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
30.11.2007 Fantasy Football
14.11.2007 The Man Behind The Lenses
28.12.2007 Yule Never Walk Alone
06.01.2008 Cup Capers
21.01.2008 Letting In The Breeze
05.02.2008 Nice One, Cyril
26.02.2008 Wembley 2008
I have cheered and moaned, been proud and embarrassed, ecstatic and broken. I have sweated through games, and shivered through winters. I have suffered travel chaos, and no trains whatsoever. I have seen brilliant football, and woeful moments. I have seen us snatch defeat from triumph and triumph from defeat. I have seen Tottenham at home, and Tottenham away. I was there for all those things, I was present at some of the worst times, and remained, and like everyone I have felt moments of great despair, and total conviction. All those who have seen both sides of the coin know how I felt yesterday, and how I still feel today.
I’m not going to talk about the game in any great detail, or discuss the future impact it could have on our club, and the new status people have already attributed to us; I’m going to speak about my trip to Wembley. Just as Tottenham’s journey began with a third round tie at home to Middlesbrough, my story begins long before Sunday. Really, the story the club is one that began nine years ago, after Nielsen scored against Leicester in 1999. Since then, Tottenham have sought to re-establish as one of the big clubs in the division, and for the greater part of that period, struggled to do so. Yet in the last three seasons, they have shown themselves as on the cusp, and perhaps now they have won a trophy it is proof we have gate crashed the elite at last. Perhaps, though, we are jumping ahead of ourselves.
It was nine years ago that Tottenham last won a trophy, and it was nine years since they last beat Arsenal. Until that is, 22nd January 2008. That was a glorious night indeed, when White Hart Lane was at its loudest, and Tottenham demolished their arch rivals utterly. My trip to Wembley began the day after.
Arriving at work, number two on my list of priorities (after pinning up a picture of Robbie Keane scoring opposite one of my Arsenal colleague’s desk) was to check the Spurs website for Wembley details. Pleasing details were posted nice and early, and the Tottenham allocation was thirty-five thousand. Superb. I reasoned that as a regular White Hart Lane attendee, I stood a greater than average chance of getting my ticket. My mate, who often attends with me, was doubtful of his own chances. I felt he would be okay.
Then it came to the waiting game. Being a member, I was subject to the standard away ballot, yet I had to wait for the season ticket holders to go through their own application process, and endure the slowly filling purple bar as it makes its way ponderously towards the right hand side of the screen. It might have been a novel experience for them, but I have to suffer through that every time tickets go on sale. Welcome to my world. Knowing the vagaries of the purple bar (when I applied for the Arsenal second eg the Tottenham server crashed an hour and a half into my queuing), I was prepared for a long wait, so I set it to task and got on with my work, flicking back to check on its progress. A mere two and a half hours later, I was in, and I had applied for two tickets.
Yet it wasn’t until Tuesday 12th February that I learnt my fate. As I expected, yet exciting never the less, both myself and my mate had been successful; the club would despatch two tickets to me for the final. Yet by the Thursday there was still no news from the club about the tickets, and the club hadn’t even taken money from me yet. Had I been overlooked, I panicked, causing me to make a call to the club. It ran roughly thus:
‘Hello, yes, I’m calling about the cup final.’
‘Tickets for season ticket holders have already been sent out, and they will be awarded to the members with the highest loyalty point total.’
‘I know, I was successful. It’s been two days and you haven’t even taken the cash out of my account. Can you tell me when you will be despatching the tickets for members?’
‘To be honest, I thought we’d got this stuff sorted. I mean, the final is in ten days, isn’t it?’
‘It is,’ I confirmed.
‘So I would say, if you haven’t seen any progress by, I dunno, Monday, then call us back and let us know.’ Absolutely brilliant. They really know how to reassure me, don’t they? Predictably, the money was taken from me the following day, yet by Monday, the ticket status hadn’t gone from paid to despatched. Seeing no tickets in my house on my return from work, I decided to give the ticket office a ring to find out what was going on down there.
‘Good morning, Ticketmaster, which match would you like to book tickets for?’
‘I’m not calling about booking tickets,’ I told the woman. ‘I’m calling about tickets I have already booked.’
‘You’ve taken the money for the cup final from me, but I haven’t received the tickets. Can you tell me if they have been despatched.’
‘Sure, what is you member number?’ I told her. ‘Okay, it says here that you have paid for the tickets but they haven’t been despatched.’
‘I can see that too, so when will they be despatched?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well, the game is on the Sunday, so what are you doing about it?’
‘I haven’t been told that. But, if you hold on a moment, I will speak with my supervisor. Is that okay?’
‘That would be great.’
‘Stay on the line please.’ Five minutes of hold music ensued, in which time I decided that if they hadn’t despatched them by today, I would offer to go down and collect them that night. ‘Hello?’
‘Hello, I’m still on the line,’ I told her.
‘Okay, I’ve spoken to my supervisor and she told me that the tickets would be despatched today, for next day delivery.’
‘Next day, so you’re telling me they should definitely be with me tomorrow?’
‘Yes, they have all just gone. They just haven’t updated the system yet, that’s all.’
‘Okay no problem, thank you.’ When your job involves being told lies on a daily basis on the phone, you get know when someone isn’t being straight with you. I was certainly suspicious of this call. On the Wednesday, I had someone in my house. When I called home, I was told that they hadn’t come in the post. I held off calling the club, reasoning I’d be told the same thing as I was the day before. Instead, I prepared myself for a possible future conversation with my mate, when I told him that although we had paid for tickets for the final, Tottenham had been unable to send the tickets to me, that there was no way of getting a duplicate and no refund policy, and he owed me seventy quid.
The following day, my tickets arrived, much to my relief, and I saw them in the flesh for the first time that night, after returning from the Slavia game. The reason I put this in is this. The Tottenham ticket office was a shambles in dealing with this. I comprehend that the match is a difficult one to organise, that there will be a degree of difficulty, yet why wait so long to send out the tickets, and why lie to me about them being despatched?
Anyway, fast forward to Sunday, and my first visit to Wembley, and my first cup final. My mate lives in West London, and what with London Underground’s decision to begin engineering work on virtually every line on the network on cup final day, I travelled up to his on the Saturday. So on the morning, after a visit to the local café for breakfast, we made our way to Acton Town, before switching lines. Chatting to another Spurs fan on the tube, he told us he was going to Alperton and was going to walk from there. We decided to follow him.
At Acton, whilst waiting for the tube, another Tottenham fan accosted us. He told us that he and his wife were heading to Wembley Park, and via Ruislip. We advised him to get off at Alperton, as there were issues with the Metropolitan Line, and follow the hastily assembling Tottenham throng on the station. Clearly pensive, yet sounding both aggressive and disgruntled at having to go to Wembley, he told us that as far as he knew, Wembley Park was open, and that was where they were going. We christened them, Mr and Mrs Paxton. There will be readers who feel that this is a gross disservice to Tottenham fans who sit in that stand. That maybe true, but from the Park Lane, where I stand, you all seem quiet, apart from when things aren’t going to plan when you get on the team’s back.
Anyway, at Alperton we got off and made our way along the main road, through some sort of market, the locals of the area doubtless confused at being invaded by so many Tottenham fans walking towards Wembley. Once we reached the area, we began our quest for a Tottenham pub for a few pre-match drinks; I had been told that certain pubs would be designated to either team. It seemed like we had entered Wembley from the wrong direction, because every pub we passed had Chelsea fans coming out to have a smoke or take a call.
Then we heard the noise, a bellow of sound wafting down the road, ‘oh, when the Spurs,’ rippled the noise towards us, ‘go marching in.’ Found it. The Greyhound was clearly the place to be if you wore white. To get in, you needed a match ticket and subjected to a search. Once passed that, you needed the patience of a saint to get served.
