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
09.08.2007 Double Vision
06.09.2007 The Missing Link
21.09.2007 The Wheels On The Bus Have Fallen Off
04.10.2007 Europe's Biggest Club Competition
16.10.2007 Diamond Lights
31.10.2007 A Different Piece of Cake
For more Richard Kelly Articles ... click below
A DIFFERENT PIECE OF CAKE
Ramosí arrival was as inevitable as a train arriving at Tottenham Hale; you knew one would be along eventually, it was simply a question of when and not if. Only time will tell if the Spaniard will be a success at White Hart Lane, and doubtless if he is the board will feel justified in their actions. Maybe they were right, we wont know now; they didnít give the previous incumbent the chance with a team capable of winning silverware.
We will never know what Jol could have done this season, not properly anyway. The manner in which the board approached Ramos in August was disgraceful, their treatment of a man who had finally, finally, given Tottenham Hotspur some of itís glamour back to the degree that I could actually say Spurs were in with a chance of winning something this season and be taken seriously. The simple act of speaking to Ramos ensured that Jolís time was effectively over.
The media sharks had long been circling, slowly taking bites over the course of the weeks of increasing size and frequency. The players seemed to lose interest and ultimately stop playing for him, as shown vividly in the manner in which Berbatov acted when called off the bench at St Jamesí Park. So too, did there seem to be rumours of cliques and politics between them, all of which further added to tensions at the club. The board did their best to undermine Jol, never once offering him anything other than scant public support and seeming content to leave him increasingly isolated as the campaign progressed.
So when Spurs offered such a limp-wristed surrender against Newcastle last Monday, the writing was well and truly on the wall. The papers werenít surprised, the board seemed to have enough ammunition for their sacrifice and the fans had long been prepared for the inevitable. We, the fans, have been the only loyal people in this sorry affair. We are the ones, laughably so often derided as fickle (we are always there, and we are always behind the side vocally), who stood by our man and arguably held him in his position for such a length of time; he lasted two further months after the first attempted coup, which is impressive for a man who hadnít won since we played Derby.
Jol wasnít able to perform to his best because of the boardís actions; it undermined him to the point where his position was untenable. If he had been left alone for until Christmas, at least, if not the end of the season, there was a chance we could well have done something better to date in the campaign, and perhaps win some silverware by the end of the season. Now, the reality is that the club face short term upheaval and the chance of a trophy once more seems a distant one.
I wish Ramos the best of luck, I honestly do. I do so because I want him to succeed as Spurs boss, but the treatment of Jol should have been enough to warn him off. Nonetheless he is here, and he arrives with a superb reputation which I genuinely hope will galvanise the club towards future success.
So before Jol is brushed aside and forgotten with the old chip paper; and he will because Ramosí first league matches as manager are Middlesbrough away, Wigan at home, West Ham away, Birmingham at home and Manchester City at home. That could very well be five wins in five matches, and if thatís the case then Jolís legacy would be a small footnote in the clubís history.
But we should not be quick to forget what he gave to us. Let us not forget, Jol wanted to manage Tottenham from the very off. He left his position as manager of RKC to come to Spurs, even settling for the First Team Coachís role, and that shows his desire to be at Tottenham wholly.
Naturally, he was given his chance. No doubt this was the intention of Arnesen from the very beginning, yet the choice was sound. Santini arrived with a fanfare and left with his tail between his legs; his remit was to turn Tottenham into a top side once more, yet he was another in a long line of men unable to work under Levyís controlling structure.
They were thrust upon with Jol, and perhaps the support of Arnesen and the fact that Spurs were struggling for the second successive season was enough to convince them to plump for the Dutchman. By the end of the season that appointment seemed a godsend. It did not matter when the Sporting Director left for Chelsea, Jol was the real gem of the triumvirate which had kicked off the campaign that August.
And boy, could the man forge a team. Tottenham have always struggled in the Premiership era with building a good side under a manager who knows enough to win more matches than he loses. Some previous managers were unlucky in this time period; they werenít given the time or they suffered because the squad they had was lacking, yet Jol melded a decent basis for a team with some astute signings (if they were his) and created a team spirit and self belief which caused a sharp upturn in the clubís fortunes.
I should point out here that before Jolís tenure I had been present at one Tottenham match. Thatís not to say I was any less of a fan, because for a good portion of those years I was at school and didnít have the money to buy tickets (I am twenty-four), but certainly since I have had the money I have been an almost constant attendee at White Hart Lane.
Before Jol, I saw one game; Tottenham versus Leicester, circa 1995 (Klinsmann wasnít there, and Sheringham was injured). Clive Wilson scored our goal and Ian Walker saved a penalty in a 2-1 defeat. My next match at White Hart Lane, was Tottenham versus Middlesbrough in 2004, a 2-0 win, and Jolís first win.
I remember that match more significantly than the first. Jolís first season came off the back of the Hoddle sacking, which left Pleatís Ďsteady handí on the tiller. At the time, our good start under Santini had been quickly undermined by some good performances with ended in defeat.
In the run up to the Middlesbrough match, Tottenham had lost 1-0 at Portsmouth, 2-1 at home to Bolton, 2-0 at Fulham, 3-2 at home to Charlton, 5-4 at home to Arsenal and 1-0 at Villa. Six defeats in a row, and good performances or not, it was not enough to convince me we would not suffer a second successive season of struggle. I went the Middlesbrough match hoping for a win, yet believing relegation could be on our horizon. After all, good clubs do go down.
Since that match, I have missed six homes games. Three of those were immediately following Jolís first win (I was convinced enough to sign up as a member, and had to wait until the New Years Day match against Everton to go again). The three subsequent matches comprised two in that first season, and one in the next. One was against Manchester City, and the other two were against Portsmouth. As you can see, his tenure has coincided with my devoted match-day attendance.
With that in mind, perhaps its understandable that I feel his sacking is akin to your mother divorcing your father and marrying another man; you cant blame the new guy, yet you donít understand what was wrong with your dad in the first place.
Was it the win that kept me going to Tottenham? I donít think so, Iím not a glory hunter. If I was, I would have been a Manchester United fan; itís far less stressful. No, it was the feeling that Jol had projected to me in the weeks leading up to that game, that was what convinced me to come back.
Here was a man who appeared on television and actually knew what he was talking about when it came to football, and knew how to handle the media and his players. He was a hit with the media straight away, the Dowie shoelace moment aside, and it was easy to see how he gained his success at previous clubs; team spirit clearly key.
In the last two years, I felt part of something. I felt that Jol was doing his best to drive the club forward, that he had regained the pride and ambition once associated with the Tottenham which seemed so clearly lacking throughout the 90s. Perhaps I read too much into it, but when I looked at the players and staff at the club over the last two seasons, I felt we were pushing forward as one.
Martin Jol, regardless of whether he bought players to the club or not, was able to get the best out of them. Keane and Berbatov have shown some of their best form in their time under the Dutchman, and Dawson, Carrick and Lennon have been snatched from the Championship and turned into England internationals because of him. Carrickís sale ripped a hole in the side, and it is a gap that the club still havenít filled now.
He was working towards success. Something about the team he had built suggested that they were a tight knit group that worked together. Doubtless that was undone by the sale of Carrick, as plenty of players expressed their concern that the board was so content to sell one of their star assets, yet nonetheless I felt Martin Jol had a style of management that could bring success.
He isnít a Mourinho, one who talks up himself, and his tactical failings have been well documented, although just how great a tactical change you can make with a squad of lesser quality than the big four, especially when playing against them, is questionable. He is a man who forges a team spirit and feel good factor amongst his players. That method doesnít lead to instant success, and with Tottenhamís youthful side three or four seasons was always the length of time it would take before any success could be gained.
I have no doubt that if Jol had been left alone for this season, then by the summer we would either be ready for a genuine tilt at the trophies, if not even already having a trophy in our possession. Tactical nous or not, Jolís Tottenham would have brought it all together at some stage in the near future, if given the chance. The quality of player, style of play, team spirit and self belief would have surely given Tottenham a glorious season, perhaps even two or three.
After all, what great tactics does Wenger employ? His side play the same way against every opponent, no matter the match. Laudable as that maybe, he doesnít exactly alter tactics when things arenít going their way; Arsenal just continue passing the ball around the box, or struggle to overcome physical sides. Yet sometimes, and it seems this season could be one of them, it all comes together and their club seems set for a title tilt once more. Jol could have offered us that too, if he was given the chance.
Perhaps older fans have seen this all before; their club betraying their manager with disgraceful actions, and a manager who deserved better treatment than to be dismissed because the boardís collective ego was bruised by his. Jol was the first Spurs manager I respected since Venables, he was the first Spurs manager admired outside the club in the Premiership era. I hope the boardís decision is justified in the next few seasons, as that is the only chance Levy, Comolli et all have of winning back our trust. Yet I hope that Jol finds a club willing to give him a chance as well, and that he goes on to success in the future. He made our club what it is today, he forged our reputation as the next best thing to the big four and whatever success we do claim in the near future, no doubt it will be because of the foundations he laid at the club.
If you agree with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to give us your view.
