last two
seasons making them the most likely of the four to falter. But
Liverpool too are within our sights. True they have money, but they
lack supply from the wingers. Itís no good having an amazing forward if
he doesnít get the supply, and this is the situation Torres could now
find himself in.
Da Silva has massive issues to overcome. He has come
in off the back of Henryís sale, and whichever way you look at it, he is
the man replacing him. You can only fail in that situation, and
although he has scored goals for fun in the Croatian league, that a
whole different standard to the Premiership; itís not only an issue of
adapting, but a huge gulf in standard between the leagues to overcome.
This is where Bent has a massive advantage; he has
experience of the Premiership and is the only player who wont need to
adapt to itís pace, standard or rugged play. Heíll get more games than
Da Silva in his team, as Iíd expect Da Silva to be second choice to
Adebayour and Van Persie, and whilst Bent canít expect to walk into the
Tottenham first eleven when Keane and Berbatov played so stunningly
together at the end of last season. So of the three only Torres can be
expected to play more games, simply because his rivals are nowhere near
his standard, although I feel Kuyt is a decent player.
This is all good news for Spurs. Whilst the Kop
looks to Torres to produce something to win a match going nowhere,
putting a weight of pressure on a player still trying to adapt at the
same time, and Arsenal fans grow more and more disillusioned as they
noticed the larger and larger gap in their side left by the departed
Henry, Bent will be pulled off the bench to begin with to replace or add
to an out of ideas Tottenham attack, and provide the aerial ability that
Defoe lacks in attack.
So what abilities does Bent bring to Spurs;namely
what it is that caused us to fork out £16.5m on a barely established
Premiership player, and one who is yet to make an impact at
international level ? This is the nub of it, and something which other
fans fail to appreciate. We all know that Keane and Defoe canít play
together, and that without Bent there is no-one to cover Berbatovís
absence with any height upfront.
Last season we actually had four forwards, something
everyone outside of our club seems to so quickly forget as Mido labours
in the background with weight and personal problems or injury. Suddenly
Bentís arrival has triggered speculation that Defoe or Berbatov are on
their way out, and I donít believe this at all. We started last season
with four forwards vying for two places, and I donít see any reason why
this season shouldnít be any different in this respect.
Our main forwards all provide different things, but
Bent is one of the most interesting of the four. He isnít a deep lying
forward, or a tricky one; his abilities revolve around his pace and
getting in behind opposition defences. At Charlton he starred with
success as the one man attack; running through to score goals with an
ease in the Premier League, but there are question marks about him, and
He is a forward that offers us something different.
He won't drop deep to pick up the play, but will get into the box to get
onto attacks. Well used to leading the line on his own at Charlton, he
learned his trade at Ipswich playing up front next to another forward
playing tidy football. This is beneficial for us, as it means he wonít
find it too difficult to slot into our style of play as well as offering
us the chance for something different.
Iím sure you can all recall, as I can, exasperating
afternoons sat watching Spurs labour to breakdown a stubborn side who
had clearly turned up at White Hart Lane for a point, and the growing
sense of frustration as our forwards dropped deep to pick up the ball
only to find that there was no-one up front to receive the pass. In
these situations Bent will naturally stay forward, and although there is
a deficiency in this in a number of games where intricate deep play is
preferred, that will help us against these stubborn opponents.
Bent has not established himself at international
level because he hasnít proved himself in a team where he is not the
focal point of the whole side. At Charlton, their whole attack was
setup around Bent. All their forward balls were designed for him to
finish, and when a team revolves around one player so critically, a side
will be setup in order to play to that playerís strengths. At Spurs,
Bent will need to prove his ability to play in our style of football and
slot into a side where he is not the star. Take Malbranque; a player
who starred at Fulham yet one who has become a bit part player at
Spurs. Malbranque is a good player; he just isnít the key player in the
team allowing his abilities to be used to their maximum. Thatís one of
the problems of being a good player at a big club; the team donít
revolve around you and there will be times where you end up in the
background. If Bent proves himself to have the ambition and the skill
to play for Tottenham, overcoming this problem in the process, his
England prospects will drastically improve.
There is something else in the Bent deal which no-one
has considered; namely the possibility that we could play three upfront
next season. The more I consider things the more I think it could be a
possibility. Jol is clearly aiming to make Lennon as versatile as
possible, as we saw last season with the winger thrust out of the left
winger for large portions of last season. Yet in one particular game he
starred with great success through the middle, and that was against
Chelsea away in the FA Cup.
If we went to 4-3-3, Lennon could play through the
middle with Zokora and Jenas next to him, both the latter two players
more than capable of doing the ball carrying that is required of a three
man midfield. It would enable Bale and Chimbonda to push forward,
playing to their attacking instincts. And what a breathtaking attack
Keane, Berbatov and Bent would form.
The first two are more than capable of dropping deep
and picking up the ball, with Bent operating as the head of the attack.
If needs be the team could even switch into a 4-4-2 from there, or a
4-5-1, and that changeability can be underestimated, after all the last
three titles have been won by clubs able to change things in the pitch
without the need for substitutions when things arenít going to plan.
Anyone who has read my articles before will know that
I feel we need a left winger, a goal scoring replacement for Jenas and
possibly even a defensive midfielder if Zokora doesnít make
expectations. Now Bent has arrived that has all but increased the
need. Taarabt is a fantastic prospect, however at the moment he is just
that; a prospect. I hope Martin isnít relying on him to come in and
make a massive impact, as much as I would hope for one, as youngsters
are liable to irregular form and you canít rely on them for success.
Equally, Malbranque isnít an out and out left winger
either, he will do a job out there, but itís a makeshift solution. We
need a proper left winger desperately, someone around their late 20s to
early 30s would be ideal, especially a player with a good deal of high
level experience. He could drastically help Lennon and Taarabt reach
their potential, as well as provide a method of attacking down the wing
that is not reliant on Aaron.
Because Bent wont drop off to join in the intricate
play that Berbatov and Keane revel in, we need to have wingers capable
of opening up space on both flanks, as much as someone creative to drop
off and provide balls for him. With decent service, he should be aiming
to hit twenty goals next season, and thatís without necessarily being
one of the first choice forwards.