Two beers, a pre-match discussion, and a brief amusing moment where a man carrying a giant passport photo of Juande Ramos arrived at the Greyhound later, we made our way towards Wembley, with about an hour and a quarter to kick off. After seeing Bobby Moore, a reunion with Mr and Mrs Paxton as we bought our programmes, and a few pictures outside the ground we made our way in. The concourse inside is huge, the beer is the same price as the pub, but the food is a total rip off. I didn’t go for the latter option, yet if I was a dad with kids on the day I would have been crying at that.
Half an hour before kick off, and we made our way to our seats. And who should we see up the steps, but Gary Mabbutt. The Gary Mabbutt, the guy who lifted the first trophy I remember Tottenham winning, my first Tottenham Captain. And I have to say, he was first class. He was happy to sign programmes and chat to everyone, he posed for pictures and seems like a genuinely nice guy.
The view I had of Wembley was fantastic; it seems like every seat offers a good view, and the excitement was evident for all, except maybe for the woman behind us who looked thoroughly pissed off (she remained like this throughout the match and celebrations). I won’t go into the details of the game, apart from the mention that I thought our atmosphere was superb, and our team performance was brilliant, and I was delighted for both King and Keane, who have put their heart and soul into Tottenham. It was a well deserved victory, and the number of neutral fans who have expressed their pleasure at seeing a side who are clearly overjoyed at winning a trophy is a novel experience for me.
A return to my mate’s house in Northfields that night saw us drop in at the Plough for a spot of dinner, and who should we see on the table next to us, but Peter Crouch and Abi Clancy (if you’re interested in this type of thing, Crouch drinks Guinness). Crouch is a Chelsea fan, and maybe he was at Wembley too, so it added to my pleasure that not only were the West Londoners utterly outplayed and humbled, but one of their fans had to suffer his evening close to two chuffed Spurs fans who had no interest in him whatsoever.
It was one amazing game, it has been one amazing cup run, one amazing season, and it is, and always has been, one amazing club.
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NICE ONE CYRIL
When I was seven, Tottenham won the FA Cup; I am still waiting for the next one. I still dimly recall that throughout the FA Cup run that year, discussion amongst my classmates was of the merits of the Spurs and Arsenal sides of the day. That season, Arsenal won the league title, with a team including Adams, Merson and Smith, whilst Tottenham won the cup, with a team including Mabbutt, Gascoigne and Lineker. Patently, there was only one real choice here; it was a case of style, excitement and verve measured against machine like organisation. Sure, they had a couple of flair players, yet they seemed mere add-ons to the rest; at Tottenham, that flair was inbuilt.
Naturally, I chose Tottenham, and doubtless the FA Cup semi final and the 1990 World Cup, in which Gascoigne and Lineker starred, impacted my choice. Tottenham are one of those clubs with a propensity to play attacking, passing, exciting football, a reputation they share with Newcastle and Manchester United in England, Ajax, Barcelona and Benfica on the continent, and the Holland and Brazil national sides. It is what serves to make Tottenham a club with pull, what draws so many fans, and is something which is at the forefront of all our minds when the side play. With that in mind, Graham didn’t stand a chance. Yet sometimes the past has more of an impact on the future than you consider it will at the time.
I have supported Tottenham since then, and on an increasingly obsessive basis. But while in the almost two decades that have followed, Tottenham sunk to mid-table obscurity, even flirting with relegation on occasion, fielded players such as Armstrong, Vega, Clemence, and too many others to name that seemed so at odds with the great players of the past, Arsenal changed unimaginably from what they were. Under Wenger, they are no longer a side that grinds out wins and plays such turgid football, they now play exciting, expansive football, causing Guardian writers across the country to seek out new ways of launching into hyperbole. I’m not suggesting for one moment I would wish to be an Arsenal fan, but you have to appreciate the football they play, because if you don’t respect your rival, you won’t be able to find out how to beat them. However, the point still stands; in 1991, you wouldn’t have found many people who would have bet on Arsenal becoming the most exciting side in the league a decade later. No-one would, because they played terrible football, and had done so for one hundred years previously.
The past makes fools of us all, consider all the kids at my school who began supporting Palace in 1990 for a start, yet no group has been so damaged by the past than the English full back. In 1970, England were World Champions and headed to Mexico with high hopes of retaining the trophy they had won four years earlier. Yet the side were undone in the quarter finals, going down 3-2 to West Germany. It was not as simple as that, because England had been 2-0 up in the game, and at 2-1, had taken off Bobby Charlton, doubtless to save his legs for the expected semi final to come. West Germany were able to equalise, and with momentum in their favour, gained victory.
Ultimately, that result killed off the flying full back in English football, quite probably until Mourinho and Wenger arrived some thirty-odd years later. During the 1970 game, England played 4-3-3, the width in the side being provided by full backs Newton and Labone. Newton actually assisted for both the England goals, yet the full backs were blamed for England’s defeat. At 2-1, Labone weakly cleared, the ball ending up with Seeler, who equalised.
Thus, almost as soon as we had seen the first significant innovation in total football, employed by England to good effect in the three group matches before the quarter final, there was a feeling amongst the public that the experiment was a failure, and that feeling has probably been one of the contributing factors to subsequent decisions by England managers to pick players who can defend first and attack second, itself causing a general lack of technical excellence on the part of English players, especially those at the back.
At the same time at club level, Tottenham also played 4-3-3. According to the Glory Game by Hunter Davies, there was a general feeling that teams who played with 4-3-3 were attacking, and those who played 4-4-2 were defensive (it goes without saying Arsenal won their ‘double’ in 1970 playing 4-4-2). In the full back positions, Tottenham played Knowles and Kinnear, both of whom were encouraged to get forward and support the midfield players in wide positions.
Yet in 1971-72, the season on which the Glory Game is based, Nicholson switches his side to one playing 4-4-2, justifying the decision to do so with his comments that playing in such a way could actually make a side more attacking than in playing 4-3-3, because it meant more players in the midfield able to use the space on the pitch.
Knowles was an attacking full back, similar to his peers of his day Carlos Alberto and Ruud Krol, as well as modern day players such as Cafu, Maldini, Roberto Carlos and even Evra at Manchester United. Yet ultimately, after England’s failure with 4-3-3 in 1970, the attacking full back died out in English football, and their job became one of denying wingers the chance to cross the ball for forwards, more than anything else. On occasion, a full back emerged who could attack, but that was seen as a bonus more than anything else. Effectively, the game in this country became more defensive, stagnating with players in set roles and with little positional alteration.
Fast forward to the Premiership years, and the side which was so dominant in English football struggled so utterly in Europe. Ferguson’s Manchester United side of the 1990s was famed for its attacking and free scoring football in England, yet in the Champions League they were outclassed season after season by the big guns in Spain and Italy. They played Irwin and Neville at full back then, neither of whom are exactly renown for getting forward throughout matches. Sure, they had periods where they moved into attacking areas, yet how many assists and goals has Neville had ? Not many.
Now, of course, Manchester United have Evra at left back, Arsenal have Clichy and Sagna, and Chelsea have Belletti and Cole. All are attacking, all seek to add to the attack throughout games, and all are able to play with the ball. This is because the top English sides have finally realised what foreign sides have known since the 1970s; that having eleven players capable of playing with the ball, having athletic full backs able to defend and attack, having midfielders able to retain the ball, create and score, as well as play in a variety of positions, makes you very hard to beat indeed.
We aren’t at the stage yet where we can interchange positions to the degree Manchester United do (they call Ronaldo a winger, but the truth is he plays wide and upfront just as much as in the midfield.) but we are certainly getting close. In Seville, Ramos built a side famed for its attacking style. He based his team on work rate and effort, fitness, ball retention and dominance of keys areas of the pitch. Central to all this was his full backs.
An attacking full back can force opposition midfielders deep, both to pick up the ball from their defence and to maraud along the touch line. He can also support his winger, provide overlaps and crosses, or even drag an opponent out wide to mark him. If nothing else, being in attacking positions creates space. Yet the players he had a Seville were also capable of defending, they were strong and athletic too. It meant his side were hard to break down, and often overwhelming in attack.