Managers are often blamed for the failures and deficiencies of their teams, yet few fans blame the players responsible for it. That is, of course, until the team suffers a prolonged sequence of poor results which brings the quality of the squad under the microscope. Younes Kaboul recently came out in defence of Martin Jol, saying that he felt the criticism aimed at the manager should be more properly pointed at the players themselves.
In Tottenhamís case, he may have a point. Before Martin Jol, no Spurs manager had taken Tottenham to a top six finish in the Premier League, and the club hadnít reach that level since Venables was in charge. Jol may have his failings; he may rotate the team slightly too often, he might make a number of high profile and poor tactical decisions, but he took us to fifth, twice in a row, playing good football and with many good players. He isnít a bad manager.
But nor are his players poor quality. The first team squad boasts nineteen players capped at international level, of which seven are starters for their respective countries when fit. Include the nine Under-21 Internationals within the squad and there is both actual ability and potential within the club.
What has let us down so remarkably is the blend of players and the way the players work within them. No doubt we have been unlucky, but when you look at our forward line, containing two first choice starters for their countries and two players who are either on the fringes of the squad, there is plenty of talent at our disposal.
Plenty of people have questioned the decision to outlay £16.5 million on Darren Bent, and with his return for the club thus far being the fourth goals against Derby County and Anorthosis Famagusta respectively. Both at home, and both against the weakest side we will probably player in either competition. Yet Bent has not just been bought into the squad to ensure the team has four strikers, Martin Jol says he has come in to put Berbatov under pressure for his place, but perhaps he has actually arrived as the Bulgarianís replacement.
No-one knows what Berbatov has in mind for his future; I donít even think he himself knows. The man is clearly desperate to use his skills at the highest level, and win trophies, yet I also believe his is loyal and honourable and therefore he wants to give something back to Tottenham. I think the board want to keep Berbatov, but they know that should he decide to call it a day there isnít much they can do about it, therefore Bent provides the perfect substitute.
The club would earn a lot from Berbatovís sale, although none of us would be pleased about it, but Bentís signing is wholly to do with an opportunity that could not be passed up. He was clearly the clubís next choice if Berbatov were not to stay, and Charlton obviously knew that too. But Bent hasnít hit the kind of form and goalscoring threat he was suppose to, and there are numerous reasons for that. No doubt the pressure of his price tag, more than that of Thierry Henry has affected him, but I believe the most significant change he must make to his game is in the way he plays.
When Charlton were in the Premier League and were successful under Curbishley, Bent played as a lone striker hanging on the shoulder of the last man. Because of this, Charlton were able to exploit his pace and strength and get him behind back fours to score. However, plenty of sides play against Charlton with a high line because they take the game to them, a lot of sides we play against play deep and pack the box, so you need your forwards to drop deep, pick up the ball and operate with some guile.
Take our match up at Sunderland as an example; they set themselves up to get behind the ball and pack the defence, they were quick to close down and they nullified our forwards. In the last minute they counter attacked and got the goal which won the game. Okay, so we didnít play well in the match but Sunderland took their chance and executed their tactics perfectly, and part of the reason we were so poor was because they made it very difficult to play our game.
The game is about blends of players more than anything, and when you look at our squad the best forward partnership is Berbatov and Keane. That was the pair that looked so deadly at the backend of last season, and between them they link up incredibly well. The problem is that the pair lack pace, and Berbatov lacks the physical strength needed in the roughest of games.
Defoe, who seems to have become a surprising favourite amongst the fans this season, is too selfish to me. His shots are vicious and he is a great player, he was unbelievable in Jolís first season, but too often he attempts a shot from a narrow angle when a pass to another player would be the better option. Because both Berbatov and Keane are able to score and create for each other and their team-mates, they will always remain the better pairing.
Bent has a lot of adapting to do to fit in as well. He has to learn how to play in and around the box, linking up as well as finding a way to make his own game flourish for the team. It wouldnít be such a problem if he was playing his normal game initially, after all, that is what we saw which encouraged us to sign him. But I do wonder if his style of play is suited to playing against sides who pack themselves deep, and that means he is only playing teams who take the game to us, games where you want your best forwards to play; Berbatov and Keane.
Equally, look at the defence. I have spoken many times about the fact that they play as individuals, and I donít like it, but there is no leadership back there. I hate it when fellow Tottenham fans say to me that this will be sorted when King returns from injury. Yes, it will. But what if he gets another bad injury? What if the rumours are true about this one? This should have been a warning that regardless of which back four play, one of them needs to be genuine leader of men.
Rocha was supposed to be that man, but he seems as unable as any of them to take ownership of the defence and cut out the silly goals conceded. Between him and Robinson, the pair seem to contrive to concede the very worse of the goals we let in. This season, it was Rocha who deflected the ball over Paul Robinson for Fulhamís second; it was Rocha who crashed into Robinson which allowed Osman to score Evertonís second at White Hart Lane. Perhaps he is unlucky, but it serves to symbolise the entire issue. Tottenham concede too many goals too easily. We score a lot, compared to most Premiership sides, yet the pressure we put on opponents to score our goals is way more than that which they put on us for theirs.
Then we have the whole Robinson problem. Clearly he lacks confidence, but dropping him wonít improve that. On the contrary, it will probably make him worse. Robinson looks fine, albeit shaky, for England. You donít keep as many clean sheets as he has for England without having some ability, and I donít think you can blame him for either goal, including the Neville backpass/bobble, in the match in Croatia where he did concede.
But with Spurs itís different. On Saturday one the Estonians had a pot shot from distance which Robinson fumbled but snapping up. The first man there was Rio Ferdinand, ensuring that no opposition player had the chance to profit. The previous weekend, Voronin pounced on just such a spillage from a Gerrard freekick to put Liverpool ahead. Okay, so it hit his knee, but do you imagine Cech, Reina or Van der Saar would have conceded that kind of goal? Would Lehmann have done so?
He isnít confident, but the only way to give him confidence is to get him out there and show faith in him; if you drop him in favour of Cerny his personality isnít strong enough, he will be broken by it. The problem is that every side we face in the Premier League knows he isnít confident, and even the worse players will try their luck. I play football on a Sunday, and there is one goalkeeper in our league who is terrible. Whenever we face him, everyone loves it; players who havenít scored for years, if ever, are rubbing their hands together with glee. The strikers are arguing about which of them will score more, and even the defenders arenít afraid to get forward and try their luck from distance.
That creates a problem, because determined and confident players are more likely to do well than those without confidence. And as everyone thinks they can score, Robinson has to deal with more shots than you would ordinarily expect. After all, its worth a crack from thirty yards if youíre Carvalho isnít it?
I have seen a number of World Class saves from Robinson, saves where I had already been expecting to see the ball hit the back of our net and somehow, Robinson has got there. Those saves have one thing in common; they are all instinctive. The saves I am talking about are the ones where the opponent is six yards away, where Robinson has to stick a hand out and hope, or fly across the goal instantaneously.
They are without thought and without worry. I believe part of Robinsonís problem is he is thinking too much about his mistakes. He seems to be carrying them with him, blaming himself when the ball goes in and his body language shows he isnít coping when we do concede. He knows he should deal with high balls and crosses into the box, he knows he needs to organise his defence, he knows he needs to be in the right position for long shots and he knows he needs be tidy with general defensive duties. The problem is, he canít do it.
Question is, what do the club do? Do you stick by a once solid Ďkeeper in the hope he returns to his best level, or do you note that he isnít confident and canít handle the pressure, the kind of pressure which would be put on him if he was at a title challenging club, and cut your losses?
That is why blends are so important. When King returns, not only will he organise the backline for Robinson, but he has pace in abundance to cover the rest of the defenders when opponents get in behind, witness his tackle against Robben last season as an example. It is how the players work best together that is the key to success, not the best players necessarily playing.
Last season Manchester United won the league because they removed the player who had become the focal point of their attack; Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Fergusonís reasoning was that United had become too predictable in their attacks, as everything went through the Dutchman. The striker also failed to offer the link up play that others in the side could. When he was sold United continued to score goals, became a much more aggressive and determined side, and were able to alter their system throughout matches.
In the summer Arsenal sold Thierry Henry, the figurehead of their club in a way wholly different to Van Nistelrooy. Not only was Henry able to link up and create of his team-mates, he had been the top scorer in the league for four of the last six seasons. Just like Ferguson did with Van Nistelrooy, Wenger believed that the time was right to let Henry go. So far, it seems like a wise decision (although their early fixtures have actually given them confidence and self-belief. They were lucky in their first two away games at Blackburn and against us, they could have lost both) but it remains to be seen if the impact on the side will have the desired affect in terms of silverware.
All of this doesnít bode well for Darren Bent, who is a focal point forward. He doesnít offer much to his team-mates apart from getting on the end of balls and using his pace and strength behind defences. He hasnít got a link up game, and he isnít as dominate in the air as Drogba is, nor able to hold the ball up on his own in the same way as the African. If Arsenal go on to win the title, they will have proved that you donít actually need a focal point forward to do it for the second successive season, and when you consider Chelseaís two titles it shows that no club with a traditional twenty plus goal a season centre forward has won the league for four seasons.