Itís clear now that we are aiming to secure our place
in the Champions League through firepower. We undoubtedly have the
strongest line up of forwards in the league, each with different talents
and all with Premiership experience. If we hit the ground running, and
that is crucial if we are to break the top four next season, our
forwards could well power and maintain us at the top of the division for
the early period, which is something that could give us much needed
breathing space from Liverpool and Arsenal before their strike forceís
are firing to their maximum.
As I said, I think Torres will come good, but like
Berbatov before him he might take half a season to adapt, especially as
he is likely to play upfront alone. No-one knows how Da Silva will do,
as his step up is the biggest of the three, and that would explain why
Arsenal are trying to tempt Martins to North London. Yet that deal
isnít done, so for the time being we have the most reliable forward line
out of the three, and maybe that will be just enough to give us the
early lead we need to make it.
There shouldnít be any question over whether Bent is
able to play at this level; the two previous seasons alone have proved
that. The only concern there should be is on the price we paid, and
whether the move is one that will enable Bent to both win silverware and
establish himself in the national side. In answer to those issues, that
will all be decided on Bentís impact on the side. If he is a success
then the money we paid is justified, hopefully silverware will follow
too, as for the national team selection can only ever be decided by the
manager of the day, currently that is the woeful Steve McClaren so I
wouldnít hold my breath if I were Bent, even he set the league alight
next term. And if his goals fire us to into the Champions League then
the investment is immediately worthwhile and a wholly justified, doubly
so if the goons implode at the expense of our qualification, allowing us
to take our rightful place back as the biggest club in North London.
[Thanks also to Marc, Rob and Nick who provided their
opinions and some good points regarding this topic.]
If you agree
with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at
give us your view.
I can still see the image now; as he waltzes
through the defence, deftly switching the ball from left to right foot,
moving gracefully through defenders with a roll and dip of his shoulder,
the red shirts totally contrast his serene movements, desperately
twisting and cutting, their legs splayed as they make a last ditch lunge
to stop him passing by.
He looked more like a man taking an ambling,
summer stroll across a field rather than a player slicing through a
defence. His movements seem almost tranquil, and he seems so slow when
you watch him, whilst the defenders look frantic and haggard. If ever a
moment summed up one glorious season for a player, surely Ginolaís was
that goal against Barnsley.
From the moment he cut in and sauntered past
defenders, to the moment he open his body and passed the ball
majestically into the bottom corner of the Barnsley net, the moment
oozed class, individual skill and spoke of a player at the height of his
powers. 1999 was to be Ginolaís season as he won the PFA Player of
the Year Award and the Football Writers Association Football of the Year
Awards as he won the League Cup with Tottenham.
It is somewhat ironic that when we have the
strongest squad we have had since the late 1980s, we still hark back to
the dark days of the late 1990s for a left midfielder of true class. If
we had that Frenchman for next season in that form, I donít think weíd
have much problem overtaking Arsenal. And just imagine how much his
tutorage would benefit Lennon.
That 1999 success was a shining light in a
sea of mediocrity, as a period of footballing time so dull and poor that
we were reduced to looking forward to cup runs and an outside chance of
Europe. There were occasional moments of brightness in this period, who
can forget Klinsmann or Ginola ? Who doesnít recall fondly the
demolitions of Manchester United and the League Cup Semi Final against
Chelsea, where we totally outclassed them ?
But these moments came all too rarely, and
in truth there were far too many low points, such as home defeats to
Leicester and Coventry, and much too much ineptitude on and off the
pitch, who doesnít cringe at the memory of Pleat sending the team out in
2003/04 and persisting with Ricketts and Jackson ? How about watching
Gary Doherty at the back ?
And how we actually finished in the middle
of it with a forward line of Iversen, Armstrong and Ferdinand Iíll never
know. After all, Iversen and Ferdinand were almost as injury prone as
Anderton and Armstrong didnít even want to play for the club. But then,
we are supposedly a fickle bunch, quick to condemn our players when they
I donít think this is wholly the case, as
Spurs fans are generally quite knowledgeable of the past of the club.
That causes a problem for our current players, for each and every player
is compared to the best one we had in those positions. Bill Nicholson
made us all perfectionists; he was the one who raised the standards and
ambitions sky high, demanding winning football played in the right way.
Because of it, every Tottenham manager since
has been compared to him, just as every striker is compared to Greaves,
every midfielder to Mackay, White or Hoddle, every defender must match
the class and poise of an England or Burgess whilst the keepers expected
to match Jennings. Each and every time our players step out on the
pitch they do so weighed down in the expectation that they are capable
of living up to those famous names of the past, and of matching their
lofty achievements in the current era. If we had Mackay, White, Greaves
and Burgess next season I donít think weíd merely be aiming for fourth,
I think weíd be aiming for the title.
I never saw these any of these players ply
their trade in our famous white shirt, in fact I believe my first Spurs
memory was of the 1991 FA Cup Semi Final against Arsenal. I know my
first football memory was of the England versus Egypt match in the 1990
World Cup, hardly the most memorable matches in itself, it has
nevertheless stuck in my memory along with vague images of Roger Milla
dancing in the corner after scoring.
As you can guess, my formative years as a
Tottenham supporter were ones spent in hope, rather than tinged with
ambition, as the club lurched and laboured along, either avoiding
relegation with a few games to spare or finishing short of European
qualification by ten or so points. The cups were my one source of
interest as a youngster, and we always seemed to fall short at the last.
Letís take a moment to look back, and cast
our eyes over the dross that was on display at White Hart Lane at the
time, players like Vega, Edinburgh, Fox, Sherwood and Armstrong amongst
many. Post our FA Cup success in 1991, we had a very poor time of
things and languished in mediocrity; just good enough never to go down,
we lacked quality in too many areas to succeed. Europe was a wild hope
of a dream, rather than a minimum requirement of a campaign.
The reason I bring all this up is simple;
over the next season I have no doubt that the Spurs board, fans, players
and coaches will aim for a Champions League place and in so doing blow
the big four cartel wide open. As fantastic as it would be, and as
delighted as I would be if we achieved it, I donít want to see or hear
any more Spurs fans berating Jol or the players if they fail in this.
We sit in a precarious position; we are by
far the best side outside of the top four, with good players across the
park and a decent depth of a squad, but like any ambitious club should
we want more and that means Champions League qualification and future
silverware. The problem we have is that in order to break into the
Champions League places we need players of that standard, and they all
want to play for teams in the Champions League.