Alves typified the attacking full back Ramos wanted at Seville, and it is very significant that some of the first players Ramos has sought in January were tall, athletic and strong full backs. Gilberto is a Brazilian full back, with a reputation for getting forward, whilst Hutton has been referred to as ‘the white Cafu.’ I guess that at some stage Bale will come back and rival Gilberto at left back, who is 31 and will presumably feature for a season or two before the Welshman makes the position his own.
Hutton is more interesting of the pair, because he is a player who enjoys getting forward and was described by the Scottish bloke at my work as being as ‘quick as Adebayor.’ Prior to him being bought by Spurs, the only view I’d had of him was during highlights of Scotland’s recent defeat to Italy, where he got forward and shot wide of the post. He was impressive in the highlights, yet that’s hardly anything to base a player’s talents on.
Against United, we got the chance to see him up close. Signed earlier in the week, he could not have had much chance to work with his team-mates, yet he did very well even so. He made some very good tackles, and got high to knock on a cross at the back post in the second half, stopping it from falling at Ronaldo’s feet. Yet it was his attacking intentions that increasingly caught the eye.
In the first half you could see he was a bit cagey, perhaps given instruction not to drift too far with Ronaldo, Giggs, Scholes, Rooney and Tevez in opposition, he nevertheless moved upfield to good effect, supporting Lennon on the wing. He also moved into some good spaces in the wide right position, particular in the second half, getting into the box, running at the Manchester United defence and at one stage had twenty yards of space on the right and who knows what could have happened if Huddlestone had spotted him there ?
These type of purchases indicate what Ramos wants Tottenham to be; a bigger version of Seville. In Spain, he was to a great degree restricted by the players he could attract and the money he had available. Even so, he forged a side capable of rivalling Barcelona and Real Madrid in three seasons at the club, winning three major cups in the process (not counting the Super Cups). At Tottenham, it seems he has been given the cash to bring in the players he wants, the opportunity to create the vision he wants, and Tottenham are certainly a name enough to attract top players.
Already we have seen Tottenham beat Arsenal, taken points off Manchester United and massively improved our defence and fitness. And that’s just in three months. With the way things are going at the moment, next season might well be a very interesting one to be a Tottenham fan indeed, and finally the Spurs side I grew to love at a seven year old might be returned to me at twenty-five. Perhaps it could even be more than that.
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LETTING IN THE BREEZE
Back in December, Gus Poyet confirmed that Tottenham would aim to do their transfer deals as soon as the January window opened. If that’s the case, welcome Mr Gunter, party of one. Nevertheless, the best of intentions often go awry, and no-one can predict the actions of their peers, no matter how well they know them. At the present there are ten days until the window is closed, and locked, until the summer, and in that time Tottenham, in my opinion, have a great deal of business to conclude.
One of the simplest barometers to measure your team’s ability is to compare them to your rivals, or in Tottenham’s case, those clubs they look to aspire to; namely the big four. So just how many of our first eleven would the big four be interested in? I can think of five; Berbatov, Keane, King, Bale and Lennon. And how many of the Manchester United players would Arsenal covet, should they be made available? Eight? That sounds about right to me. Clearly then, there is room for improvement on our part.
Casting our minds back to the summer, in those days of waiting as the Champions League was not merely an ambition expressed by the fans, but on the part of the media as well, it was well noted that Tottenham needed a centre back, defensive midfielder and left midfielder and full back. Of those, Bale was bought in to fill one of the left sided positions, and Kaboul arrived to compete for one of the centre back spots.
It is quite ironic then, that the prudent policy which had so successfully ensured the club had propelled itself onto the doorstep of the big four which had cost the club any chance of gate-crashing that party. For three seasons the club bought young players of good potential into the club, the premise behind it being that if they don’t work out then their potential will ensure they can be sold for a decent price, and if they want to leave to pastures new, then the club can make a significant profit.
It was that policy that saw Bale, Kaboul, Boateng and Bent arrive at the club and shun players such as Petrov. Effectively, the board opted to outlay their funds on a high transfer fee and low wages for Bent, instead of the relatively low fee and high wages on Petrov. Previously this policy had been a sound one, ensuring the club recouped money on players such as Reid, Atouba, Mido and Ziegler; all who had failed to make the grade.
Yet what those who were buying players in the summer forgot was that what the team needed more than anything was some experience to bolster the ranks. Just as Naybet came in a made King a better player, so did Davids arrive and galvanise the side from mid-table outfit to the cusp of the Champions League. Tottenham lack that experience throughout their side. In fact of the first team squad, I’m pretty sure that only Lee has won silverware. How do you expect to win a trophy unless you have a cool head who knows how to do it ?
Of course, before you can talk about who the club are bringing in, you need to know who is ultimately responsible for signing players at the club. I would presume this is Comolli, because if you consider what the remit of a Sporting Director is, then this seems to become clear. Ramos was appointed as First Team Coach when he arrived, and therefore his role is to work solely with the first team squad, prepare them for matches, pick the side, make changes during the match and work in conjunction with the coaches to get the best out of the first team in training.
Comolli, in contrast, is responsible for overseeing everything. Not only does he have to consider the needs of Ramos and the first team, he has to do the best for the reserves (or development squad, to use Tottenham jargon) as well as the academy. Lastly, his remit includes all non playing aspects of the playing side, such the training base and scouting.
Tottenham are in danger of having too many chiefs though, because surely when Ramos saw how Jol was disgracefully ejected from the club, he made certain conditions plain before accepting the role. He must have known that the team lacked in key areas, and he must have demanded that he be given a degree of freedom to resolve that. That said, we all know that Levy is obsessed with the general policy of buying youthful players who are preferably English, with Comolli seemingly eager to support at least the first part of this policy.
At best, this means Tottenham are run by council, where Ramos, Levy and Comolli sit down and discuss who the three of them wish to sign, and agree on targets. At worse, a situation akin to that at Real Madrid might arise. I don’t mean that the side will go out and sign superstars from around the world, rather that the three will sign whoever they want for the club without consulting the other two. A few years ago, the Madrid President signed his Galacticos, the Sporting Director signed players who would develop in a few seasons, and Del Bosque, with whatever money was left over, would try to sign players who would actually complete his squad. You cant get away with that kind of disorganisation in England, where the competition is that much more fierce, and we don’t have the pull of Real Madrid anyway.
Ramos, though, has been at the club for a number of months now, and doubtless he must have a good idea of who he wants to keep and who he doesn’t. Namely, when he opens the window to air the room, which smells he doesn’t mind. Added to the list of key personnel already mentioned above, Malbranque is having a superb season and is presumably high in the Spaniard’s thoughts, Dawson, Kaboul, Boateng, Huddlestone, Zokora and probably Jenas have done enough to remain in contention as well. We have long known which areas the side is lacking in, notably presence on the left and force through the centre of midfield, and yet little discernable effort has been made to address that.
A quick word here on the notable departures. One of Bent and Defoe will certainly leave, although most likely in the summer now. The Defoe situation, in my opinion, has arisen purely because his contract is coming to an end, the club don’t wish to miss out on a transfer fee, and Defoe doesn’t wish to sign unless he gets regular first team football. The reality of it, and creating a chasm between the two, is that Defoe is in no way the able to break the formidable Keane-Berbatov partnership.
That leaves one of two outcomes; either Defoe accepts that he will always be the third wheel of the partnership, effectively surrendering his chances of international football in the recent future, or he is sold, simple as. Bent situation is even more comical; no-one wants him, and certainly not for the price Tottenham would like. Then there is Chimbonda; unhappy with the club signing an eighteen year old who played a handful of games for a Championship club coming in to provide him with competition. Lastly, Robinson; who could be on his way to join Sven at Manchester City.
