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

        10.03.2008    Brave New World
        24.03.2008    Enigma
        07.04.2008    The State Of Play
        22.04.2008    The King Of Harts
        05.05.2008    End Of An Era
        21.07.2008    The Way Out
        02.08.2008    Start As You Mean To Go On
        17.08.2008    Learning From Your Mistakes


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17.08.2008

LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES

When I was a child, I was taught that the most important lesson in life is learning from your mistakes.  All children learn that by tying your shoelaces you avoid tripping on and falling onto your face, just as they all learn not to do things, such as drawing on walls, to avoid being told off by their parents.

It is lesson number one in life and it hasnít failed me so far.  When I was at school I used this very method to improve my writing, reading through the comments from the teacher in order to improve next time.  Equally, when I finish writing this I will reread it, because previous instances have shown me that I am bound to have written something wrong.

So why is it that Tottenham canít learn from their mistakes ?  We havenít had a holding midfielder for three seasons, we have leaked goals like a sieve and been thin on the ground, for the last two, so why werenít these matters been addressed ?  The club has had nothing to do but prepare for this season since March, so why havenít they spent those five months bringing in quality in the area we needed it most and then having them work successfully as a unit ?

You canít play Modric, Jenas, Bentley and Lennon in the middle, that offers no cover for the defence, which once again is looking ravished as neither Hutton nor King took the field.  And having a defensive midfielder will actually improve the number of goals we score too, because it will mean we can get the ball back from our opponents and pressurise them up the pitch.

Of course, I know that the Berbatov and Keane sales have seriously hampered our club, causing continued unrest whilst one remains in the process.  But we have known Berbatov was off since last summer, so the club have no excuse replacing him, having had a whole season to find a replacement.

I donít understand why Ramos hasnít looked more thoroughly at the defence.  Gomes looks a better goalkeeper than Robinson, even though he looked reluctant to come out and claim a number of crosses from the Match of the Day highlights Iíve just watched.  But you canít blame Robbo solely for all the goals we shipped last year, nor was it due to Ledleyís absence either.

We looked more secure with King back there, yet despite having a whole pre-season under his belt, he still isnít playing the ninety minutes, so we have to accept he wonít be anything more than a squad player, capable of a few cameos every season.  Unfortunately, we have to be ruthless in this instance.  Manchester United or Arsenal would have already shipped him out, no matter what he had done for the club, and whilst I approve of the fact that we should give him every opportunity to regain what he once had, there will come a time when we have to make a decision.

So why wasnít a top class centre-back bought into the club ?  With King in the state he is in and Woodgate likely to be injured at some point, that leaves us with Dawson.  So we can no doubt expect to see Zokora or Huddlestone lining up alongside him yet again at some point this campaign.

Donít think this is a mindless rant in reaction to our defeat against Middlesbrough.  They were better than us, and far more deserving of the win.  And whilst we have clearly improved our fitness, we seem less potent without Berbatov and Keane, and we are still susceptible to conceding goals at the back. 

Iím quickly reaching the point where I donít care anymore.  Because, if you canít learn from your mistakes then you are doomed to repeat them over and over again, and I donít know if I can sit through another season of the same defensive calamities.  Last year I sat through all eight home games following the League Cup win, and they only tried in about three of them.  They owe me some good performances and effort, and Iím still waiting for it.  So why should I waste more money and time on them if they will fail for exactly the same reasons they did so last year ?

           

Has Richard made any errors in his judgement ?  If you think so, let us know at mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk

 

02.08.2008

START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON

Iíve always believed that in order to have a good season it is imperative that you have a good start to the campaign.  I donít know if anyone else believes the same, but I think that if you start well and get a few wins under your belt, without losing either, it breeds the confidence which will set you up nicely.  It endorses the managerís pre-season training and transfers, it creates belief within the club and team spirit.  And it propels the club towards its ambitions.  A good start might not deliver all you want, but it fosters good intentions.  The right intentions.