Obviously, you get occasions where players
of genuine class are prepared to give up Champions League football for a
season or two, as in the case of Berbatov, because they really believe
in a club or are wowed by a manager into joining. But such players are
generally the exception and not the rule, and thatís where the problem
lies for us. What chance do we have to attract the top talent if they
feel they are deserving of a place amongst Europeís elite? And how much
are our chances of grabbing a player reduced if one of the so called big
boyís also interested in the player?
The Premier League has come on leaps and
bounds since itís inception, no doubt because of the success of foreign
imports and the sustained influx of money for all the teams involved,
yet it was only at the arrival of Abramovich onto these shores and his
purchasing of Chelsea which altered the make up of our league. In the
pre-Abramovich era, foreign players who arrived on these shores
typically fell into two categories; either they were players coming to
the end of their careers, as in the case of Laudrup or they were
failures from abroad, as in the case of Bergkamp. Very few came at
their peak, and certainly none came to clubs in England when a half
decent La Liga or Serie A team was interested.
That changed with Abramovich, he made the
Premier League attractive as a division for the top foreign
internationals of the day. Suddenly, players like Xavi Alonso, Crespo
and Robben were choosing English football over Italian or Spanish.
There were always some that plumped for our island over the warmer
climates of the Mediterranean, such as Van Nistelrooy, yet the money
Chelsea had made our island a lot more attractive for these players, and
at their peak, which is the most important thing.
Most significantly, this change has affected
the top four clubs in the country. Because each season they achieve
Champions League football they ensure more money and a bigger transfer
budget, enabling them to outspend the rest in their division. They
already have a better squad than the rest of us, so this just moves them
away from us.
Tottenham have made massive strides in the
past few seasons, closing the gap to the big four and so much so that we
are on the cusp of overtaking them. In fact with the state Arsenal are
in (and despite their fanís delusions that it wont affect them) we could
very well achieve our aims of breaking the top four, perhaps this will
even be the moment when the balance is tipped in our favour for a
In order to do this, the board have
recognised that a significant amount of money must be invested into
quality players within the squad. Players such as Bale, Kaboul, Bent,
Sneijder, Petrov and Pedersen would get into any side in the division,
and their undoubted quality is what we need most. Thatís why I think
these things are taking so long. Spurs donít want to pay over the odds,
but when you are negotiating to buy real class the whole situation
becomes protracted and difficult.
In the case of Bent, he would make a quality
addition as a replacement for Mido, because I think we do need four
international class forwards in order to compete and if we did have
those players there is no question we would have the strongest forward
line in the Premiership. Charlton wanting £17 million for him is their
prerogative, he is contracted to them and they have the right to ask for
an amount they think fair. I believe that they are trying to ensure the
costs of dropping out of the top flight are covered by his sale.
I donít want to get into this too much, but
I do think that they are taking us for a ride. They have overvalued him
and if they are confident that he will be as big as a success as they
believe, then there are plenty of long term bonuses we can give them
when the time comes. Broadly, I think in some way we are taking our eye
off the ball when it comes to a left winger.
Bringing in someone of ability on the left
wing would improve our side immensely, but the problem is we havenít
heard anything about it. Thatís not necessarily a bad thing, as we all
know that Spurs like to operate without confirming rumours until the
deals are done, but we desperately need someone over there and I cannot
believe that the coaching staff havenít identified it as one of their
Hopefully, the club can succeed in bringing
in Bent, Kaboul, a left winger and perhaps even someone like Sneijder
for the centre. Those four players would make a world of difference,
but even if we donít, and we only bring in Bale in the close season,
donít forget how far we have come, and remember that without Jol, Levy
and the rest of the board, we could still be sitting their praying that
we sign a player able to single handily carry us into Europe, hoping
above all else that this season to come is the one; where we break out
of mediocrity once more. I donít want to go back to that, and Iím glad
that the club has finally matched our ambitions with its off field
Jol and Levy are the best things that have
happened to this club in the Premiership era, they deserve our trust.
So far between the two of them they have got things right; time and
patience are what we need to reward them with because in this season to
come all our long held ambitions; of overtaking and beating Arsenal, of
rebuilding a side which we can be proud, of making a Champions League
berth and perhaps even winning silverware, all these things could true
happen, and five years ago when Jackson ran out in the first team, who
would have said that ?
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HOME IS WHERE THE HART
I have a dream; that
one day in the near future I can ride the tube to White Hart Lane
Underground station on my way to a game. Itís a simple dream, but one
with the promise of so much. I make my way up to the High Road, and
even from here the ground looks rejuvenated as it rises high towards the
heavens looming with understated majesty. This has been well commented
on, ever since it was spun around and rebuilt into a sixty thousand all-seater
stadium. Despite the increase in seats, the atmosphere at the Lane
remains as fierce as ever as the East End of the ground growls with
noise during matches, rising to a crescendo as the sound rolls around
stadium before spilling out over the rafters like a flood. The
architects have done their job well, creating a ground which is able to
safety house sixty thousand seated fans yet keep the traditional feel of
the ground and encourage the atmosphere within.
Along the Park Lane,
now running along the length of the pitch following the rotation of the
ground, fans make their way from Northumberland Park station, one of a
number of improved rail stations on the new Lea Valley Line created for
the Olympics a few years before to carry hordes of fans to events in
Broxbourne and from Stansted airport. At the top of the road, where the
Park Lane meets the High Road, a large electronic billboard shows Ledley
King advertising his new boots.
On the High Road, a
group of Bulgarian fans makes a slow progress as they dawdle in front of
the ground. The group are in good spirits, laughing and joking as they
anticipate seeing their hero Berbatov ply his trade in the white and
blue of Tottenham. They take pictures of the stadium and its
surrounding areas eagerly, each one carrying bulging bags from the
megastore, itself now located further down the road in a larger
The Paxton Road side
of the ground is now the front of the stadium, and a large statue of
Bill Nicholson and Danny Blanchflower dominates the scene. The two men
stand proud and erect, immortalised forever in iron as a reminder of the
club and its values. Behind the two great men, the words ĎTottenham
Hotspur Football Clubí emblazon the side of the stadium; the first sign
of things to come for all visiting teams as they arrive.
On Worcester Avenue
the great body of the home support will soon swarm, coming from the
Corner Pin or the Bell and Hare in the half an hour before kick off.