All, but likely some, of those players will probably leave the club in the near future, but it isn’t wise to change a side so completely in January, as new players need time to bed in. That said, we do still need experience in come into our side, as it would be invaluable to help boost the core, yet inexperienced, players. This morning, it was revealed that Tottenham were after Gilberto, Brazil’s left back who currently players for Hertha Berlin.
At thirty-one, he isn’t a player who will recoup a profit should we wish to sell him, and that represents a risk. Yet, if he has the quality his present could be invaluable in bridging the gap whilst we wait for Bale’s potential to flourish. The other name mooted across the board is Tiago, another player who would be a gem for the side. His is a proper defensive midfielder, someone who can at last replace the gap left in the side following Carrick’s departure, and should certainly help our porous defence.
There are other signings that could be made at this time of year, for instance what about Hyypia ? A player who has won FA and League Cups as well as a UEFA and Champions League title at Liverpool, he is currently behind Agger and Carragher in the Liverpool pecking order. Surely he stands more chance getting into the Tottenham defence as we spend the rest of the season nursing King back and trying to get Dawson and Kaboul to realise their potential ?
One player we have for so long lacked is a proper playmaker in the centre of the pitch, the side having Jenas play there. He continues to frustrate, and does not provide enough in the way of either goals or assists. I think we are overlooking Malbranque, who played so well there for Fulham, is in the form of his life and destroyed us on many occasions operating from that position for his former club.
A side lining up with Cerny, Gilberto, King, Hyypia, Chimbonda, O’Hara, Malbranque, Tiago, Lennon, Berbatov, Keane isn’t a bad one; it certainly is balanced and hard working and should have enough within in to propel us up the table and challenge the clubs vying for seventh or even sixth. Hyypia and Gilberto’s positions in the side are short term; their signings made in order to bring on the young defenders in the club, in the same way that Naybet did for King.
Whatever happens and whoever is buying, I expect at least two further arrivals in this window, one fullback and a central midfielder at least, I just hope the club had learnt the value of experience this time, because there is still plenty for us to play for this campaign, with three trophies yet to be claimed. Because getting it right now, and freshening up the squad in the process, could be the first good decision the club has made this campaign.
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Those who are very young, or ill-formed, will not be aware that Tottenham’s pedigree, stature and essence are embedded in cup competition. Time was that Spurs would lose their focus in the league as the cup competitions progressed and glory via that route seemed all the more possible. Alas for the current climate where league football is deemed the be all and end all, and the FA Cup seen as an aside to the priority of finishing thirteenth in the table.
For there once was a time when to win the cup was the pinnacle of the season, where it was the competition to succeed in. The advent of televised football eroded that, as broadcasters wished to build up the protagonists for a trophy over a far longer period of time than a single afternoon, and found far greater interest was generated from discussing the merits of the title fighters on a weekly basis for duration of the season.
So it is particularly ironic that this is the first season following Pleat’s departure from the club where the team have been so erratic in the league (undoubtedly due to the combination of our porous defence and sublime front line; a blend only Tottenham could ever have achieved) is one where the cups have become the priority for the club once more.
The team still have the ability and time to catch those above them and secure a top six finish, qualifying for Europe via the league in the process, yet as each game goes on and as each calamity befalls our defence (and we are fast approaching the point where it is unstoppable; when confidence is lacking that mindset causes a rot that takes a long time to erode) our chance of finishing amongst the upper echelons of the table fast disappears.
That leaves the cups, and they are a far more trickier proposition that the league. In the league, clubs will generally finish where the quality of their squad deserves to be (give or take a position), because one off fluke victories, and suspensions and injuries don’t have quite the same cataclysmic impact that they do in the cups.
Yet let us not forget that we have a man in charge of the team who has won three cups in the last two seasons (two UEFA, one Spanish) and has already gained something of a reputation for success in such competitions. Added to that, we are already in one semi final and face a last thirty-two tie in the UEFA Cup against opposition that certainly are beatable (although I felt the same thing about Reading at home in the FA Cup).
Undoubtedly the competition which affords us the most chance to progress is the League Cup, where only a youthful Arsenal side stand in our way before a final against Everton or Chelsea. Of course, we don’t know for certain that Wenger will play his kids (and can I just take the opportunity to point out here that when Arsenal beat us last time, it was in extra time when they had six of their first eleven players on the field, and we had seven) but it seems fairly likely he will opt for his ‘kids.’
Last season we underestimated them. Going into the tie, I, like many of us, felt the semi final would be the time where we overcame and at last emerged from their shadow. Storming into a two-nil lead, it looked as though that outcome would be the case, yet the team were content to stick with their lead and gave away the initiative, which eventually allowed Fabregas to erode our lead and demolish our hopes. If our chances were slim after the first leg capitulation, they were extinguished when King, Lennon and Berbatov were announced as missing from our line up in the second leg.
This time, the squad cannot give Arsenal the chance to settle and find their rhythm, nor can they attempt to kill the game off and defend the lead (because, quite frankly, if we can’t stop Reading from getting six in two matches against us, what hope have we against Arsenal?). We can beat this Arsenal side, and the players should be utterly motivated to undo the humiliation they suffered at being beaten by our rival’s youthful line up last season. Yet to do that we must stay focused and concentrate throughout.
There are, of course, two other cups which we still have a hand in as well (although the League Cup remains our best hope and should be the priority). Any FA Cup run seemed difficult with a replay at Reading on the horizon (and there is no guarantee they will field their weakened side a second time), it was made daunting with a trip to Old Trafford in Round Four. Still, if you want to win these things at some point you have to face the best sides. Nonetheless, that cup is in its infancy at the present time, and there seems little point in discussing our chance to win it yet.
A point on Reading, before I move on; namely, what is the point of a club that has no aspirations for winning a trophy or qualifying for Europe? I can appreciate that Coppell wants them to stabilise in the Premiership, but surely a couple of games in the domestic cups wont impact their season so badly that they will go down.
They are a new breed of club that now populate the top flight (like Wigan) who are happy to sit in mid-table obscurity for the next decade and bank the cash they receive, and even more bizarrely, their fans are happy for their club to do that. That’s exactly why I think that both the FA and League Cup winners should be given a Champions League place, as it would actually mean that every club want to win those competitions (rather than have the big four use them as bragging rights) for their own merit. Ditto for the UEFA Cup, which is fast becoming the ugly sister of the Champions League (so much so that clubs like Reading aren’t even interested in entering), to the detriment of the rest of us.
So what of the UEFA Cup? Luckily for us, resumption of that competition is not for some time, and at least ensures that we know where we stand in the other two by the time we get under way once more. Last season, a win in Prague in our first match in Europe, since a certain Mr Carr (remember him?) scored a disastrous own goal in Germany, gave us such a boost of confidence that we won the next seven.
Of course, we also have the man who has won the last two UEFA Cups at the helm, and a certain degree of kudos must go to Ramos for the achievement. Just as we are a season wiser from our semi-final defeat against Arsenal last season, so Slavia Prague are far more experienced than when we faced them last season, having won the Czech title in the interim.
It would be foolish to underestimate them, but the reality is that good players from Eastern Europe don’t remain there for long, and often tend to gravitate west. That doesn’t mean that Slavia don’t have good players, because they must have enough to ensure post Christmas European football, but we must be the favourites and in all likelihood will end up playing a tie against PSV in the last sixteen. Arsenal, Manchester United, PSV; that is the measure of the task facing us. But beat them, and the cups are on.
We could win them all, that’s the beauty of the cups, and what a season that would be, surely second only to the Double campaign, yet there is a gamble inherent in putting all your efforts in the cups at the expense of the league, and a fall in that gamble could leave you with nothing, because relying on the cups, that’s a mugs game.
YULE NEVER WALK ALONE
Dedicated to the man who has to stand next to me every week as Tottenham’s defence slowly ruin my heart.
Date: 26th December 2005
Venue: Cheshunt Rail Station
The internet, so long proclaimed as the future, turns out not to be the prophetic device it declares itself to be. That might be a harsh indictment of the whole thing, yet when kick off is less than an hour and a half away and the train station is deserted and closed, despite National Rail Enquiries comments to the contrary, these thoughts seem wholly reasonable and sane.