Our rivals have learnt something the Italians and to a lesser degree the Spanish have known for a decade; to be successful, you need to be fluid. The top clubs from Spain and Italy will adapt the way they play to suit the opposition. They donít play a set formation, but they deny their opponent and play to their strengths. They disrupt your rhythms and incorporate their own patterns of play. English clubs have always approached European matches as being different to league games, both in terms of style and attitude. This is because when you play in England you seek to impose your game on your rival, which is a throw back to now defunct version of football last played in the 1960s, where sides would play each other to win, and play to attack.
These top foreign clubs donít often have players who can play in only one position, apart from the keeper. Take Milan as an example; Cafu and Maldini both have the ability to push up the wings, and the later certainly has the ability to hold his own at centre back. In midfield, Pirlo, Seedorf and Kaka can interchange, hold up the ball, play others in and score goals and upfront Gilardino is a hardworking forward who can create as many as he scores. And when you consider that the other two players in their backline are Nesta and Kaladze, both as capable of passing the ball around as some of our midfielders, you can see that these players are comfortable interchanging formations, and moving positions when there is need.
Getting the right blend on players on the pitch is the key component to being successful. At the beginning of last season Chelsea signed Ballack and Shevchenko and everyone gloomily predicted that they would capture their third successive title. But Ballackís arrival served to unbalance the midfield, and Lampardís goals dried up. Shevchenko may have succeeded in making a proper football out of Drogba, but his friendship with the owner meant there was always pressure for a place to be found for him.
The pair were two of the key factors which ultimately left Chelsea with too much to do, and saw the title go to Old Trafford. Both players have undoubted ability, both are the main stars of their national sides, yet neither have found form in England. Ultimately, the west Londoners got the blend wrong, Manchester United got it right and they won the title.
We need to make sure our blends are right, and to start with that means the basic blends across the pitch. What I mean by that is the obvious pairings which are in evidence every week we play. Everyone understands the importance of having a good strike partnership, because when it doesnít work it has the most staggering affect on the clubs fortunes and its failings are the first to be seen. In Berbatov and Keane, we have a partnership that works, and when it really works and they click utterly, it is frighteningly good.
But what we need is for the other two forwards to gel and start a rival pairing, so that both Berbatov and Keane are pressured for their places by Bent and Defoe. This can only work if that pairing are working hard together, not only taking the chances for themselves, but in the modern game as I have explained above, it is also important that they create opportunities for those around them.
Equally, the left back and left midfielder need to compliment one another, as do the right back and right midfielder. They need to be able to switch jobs in affect, even if it is only for a brief period in the match. The left back must be capable of getting forward and providing a cross and some width, and the left midfielder must be able to get back and defend when needed.
We saw last season that Lennon and Chimbonda linked up well on the right, and thus far Bale has been the shining light of our season in left midfield, his best performances coming when Lee was behind him. Itís unfortunate that so far we havenít seen both Lennon on the right and Bale on the left, and I worry that Jol has concerns about playing both and exposing our back line. He is right to think about this, because the midfield has to provide cover for the defence; getting the right blend in action.
In the centre of midfield, the blend needs to be spot on. We have all seen how Lampard and Gerrard failed to replicate their club form for England, and how Gareth Barry and Gerrard as a pairing seem to have given England a breath of fresh air, Tottenham need to find the same. Jenas provides an energy to the centre of the pitch which no other midfielder seems able to do. He can also score which is something plenty of the others fail to do, but does he go missing too often? Malbranque likes to play in the centre, and for Fulham he tore us apart from that position, but is he too weak?
Huddlestone can pass the ball around the pitch with breathtaking ability, picking out a team-mate in space at will, but he seems slow and unwilling to use his physical strength. Can he become what we hope him to be? Zokora can drive and dribble with the ball, he can tackle as well, but he doesnít hold his position, canít pass and we all know he canít shoot. Are these obvious deficiencies a problem? Tainio is a hardworking and tidy player. He isnít afraid to get stuck in and will do a job for the team, yet he isnít as talented as any of the others, will that present a problem?
The point is, it doesnít matter what their individual strengths or failings are, it matters how formidable they become as a pairing. From out of that group Jol needs to find a pair which work well together for the team. It doesnít matter if it turns out to be Zokora and Tainio, as long as between them they nullify the opposition and create and score goals in support of the attack.
That is one area of the pitch which we still havenít sorted out, as it last really worked well for us when we had Jenas and Carrick in the centre. Yet perhaps the most crucial of all these blends at present for Tottenham is at the back, between Dawson, Kaboul and Robinson. This blend is unique because it incorporates three players rather than two.
Of course, a Ďkeeper has to work well with both the fullbacks and is reliant on his midfield to do their job too, but the most crucial of all the relationships he has is between himself and the centre backs. After all, they are the ones that head the ball clear and have to know what he is going to do without being told. We have seen that King, Dawson and Robinson did work, but can Kaboul come into that group and find his feet? It remains to be seen, but at least Jol is giving them games together to get to known one another.
All of this presupposes we are playing the system that is best suited to our players. Jol favours attacking fullbacks, he favours the big man-little man frontline, he likes quick wingers who can dribble, switch wings, get behind the backline and score goals. To my mind, the 4-4-2 formation is ideal for what he wants but it shouldnít rule out consideration of other systems.
We saw Jol attempted 4-3-3 against Everton, and then attempt to rescue a point with it against Arsenal. It didnít work, and in both games we ended up suffering a 1-3 defeat at home. That said, it did work against Aston Villa so memorably. In each case, it caused us to become one dimensional in our play; hoofing the ball towards the front three, who queue on the top of the eighteen yard box for the ball. Movement from the forwards ceases and the clever play which the midfield could provide disappears as they never get the ball. There is also a big issue around width, and a consequential over-reliance on the fullbacks to provide it.
Yet 4-3-3 is the method favoured by the Dutch, ever since the Ajax Total Football side of the 1970s. Even now, Ajax play that system from the youth teams to the first team. It works because the players can interchange and because they are all good football playing footballers. The Dutch system works because there is only really one centre forward in the side, the two other forwards are encouraged to get wide and play in the style far similar to Van Persie and Robben.
The fullbacks are encouraged to get forward, which wouldnít be a problem for our side, but it is in the centre that it is most important to get the right blend. In that trio, one player is there as a predominate playmaker, one is there as the enforcer and another is there to help out both. This is the system Chelsea used with success, although when they did so Mourinho encouraged his wingers to come back and create a five-man midfield and thus created something far more defensive than the original.
Could we play 4-3-3? I think our fullbacks are setup to do it, it might help the midfield to have three players in the centre, but I donít see it helping our forwards. Keane might be able to fill in as a winger, but the only other player I can see as capable is Lennon for the other side, with Berbatov in the centre. I donít believe it is feasible for the vast majority of our squad as 4-4-2 is.
In which case, what about 3-5-2? Dawson and Kaboul would have an additional centre-back to help them out, there would be three in midfield and Keane and Berbatov wouldnít be broken up as a partnership. Bale would be comfortable on the left, but who could play on the right? It would push Lennon out of the side because he is too attacking. Iím ruling out 4-5-1 from my considerations as I see it as far too defensive for a Tottenham team to play for anything other than the occasional one off match.
So that leaves us with 4-4-2, and out of all the variations on that formation there are, the current one seems the ideal to get the best out of Lennon and Bale, the best two midfielders in our team. But even that isnít the answer; the side which should play is the one which works best together, which has the most blends. Lennon and Bale are fantastic individuals, but they need to fit into the unit.
Therefore you canít rule out any of the formations until we have tried them out and seen the results. It doesnít matter if we play 4-3-3, 3-5-2, or even a diamond 4-4-2 formation, what matters is that we get behind the team, that the eleven we put out start getting results and we start to climb the table. And the sooner we do that, the better.
If you agree with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at email@example.com to give us your view.
EUROPE'S BIGGEST CLUB COMPETITION
I have a confession to make: I hate the Champions League. Essentially the whole thing is designed in order that the big clubs make millions of extra pounds per season. Itís a boyís club, and I hate it. Itís not jealously or envy that makes me despise the tournament, although doubtless people will say it is. No, I hate it because it rewards consistent mediocrity.
Take Arsenal; a club who have qualified for the Champions League every season since 1998/99. In the last nine seasons they have competed, they have been knocked out twice in the group stages (the initial ones in the cases of the two group stage years) finishing third in the groups on both occasions (in 1999/2000, they reached the UEFA Cup final after going out, another thing which makes me hate the Champions League. But weíll come to that in a moment). They have also twice been knockout in the second round groups, finishing third both times, and twice in the first knockout stage, making it four seasons out in the second round. Aside from that, they have reached two quarter finals and finished runners up. And despite this they are top seeds.
There are only eight top seeds, which would make Arsenal, in UEFA logic, at least the eighth best team in the Champions League. How? How does finishing three times in the last five in the last sixteen, once in last eight and once as second place mean you are that highly placed. The only answer I can find is that they keep qualifying, and their rivals from other league do not manage this each and every season.