Now, despite the time to go before kick off, away fans wait patiently
for the turnstiles to open so they can enter, they are all in light,
jovial mood, as few expect to leave White Hart Lane with the points
these days. Itís a nice dream, but one which could become a reality
with some canny thinking.
By the turn of the New
Year, Daniel Levy and the rest of the Tottenham board will have made a
decision and the above may or may not become actuality. We all know
that broadly the key issues are a need to have a ground of a size that
befits us, transport links capable of bringing the supporters into, and
out of, the area and all without bringing the club into financial
difficulties. But these issues ultimately are financial ones; more
supporters equal more money going into the club through tickets and the
match-day merchandise, good transport ensures that people can get in and
out without hassle and ensure their return custom, in particular
families, whilst it would be a poor financial decision to hamstring the
club and tie it to repaying a stadium with no chance of operating in the
transfer market and therefore no base to compete from.
So what is crucial for
us, the fans who make their way down to the ground week in and week out,
who have supported the club throughout the bad old days and who are now
eagerly looking forward to our bright future? Well in the immediate a
larger stadium will improve my chances of getting a ticket (I was a
member, Iím now a bronze member), especially now that the Paxton has
become the family end.
I can see why improved
transport is so crucial to the whole operation surrounding White Hart
Laneís expansion. Itís hard enough making your way home as it is,
especially following a midweek game, and add to that the multitude of
rumours that are circulating about the buildings surrounding the ground
and whether or not they can be bought, even the speculation regarding
the rotating of the pitch so it runs east-west as opposed to
north-south. When you consider these obstacles, it makes hard to see
the club staying at White Hart Lane.
Thankfully, most of
these issues can be overcome or disregarded as inaccurate. Take a walk
away from the ground, towards Seven Sisters or Tottenham Hale, and
thereís not much to see. A rundown area with little amenities hardly
shines in the borough, and thatís where the club has one almighty
advantage. Of all the things in the local area, the club is one of the
few examples of vital and thriving life, and the Borough of Haringey
would be mad to drive them out. This naturally doesnít rule out the
possibility of a move, we could comfortably remain within the borders of
the borough and move to a new ground, but my first choice would be to
remain at the Lane.
White Hart Lane is our
ground, what I mean by this is I feel its like a second home for me, and
itís been the clubs home for over a hundred years. Add to that the fact
that new grounds, while often looking aesthetically pleasing and without
any restricted view, often lack the atmosphere that their predecessors
had. There are plenty of reasons for this, the hardcore support being
spread around the ground, a wave of new supporters coming into football,
especially day trip fans, which turn up and donít sing or get involved.
I donít want to sit in a shiny new plastic ground next to some guy who
couldnít care less but wants to watch ĎBersaboví upfront, Iíd rather
stay where we are and expand it, so I can stay standing next to a bloke
who knows Jenas isnít as good as Gazza.
And staying where we
are is the best option for the fans. The hardcore element get to remain
together, and the buzz remains, and trust me on this, one of the things
which excites neutral fans is that pre-match buzz, which you just donít
get at Arsenal or Stamford Bridge. The ground looks like a ground
should, rather than some landed spaceship, and you get the feeling that
you are home, rather than playing in a set piece final, which is what I
feel Iím watching whenever I see Ashburton Grove. These elements; of
comforting surroundings and loud atmosphere, will help ensure that the
new fans (those who canít get tickets because demand is so high and they
are too far down the pecking order) who enter the ground for the first
time will have an atmosphere to add to, rather than take away from.
There are other issues
too, not least the fact that the longer we leave it the more we are
being left behind by the other big clubs; Newcastle, Villa, Arsenal,
Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea all have bigger grounds than
us, and therefore could all get more money on a match day. Even a
traditionally mediocre side like West Ham have a large ground than we
do, and soon Reading will expand their stadium to thirty-six thousand.
The point of this is
that the longer we leave this to be resolved the further behind we could
fall. Thereís no doubt we need to make sure we act now, but we also
think about the future. It was only a few years ago that West Ham
extended their ground, and now they are talking about moving away from
Upton Park to extend further. We would be far better served considering
a ground which we have the option to increase further should we need to
at a later date.
That may actually rule
White Hart Lane out of the equation. After all, the new ground probably
needs to be around fifty-five thousand, as that should satisfy us for
the current time, but what of after that? If success begins and then
continues, the board canít afford to turn away another ten or twenty
thousand on top of that each week, not if itís sustained demand. This
is an extreme example, but we need to be able to house that kind of
demand if it does happen, and that means we need more space than just
what needs to be built on.
The transport issues
we face could be largely overcome by the Olympics. Itís worth bearing
in mind that there are Olympic events taking place in Broxbourne, and
there are going to be high numbers arriving in London from Stansted.
That kind of traffic will need decent access to the city, and that means
that the existing rail line will need to be upgraded and improved. If
Spurs could jump on the back of that, it could see a far better service
provided for fans travelling from Harlow, Broxbourne and Cheshunt.
The other issue is
fans travelling from Central London. The Underground doesnít run right
outside the ground, and that means that fans are getting off at Seven
Sisters or Tottenham Hale and making their way to the ground by foot,
bus or rail. The good news is that the club are seriously looking at
having the tube extended towards the ground, and that would be great for
a matchday. As regards both an extension of the tube and the improved
rail links, I would expect both to be tied in to the agreement to remain
at the ground, because the last thing the club would want is for fans to
be delayed in arrival at the ground- the earlier you get down, the more
time you can spend in the megastore and the quicker you get away, the
less likely the occasional fans are to complain.
Another issue we face
seems to be the inflexibility of the property owners around White Hart
Lane. I donít know the details, but there seems to be a good deal of
talk about some owners reluctance to sell their properties to the club,
and certainly if this is the case then it will impact whether we stay at
our current location and could even potentially impact on the businesses
who are so reluctant to move now.
The club have to be
frugal in these circumstances, on the one hand it would be easier to
develop the land we already own, yet on the other when you try to buy
property from another business, they will always want more money if they
know how crucial that land is for you. And to redevelop the Lane, we
will need that extra land. Therefore we have to consider moving to a
new site, where the land is not so over the odds and where we have the
space to grow. My concern is that these businessesí greed will see us
leave, and the area will spiral downwards, and as for us, we end up in a
faceless stadium with little or no atmosphere.