What made me laugh last week was the announcement that there would be no Rail or Victoria line services for the game. Well, for the two previous Boxing Day fixtures there haven’t been National Rail services either, so why the announcement now ?
Anyway, back to 2005. If you don’t own a car, and if you live miles away from the ground with less than an hour and a half before kick off, reaching the stadium before kick off poses a mighty problem. Our first thought was to try to catch a bus, yet just like the trains, buses it appeared weren’t running the day after Christmas either. With no public transport, with time running out, and with no warning of the fact, a note of panic was in the air.
Thankfully, we were able to reach the ground, my mate’s dad able to give us a lift, and we arrived with some ten minutes to spare. The match didn’t live up to the effort put in by at least two of the attendees to reach it, however, and the only real parts of the match I can remember was the Muzzy Izzet sending off and a late thunderbolt shot by Defoe (that might actually be from another game).
Early December 2006, and we are now prepared for the pilgrimage to come; the 279 bus departs from Waltham Cross, and is running on Boxing Day (I called and confirmed this was the case, even took the name of the woman who told me at the time. That way if things went awry for a second year, I knew who to blame).
We arrived that time without incident, with enough time to have a couple of beers pre-match, even time to recall the home match against Villa the year before where the pair of us agreed to drink one pint post-match for each goal that was scored on the day (that match finished 0-0, thus ruining our after game entertainment too). Happily, Tottenham won the Boxing Day game 2-1, Defoe scoring a brace after linking up well with Berbatov, Barry replying for the visitors as Spurs’ defensive woes became evident to all and sundry (I’d been moaning about this failing since October).
This time, the journey home was far more eventful than the year before; the bus stop informing us that buses would not run for an hour before kick off until an hour after the final whistle. Stupidly enough, the pair off us decided to walk along the bus route, assuming that a bus would surely be along behind us shortly. Plenty of 279s passed us by along our walk, but all going the other way towards Trafalgar Square where they terminated, yet none overtook us.
By Edmonton Green we decided our decision was probably a bad one, yet it was too late to go back now, and somewhat pointless; for surely a bus would be just behind us. In the end, the bus finally caught us some ten minute shy of Ponders End, and twenty minutes later we were in Waltham Cross, and I was facing a forty minute walk home. Fantastic, but at least this time I had known what to expect.
Fast forward to this year, and the bus is still the only realistic option we have. This time though, we aren’t going to be walking to Ponders End first, deciding to sensibly spend some time post match in the pub. Yet that plan too, was thrown out the window as we spotted a bus just past the bus stop. Running down to the next one, we waited for the bus to negotiate the traffic. And we waited, and waited. Agitation grew (especially if you, like me, had bought a bus ticket at the stop which had to be used within an hour and the bus you wanted to get onto was in sight for the entire duration of your wait, that wait being about fifty minutes in the end), yet what is more frustrating is the number of idiots on the road, who don’t seem to have any consideration for other road users.
Because of them it was with painstaking slowness that the bus crept to the stop (it was halftime in the 3.00 p.m. kick offs by the time we caught the bus, and we had gone straight to the stop after our full time). That just left the journey to the terminal, and then the forty minute walk to my house.
So why put myself through such hassles ? After all, wouldn’t it be easier to sleep late on Boxing Day, wake up to have a leisurely breakfast and watch some Christmas TV before Jeff Stelling and the boys walk me through the day’s matches ? Then I could have settled down for Match of the Day that night and watched the highlights, all without leaving the comfort of my home; suffering neither traffic nor relying on public transport.
The answer to that is simple; I go because I don’t want to miss something. Sure, the highlights showed me the goals from the match, they spoke of Ledley King’s return, yet nothing took away the moment he received the ball for the first time, or made a challenge on an opponent or most memorably when won the ball from a Fulham forward in the second half, played it to Berbatov on the halfway line to went wide and forced a shot (showing Kaboul exactly what we want from him in the future in the process).
Yet any of this could have happened in any game; what makes the Boxing Day game unique is that it is an effort to get there. It has a special feel because unlike any other match, it is not a case of jumping on a tube or train to get to the ground; it is difficult to get there, an achievement to do so with enough time for a pre match pint.
Players may moan about spending their Christmas away from their families, managers might complain about the number of games they have to play over the period, and when their clubs fails to reach its ambitions they might protest that a lack of a winter break hindered them, yet festive football is a uniquely British thing, indicative of the fact that football is for the fans, and therefore played on a day and at a time which is best for those present to watch, not those who play.
I might grumble about the difficulties in reaching the match, especially with National Rail failing to provide a service on an annual basis, yet if they did it would merely be a case of Tottenham playing the day after Christmas; it would not be the pilgrimage it has become, and it would lose the event feel it has gained for me; long may the Boxing Day game continue, and long may I have to go home by bus from it.
We are the most entertaining side in the Premiership. Well, that’s what the landlord down at my local tells me anyway, I don’t see it in quite the same way as him. He tells me that Spurs are great for his business and a great afternoon’s/evening’s entertainment. They are an attacking, good footballing side capable of beating most, yet contriving to struggle against the worse teams in existence; they are susceptible to conceding the most ludicrous of goals against any opponent. And just when you think things can’t get anymore ridiculous, Tottenham find a way to prove that wrong.
I could take the thirty yard screamers whistling into our goal quite a bit better if it wasn’t for the number of appalling goals we concede (take the one for Anderlecht, for example), yet there’s something that all Spurs fans should fear more than a centre back who hasn’t scored a goal in his entire career lining up to have a pop on the half way line, and that’s the injury time board.
When the fourth official comes forward to announce time added on, something very strange happens to Tottenham, almost as though the players believe the regulation ninety minutes of play were not entertaining enough, almost as though those who leave the match five minutes early deserve to be punished (and they do, but that’s another story), because Tottenham Hotspur, not content with being the most entertaining side in the league, as the masters of the final minute.
Or rather, it would seem, the slaves to it. I’m not talking about goals in the final few minutes of a match, only those in injury time, and there are plenty of them. When Ramos arrived at the club, he claimed that the reason Tottenham had dropped so many points from positive positions was because they were unfit. This seemed to have a ring of truth about it when you consider that Ghaly’s move to Birmingham fell through because he was unhappy to do running.
And yet, despite Ramos working the players for a month, we have conceded poor goals, still conceded in injury time and still end up hacking the ball clear in the final moments from our eighteen yard box. Jol claimed the susceptibility to concede in the final moments was a mental thing, not to do with fitness training. That was in 2005, and that is how long this problem has been evident.
The below statistics highlight the number of goals Tottenham have seen over the last three seasons in injury time. Goals such as Sunderland’s 89th minute strike at the Stadium of Light in 2006, which earned them a point, are not included. I’ve also divided up those which were in our favour and those against, as well as the points deficit in instances where the goals cost or gained Tottenham points. In the case of cup matches, I have treated this gain or deficit as though it were a league game (so a last minute goal conceded from a winning position would lose us two points, whilst one scored in the same period when we are losing would gain us one point, and vice versa).
What’s most concerning is that this problem seems to be getting worse as time goes on. We have already seen eight goals this campaign, we aren’t even halfway through yet. Last season, the injury time goals were all seemingly in our favour. The one we did concede with in the UEFA Cup tie against Dinamo Bucharest, a match in which a point was enough to take top spot in the group and a game where we were already three goals up at the time.
Yet just like in 2005-06, this campaign we seem to be conceding last minute goals which have a direct relevance to points of progress in competition. In contrast, when they went in for us, only three of the nine had any impact. This season, six of eight have already impacted upon us. So is Ramos right, is fitness the issue? Or is it Jol’s argument that it is a mental thing? How about the system in general?