An example of this is Valencia. In the same nine seasons, Valencia have reached two Champions League finals, two quarter finals, won one UEFA cup and reached the quarter finals of that competition. In terms of consistency, Valencia do not compare to Arsenal as they have not reached the tournament every season, yet perhaps that highlights the relative strength in depth of La Liga (the barometer of a strong league is the UEFA Cup, not Champions League; the Champions League highlights, one or these days a number of good sides in a league, the UEFA Cup highlights sides who arenít good enough to win their league. Essentially the more clubs a nation has in the latter rounds proves that leagues quality), after all Dynamo Kiev qualify every year and apart from one season in the last ten they havenít reached anywhere of note.
This is all based on the rather clouded issue of the club co-efficient system UEFA uses. Every club who plays in Europe (and many who donít it seems) have a point score which is awarded to them. Part of this is based on your countryís performances as well (you see Rafa, it does matter that Gerrard plays for England), but most is based on your performances and scores against other teams. Itís based over the last five seasons, so if a club bursts onto the scene, they will certainly face a more difficult run that a club who qualify each and every season. This isnít an open and fair tournament; it has been designed to rewards the usual entrants.
You see what I mean about it being a boyís club. The same teams qualify and are rewarded for qualifying by a higher co-efficient rating as they play easier sides and win by more goals. Equally, they play less demanding matches and do not have the same physical or mental demands put upon them as less regular qualifiers. Now, can someone please explain to me why we want to play in this competition, apart from the financial rewards it offers us?
Letís be fair, weíre not going to be seeded favourably. Most likely, we would end up being a fourth seed, perhaps if we are lucky a third seed, and that would make a successful tournament one where we survived until after Christmas. And we would need to back up that season with another few successive ones in the Champions League, all to make us a second seed. That might be enough to let us have a tilt at the trophy, because I doubt we would have the kind of side that could blow any opposition away anytime soon.
I donít want to suffer through a number of seasons of early exit and disappointment, especially in the knowledge that it might not mean anything at the end. Call me crazy, but I donít get excited about Spurs earning money, that is undoubtedly a pleasing thing, but its trophies and glory I want. Thatís why the UEFA Cup is better, and for every entrant.
Sure, there are clubs who enter season on season, but the reason they are in the UEFA Cup is because they lack the consistency to be in the Champions League. That makes the competition open, and one in which the strongest sides in Eastern Europe suddenly become a threat. In the Champions League they are thumped with alarming ease, but in the UEFA Cup an away match in the Ukraine, Romania or Russia can be a daunting one, exactly as they should be.
European competition should be open and unpredictable. In the old days, clubs in the east would have a collection of talented players amongst their ranks, whilst clubs in the west would have had significantly weaker sides. The cold war created a restriction of player movement, but there was also a good deal more loyalty from players and less transfers in general, especially from abroad. This created a far more even and open playing ground in all competitions, and it made European football something to savour when it came along, not the minimum requirement of a season.
Nowadays, all clubs in Europe seem to have legions of foreign players, and any player who shows even the smallest piece of skill seems to get snapped up (either by a club from the middling European leagues if they are seen early, and in rare cases by someone from the major leagues). Increasingly, this has destroyed European football. The early rounds are littered with clubs who qualify year on year and who at best reach December competition. Their best players are sold and they never have the chance to see them in their prime. As a result, the competitionís winners all come from a select band of leagues, and the in case of the Champions League a small select band of clubs (In the fifteen seasons there has been ten winners from six countries, and I donít include the cheating Marseille in that list, but ten of those fifteen seasons have seen an English, Italian or Spanish winner) have lifted the trophy.
Thatís something else I hate about the Champions League; it has eroded the special feeling which surround European football. Only two weeks ago we saw Chelsea record a pathetic attendance of twenty-five thousand for their match against Rosenberg. We all know Chelsea donít have many fans anyway (because they still arenít a big club), but thatís fifteen thousand down on a full gate. That is one hell of a drop, and despite the fact they donít have many fans when it comes to later rounds, they will fill their stadium.
Chelsea fans expect to get through, they expect to reach the later rounds and they only hunger after European football against significant teams. Dropping ticket prices may slightly increase their attendances in subsequently matches, but they have rather missed the point; Chelsea fans arenít excited by a match against Rosenberg. When you donít play many European matches, or you have a huge fan-base (ala Manchester United), you get a full house. When you have few fans and play regularly in Europe, fans pick and choose.
I love the UEFA Cup matches at the lane, but perhaps thatís because a great deal of our history is in Europe, and the whole thing is relatively new. Perhaps five years of it will leave me jaded and picky (then again maybe not), perhaps others will feel that way, and attendances will start to dip in the early stages, but this is UEFAís, and the G14ís, fault.
All fans should love European matches, and that comes from less, not more, games. But no, that cant happen because the G14 wont allow less games and UEFA donít want the those big clubs to be in a different stratosphere to the rest of us. Therefore we have to play extra games of little note, we have to play in a group stage (five teams but only four matches, what is that all about?), and we have to suffer through the Champions League rejects.
Ah yes, the ultimate insult. To be deemed not good enough for the Champions League yet good enough for the UEFA Cup. How insulting is that for everyone. Here are eight clubs who may conceivably have picked up two points (defeats by both the top two, two draws with the bottom club and a better goal difference or more away goals in the ties with the bottom side) dropping into a competition where eight sides could have won six games. How is that fair?
They donít deserve to be down there, and we donít deserve to have them in our competition. Added to that, it massively undermines and lessens the UEFA Cup when they dropping in and do well. It highlights the UEFA Cupís flawed sides, and it only serves to undercover the difference in quality between the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. People will tell you they donít watch the UEFA Cup (I know I didnít take much notice when Spurs werenít in it. But then watching Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn a few years ago was hardly a relishing prospect) and they will tell you that the Champions League sides add a degree of quality, yet all they do is highlight the lack of it in the rest of the sides and as a result diminish the competition. By keeping them out, the UEFA Cup becomes its own separate entity.
There should be fewer qualifiers too, because that would make the whole thing more of an event and rarity when you enter. Iím not simply talking about the UEFA Cup here, but the Champions League too. People might moan about the lack of quality in the UEFA Cup, but surely the reason for that is because so many teams from the big leagues make the Champions League.
UEFA Cup sides donít have the income of the Champions League teams; they donít get the prize money and they donít have the additional revenue that the plastic fans bring to a club. The big clubs snap up the best players from within their divisions, and the best players from the smaller leagues move to clubs in the bigger leagues. This is because the Champions League has made football about money.
Perhaps if only one or two clubs made the Champions League, and another three made the UEFA Cup you would actually see a decent competition (you might see more exciting seasons in general in the Premier League too, because the money has only increased the gap between the top four and the rest).
The whole thing is sickening, and Iím expected to watch it. Over-hyped teams, four of which I cant wait to see beat on the weekend, receive hugely inflated amounts for beating hugely weakened teams from eastern Europe, before playing the same rivals season in season out after Christmas. Thatís why Iím pickier about their games. I won't watch a match played in Arsenalís group this season apart from their trip to Seville, itís the only one they could lose. I might watch the big matches, but most of the competition is uninteresting, uncompetitive dross.
At least the UEFA Cup can serve up its share of upsets and interesting ties. Arsenal or Liverpool might have no problems going to Bucharest and winning, but you can bet Everton or Blackburn would struggle out there. Then take our enthralling matches against Braga and Seville; both memorable ties from last season. Equally, Newcastleís two legs against AZ, where they were defeated on aggregate was fantastic. Compare that to Chelseaís comfortable victory over Porto, Liverpoolís annihilation of PSV, Arsenalís limp display against PSV in the round before, and quite possibly the most turgid display of football ever witnessed, when Liverpool beat Chelsea in the semi final (possibly the only satisfying thing in the whole match). Where is the endeavour to win? Where is the attacking sentiment?
Okay, so not all matches in the UEFA Cup contain the same technical quality, and not all of them are attacking feasts, but that isnít the point; teams qualify for the UEFA Cup far less than regularly than they do for the Champions League. Teams that play each other often know each other well and the matches become tight as they guard against their weaknesses and try to nullify their rivalís strengths. They fear to lose, and they know their opponents too well to risk attacking them. Anyway, that lack of technical ability creates more mistakes, which makes a more open game. There is a balance that needs to be achieved here; take away too much skill and you end up with Championship performances, put in too much and you end up nullified.
In my opinion if you throw out the Champions League teams and the competition goes back to a straight two legged knockout format, as all European contests should be (but then we can let those poor old big clubs only play two matches in Europe, can we?), you have a fine trophy to win, and one that every club involved should covet. And in these times when the big four win everything domestically, it represents something they canít get their hands on.
Of course, that will never happen. Financially, the Champions League is too far ahead of the UEFA Cup. The powers that be canít allow that, especially as it seems there is a war between the G14 and UEFA on the horizon. If they allow too much wealth and control into those clubís hands, they weaken their own position. Equally they donít seem to be able to backtrack, and take the control back that they once had. That means they can only move sideways.