Three seasons ago, 2005-06, Tottenham started with two wins, away to Portsmouth and then home to Middlesbrough, building on the Peace Cup win in South Korea.  That was the season where but for a dodgy lasagne we would have finished fourth.  Contrast that with 2006, when we lost at Bolton and didnít get a our act together in the league until February, where a late surge, which ensured we had the third best form in the league behind Chelsea and Manchester United, took us to fifth.  At the time I thought that showed the team had finally moved on from Carrickís departure, but now I donít think it is quite the case.  And last year, we lost the first two, beating Derby in the third.  Our second win of the season was in November against Wigan, our twelfth game of the season.

That said, Manchester United didnít win until their fourth game of the season last year, against us, and they went on to be Champions of England and Europe.  And Arsenal went fifteen games unbeaten, and they only finished third.  So does a good start mean a good season, or does is the league truly a marathon and not a sprint ?

 

 

Final Position

Home

 

 

Away

Final Position

 

 

3rd

Arsenal

2

1

Fulham

17th

N

Y

6th

Aston Villa

1

2

Liverpool

4th

 

N

16th

Bolton

1

3

Newcastle

12th

 

 

2nd

Chelsea

3

2

Birmingham

19th

N

N

20th

Derby

2

2

Portsmouth

8th

 

Y

5th

Everton

2

0

Wigan

14th

N

Y

1st

Man U

0

0

Reading

18th

N

 

13th

Middlesbrough

1

2

Blackburn

7th

 

Y

15th

Sunderland

1

0

Tottenham

11th

N

 

10th

West Ham

0

2

Man C

9th

Y

 

The above table shows the opening fixtures from last season.  I have provided the scores and whether I believe the teams had a good league season.  Clubs which finish where you would have expected, i.e.- Arsenal top four but not top two, or Newcastle mid-table, have had neither good seasons nor bad.  The only exceptions to this are those clubs who are relegated, as no-one targets going down.  Only five clubs had what I would class a good season for them, four of which played at home (I will come to that moan later, below) and one away.  Those clubs are Aston Villa (top six finish), Everton (top six finish), Manchester United (by virtue of being the champions), Sunderland (avoided relegation), and Manchester City (from driftwood to European contenders).  But of those five, only three won their opening matches.

What is more interesting are those clubs who had bad seasons, ourselves included.  I believe seven clubs had seasons which were poor or worse, those being Fulham (almost relegated), Bolton (almost relegated), Birmingham (relegated), Derby (surely the worst top flight performance ever), Wigan (almost relegated), Reading (relegated), Tottenham (donít get me started).  Five of those started away from home, and all seven failed to win.

Keeping with those twelve clubs, letís see how many points they managed to amass in their first three games overall, to see how they really did start.

 

Team Points
Aston Villa

4

Birmingham

1

Bolton

0

Derby

1

Everton

6

Fulham

3

Man C

9

Man U

2

Reading

4

Sunderland

4

Tottenham

3

Wigan

6

 

Manchester City, Wigan, and Everton made the decent starts, but Reading, Sunderland and Villa made solid ones as well.  Eighty percent of the clubs that had good seasons last year picked up at least four points from their first three matches, and forty percent picked up at least six. 

Interestingly, it is the clubs having bad seasons which are more indicative here.  Birmingham, Bolton, Derby, and Manchester United were all winless, and half of those sides went down at the end of the season.  Therefore, this would appear to indicate that a good start doesnít lead to success, but rather the avoidance of failure (Manchester United glaringly excepted).

So what about previous campaigns?  Perhaps last season was a freak, and in fact clubs in previous years have gained success from good starts.  Letís check out the same data for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 Premier League seasons:

 

2006-07:

 

 

Final Position

Home

 

 

Away

Final Position

 

Y

7th

Bolton

2

0

Tottenham

5th

Y

N

18th

Sheffield United

1

1

Liverpool

3rd

 

 

4th

Arsenal

1

1

Aston Villa

11th

 

Y

6th

Everton

2

1

Watford

20th

N

 

13th

Newcastle

2

1

Wigan

17th

N

 

9th

Portsmouth

3

0

Blackburn

10th

 

Y

8th

Reading

3

2

Middlesbrough

12th

 

N

15th

West Ham

3

1

Charlton

19th

N

Y

1st

Manchester United

5

1

Fulham

16th

N

 

2nd

Chelsea

3

0

Manchester City

14th

N

 

Again, only five clubs had seasons above expectations, and seven had campaigns below par.  Of the teams having good seasons, four one, all teams that played at home.  Tottenham are the exception on both counts, playing away and losing.  Of the sides having poor seasons, five lost, one drew, and one won. 