Lastly, thereís the
player factor. Players love playing in big, passionate grounds, thatís
why they want to play for Manchester United or Liverpool, Celtic or
Rangers. Of course, there is a culture of success at these clubs too,
and that is probably more attractive to a player overall, but there is
no question that when a good player is courted by a host of top sides,
one of the factors that helps him make his choice, apart from success
and wages, are the atmosphere at the stadium or training ground.
Iíll admit I donít
know the ins and outs of any move and this is simply idle speculation.
Ultimately itís the boardís decision to where we play our football in
future, but I think most of us would favour remaining at White Hart
Lane, and I donít mind if the ground is rotated or not. All I want is
enough space for our supporters and a decent atmosphere. I expect some
positive decision to be made by the end of the year, we canít afford a
decision not to be made, and I fully expect us to remain close to where
we play now. Two things are certain, the transport links to the ground
and the flexibility of our neighbours are where this issue really lies.
And if we do have to move to a new stadium, as much as I donít want it
to happen, let it be called ĎNicholson Park,í entrenched in history and
not named after some soul stealing sponsor.
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THE DEATH OF THE
I donít like the way Manchester United do
business. Thereís something unseemly about the way they state their
intentions for players that really gets my back up. Sure itís not as
underhand as meeting a player in secret without permission of the club
heís contracted to, but neither is it something unavoidable like two
players talking when they meet for international duty. Iím talking, of
course, of the way they so publicly declare their interest in a player.
Take, for example, Carrick. At first all we
heard were rumours that Manchester United wanted him, innocent throw
away comments in the paper; the type of stuff we all take with a
generous pinch of salt. Some of those type of rumour are genuine,
although a good many are fake, but when something refuses to go away
long enough you start to believe it.
Then all of a sudden the speculation grew
and grew, talk of Carrickís future role in the England setup took
momentum and Manchester United were so heavily linked you knew a bid was
inevitable. The final nail in the coffin was that Ferguson came out and
waxed lyrical about Carrickís role in his midfield, the type of player
he was and thing Carrick could bring to United and before you knew it he
The whole thing was a public affair, which
turned Carrickís head with promises of a more influential position in
the England team, a major role in the Manchester United side, higher
wages, the chance for major honours and Champions League football, what
player wouldnít have been tempted ? Of course, the whole thing was done
through clever use of the media, which effectively ensured that Carrick
was fully aware of the regard Ferguson held him in long before they
formally discussed any agreement.
But then again, this is the world of
football at the very highest level, where every avenue is used to gain
an advantage and where the top clubs gnaw at, and seek to weaken, the
emerging clubs at every opportunity. We got good money for Carrick, and
letís not forget that money went towards buying Berbatov and Zokora, and
he did want to leave, but did we make it hard enough for him to leave ?
In that regard I donít think we did.
We could have stressed how important he was
to us; we could have offered him a longer deal with higher wages,
matching Manchester United in this respect. But we succumbed to the
money, publicly stating that it was to ensure that a want away player
with little time left on his contract did not leave without a penny
being returned to the club. Ultimately, whether or not this is the
truth or whether they wanted to bank the money we will never know, but
selling Carrick unbalanced our side and it took us half a season to
Fast forward to this summer, and the whole
thing sounds a lot like the same bad record being played again.
Manchester United have made no secret of their intentions towards
Berbatov, and since April, perhaps even March, we have heard about him
leaving, almost on a daily basis. So much rumour was caused by this
that our chairman and manager were forced to come out stating their
desire to keep him, and even Berbatov and his agent reiterated that the
Bulgarian would spend next season at the lane. Despite this, Manchester
United are still rumoured to be tabling a bid worth £39m, including Saha
and cash, and seemingly every pundit in the country who speaks on the
subject opines that Berbatov would be better suited in taking the trip
Thatís why this summer could be the making
of Spurs. Ever since Sheringham left, ten years ago this summer,
Tottenham have slumped to what I view as the second tier band of English
teams. What I mean by this is that there has always been a group of
clubs, able to buy the best players and snap up the trophies, and they
are in the first band. The second band will occasionally rise to win
the odd trophy, but in the main they produce good players and have a
sporadic season in the limelight, before selling their best and slumping
away again towards mediocrity. Before Sheringham left, despite a few
seasons without trophies, we were still regarded as a big fish; an
attractive prospect for good, ambitious players looking for somewhere to
ply their trade in the prime of their careers.
Then of course, Sheringham left us to win
trophies, and it sent out a statement in bold letters to everyone that
our club was no longer one to be considered by ambitious players. From
then on, the top prospects would always shun us for other, more likely
to succeed clubs. We were still attractive to players at either end of
their careers, and players looking to make it from abroad, but the
recognised names walked on by.
Since Sheringham, we have suffered three
more cases of players deciding they are more ambitious than the club.
The most notable example was Sol Campbell who led us a merry dance
before sauntering off down the Seven Sisters, with not a penny coming
the other way. But then add to that Steve Carr, who blatantly decided
he would run his contract down and leave on a Bosman, before we cut our
losses and sold him to Newcastle. And forget where he is now because at
the time Carr joined Newcastle they had just finished fifth. Lastly, of
course, was Carrick.
All of this is why Manchester United and
Chelsea can so openly covert Berbatov, and indeed any of our prospects
which could emerge as the seasons continue. They see us as a club with
talent, and they see the potential, but they both feel that if they
threw enough money at us, we will take it. Refreshingly, our board
seemed to have learnt from their mistakes in the past. They realised
their mistake in appointing Hoddle, they saw the failures of Pleat and
they put their money into young players. I have no doubt that they now
consider selling Carrick to be a mistake, and they now are determined to
hold onto Berbatov with everything they can.
As I say, this summer could be the making of
us. Itís pretty clear that Berbatov is our key player, and a player who
could set the Premiership alight for years to come, so itís
understandable they want him. Yet we have to keep hold of him. I donít
rate Saha, and certainly not at £11m, besides which who are we going to
buy with the £28m to replace him? What forward is going to be as good
as him, or want to come to our club once we sell him?