I think fitness, ultimately, was an issue for the team. Rumours that the foreign players wanted more physical training under Jol were rife, and certainly since Ramos’ arrival, we have only conceded one last minute goal (in one month, compared to seven in three). Yet that fitness work will impact on the player’s ball work. Even against Wigan, where Spurs were pleasingly energetic as they dominated a lacklustre side, which had gained a reputation as a hardworking, battling team since promotion to the Premier League, we saw less of the clever play that Jol worked hard to foster, and a bit more of the direct approach.
The fact remains though, that in the last minute of almost every game we play, we seem to be on the back foot. Against City, a side with ten men, we ended up hoofing the ball clear from our area, desperately defending our lead. Okay, so we haven’t had a good campaign to date, and Man City are doing very well in the league, but only six months ago this side scored a paltry 29 goals, the same number as Watford; have they really changed so remarkably in half a year that they are so much more dangerous?
You don’t sit on your box simply because you’re tired (although it is an issue, as you aim to hold onto what you have, and if you haven’t got the legs it means you stay back to keep it) but also because you are content to hold onto what you have. However, it isn’t the smart way to get it. Watch Manchester United or Chelsea when they are guarding a one goal lead in the final minute.
They aren’t clearing the ball from their half, they are trying to attack, keeping possession and forcing their opponents deep. On Sunday I watched with horror as Tottenham players proceeded to give away a succession of free kicks and boot the ball into the opposition half in the hope that Defoe, ending the game as a lone striker, could latch onto it and take advantage.
It’s not clever to play like this, because when you kick the ball away, how much respite do you get? Ten seconds? Twelve? Especially in the final moments of a game where the opposition are just going to pump the ball into our box, and why bother to attack the opposition goal either, when holding it in the corner will wind the time down far better? Okay, so scoring a goal in the last minute will kill off the match and ensure the points, but how many times do we do that? Most of the goals we have scored in the last minute have been when we are already two or three up.
So the mentality of the side is clearly an issue, yet Jol was aware of this for two full seasons, and three months of this campaign, and he could not root it out. I believe that a good part of the issue is the defensive system we play. It seems to me that half our players can’t talk to each other.
Lee can’t speak English, nor can Kaboul, Chimbonda’s is basic, as is Zokora’s. At set pieces, Dawson has to bodily shove these players into their positions, and the defensive system we employ makes it easier for them to understand. Yet it is also easy for the opposition to exploit.
Watch the way our defence moved to deal with Luke Young’s rocket when Middlesbrough clawed a point from us at the Riverside. You will see Malbranque push out, then when the ball is laid off to Young he turns and runs sideways to block. He doesn’t make it, and Young is able to shoot. Now look at the other players defending for Tottenham; why didn’t someone else push out from the area? It’s easier to run forward in a straight line than turn and go sideways, so it would be better to charge down the shot from the front. So why didn’t they do that?
Tottenham seem to employ a zonal defence, where the left midfielder defends the left midfield space and the left back defends the left back space, etc, etc… It’s simple to understand, and means any player can slot in and fulfil his defensive duty, but it doesn’t work. In the Middlesbrough case, Malbranque was closest to the first man with the ball, but his job was to block off the Young shot. He was caught out between nicking the ball and creating a counter attack, and performing his actual defensive duty.
In other games we have seen an opponent go down the wing, and be blocked by Chimbonda. Meanwhile, the opposition full back goes up the same wing, shepherded by Lennon. Yet when the full back overlaps, Lennon doesn’t stick with his man, there is a pause where Chimbonda has to switch men. That moment of hesitation give their full back half a yard, enough to get a cross in.
Add to that that Premiership players seem to have become far more athletic, tall, quick and powerful than they were last season (just look at Portsmouth), and our lads just seem to be bullied out of games. When you are overpowered for the duration of a match, and when your system enables any side capable of mixing their positions in a vaguely Total Football manner, there is always a chance you could concede. Add the fact that the opposition has a great deal to gain in the last moments, and wants it more than your side who are content to keep what they have, and the impetus is fully with them.
And consider this, if Tottenham hadn’t had a single goal scored or conceded in injury time this campaign, they would sit eleventh, five points from Everton in seventh. That would be a significantly more achievable amount of points to overhaul, rather than the twelve behind and two away from the drop zone we currently sit.
This week the PFA released a list of the best player ever to grace each and every club in the Football League and Premier League. With eager anticipation, I scrolled down this list to see who was voted our greatest player. Would it be Blanchflower, I though to myself, or Mackay? Despite the current penchant for naming players who are currently playing, or have only recently retired, I still remained hopeful that the list would have genuine integrity.
So who was it I found as Tottenham’s Greatest Ever Player, according to the PFA? Jimmy Greaves. Firstly, I’m not going to bash Jimmy Greaves because his goalscoring ability, his composure on the ball and his knack of finding space would have put transfer value close to the £100m mark, his England place would be guaranteed and he would be lauded across the world. Sadly, he was born four decades too late to receive the accolades he so richly deserves (think about how much Robbie Savage earns and the celebrity status Collymore has – it’s criminal), but at precisely the right moment to earn a good haul of medals for Tottenham.
Yet he was also fortunate to play in the same side as Blanchflower and Mackay; the men on the pitch responsible for the Double and the collective brains and brawn of the Tottenham midfield. The criteria wasn’t medals, just the best player, but Mackay took Spurs from close to success to perfection. Meanwhile, Blanchflower was the creative genius that made Tottenham tick; when he faded the Double side did so too.
This all got me thinking; of all the players that formerly played for Spurs, which players could adapt to, and thrive in, the modern game if they played today? I tend to steer clear of this type of thing, because they are often ill informed and always remind me of something Shoot would feature, but because the international football meant a hiatus for all things Spurs, and because we pick up a point at Upton Park in a thunderous match which should have seen Tottenham come away with three points had the referee done his job, I thought fuck it. So, here goes….
Manager: Arthur Rowe (Manager 1949 – 1954)
By this point, I imagine half of those reading will have clicked their back button convinced I know nothing. The rest of you, doubtless, are incensed or bewildered. However, let me remind you I’m not listing the greatest of those associated with Tottenham, but the best team. Nicholson was the greatest, but Rowe would bring more success to the side I am forming, and his innovate method would ensure he could hold his own in the current Premiership (which is effectively what my measure is).
In order to understand just what Rowe has in his favour you must consider what he has done away from Tottenham, and for the game in general, too. Rowe believed in attacking football, keeping possession and passing the ball (English football is fundamentally about dribbling). In the 1940s, prior to taking over at Tottenham, he visited Hungary and presented a series of lectures about football. These proved quite influential, and the Hungarians took on a great deal of his ideals.
Hungarian football improved by leaps and bounds, as Sebes took the national side to Olympic success, and they were hot favourites for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.
Slightly more tenous is Rowe’s link to Vic Buckingham. Buckingham coached Ajax prior to Rinus Michels and was said to be influential on the Dutchman. (Michels created Total Football, and bought it to both Ajax and the Dutch national side). Buckingham left Spurs as a player in 1949, and Rowe took over the side as manager in the same year, however Buckingham retired and became the manager of amateur side Pegasus, who had close links with Tottenham (Nicholson coached them also).
If Chapman invented a way to stop everyone playing, Rowe ensured the glory came back to football. Push and Run ensured defences could be broken down, it paved the way for players to switch positions and it was a joy to watch; breathtaking in both it’s simplicity and novel execution. Would the game have been so popular today if it wasn’t for the football of Brazil in 1970 and Holland in 1974? Those World Cups were the first to be broadcast into people’s homes across the world, and Rowe should get far more plaudits and recognition than he does for the contribution he made to attacking football in the world game.
Goalkeeper: Pat Jennings (1964 – 1977, 472 League appearances)
Good teams are safe at the back, and there was no better goalkeeper to turn out in Spurs colours than Jennings. Reputed to have one of the biggest hand-spans in the game in the 1970s, Jennings played with distinction for Tottenham whilst Nicholson set about rebuilding the double side and into the new era in English football post 1966, when clubs were required to win, not entertain, and defence became a priority for everyone; he is still the ideal man to guard the posts.