Platini has been quite clever in this respect. His proposal that domestic cup winners qualify for the Champions League was met frostily (the FA Cup was once rated as the most important competition in England, if the FA want to raise itís value they should give the winners a Champions League place. They could do the same with the League Cup too, for that matter), yet when it was suggested that the clubs who do win these trophies get a place in the top competition in Europe, it was met with a decidedly mixed reaction.
There were a surprising number of big clubs across Europe who warmed to this proposal, which is a heartening thing. However, both Liverpool and Manchester United opposed the proposal in full, all of which doesnít bode well. If UEFA canít win the support of the big clubs, then it becomes incredibly difficult to make this a reality. And if Platini decides to push on regardless, then we may well see just how powerful the big clubs are in Europe.
A proposal such as this could led to the long awaited European Superleague, and it would be the clubs closest to the big sides which suffer the most. Many of our players, such as Bale and Kaboul, have joined the club specifically because they want to play in the Champions League. If the chance of matches against the big clubs disappears, as it would with a breakaway, those players would undoubtedly look to leave soon rather than later.
Add to that the obvious financial issues at stake, because there is no question Premier League cash would drop if the big clubs, and star players, left. For a club so close to the Champions League spots, and with the obvious intention of breaking that quartet (however unlikely that now seems) this could well devastate the club.
So what does this all mean for Tottenham ? Well, why would we want to enter a competition we have no hope of winning in the short term, one that rewards repeated qualification over actual achievement and which panders to the biggest names in the game ? At present, itís simply an issue of cash over glory, yet in the future, if the big clubs choose to form a breakaway European Super-league, non-qualification could well leave the club in tatters. This is a difficult issue for any supporter who wants their club to be successful.
If you agree with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to give us your view.
THE WHEELS ON THE BUS HAVE FALLEN OFF
Sometimes, the sound and pictures donít match. Take Arsenal as an example; our biggest rivals and the one club which we want to beat more than any other often proclaim that the North London derby is like any other match for them, that it no longer holds the special feeling it once did. They increasingly treat us as a lesser species, the way Manchester United fans treat City supporters, and continuously crow about how we are deluded to think that we can catch them in the league, or even beat them.
Yet these well worn words, so often spouted by our rivals, donít match the pictures. If it is like any other game why did Fabregas beat his fist against the Arsenal badge after scoring? If it is no longer special why did Adebayor sprint over to their support twice to celebrate? And why did he choose to run behind the goal, and directly past our home fans, to get there (something the FA should investigate - he did it last year and Pires has done it on numerous occasions previously too, as I was under the impression that inciting the opposition fans was not something deemed acceptable)?
The fact is that the game still has a great appeal, and for both sides. Clearly, the rivalry needs a few Spurs wins in the near future, and the clubs need to trading league places and facing each other in cup ties in order for it to really become what it was in the past, but that doesnít take away from the fact that both players and fans should be delighted to win the matches between us.
I was hoping that the derby would galvanise our team into producing the kind of performance we had threatened in patches and so far failed to deliver. Even against Derby, quite possibly the worst and most disorganised side I have ever seen at White Hart Lane, were not put to the sword in as thorough a manner as they should have.
Our problem has been that we only seem to play in fits and burst through matches. In every game so far we have had periods where we were very good and looked like we might take control of the game and dominate it, yet in each one, with the exception of the woeful Derby, there has been points where we were really put under pressure. Of course, you canít dominate each game as thoroughly as you want, and no-one plays to their best in every match, but the failure to take control when we are on top shows exactly why we arenít as good as the top four. It also shows that we lack a real leader.
Iíve heard people speak about us reaching a Champions League place, even after what has gone on already, and I wonder what planet these people are on. Our dreams of the top four were doubtful after we lost to Everton; they died utterly when we failed to beat Fulham. To be honest I am now looking towards the cups to salvage our season and a quick upturn in the league because of it. That might give us a top six finish, and after what has gone on so far that would be an achievement in itself.
There are plenty of reasons why we have not done as well as we would wish; injuries, the undermining of Jolís position, defensive frailties and pure bad luck most well documented. But letís not forget the failure of our forwards to convert our chances, the fact we seem to fade worryingly in all matches, the loss of form of key players, speculation regarding playerís transfers and event happening outside of football.
We have had many injuries already this season; Ledley Kingís absence being most crucial. Yet we have also lost Dawson, Kaboul, Lee, Ekotto, Bale, Lennon, Berbatov and Bent as well. That is one long list of players to lose in the first seven weeks of the season, especially as at least six of those are first eleven players. That points towards poor conditioning on the part of the Club, poor training facilities or bad luck. As injuries are no new thing for the club (in fact the only time we seemed to avoid this was when we almost finished fourth), I would say that some blame must rest with the way the players are conditioned and the training ground the club uses.
Equally, when you lose the first two games of the season and you aim to be amongst the front runners some questions should be raised, but not alarm bells. The fact that there was so much unrest within the club during that two week time period, ironically sandwiching our only win of the season, has not only wholly undermined Jol, it has also thrown our club under the spotlight of the media in a far more significant than we are yet ready for. And the subsequent actions of the board in dealing with that attention, specifically banning the Evening Standard from the club, will not improve that.
Our poor defending has been well documented this season, and even the most obtuse football fan will tell you that our defence is leaky. Worse still, itís not simply one area that is being exploited. On paper, the reputations of our defenders seem to be good ones; Robinson is Englandís number one, Lee is an international full back and starred in a PSV side which made it to the Champions League Semi Finals, Stalteri is a former German Champion, Chimbonda is a French international and in the Premier League select XI for season 2005/06, Kaboul is a French Under-21 international, Rocha is a Portuguese Champion, Ekotto was highly rated prospect as a youngster in France, Dawson and King are both England squad regulars, the latter of which reckoned to be the third best English centre back (according to McLaren and behind Terry and Ferdinand- we all know he is the best), and even Gardner has won an England cap. Not one of the players above has not had international experience in some capacity, be it Under-21 or with the full squad, so how does that collection of players fail to keep more clean sheets ?
The answer, Iím afraid to say, is teamwork. Our defenders seem to work independently of one another and rely totally on the knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of those around them. When one player is injured it seems that the whole defence loses cohesion, when King is absent we lose all voice, organisation and strength.
Considering the fact that this issue has been long recognised by the management, coaching staff, players and fans I am surprised more effort hasnít been made into rectifying it. And we have further problems on this score too, as strikers will go into matches against us believing they can score. This confidence means they are more positive, try harder and take more shots against us; all of which means our unconfident and flimsy defence has to deal with more than most.
Bad luck has affected us; Fulhamís last two goals had a degree of luck in them, both going against us, Arsenalís first goal on Saturday was a retaken free kick, Manchester Unitedís goal took a deflection, as did Evertonís third and in the second our centre back and goalkeeper collided, taking each other out in the process. Yet this should be counted as an excuse. If you want to achieve thing you have to overcome stumbling blocks such as bad luck, you have to work to get luck in your favour too; something which has yet to happen this season.
Iím also concerned about our forward line. Again on paper the threat we have to opponentís goals looks to be one of the best in the Premiership, yet despite that they have managed just two goals between them, and one of those was a tap in against Derby. Perhaps the competition amongst them has caused this problem, but I am more inclined to believe it is a combination of Berbatovís lack of effort and the inevitable exit of the Bulgarian from the club, Defoeís contract wrangling, Keaneís loss of form and Bentís struggle to live up to his price tag.
Out of those four, Jol must pick his first choice as the ones which are the most workable. The clearest problem he has is he doesnít know which of these players will actually be part of his squad in the long term. Last season, we saw Berbatov and Keane emerge as a formidable strike partnership and following our FA Cup win at Craven Cottage we were third in the form charts behind Chelsea and Manchester United.
But can Jol really continue to put this partnership out, especially if Berbatov decided to leave? My belief is that Bent was bought to replace Berbatov, and the Defoe situation has complicated matters. Defoe is without question a good player, yet his selfishness and lack of creativity for others mean that he is not as effective as the other three. If Jol wants to keep him he has to play him, but that would mean one of the others doesnít get a chance and potentially it might not matter anyway and Defoe could still leave; leaving us with Bent and Keane only.
This creates a difficult situation for Jol, and it seems that the number of quality strikers competing for a place has caused them all to fall out of form. Defoe and Bent both want, aside from to play for a side hopeful of winning silverware, to establish their reputations and help their chances of playing for the national team, Berbatov is still on the books seemingly to return the favour of us creating his reputation in England, only Keane has no agenda for playing for us.
Added to this, the teamís fitness or concentration seem to present a problem for us. I donít understand how we contrive to concede so many last minute goals (three in six matches so far this season) and can just put this down to luck, or simply not making the block for a shot. Sunderlandís winner was down to Chopra getting away from Chimbonda, and when a side are on the attack in the final minute you should be more aware than that. Thatís a mental thing, and it is something that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later as it is the difference between winning trophies and winning nothing.