On top of that consider the number of times
the big clubs do business between each other. Manchester United and
Liverpool havenít done business since 1968, I canít remember when
Arsenal did business wither either United or Liverpool for that matter,
and its only in recent years that Chelsea have bought Veron from
Manchester United (who Ferguson didnít want) and Cole moved from Arsenal
with Gallas going the other way. Thatís two deals and the truth of it
is that the big clubs tend not to do business with each other, you donít
hear about Ferguson declaring his interest in Eboue as a long term
replacement for Neville, despite the poor seasons Arsenal have had
Apart from acting like the top clubs and not
selling to the clubs we wish to see at rivals, what kind of indication
does it give to our current players when one of our top talents is sold
for the second successive season? If I was a player hungry for success
and my club sold off our best player, Iíd think about my future.
Keeping hold of Berbatov this summer will help us towards these goals.
It will mean we keep a top talent and arenít rebuilding next season, it
will mean that we have denied the top clubs from getting their hands on
our top talent and it will settle the other potential stars in our
squad. Through this, we will finally shake the tag of being a selling
Which is why the noises coming out of Spurs
are all very pleasing, because the one area we can affect is Berbatov
choice to stay or go in showing our ambitions for the future. We can
make him feel our club is one going places and inline with his own
objectives. Bale is a fantastic prospect and will add to our club. He
is a player destined to be a hit and hopefully one who doesnít need to
go any further to make the most of his career. Likewise Keane has
flourished at Spurs, becoming a consistent talent, the player he always
threatened to be, and has rightly been given a new contract.
Berbatov will doubtless see this, and
hopefully himself sign a new deal; bringing his wages to something more
deserving of his talent and tying him more securely to the club. If we
continue to bring in the players that match his ambitions; the Petrovs,
Pedersons or Sneijders of this world, then there is no question that his
will look forward to next season with us, and that means the club can
really start to go places, shaking off the selling club tag which has
long dogged it, and at long last reawakening the sleeping giant to
really ruffle the feathers of the big four.
One last thing, if anyone has not yet signed
the below petition, please can you do so now. This is a worthy cause,
and one gesture which is so simple and could mean so much. Iím sure all
true Spurs fans will agreed that this stature is the least Bill Nick
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A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
Tottenham achieved their target by reaching
fifth in the league on the last day of the season, adding to the three
good cup runs and the potency of our excelling forward line, which
undoubtedly amongst the strongest in the league (even including Mido).
By the end of it, I donít think many of us were disappointed. Okay, at
the start there was talk of making a Champions League challenge again,
and everyone was desperate for us to get some silverware as soon as
possible, but I think we gained something else from this campaign, some
lessons which should stand us in good stead in the future.
The campaign was one where we all learnt a
great deal about football in the modern era at the top level. Gone are
the days when a side can challenge on all fronts and be regarded as
successful if you win one trophy, you only have to look at the criticism
Benitez has received because Liverpool only reached the Champions League
final, the biggest competition in Europe. Players want to move on to
the top sides as soon as possible, the money and success too enticing,
although naturally there are exceptions to this and I fervently believe
Berbatov is one of them.
These days the consensus is that the league,
and only the league, is the most important trophy, everything else is
just a cup. And for some clubs, if you only win the league, your season
is still seen as below average. Football has become a squad game by and
large. Itís not enough to have a team of eleven, even sixteen, top
players; you need at least twenty if not thirty to cope with the demands
placed upon the big sides. And I think Martin Jol has learned these two
lessons now; the league has to be your main focus, as itís the gateway
into Europe, and the squad must be good all round. After all, we have
all seen some of the struggling games when Spurs have opted to rotate or
weaken the side and failed to pick up the points. We have a squad
capable of matching the top sides for long periods, but I donít yet
believe we have the squad.
I donít think anyone feels Tottenham are in
a position to challenge for the Premiership next season, and as it
stands I think weíd all be delighted with fourth in the league come this
time next year. Even to do that would take a monumental effort from the
squad and in all honesty it requires a poor season from one of the sides
above us. The difficulty here is that they have much more top level
experience than us, and the general quality within their squad is higher
than ours, for example Liverpool have Aurelio and Bellamy on the bench
and Arsenal have Ljungberg, while we have Murphy, Mido or Gardner. I
think this is where Jolís focus will be over the summer; on bringing in
a few players of genuine quality able to challenge our first eleven in
order to improve the general quality of the team.
One area which patently does need looking at
is the defensive qualities of the side. For a side finishing fifth,
conceding fifty-four goals in a season is far too many, thatís 1.42 a
game and means in theory we are reliant on scoring twice a game at
least. We canít rely on that every game, and our defence needs to be
looked at as a number one priority over the season.
Broadly, we need to reduce that number as we
shouldnít be conceding more than forty in a season. In the last two
home games of the season I spent long periods of the match watching our
defensive performance trying to work out why it is that we are conceding
so many poor goals- and this is key, because so many of them are soft
goals. In theory you can put every goal down to a mistake, there is no
point in doing this because you donít learn anything about where you can
cut out goals and players will always make mistakes. No team goes a
whole season without conceding anyway, so that means you need to
consider more general reasons for goals going in.
you canít go blaming our problems wholly on injuries. Every team
suffers injuries and besides which we were leaking goals long before we
had these issues in the backline. As I see it there are a number of
factors which need to be considered; injuries, style of play, the
midfield and mental resolve. Obviously, the injury problems we faced
around crucial periods in the cups severely hampered our chances. As I
recall, we lined up against Seville with Chimbonda (allegedly carrying
an injury), King (playing his first game back from injury and hadnít
played since Boxing Day), Dawson (played every game but Manchester City
away and tired) and Tainio (out of position). That tells a story, and
when you are playing a top side in Europe, as Seville are, then they
will be able to open you up, as was the case for the Kanoute goal.
We also employ a zonal marking system and
this does cause us some problems, especially in terms of winning the
ball back. A zonal system makes it easy for anyone to slot into as they
all they have to know is positioning. This means that you are picking
up space rather than men. It is pretty easy to play in this way,
however there are two issues with playing in this way; when two players
attack you section of the pitch and when another defender commits and
gets beaten. In both these cases, it causes issues for the defence; in
the former, a midfielder has to drop deep to cover and in the latter the
centre backs have to cover.
This means that we drop back deeper the more
pressure we are under, as our midfield comes back to help our defence
and panic is caused when a defender misses a tackle. Even Manchester
City managed to stroke the ball around in front of our backline with
little pressure or a challenge put upon them, and a good deal of it was
because our defence was running around picking up a position rather than
picking up a man and putting in a challenge. I understand the team was
tired after playing three matches in a week, but even when we only play
one a week there are times when we look overrun.