 

2005-06:

 

 

Final Position

Home

 

 

Away

Final Position

 

N

17th

Portsmouth

0

2

Tottenham

5th

Y

N

16th

Aston Villa

2

2

Bolton

8th

 

N

11th

Everton

0

2

Manchester United

2nd

 

 

12th

Fulham

0

0

Birmingham

18th

N

 

15th

Manchester City

0

0

West Brom

19th

N

 

14th

Middlesbrough

0

0

Liverpool

3rd

 

N

20th

Sunderland

1

3

Charlton

13th

 

Y

9th

West Ham

3

1

Blackburn

6th

Y

 

4th

Arsenal

2

0

Newcastle

7th

 

Y

10th

Wigan

0

1

Chelsea

1st

Y

 

Five teams had a good season in 2005-06, whilst six had poor ones.  Only three of the teams having good seasons started with a win, whereas none of the teams having poor seasons began with a win.  Therefore, taking the past three seasons as an indicator, starting with a win is more likely to ensure you avoid a bad season, rather than a good one.  Over those three seasons, 20 sides had poor seasons, which is a third of the clubs competing.  And of those sides, they recorded one win between them.  Of the clubs finishing in the top sixth each season, one each season was beaten in the opening game.  What is more interesting is that two of those sides finished sixth, whereas Tottenham finished 2006-07 in fifth after starting with a defeat.

One last thing on this is about starting with an away game.  The aim of pre-season is obviously to get the team fit and prepared for the new season, yet as time goes on the focus is increasingly on the opening fixture of the campaign.  Naturally, if you start in front of your own fans you are more motivated to win.  And as we have seen, those who start poorly usually end up having a poor season (one of the top six statistically excluded), so therefore it seems that those clubs who start away should be hampered by doing so.

From the above, over the last three seasons the opening day has produced eight away wins, and eight draws from thirty matches, meaning fourteen homes wins, just under fifty percent.  Only seven of the sides who started away over the past three seasons ended their respective campaigns in the top six.  And that is the nub of the issue.

Iíll be honest, I donít rate Bent that highly.  Sure, he has scored plenty of goals in our friendlies, but look over previous campaigns and I think you have to go back four years for the last time we lost a pre-season match, and that in no way indicates a good season to come.  And without Berbatov and Keane (the latter having already deserted and the former soon to follow) we look decidedly thin on the ground in the position last summer in which we seemed embarrassingly rich.

Without goals, and with a trimmed squad and a lack of a defensive midfielder I fear that the forwards, who bailed us out of trouble last season, might fail to do so again.  I donít believe we will have as bad a league campaign as we did, because we have bought in a more imposing midfield, but to get into the top six will require a big effort.  Villa and Everton havenít lost their best players, as we have, and Portsmouth have got stronger.  Throw in ambitious City and you have quite a strong group bubbling under the big four.  Seven sides from thirty made the top six in the past three seasons, less than a third, and four of those were in 2005-06.  Although these statistics make no direct impact on the campaign to come, they do tend to validate the theory that starting at home is beneficial for the campaign to come.

And thatís what really pisses me off.  Every year I hope for a home game to start with because we seem to struggle to win away in the Premiership era, and every year, its Arsenal who get it instead.  I cannot believe for one moment it is a quirk of the fixture list that we have started with home games only three times in the last ten years.  This year will make it three in eleven.  Arsenal will therefore have started at home eight times by August.