THE MISSING LINK
Tottenham have always tried to play with flair, panache and style. I have always agreed fundamentally that Spurs should play the game in the right manner because that is the way to glory and the way clubs should strive to play. I want to see the team play the game in this style, because in the words of Blanchflower; ďitís about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.Ē
That was the whole ethos of the double team, yet they played in an era where attacking invention and audacious football were demanded by all supporters. In those days clubs where expected to go out and give the fans a show, rather than shut up shop and keep a rival at bay. And perhaps like reasonable player wages, loyalty to a club, shared gate receipts, Divisions Three and Four and fair play, this too has gone out of the window.
Chelsea donít win matches by pummelling their opponents through champagne football, they win by exposing weaknesses and using their superior power and strength to beat teams. Having an excellently drilled defence and World class keeper makes it even tougher, and with Drogba upfront they are always a threat to their opponents.
Liverpool have played some shocking football in their time, and itís not been until this season that I think they have played anywhere near the level of football the players on their books should have produced. Yet you canít deny, they have got results. Equally, before Wenger turned up Arsenal were notorious for being boring; a reputation secured through a resolute backline of Adams, Bould, Seaman, Dixon and Winterburn. When Wenger did turn up, what was the one area that he didnít overhaul ? Thatís right, defence.
Even Manchester United, who refreshingly play sparkling football and did remarkably often last season, dig in and scrap when they need to. Last season when they arrived at White Hart Lane what was most memorable to me was not the football they played to take us apart but the gamesmanship they employed; the Ronaldo dive, the intentional fouls by Scholes, Neville and Rooney to intimidate our players and the aggressive attitude of all their players towards the referee (and in particular the fact that the offender never approached the man in black; it was always one of his team-mates who protested).
Now take a look at Tottenham. I donít see anyone in our side who will scrap and fight tooth and nail for the inches that win you matches. You need those players to win things; they are the ones that never quit and say die. But where are they for Spurs ? Keane will battle away upfront, he is the closest thing we have, and thatís indicative of our problems.
On Saturday we dropped two points against Fulham, in a game we should have won comfortably. Many factors contributed to this; we took off Keane, who was the best player on the pitch, for Defoe, and we made tactical changes by bringing on Dawson and going more defensive when we leak more than a sieve, and of course there was a degree of bad luck too; after all, how many overhead kicks will be scored in the final minute this season ? I willing to bet that we wonít see another by any side through the whole campaign.
Yet they arenít the only reasons we failed to hold onto a lead which should not have even been under threat. Aside from the unavoidable pressure there is on Jol and the team to secure points as quickly as possible in order to lessen media and board pressure on them to pick up points, there is also three fundamental problems with our side; we donít have enough battlers, we donít have enough experience, and far more crucially, we lack the natural, never say die, winners.
These types provide the flair and flamboyant players the platform and stage to win games. Why is it that Makeleleís departure from Real Madrid coincided with trophy-less campaign after trophy-less campaign ? Why is it that when he arrived at Chelsea, they went from good team to champions in his second season ? He does the ugly work that is needed in the game; breaking up play, feeding his team-mates safe passes and shielding the defence.
When he arrived at Chelsea, he added a winner's mentality to the squad as much as his experience and battling qualities which are so important. Spurs have a young squad, they also have players of immense talent, but what they lack are the ones who have been there and done it, players who will never give up across the pitch and more importantly, the ones who win trophies.
We desperately need players who can bring these qualities to our side; who can put their foot on the ball, battle, fight and wonít give an inch. If you need anymore proof think about the number of goals we concede from very little pressure; that is indicative of a weak willed side. Against Manchester United, where we played well and were well organised throughout, whenever they put even the smallest amount of pressure on our defence we looked decidedly shaky in dealing with it.
Of the current crop, we have a number of players who could one day become the type of player I am describing; in the future Dawson could be one of the players, Huddlestone likewise, but these are players who are still learning the trade. They havenít won anything in their careers, and despite both beginning life in the second tier, they have never even won promotion at their respective clubs. A play-off semi-final defeat apiece is hardly the beginnings of the spirit required.
In fact, where within our squad are those who have achieved the high standards in the game ? Where are the players who have won major honours ? Berbatov, despite being the only world class player we have, has won nothing in his career to date, and the only ones who have done are Lee, Stalteri and Rocha. Considering they are reckoned squad players and not key (although Lee is massively underrated, especially when you remember he has had no cover from a left midfielder since he arrived, and that he is playing in left back despite playing the majority of his career on the right) they hardly provides the experienced, calming voice needed to win trophies.
In the modern game it is not simply enough to focus on the cups and disregard the league as Spurs once did under Burkinshaw. The league has become the main attraction now and you simply cannot bring in players of the highest quality to a club that isnít competitive in this area. Add to that the fact that in the last ten seasons only Chelsea in 2000 have won the FA Cup from finishing outside the top four, and six of the last ten League Cups have gone to sides in the top five, and you see how difficult it is to win trophies in the modern game if you arenít a decent performing side in the league.
I believe that winning silverware is the objective of the game, not simply qualifying for the Champions League. I want to see good players play well and I want to see Spurs playing in the style which their history demands, but I am realistic enough to understand that in order to do this nowadays you must be a top league side; something we have not yet become.
If you want to take the biggest step; that giant leap between to the top four and away from the rest, you need players who have the experience and ability to bridge that gap. Players who are natural winners are generally only available to the top sides, command big transfer fees or are reaching the end of their careers. Isnít it a remarkable coincidence that since we stopped playing Edgar Davids in the midfield we could not compete with Arsenal in the league, and when he left the club the goals we conceded dramatically increased ? Ledley King might have something to say about both of these issues as well; after all his injuries have coincided with exactly the same problem, yet Davids had the top level experience which our team lacks in abundance.
If the board seriously want to put Spurs into a Champions League position they would be wise to consider where that winning drive, experience and grit to dig in will come from. The truth is we donít have it anywhere on the park at present. People will blame Jol for the tactical errors in the Fulham game; they will bemoan our defence for not being able to secure a much deserved victory, but do the players at our club have the right mentality to see these games out, especially when things are going against us ?
Letís not mask the truth here; Jol did make poor decisions in that match, yet he has on a number of occasions made the right decision and won us games, he must have in order for us to reach fifth twice. Take last seasonís match against Blackburn at White Hart Lane; Ghaly was clearly the worst player on the pitch, and Jol had the guts to take him off, despite being a sub, and throw on Defoe. It changed our formation and the game and we got a return from the game. But we should be able to make a degree of changes to our team without falling apart as we did.
In my opinion goals will continue to go in against us until we get that winning belief and that desire in our squad. There was an interview with Alex Ferguson recently, discussing the signing of Roy Keane. He said that although Keane was not the technically most gifted of players, his spirit, desire and enthusiasm more than made up for that. Keane had a mighty engine; it was one of the reasons he made such an impact on Manchester United as he did, but it was his ability to stand up and be counted that made him the crucial player he was. The inches he fought for as a player were the ones that won matches, and ultimately titles, in his time.
You can see that with numerous other Ferguson players; Cantona, Rooney, Scholes, and Neville all have that tough winning mentality. Naturally, they have a good degree of talent too, as did Roy Keane, but these are the type of players who wonít give an inch when it comes to winning.
It seems increasingly inevitable that Spurs will soon oust Martin Jol from his position at the club. As much as I like and respect Jol for what he has done, I fear what will happen to us if he remains in his position match after match. There is so much press speculation and interest surrounding us, with the potential for upheaval hanging in the air above the club like a dark cloud, that it must make working in that environment strained and pressured at the very least. And whenever we are beaten, the pressure simply mounts.
From my own perspective, the situation with Jol has not altered my thinking about him; he is a good manager; hard working and able to get the best out of a good many players. In terms of what we have had in the Premiership era, he is by some distance the best manager we have had. Yet there are questions over his tactics, and there are issues about his capabilities of taking us to the highest level, including beating the current incumbents of those positions along the way.
But talk of his sacking has come far too early. In fact, his position should not have been even up for question until at the earliest the summer, if not the following campaign. Tottenham have the resources and ambition to challenge the very best, it is right that we should aim to, as indeed should all clubs, but stability and solid foundations cannot be lightly written off. Everton are a prime example of this; a club that has stuck with their manager through thick and thin and now looked a very good bet for a place amongst at least the top six, if not higher. And what of the clubs that thought they could do better ? Charlton fans were dissatisfied with Curbishley, they often asked if he could take them to the next level; one season after his leaving they find themselves in the Championship.
There was always going to be a time when this board considered Jol's position at the club, and if he was the right man for the job. What is so disappointing is that in doing so this early in the season and so publicly in a ham-fisted way the board have then compounded the issue by making the worse possible choice. Pressure and press interference surround the club whilst Jol remains, his position is continually speculated on, whatever results or performances we have, and every week another manager is linked to his position. Players will be unsettled and will consider their futures as that goes on and the cloud builds around the club. With each point dropped, regardless of the circumstances or the opposition, there will be question marks raised about Jol's abilities.