I understand why Jol wants to play a zonal
system, and it did work for us last campaign. Zonal football means that
you can play a ball to an outlet and counter attack, it means the team
keeps it shape and can attack and it means that all areas of the pitch
are covered. Itís not a bad system to use in free play at all, our
problems with using it are down to the makeshift nature of our defence,
a lack of confidence and the lack of tackles in the midfield.
Too often, our opponents to push through our
midfield in no time at all, putting far too much pressure on our
defence. This is a big problem, as lots pressure means lots of shots
and more shots mean more goals conceded. When you watch Chelsea or
Liverpool defend, even Manchester United, they look a lot more difficult
to cut through. This is because not only is their ball retention better
than ours, but when they do give the ball away they are better are
holding up the play and making it tough to get any meaning full
possession. One good example of this is the cynical way in which they
foul you in their own half in order to break up the play, we donít do
this and although it might seem like not the Tottenham thing to do,
there is an element of ruthless play which you need to bring into the
game in order to be a top level success.
In the last two home games of the season our
opposition had no problems bypassing our midfield and putting pressure
on our defence, in fact it was only when we had three forwards did we
seriously threaten the Blackburn goal because we were able to keep the
ball and penetrate, putting the Blackburn defence on the back-foot. I
think this is why Jol favours Tainio, because he does throw himself
about to win the ball and isnít afraid of the physical side of the game.
In fairness to Zokora too, he has really come on in the last few weeks
as a defensive midfielder and maybe he can add an element of solidity
into the middle.
Malbranque and Lennon, both wonderful
attacking players in their own right, donít offer any kind of defensive
resistance and Jenas, as a defensive force, only seems to become
effective in fits and bursts throughout the match. There is an issue
here in that you want to ensure that going forward you are able to
attack your opponent and score goals yet defensively you are solid and
difficult to break down. I wouldnít want us to become a dull side, like
Liverpool or Chelsea and I do think that we should be an attacking,
creative force, but the balance must be there and that means the
midfield need to be mindful of their defensive responsibilities as well.
Another key area we seem to lack in is
mental toughness and concentration. One thing that has hardly even been
acknowledged is the fact that we did not concede a Premiership goal in
the last five minutes of any match throughout this campaign. Thatís
especially impressive when you consider that last season we conceded so
many in the last minute. That said, some of the goals we have let in
have been particularly disappointing; the goals Watford and Dinamo
Bucharest scored against us instantly spring to mind. We need to be
tougher and acknowledge the fact that sometimes we do need to put the
boot through the ball. The top sides are excellent at putting pressure
on you across the pitch, and every Premiership side is lethal when the
defence goes to sleep.
Mental toughness is also one of the reasons
we are conceding so many, both from set pieces and open play. It hasnít
helped the defence playing in front of a shaky Robinson, who can
sometimes play well, and pull off a string of incredible saves, but in
other matches he is abject. One of the signs that he isnít confident is
that you donít see him coming off his line to claim the ball as often as
he should, and this causes problems as his nervous attitude filters
through to the defence who then feel they need to deal with everything.
Just take a look how poor we were in dealing
with Middlesbrough in the game at White Hart Lane. I felt they were
exceptionally bad when they played us, and yet the goal they scored was
because we were put under pressure and panicked. All the defenders felt
they had to do something and charged into reach the ball, Robinson
didnít claim it and there was disorder and chaos in what should have
been a routine clearance.
Coupled with this is Dawsonís heading, as in
general it isnít up to standard. The ball when he heads it doesnít
travel far enough, especially as he is the one who always is willing to
throw himself in front of the ball. Donít get me wrong, I think Dawson
is an excellent player for us, and he has come on leaps and bounds over
the campaign from where he was last season, but he is still a young
player and naturally will have areas to improve on, and I think this
should be one he needs to improve upon.
Thereís plenty here that Jol needs to
consider, but a lot can be solved by improving the defensive qualities
of the midfield. In previous weeks I have said that we need someone to
bang in goals from the midfield and I stand by that, but I think what we
now need is someone capable of winning the ball, as well as passing,
shooting, I think that might well be Kevin Nolan of Bolton. Heís able to
do all these things and has a drive to win which would be invaluable,
something missing from our midfield since Davids returned to Holland.
If we could get Nolan to sit alongside
Zokora, with Lennon and a new left midfielder, Petrov, for instance that
would provide a sturdy midfield capable of scoring, assisting, keeping
the ball and tackling. Add to that a left back of Baleís ability and we
have a genuine shot of the top four without losing the potency of our
forward line and making it far harder for teams to break us down.
One last thing, it has been bought to my
attention that a number of Spurs fans are making a petition to have a
statue of Bill Nicholson outside our ground. I think this is an
excellent idea, and the least the man deserves. After all, this is our
greatest manager and the most significant man even to pull on the White
and Blue for Tottenham. After Nicholson, Tottenham Hotspur as we knew
it really came into being.
Hereís the link to the website to sign up for your
support. It only takes two minutes and itís the least us Spurs fans can
do for a man well deserving of this type of accolade. Please add your
If you agree
with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at
give us your view.
THE SPURS ODYSSEY
Recently I have heard a number of Tottenham
supporters question the managerial prowess, tactical nous and even the
entire tenure of Martin Jolís reign as Spurs boss. To my mind, this is
utter madness. When Martin Jol became manager of Spurs in 2004, he
emerged from the backroom of Santiniís fleeting stewardship to steady
the ship and take the club onto the next platform.
But let's cast our minds back some months earlier,
when we had no permanent manager, the inept David Pleat in charge with
Rohan Ricketts and Johnny Jackson in midfield. At the time, there was a
genuine threat of relegation hanging over our club, and as I recall we
scraped through to safety with two or three games to spare, certainly
close enough for a club of our size to panic.
That summer, Pleat and Ricketts were sent on their
way, and Santini, Jol and Arnesen were installed. Of course we have all
heard the ins and outs of their respective roles at the time, but the
fall out of losing your head coach, so quickly after a horrendous season
for the club, was a massive task to face. Yet it was overcome, and we
almost finished that season in the European places (as it was we
Last season, as we know, we finished fifth and almost
made the Champions League. And this seems to be the point of the
issue. To some fans' casual eyes, sitting ninth as we do looks to be a
backward step. But let us not forget we have a game in hand and fifth
is more than achievable from this season as well. Add to that two
quarter final appearances in the FA Cup and UEFA Cup and a semi final in
the League Cup and you have a fairly decent season.