Now, you can obviously point out that everyone plays everyone home and away and itís all fair over the whole campaign, but of course in reality it isnít.  Plenty of factors outside of a teamís control affect the result.  New managers, the weather, lucky, referees, new signings, and suspensions all have an impact and mean that although a draw against Everton away might be a good point in August, it may not be the case in March.

Yet as the statistics show, starting well doesnít guarantee success, although avoiding defeat does tend to avoid the spiral into a bad season.  And starting away makes it statistically harder to grab a top six finish.  Letís play one more game with data, just to prove a point.  I keep hearing Tottenham fans talk about breaking the top four.  Can someone please explain to me how by losing the best forward line in the Premiership and after our abysmal season last year, which highlighted some of the glaring deficiencies in the squad, we are actually going to surpass one of them.  Because, when they arenít busy tapping up one or more of our players, they are well used to the habit of winning, which we struggle with.

On average, over the last five years you have needed to pick up sixty-six points get fourth.  Thatís twenty-two wins.  Tottenham have not won that many games in a league season since 1984-85.  Worst still, the number of points required for fourth has increased year on year over that period, suggesting that it is getting harder.  In 2004 sixty points was enough, increasing to sixty-one in 2005.  Yet in 2008 the figure jumped from sixty-eight in 2007 to seventy-six.  Seventy-six points is twenty-five wins and one draw.  And we havenít done that since the Double winning season.

What, I hear some of you cry, of course we can get fourth place.  Youíll be thinking to yourself that now we have Modric we can finally break the top four.  But Modric is a ball player, and whoís he going to supply ?  Bent you say.  Bent, the player who was fourth choice forward for us until January last year, and third from then until the end of the season, just how will he succeed and lead us to the Champions League where his three betters failed in the last two seasons ?

All Iím saying is donít get your hopes up.  Faced with an away game to start we are statistically hampered in our attempts to finish in the top sixth immediately.  Add to that the fact we need to have almost our best ever season to break into the top four, and you can see why Iím not too confident for us having a good season.  This is Ramosí first full season as manager, and it is an acid test for him.  With no Keane and Berbatov he must rely on the man who he seemingly had no desire to keep six weeks ago, and with Jolís legacy in his last two full campaigns being two fifth placed finishes, he faces an almighty task.

It is right that we are ambitious, it is right that we want to reclaim our spot in the top six.  That is achievable, but it comes from taking it one step at a time, starting with Middlesbrough away.  Win there, and we can think about Sunderland, and then each of the thirty-six games to follow.

Do the numbers add up ?  Will Spurs be quicker off the mark this season ?  Have your say by e-mailing us at mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk

 

21.07.2008

THE WAY OUT

By rights, as a Spurs fan, I should hate Arsenal most of all rival clubs.  So why Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea spend their time winding me up is beyond me.  If it isnít Chelsea poaching our Sporting Director or Manchester United swooping for our best players, there is Rafa Benitez going onto Sky Sports and announcing his desire to have Robbie Keane in a Liverpool shirt.  I mean, it would have been much more subtle if he had organised a Ďcome to Liverpool, Robbieí parade down the Tottenham High Road, complete with banners and floats.

Tapping up goes on at all levels of the game.  Pick up your local paper and check out the transfers for your non-league side.  My local side have lost their best forward, as he has gone off to join the former manager at another club.  And surely every transfer involves some form of tapping up ?  After all, what if a club were to go through the whole process of agreeing a transfer price and meeting a player, only to find that he has no interest whatsoever.  It would be a waste of time, it would mean the club has spent one or two weeks pursuing something which wont happen, giving up other, equally viable options in the process. 

So the clubs sound out a move.  It doesnít have to be as blatant as Rafaís attempts, it could be one player texting another or speaking to an agent, but I believe some form of it goes on in every deal.  And it goes on in your workplace too.  If you move companies you donít hand your notice in the then start looking, and people donít headhunt you without confirming you are interested first.  You speak to them, and you make a decision first. 