Left Back: Cyril Knowles (1964 – 1976, 402 League appearances)
Knowles arrived as the replacement for Henry, but I think he became more than that by the end of his time. A very able crosser, and one good at set pieces to boot (sound like a certain Gareth Bale?) Ultimately he was one of the first full backs to attack and overlap, helping cement the idea that full backs should go forward and support their attacking players. In the modern game, with players fitter than they once were, Knowles’ capability going forward would be invaluable to putting pressure on opposition defences.
Right Back: Alf Ramsey (1949 – 1955, 226 League appearances)
There will be some who know well that Ramsey was considered slow, although he was such a composed and able defender that I’m confident his position sense and reading of the game would make up for that. Besides, Ramsey played a very good game for Rowe in the Push and Run era, and that knowledge would stand the backline in good stead. And with Knowles pushing on, Ramsey could even make the backline into a three, if needs be.
Centre Back: Mike England (1966 – 1975, 300 League appearances)
With Ramsey next to him, you need some pace at the back. England had pace to burn, and he was a great reader of the game too. Big and strong, the centre back dominated in the air, yet it would be a cruel oversight to ignore his capabilities on the ball. In the modern game his value would be astronomical, yet in 1966 the Welshman cost Spurs £95,000, £4,999 shy of Greaves’ record breaking price five years before.
Centre Back: Graham Roberts (1980 – 1986, 209 League appearances)
Roberts was a hard strong battling player, at first glance the very stereotype of a non-League player. Younger fans may know him only as an outspoken former player who was banned from coming back to the club shortly before the 125 celebrations because of his view’s on the club’s treatment of Jol. That, or the man who inspired Tottenham to UEFA Cup victory in 1984.
Roberts brings to my team a will to win and desire that is unquenchable. He is one of those players who, when the going gets tough you know will be in amongst it giving as good as he gets. With him behind you, it gives you confidence that you can go to the most difficult places and come away with something; Roberts being a player able to get the ball to the creative players around him as well as nullifying opponents.
Left Midfield: Glenn Hoddle (1975 – 1987, 377 League appearances)
If there is any area of the pitch where Tottenham have had an abundance of talent over the years, it is in midfield. Ardiles, Harmer, Perryman, Waddle and Gascoigne all fail to even make a place on the bench, despite their commitment to the club or ability as players. Yet Hoddle is one name who forces himself into consideration, regardless of the circumstances.
Hoddle’s range of passing, his ability on the ball and his fantastic strike rate for a midfielder force him into the team. Add to the fact that that modern game is fundamentally about players being able to adapt their positions and formations to their opponents and match they are playing on any given day, and Hoddle’s place in midfield is cemented. That said, I cant offer him a place in the centre, although with Knowles pushing up the flank, Hoddle’s urge to tuck in wouldn’t be so much of a problem.
Right Midfield: John White (1959 – 1964, 183 League appearances)
Out of all the players who are in my team, John White is the one who made the least appearances for the club. Yet quite simply, you cannot overlook the Ghost. Famed for his ability to drift into space; enabling him to supply killer balls or goals, White was only just reaching his peak in 1964, when he was tragically killed.
A former cross country runner, White would have the ability to cover for Ramsey’s lack of pace as well. And if you need anymore proof that he is more than deserving of his place amongst the very best of our players, this is what Cliff Jones thought of the man; “He was a great talent. People ask me what he was like. I say that he was like Glenn Hoddle. But he was different to Glenn in some ways. Glenn was someone who you had to bring into a game, whereas John White would bring himself into a game. If you’re not in possession, get in position, that was John White. He was always available if you needed to pass to someone”.
Central Midfield: Ron Burgess (1938 – 1954, 297 League appearances)
Burgess could play; it has been remarked that he was a better player than both Mackay and Blanchflower, yet what was certain was that he was the very embodiment of Push and Run football, constantly moving and always seeking the ball. He could attack, score, pass and tackle like the best of them, and next to Mackay very little would come through to test Tottenham’s defence. His influence work rate and ability combined to make him an inspiration to his teammates, what else could be more praiseworthy than that? Perhaps that Nicholson once described him as the greatest midfielder the club had ever had.
Central Midfield: Dave Mackay (1959 – 1968, 268 League appearances)
When Mackay arrived at Tottenham in 1959, he galvanised a side with potential into one that achieved greatness. There are plenty of stories surrounding Mackay, notably the man’s will to win as shown by his commitment and determination to return from his double leg break. Able to both attack and defend, the rugged Scotsman was famed for his tackling. In the modern game, central midfielders must both be able to attack and defend, and this man was able to do both.
Forward: Jimmy Greaves (1961 – 1970, 321 League appearances)
Greaves’ goalscoring record is untouchable in the football league; I cant think of a single other forward who scored as often as he did over so many seasons. In five seasons at Chelsea, and nine at Tottenham, he finished the top league scorer six times- something that has never been equalled in England. He was able to find space with ease, contributing both to his goals tally and the myth that he would ‘do nothing for the entire match, apart from score three times.’ He had the ability to carry the ball at his feet and an unerring eye for goal. In the modern game his worth would be impossible to measure, and he would have Premiership defences for breakfast.
Forward: Alan Gilzean (1964 -1974, 343 League appearances)
This was a tough choice, because Smith also played so well next to Greaves, and others such as Allen, Lineker and Chivers played with such distinction upfront for the club. Yet in the end I went for Gilzean. Gilzean was the brains behind the partnership with Greaves, and also used his head to good effect in flicking on the ball. In their first five seasons together, Gilzean scored 56 goals, and Greaves grabbed 119; plenty enough to justify their partnership with Gilzean the deep lying player of the pair.
Ray Clemence (1981 – 1987, 240 League appearances)
Gary Mabbutt (1982 – 1998, 458 League appearances)
Cliff Jones (1958 – 1968, 314 League appearances)
Danny Blanchflower (1954 -1963, 337 League appearances)
Bobby Smith (1955- 1964, 271 League appearances)
If you agree with Richard's selection or even if you don't, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to give us your view on who would be the most influential XI in Spurs history.
I agree with many of Richard's selection for an All-time Great Spurs team but Billy Nicholson must be the manager. I would put Dave Mackay at the back instead of Roberts (like Perryman, Roberts was a great asset to the club but not quite international standard).
My formation would add two of the great wingers, which have made watching Spurs over the years something special: Waddle, who nursed Gascoigne through his first season and kept him on track was the best dribbler and his goalscoring was better than Ginola's and Cliff Jones is a must - speed, flying headers and a good scoring contribution. Also making way would be Ron Burgess, who I did see playing and was more a good international standard player than world class like Mackay (I think Richard has been over influenced by Bill Nicholson and Terry Venables on Burgess). I loved the Greaves/Gilzean partnership, but I can't leave out Klinsmann for his charisma and all round forward play and would have loved to have seen him link up with Greavsie.
My team: Jennings, Ramsey, England, Mackay,
Knowles, Waddle, Hoddle, White, Greaves, Klinsmann, Jones.
THE MAN BEHIND THE LENSES
Damien Comolli has been at Tottenham Hotspur for over twenty-six months. But it has only been in the past four of those that any real interest has surrounded his role at the club. So what is it that Comolli does for Tottenham? And now his role is seemingly much more active and prominent, what should we expect in the near future from him?
Recently, we have seen Comolli thrust increasingly into the limelight. Ramos, Poyet and Alvarez were introduced as members of Comolli’s staff, he was recently quoted as calling for an increase in the number of substitutes in Premier League matches. To me, all of this is due to one thing; Levy didn’t like the way the club, but especially him, were attracting negative publicity.
It’s clear that the divisions for so long hinted at inside Tottenham ran from top to bottom. The way news was broken about Jol’s sacking, undoubtedly from someone at board room level, prove that there are influential members of the club who supported Jol.