That to me doesnít sound like a backward step, rather
an establishment of our intent. Back in 2004, when Pleat made us look
so incompetent, if you would have offered me this kind of season I would
have bitten your arm off. Yet it shows how far we have come. The
meteoric rise, fourteenth, ninth and then fifth has raised the bar and
expectations among fans and media alike, yet there was always going to
be a period of plateau, where we reach a ceiling and have to recollect
ourselves before pushing on.
So where did those expectations come from ? Well,
when you get the best out of a group of players, they have improved and
reached their greatest impact and the squad that Martin Jol inherited
from Santini and Pleat, largely made up of players who had finished the
previous season fourteenth or players into the club from above and a
smattering of youngsters from within, Jol managed to push to finish
ninth. Then he took that squad and added some more and took them to
It was probable that we would struggle to improve
further at this stage, given that the squad is actually able to compete
to the latter stages in all competitions now. There are other factors
involved in why this struggle has come about; firstly every position you
want to move up the table is harder than the one before, and a number of
our players were ones we bought in when we were further down the table,
and therefore no longer match our ambitions.
My example here is Ziegler. When Ziegler came in he
was highly rated and was exceptional in his first season for us.
Following this he was loaned out to Hamburg but failed to make an
impact before spending the rest of the season at Wigan. Patently good
enough for a side who had just finished fourteenth, he was not currently
good enough for a side who finished fifth. Perhaps I am being harsh,
but it speaks volumes that when we donít have a natural left midfielder
to play, he doesnít manage to get within the side.
This example serves to illustrate a problem with
going to high too soon; that the players you bought previously are not
good enough for the standard you now operate at. The fact is that Spurs
are the fifth best side in England. I said that at the beginning of the
season, and it hasnít changed now. None of the sides in the European
hunt with us have pushed on all the fronts we have, and our squad has
held together and we are still in it, but that does not hide the fact
that we have a small group of players who arenít up to the standard we
Jol knows this, and he will seek to replace them.
And when he does so, he will bring in players nearer the expectations of
quality that we now expect from our players and continue to tweak the
squad. He is still building his squad, and at the end of the day
without Jol as manager we wouldnít have Dawson, Chimbonda, Lennon or
Berbatov wearing the cockerel would we ?
So letís discuss Jolís tactics, which seems to be one
of the most discussed concern. We all know that sometimes Jol makes
changes that donít pay off, but what manager doesnít ? Benitez gets a
lot of criticism from Liverpool fans when he rotates a winning side, and
on Tuesday in their Semi Final win against Chelsea who didnít question
Alonso starting on the bench ? Itís the same when Mourinho doesnít play
Robben in matches and Chelsea go on to lose. Remember last season when
we drew at Highbury ? A lot of the pre-match talk was of Henry being on
the bench, when he came on to score and deny us a win. I remember
plenty of Arsenal fans questioning putting your best player on the bench
for a crunch match, especially as they only got a draw.
The point is that all the big managers make changes
to personnel, tactics or formation from time to time when they feel the
gamble is worth taking. There are plenty of steady managers such as
Glenn Roeder who will play the same side and tactics regardless, but
that isnít always the right way to success. These days the top sides
are flexible, able to change system and switch positions from game to
game and even within one match if asked it of them.
The system Jol employed at Stamford Bridge, for
instance, in the FA Cup was a masterstroke, until injuries and fatigue
got the better of Berbatov and Lennon causing us to succumb to Chelseaís
pressure and concede a late goal, the match ending in a draw. And in
that is the problem we have; we donít have the squad to make the changes
Jol wants and his only failing here is in trusting his players. But
what can he do ? They must show enough during the week to justify his
belief they are capable to do the job given them.
The big four all have much more strength in depth
than we do, and when they lose a player or two its not the issue for
them that it is for us. We probably have a fifteen man squad of a
decent enough standard with another ten of average quality, and at any
club like ours where you should be reaching the latter stages of all
competitions youíre involved in, it will take its toll. Clubs like
Blackburn or Bolton who focus only on the league and one of the cups can
overcome this issue far easier than we can.
The other clubs around us donít have to compete on
the same number of fronts as we do, and nor do they have the kind of
aspirations we do. Everton, Iím sure, would like to establish
themselves as a top six side as we do, but for Bolton, Reading or
Portsmouth they will view a European finish as a rare event and
something to be considered a bonus.
This makes it very difficult for us, because for
those clubs they can forget the cups and just go for the league. If
they progressed in the cups, and doubtless they would hold greater
interest if they progressed to the latter stages, then this attitude
might chance, but until then, it means we are fighting to finish above
them with a slightly better squad and in all likelihood ten to fifteen
more games. In this respect their lack of ambition will benefit them in
the league in the short term, whilst hopefully our long term interest in
everything could help us improve the squad and get the experience to
really challenge the top sides.
On Saturday we went to Middlesbrough and won the
match. It was a match in which Ghaly played on the right for a long
period, and was in the side at the expense of Lennon. If we hadnít have
won, I guarantee you that questions would have been asked from some
sections of the support of this selection despite the fact Lennon looked
jaded and out of touch for long periods in the last few games. Thatís
not a slight on Lennon, who has improved from last season, but the
number of games heís played this season has taken it out of him.
Sometimes these decisions will go for you, other times against you, but
when you have a squad better able to cope and a higher general standard
these changes have far less of a negative impact.
If Iím honest, I donít know where Jol will take us.
I hope he can win a few trophies and have the kind of success Ferguson
has enjoyed at Manchester United, or even the success of Burkinshaw at
Spurs in the early eighties. But I donít know, and nor does anyone else
yet. Hopefully, at a minimum he has the kind of impact Houllier had on
Liverpool (not the boring football, but establishing a side in the
Champions League places, winning trophies and bringing in top players),
but if nothing else bear this in mind; Ferguson was appointed manager of
Manchester United in 1986, and it wasnít until 1990 that he won a major
trophy and 1992 that he won the league. The big clubs, the ones with
success, give their managers time to forge a side. Jol is doing that,
and he deserves at least another few seasons to show what he is capable
If you agree
with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at
give us your view.
For the article Fourth Time's A Charm by Richard Kelly, click