That leaves but two choices; a caretaker to manage the side until the end of the season and the manager the board want is available (Ramos), or another man they donít want to take over and rebuild. This brings me back to my initial point; when you want something you need to rely on people who know how to, and can, achieve that aim for you. That is what Tottenham lack; it is the reason Spurs leak goals so easily, it is the reason they fold when put under little pressure, it is the reason they suffer so many away defeats, it is the reason they struggle to regain parity when they fall behind, it is the reason the big four beat us, it is the reason we are knocked out of the cups, it is the reason we cannot hold onto leads and it is the reason why Jol is under pressure and will eventually, inevitably, lose his job.
If the board had the foresight, they would have seen the need for that experience and fighting spirit to pepper the youthful potential and would have tailored their signings to meet this need.
Sometimes I wonder about Tottenham. Just when you think sense has finally prevailed, the circus comes back to town. The seven days starting from the defeat to Everton until Tuesday night when Jolís position was reconfirmed by the board have been an all too real reminder of the bad old days of the mid nineties; where the club lurched into the embrace of calamity all to readily and illogical decisions were made from on high on a seemingly endless basis.
How the board could have contemplated sacking Jol is beyond me, notwithstanding such an act would have been disgraceful and disgusting, Jol has been the only manager we have had in the Premiership era to deliver us a top six finish, and not once but on two occasions. Tactical errors aside, you could tell he was starting to build something special at the club, and that we were beginning to worry the clubs above us sufficiently for me you receive endless text messages from delighted Manchester United and Arsenal fans following our opening two defeats. We seriously worried them over the summer, the reaction to our defeats bears that out, yet in one stupendous sweep of idiocy, our board wipes that out, and possibly so for a number of years.
I donít want to rumble over the details of the last few days, depressing and painful as they are, but this whole affair has served to alienate the board from the fans. There has been so many contradictory stories, rumour and official denials to make this whole episode one of the most embarrassing in the clubís history, and if the men responsible amongst the board had any class at all, they would tender their resignation now.
Except we know that they lack that class in precisely the way they went about this farce. It now seems to me that;
If Ramos had accepted, Iíve no doubt that Levy could have got away with this. I want Jol to stay on as he has done a very good job in his time at the club, but Ramos is a manager I rate highly. The board could have portrayed it as quite a coup to bring in Ramos, especially as by next season I would expect the worldís top clubs to be seriously considering him for their own managerís seats.
The fans, myself included, would have been distinctly unhappy with the change of manager but Ramos would have won games (as Jol would have done anyway) and in all probability quite a few fans would eventually be won over to the new manager.
However, that is besides the point as Ramos did not come in, and the way he was approached was all to public, wholly undermining Jolís position in the process. His position is beginning to look increasingly untenable, and it now seems a case of when, and not if, he will leave us. If I was Jol I would have walked out rather than suffer through this, and the only reason I can think that he might want to remain at the club is that there are some individuals, either players or behind the scenes, who he has loyalty for.
The truth is that I donít know what to think anymore, as I want Spurs to do well this season, but I want the instigators amongst our board punished for their actions. Equally I want Jol to do well and remain in his position, but I want him to keep his dignity and self respect; which more or less means he should walk out of the role.
Largely, I believe a good deal of how the season will run will be seen in our performance at Old Trafford. If Jol can motivate the team to get behind him and really play for him, then we could see a fantastic result at the home of the champions. If that is the case, I would say we may get out of this without damage being at its worst. However if the squad are listless, and fail to perform over the season, I wouldnít be surprised to see us slip right back into the chasing pack once more.
Regardless of what happens, Jol wont stay at our club after this season. I think it would be a big ask for him to survive to next summer anyway, especially with so many doubters with knives poised behind him, waiting for their first opportunity to strike. So what are we to do next season? I think its unlikely Ramos will agree to come after rejecting this offer, because I have already mentioned I think the big clubs will move for him.
So who else is out there ? Redknapp ? Lippi ? Capello ? None of these would be right for Tottenham. Redknapp is nowhere near as good as Jol, and he had big money at West Ham and hardly bought in talent worthy of the cost. Capello and Lippi are both respected coaches, but at their age they wont stick around for a five year project at Spurs, not to mention the fact their style of football is the polar opposite to the traditions at our club.
That means we will be looking for a Martin Jol Mark II; namely an up and coming manager out to prove himself after doing a good job at a smaller club. And as we are going to continue with the continental system of Sporting Director and Head Coach, that more or less guarantees a foreign manager will take up the post, and as we have seen it generally takes them at least one season to adapt to English football (Rafa Benitez is still adapting; he still rotates too often for instance).
Speaking of our Sporting Director, Daniel Comolli, he seems to be the main culprit behind this civil war. Donít get me wrong, Levyís lack in faith in Jol should not be brushed under the carpet, but the way this Frenchman has accumulated increasingly influence in the club should be a cause for worry.
Take this summers signings; Bale, Kaboul, Bent, Boateng and Rose. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that although Jol may have been consulted these were players bought in by Comolli. None of them are over 23, and only one has experience of the Premiership. I have no doubt that in the future these players could star in a Tottenham shirt, along with Lennon, Huddlestone, Taarabt and Dawson, but you cant expect a Champions League finish if you donít bring in the experience where itís needed.
Itís obvious to virtually everyone that Tottenham lacked a left winger, two top level central midfielders, a left back and a centre back last season. In a normal club, these would have been the areas improved on by signings. If Levy was committed to giving Jol the best chance to succeed, he should have targeted our two left side positions. By all means bring in Bale, but why didnít we make more of an effort to bring in Petrov. If I was the chairman I would even have bought in Matthew Taylor from Portsmouth, for that extra added cover.
The point is that our signings seem more like ones made by our Sporting Director, whoís role is primarily to ensure that the clubs personnel are there for the future, than those made by a man looking to take the big step from UEFA Cup qualifier to Champions League entrant. All of which makes it seem strange that the board should demand Jol secure a top four finish, as the players we bought in over the summer are hardly experienced at that level.
And itís not like our squad is as good as the other four either. Manchester United have OíShea and Brown to bring into their squad when injuries hit, we have Gardner and Stalteri. There is a difference in class there, and you canít expect to qualify for the top tournament in Europe if you have to rely on players unable to make that level. Injuries hit teams all the time, and unless you have a lucky season as Everton did in 2004/05, they will be the downfall of the rest of us when it comes to breaking the big four.
So Jol was already working for the club without full control of the signings (he must have some input), and now he must use what he has been given to break the top four. That is arguably going to be as tough as the task facing Billy Davies to keep Derby up this season. And as anyone who saw them against us on Saturday will tell you, that is one mammoth task. Spurs have lost two games already this season. Arsenal finished fourth last year and lost eight. Therefore Jol canít afford to suffer more than two defeats this side of Christmas, and arguably the board could sack him at anytime citing he isnít producing Champions League form.
It gets tougher still when you consider he might not be free to pick the team himself. With Comolliís influence as powerful as it is, and a number of his players within the squad, I wouldnít be surprised to hear he had the ability to interfere with team selection. Letís take one of his major signings, Zokora. The midfielder was dropped on the weekend, and Spurs were fantastic in their win over Derby. I would have expected to beat Derby in any normal season anyway, but perhaps the selection on Saturday reveals what Jol would prefer to play, as opposed to what he is asked to play.
This is all speculation, but there is no question that Didier Zokora has not done what is on the tin. Bought in to replace Carrick, he is no holding midfielder preferring to motor up and down the pitch. However, with him in the team it affects Jenas, who has to do more defensive work, and as Jenas is the only one of the two that can shoot, this seems wasteful of his ability.
I think the Carrick affair hangs heavily over the club still. It is obviously a bone of contention between Jol and Comolli and is probably the start of their rivalry. Because Levy buys into Comolliís argument that it is not a case of Zokora being unable to play in the Premier League but that he is not being deployed correctly, it has increasingly isolated Jol.
Of course, this is all speculation as we donít know the extent to which anyone but Jol has on team affairs. However, it would be naÔve to assume that he is given a free hand, as after all, I donít believe many majors are given complete freedom in their choice of line up; there are bound to be times when chairmen up and down the country have a polite word to their managers or make a suggestion, but that should be a rarity and not at the consistency it happens at say, Hearts.
I canít believe Jol would have remained in the job for this length of time if there was massive interference into his team selection. He can clearly handle bruised egos, he has shown that in the way he dealt with Jermain Defoe in recent seasons. Therefore I would guess it is a case of a few words here and there, although presumably when they lost faith in him last season there was a more thorough inspection of his line up than previously.
It is heartening to hear some of our players come out and back Jol, especially senior ones like Keane and Robinson, but what I think was most significant of all was the reaction of the fans. We are the lifeblood of the club, and without us there would be no team and no success. It is our money that goes into the club through gate receipts, merchandise and it is us that the sponsors aim their products at. That shouldnít be forgotten. It is always difficult to get football supporters to boycott their club; this isnít a supermarket we are talking about here, the club is ours they just happen to run it. Perhaps there will come a time in the near future when we have to consider just that.
To a degree, media speculation has clouded this issue. The pathetic way The Sun has tried to suggest a rift between Berbatov and Jol is nothing short of disgraceful, and I have no doubt some media hacks are not only revelling in our ham-fisted actions, but also seeking ways to destabilise us further.