Levy doesn’t want to leave Tottenham yet, well not until he is in the position to sell the club for the reported £400m it was valued in the summer. That would represent a huge profit for ENIC, and it now seems clear the board are more concerned with ensuring the club can be sold for a profit than actually winning trophies.
Naturally, the club cannot be an asset without the potential to win trophies and titles, and Spurs have that in abundance. The club have got good players at a young age with plenty of potential, and they have a manager (or head coach if you prefer) who is rated highly. All of these things make for a sellable asset, yet bad publicity and a poor season does not.
I believe the majority of the board lost faith with Jol at some point last season, most likely because of the League Cup semi final defeat to a weakened Arsenal side. Yet he managed to turn it around; rocketing the club to fifth place in the league and quarter finals in the UEFA and FA Cups.
In the summer that left the board with a dilemma; sack Jol and risk the wrath of the fans and media, or keep him on and see where the club was by the end of the campaign. The team’s poor start put a spanner in the works. Board members panicked and went to see Ramos in Spain and were caught.
Did it cause Kemsley to leave the club? Who knows. What is almost certain is that Levy wasn’t happy with the way it was handled, nor was he pleased when Ramos initially committed himself to Seville, forcing the board to hang onto Jol and stand behind him. When the time finally came, and Jol’s position was so untenable that the was really only one outcome to Jol’s situation that could ever resolve it, Levy backed Comolli’s choice of Ramos.
Yet in so doing, Levy has position Comolli at the forefront of the club. He has effectively created a convenient scapegoat for himself, in the form of the Sporting Director, and someone who the press could sniff around without concerning themselves with Levy. And trust me, if Tottenham don’t qualify for Europe again this season it will be Comolli’s neck on the line first and foremost; Levy wont allow his man to fail this time.
But just who is this Frenchman who has arrived at our club as Sporting Director? Well Comolli arrived on a wave of publicity in 2005, after a season at St-Etienne. We all know that his background was at Arsenal, where he spent seven seasons as a scout. Prior to that, he worked at Monaco, specifically with the youth team with a degree of success.
He arrived claiming to have had a role in bringing Henry, Van Persie and Pires to Arsenal, supposedly having sole responsibility for bringing Toure and Aliadiere to our rivals. At the time, Martin Jol said of him that ‘he is highly rated in his field and I am delighted that he has chosen to come to us.’ Levy said he ‘believes he [Comolli] will be a huge asset to the club with his forward thinking approach to international networking and partnerships.
‘His achievements at St Etienne show that he is also ideally suited to bring best practice to our training facilities, academy and medical divisions.’ Comolli was only at St Etienne for one season, so it is hugely questionable just how much impact he had on the French club.
In Comolli’s solitary season, St Etienne finished sixth. However take a look at the league table of that season and St Etienne were two points from a fourth place finish and a UEFA Cup spot and three from a tenth place finish and midtable mediocrity. Subsequently, they have finished eleventh and thirteenth. Prior to that finish, the club emerged from Ligue 2 where they had yo-yoed between the top two divisions.
For a promoted club, sixth place doesn’t sound too bad. Except, in France it is far easier to win promotion and stay in the division than it is in England. There is not huge financial gap that there is in England. Instead, the clubs with the biggest support will tend to rise, and in France St Etienne are one of the big clubs with a huge past.
A sixth place finish for a promoted side is okay, but how much influence did Comolli have on it? He joined the club and is credited with overseeing a number of key first team arrivals. But surely the attraction of joining one of the biggest clubs in France also had an impact? Equally, in his sole season he created links with a number of junior and amateur clubs. I always thought these links took time, and anyway the French league has a number of very small clubs; it isn’t like in England where there are roughly one hundred clubs significant enough to cope with league status.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but what is certainly laughable is the way he has tried to claim some credit for Henry’s arrival at Highbury. Henry was in the Monaco youth teams when Wenger was there, and the Arsenal Manager would certainly have known of Henry’s abilities before he was signed from Juventus. Equally, the Arsenal scouting system means that each of the club’s scouts must see a player and give him the green light before he is signed, so naturally Comolli had an involvement in signing Pires and Van Persie.
But now the Frenchman is in sole control of our scouting, what has he bought us. When Arneson was at the club, he bought in a number of players capable of playing in the first team as well as players to enter the youth team system, such as Mills from Swindon. Comolli seems to have continued that policy, although we haven’t yet seen one of his youth teams players, such as Berchiche, break into the first team side.
What is more significant is the players who Comolli has bought for the first team. There was a story doing the rounds that when Jol said he needed a holding midfielder like Boateng, the club went out and bought Kevin Prince Boateng rather than George Boateng who Jol was hoping for. This serves to highlight the thinking at boardroom level; where youngsters and players with the potential to become good Premiership players or failing that be sold on for a high return on the initial outlay.
It’s quite difficult to say who Comolli bought in and who Jol wanted. For instance, I would have said the majority of French speaking players were bought in on Comolli’s recommendation, but Steed Malbranque would have been well known to Jol. That said, the number of French speakers has sharply increased at the club since Comolli’s arrival.
One player who proved Jol and Comolli could not work together was Zokora. After Carrick’s sale, which was to Jol’s displeasure, Zokora was the man Comolli convinced Levy to outlay money on as his replacement. We all thought the Ivorian would slot in as a holding midfielder, with a degree more defensive ability than Carrick; that we might lose the Englishman’s passing and vision, we would gain a high energy tackler.
Yet Zokora spent most of his time drifting out of position and, compounded by his inability to pass or shoot, became a problem in the centre of midfield. It now seems clear that Jol favoured one central midfielder with a high work-rate, and another capable of spraying the ball around the pitch and intercepting passes, because when Carrick left we started to see more and more of Huddlestone.
Now Ramos has come in, Zokora has been a lot more disciplined and he has started to play in the way we expected before he came in. Zokora is better suited to playing under Ramos, but if the Spaniard cannot get the best out of him than it will further condemn Comolli’s damaged reputation.
Levy’s words above clearly state what our Chairman views as the Sporting Director’s role at a club. The problem is that for much of the two years he was at the club he didn’t really fulfil the role properly. Jol became the Manager rather than the first team coach, so that he wouldn’t have to report to the new man.
When Arnesen was at the club, he was wholly in charge of the training facilities, academy and medical departments, as well as the primary function of the Sporting Director, which is to bring in talent for the future for the benefit of the club.
Continental system is Levy’s brainchild. He claims that it brings stability to a club as it ensures that the policy behind buying players is not reliant on one man, who might be sacked because of poor results or leave to another club. By having a Sporting Director, the board control the players that arrive at the club and ensure continuity for the team, theoretically ensuring that development can be sustained if the manager leaves the club.
And it is all about board control. Make no mistake, Levy wants to keep a hand in affairs at dressing room level, and he isn’t prepared to let the manager or head coach have total control of who is bought into the club. As I understand it, Levy sits down with the Sporting Director and the Head Coach and between them they discuss suitable players to bring into the club.
Except Comolli and Jol couldn’t work together. The Dutchman clearly worked well with Arnesen, the man who bought him to our club in the first place, but when the former PSV man left for Chelsea Jol was left isolated. Comolli was bought in, and he became Levy’s man. It strained the working relationship between the former Head Coach and Sporting Director at the club, to the deteriorated point we have arrived at this season.
Ultimately, Levy backed Comolli and Jol was out. Ramos’ arrival was due to Comolli, who feels that the Spaniard will bring more success to Tottenham that the Dutchman could. It has left him exposed, as his survival is reliant on Ramos’ success and now Levy has manoeuvred him to the forefront of the club, the negative media reporting is hitting the Frenchman, who is being used as a breakwater for it.
Only time will tell what will happen next at the club, yet it certainly doesn’t seem like the divisions have been reconciled yet, and if that is the case, then further upheaval will undoubtedly follow.
If you agree with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at email@example.com to give us your view.
For the article Fourth Time's A Charm by Richard Kelly, click here.
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