Nevertheless, our board have been left with egg on their faces, and they have undone all the goodwill and respect we have built up over the last two seasons under Jolís steady hand in little over a week. And if they think that by issuing two statements to the effect that Martin Jolís position is secure they are sorely mistaken. There are plenty of unresolved issues surrounding this, and the issue wonít die down in the media until all are out in the open.
It seems to me we have opted for the worse choice for all parties involved. After all you donít go to a party with a girl, only to make a pass at another in front of all her friends without repercussions, do you? Jol positioned has been totally damaged, his position undermined. The longer he stays in the role the more people will question what he has to gain from staying there. The board have shown themselves up as being impatient, backstabbing men, jealous of Jolís regard amongst the supporters. And Comolli tried for revolution and failed, despite the blood on his hands.
How can they continue to work together now ? It all seems totally unworkable and clubs that were looking to immediately challenge us for fifth, now look like they might overtake us if this affects the squad negatively. And even if that doesnít happen, what kind of picture does this paint for people like Berbatov of our club. He is only world class player we have, and in acting as we have it is almost certain he will leave.
Sometimes I wish we acted more like Arsenal in these types of situation; you never hear the fully story and confession and the club always act in a discreet manner. When David Dein left their club it was quick and hardly anything was brought up the media, that is how our club should look to act.
But what I still canít understand is why there was an attempt to push Jol out in the first place. He has been our best manager in the Premiership era, arguably since Burkinshaw, yet like our best manager since Nicholson the board attempted to oust him for little reason at all. If there was justice, Levy and his cronies would resign, this would give respect back to Jol instantly. But of course, that wonít happen anytime soon, the people to blame at the top are never the ones caught.
If there is one thing the board should have heeded before this attempted coup it is this; the two longest serving managers in their current positions in the Premier League are Ferguson and Wenger. They are also the two most successful managers in the division. Perhaps they have heeded this advice at last, with Daniel Levy announcing tonight that Jolís position was safe for the remainder of the season, and although the aim is fourth, it is not make or break.Thatís quite a climb down from where we were on Tuesday after the clubís statement, and one that perhaps underlines the club realisation (at last) that events like this cannot be conducted in the public eye. They would do well to remember next time that stability and patience are the keys to success in this game, and Martin needs time to do his job, after all, not even Rome was built in a day.
When I heard that Darkie Nicholson had died last week it bought a back memories of Bill Nicholsonís death, in October 2004. I never saw the great manís teams play; I was not even born when he was bringing glory to the Lane with a brand of football that should have pleased any football fan.
Nicholson was a perfectionist, first and foremost. Every Spurs fan should know who he is and what he stood for in football; he wanted Tottenham to be the best, play in the right manner and always look to win games. The style he demanded bought its fair share of trophies to our club; in fourteen seasons he won one First Division title, three FA Cups, one Cup Winners Cup, two League Cups, one UEFA Cup and three Charity Shields. Thatís a phenomenal record, and one Iím always shocked to see overlooked when the media discusses the great managers of the game.
Itís easy to see where this perfection came from; a childhood growing up in the depression would have given him an appreciation of what he had, whilst a career in the Army as a fitness instructor during the Second World War gave him a solid grounding to be a coach and get the best out of those he trained. Augment that to his success in the push and run side, which won the Second and First Division titles in successive seasons, and you can see his background before becoming manager was a sound one.
Our club are rightly proud of our past, yet have struggled to live up to it and fallen someway into its shadow. This is particularly true for my time as a supporter, where memories of Gascoigneís goal in the FA Cup Semi Final are hazy at best. I donít even remember the Cup Final of that year (I was seven), so my only proper memory of a trophy is the League Cup in 1999.
Looking at the team Martin Jol has assembled now, on the cusp of the fifteenth Premiership season, I am proud of the team we put out to play in our colours. When I remember the days when Austin, Vega, Edinburgh, Armstrong or Iversen donned the white shirts, I shudder to think of how woeful some of our players were. Since 2004, when Pleat was named interim manager of the club, I have seen our squad get better and better until we now are well placed to challenge for a trophy and a place in the Champions League.
Yet I still want more. Three or four years ago, if youíd have offered me what we have done so far, I would have bitten your hand off for it. But now I still want to progress up the table and hunger for the trophies that we once competed for on an almost annual basis. More than that, I want to be an established challenger for the title; something Tottenham havenít been since Nicholson was manager.
Of course, we are a number of players short of a title challenge, these days its not enough to have a few gems and some very good players, you need quality throughout, including within your squad. The summer has seen us make major strides in this respect; Bale is a fantastic talent from the Championship, Kaboul is rated one the top centre backs in France, Boateng is a great prospect from Germany and Bent is a prolific striker at Premiership level to name a few.
Yet Iíve always felt that we expect a lot of our players, and often we seem to compare them to the best we have had; but the players of the past we so good how can a new player make the grade ? Thatís something they have to cope with; after all it was Nicholson who taught us that we should expect the very best from them. What price would a Mackay, White, or Blanchflower fetch in the modern transfer market ? How much hype would surround them ? What about a player like Greaves, who was the great striker of his age ? I find often find myself wondering if the players we buy will match up to the great ones we had in the past. In some cases, such as Berbatov, the player has shown a rare talent and skill which make him stand out, but for others there will always be the comparison to the past. Look at Huddlestone; who burst into the team at a young age, despite his much talked about potential, and then proceeded to spray passes across the pitch prompting comparisons with Hoddle. That is a weighty burden indeed.
Yet that is something our players will have to deal with. We have always compared our players to the great ones of the past, just as we have always demanded good football. Read the Glory Game and youíll see that even in 1971 Tottenham fans were comparing Chivers to Greaves. And that was at a time in the past when we won trophies three years in succession and reached four finals in four seasons.
Last season we fell down because we lacked the depth to compete across the board, and these signings will go some way to negating the impact of injuries, fatigue and loss of form on our season. Yet there is no question that the title will elude us once more this season; the top two are far too far ahead of us and even to catch Liverpool would be a monumental achievement.
Yet thatís not to say it is impossible. If Nicholson left us with only one legacy from his reign, it should be that the club should always strive for the best. That means that we should play the game in the right manner, have the ambition to win trophies and progress up the table. We still have weaknesses within our squad, most notably on the left wing, although Malbranque has by all accounts been outstanding there in pre-season, and we should be justifiably aiming for third.
If you have watched any pre-season friendlies Arsenal or Liverpool have played, itís pretty clear neither of them are the finished article either. Arsenal donít create enough shots from the possession they have, they are reliant on a lot of youngsters and they look to be building around an injury prone Van Persie. Liverpool lack quality on the wings, and will be more or less staking their attack on Torres and his ability to adapt to the Premiership. As it took Berbatov half a season, I would expect the same from Torres, and it will be worse if he starts to doubt himself if things donít go his way.
We can beat these teams, both in games and in final league positions; itís simply a matter of self belief and ambition. I think Jol and some of the players have the hunger, and there certainly seem to be some winners within our squad now, which is better than the days of Gross, Pleat, Graham and Hoddle, when our soft underbelly saw us collapse when pressured (and anyone who witnessed the 4-0 third round defeat at Southampton as few years ago, or the lacklustre way the team capitulated to Man City in the 4-3 a few years later will testify to that).
Iíve said this before, but we need to make a good start, and that means winning at Sunderland. Two years ago we won at Portsmouth and then beat Middlesbrough at home; these wins gave us the confidence home and away to almost snatch fourth. This time around our squad is better but the same start is needed; a win away at Sunderland, backed up by one at home against Everton. That is platform which can springboard our success. Start well and we put pressure on Arsenal and Liverpool from the off; especially as we play both within the opening ten matches of the season.
We have every reason to be hopeful and ambitious with the squad we have and the way the club is run. We arenít tied to a new ground or financial restrictions that others clubs face; we are one of the few to make a profit in the league. We are in healthy position with our squad and we have players in our ranks that we donít want that we can sell for a good deal of money (Mido for £6m and Murphy for £2m are recent rumours that spring to mind- these are squad players that we could afford to release without harming us and we could still pick up £8m for them).
And why shouldnít we aim to upset the apple cart at the top ? So many people are dismissing our chances itís bordering on the ridiculous. They look at us and say we have gone backwards because we finished further behind Arsenal, yet we did so playing an extra eighteen matches, and still we finished fifth. Now we have significantly invested in our team and the team has adapted to playing so many matches, so there is no reason why we canít push them a lot closer in the league this time around.
We should be proud of our team and proud of our club for itís past, especially the period under Nicholson, but perhaps this season, for the first time since the Mabbutt lifted the FA Cup in 1991, arguably even since Burkinshaw was manager, we can emerge from the shadow of the Nicholson era and start competing once more. It will be a long campaign, but when it starts on Saturday we have every reason to be hopeful and confident.This season will be significant for the progress we have made under Jol, but itís all about taking it one step at a time, having the belief in ourselves and remaining ambitious. If we take the example that the double winners set us in their mentality, standards and ambition we can make our highest expectation in the year ahead.
For the article Fourth Time's A Charm by Richard Kelly, click here.
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