But we arenít talking about something subtle here, we are talking about something obvious.  Benitez announced his intentions on Sky Sports, Ferguson did so to the Sun and also to an Official Norwegian Manchester United website.  Check out Harry Hotspur for details on that.  Going through the press is the wrong way to go about things.  And there is a level to which these things need to be restricted.  Players shouldnít be hearing directly from the buying club that they have an interest, a la Ashley Cole, and nor should clubs do it publicly, because it disrespects the club who currently own the player. 

And just as Fergie is busy smashing the windows of his glass house in this affair, so are Tottenham.  How did we get Juande Ramos, without meeting him whilst he was under contract ?   

But back to my initial point.  I should, by rights, hate Arsenal more than any other team.  True, West Ham might aspire to be our rivals, but that plainly is never going to be the case and Everton might be the closest club to us in terms of finishing positions in recent seasons (fourth, eleventh, sixth, and fifth, compared with ninth, fifth, fifth and eleventh).  But it is Arsenal that always serves to make the blood boil. 

Time was that I would quite happily support Chelsea against Arsenal if it ensured the Goons ended up potless.  But I canít bring myself to favour a side created purely on money at a club with no class and no history, with four of the most hateful figure ever to play the game at their club, in the form of Terry, Lampard, Ashley Cole and Drogba.  So what does that leave ?  Manchester United, who break every rule and bully everyone, who are followed by more plastic fans than any other club in the country, and who have the media fawn over them at every turn, or Liverpool, the club who have acted worst of all in their transfer dealings this summer.  It leaves no choice whatsoever, does it ?   

Without our potent front two we will find it hard to compete against the top sides this season.  It took Berbatov, for instance, half a season to even adapt and that was supposedly exceptional.  But let us not forget that whilst everyone else had two months more of meaningful football to play, we were the first club to gain European football this season, and therefore the first club to be able to focus on what we needed to do this summer.  So, whilst I was sitting there wondering why I bothered as Newcastle played us off the park, Tottenham should have been working away in the background tying down their targets. 

It worked for Modric, not so for anyone else.  The Euros made it hard to grab a number of players, as they were unwilling to discuss in the build up and while they were playing in the tournament, but that was not so for everyone.  We all know where the holes in our team are because they have been exposed more than once by them. 

In that two months Levy, Comolli, and Ramos were supposed to sit down and thrash out what they wanted to do.  Ramos was pretty ruthless with who he wanted to sell, wanting to push out Bent, Lennon, Dawson, Ghaly, Tainio, Kaboul, Boateng, Malbranque, Gardener, Robinson and Chimbonda.  That should have bought in forty to fifty million.  Add to the cash we already had, and it gives Tottenham an impressive war-chest to wield.  I also believe they planned to sell Berbatov to Milan or Barcelona, if he wasnít impressed by those they got in. 

Iím pretty certain, picking from the rumours that have been bandied about and ignoring the obvious fake ones, such as Etoío and Villa (come on, we arenít going to get these players) that they planned to use the initial funds to bring in Gomes, Diaz from Getafe, Dos Santos, Modric, de la Red, Capel, Bentley and Albelda.  Lastly they wanted Milito to replace Berbatov, as the Bulgarian showed no signs of changing his mind.   

Those signings, not to mention Bostock, who is more long term, would have given us a superbly versatile and creative midfield, a solid defence and a potent frontline.  Those players look good enough for a crack at the Champions League spots and certainly good enough for a run at all three cups. 

Yet rather than buying in what we need, we look to be selling.  At least a trio of players look to be going to Sunderland, Kaboul seems to be set on Portsmouth, Boateng is heavily linked with Betis, and Gardner and Robinson with West Brom.  But whilst a number of those players do need to go to make space for new arrivals, there doesnít seem to be much on the incoming front. 

I find all this in and out business a bit of a risk.  How do we know the players we are bringing in are better than what we have?  How do we know that shipping out players to make space is a good idea ?  Two seasons ago Robinson was rated by us Spurs fans as one of the finest keepers in the league; now he is struggling to find a club.  How do we know Gomes is far better ?  Added to that, such a large turnaround of staff in a short space of time is unsettling.  Seven (eight if you include Milito) of the above players I named havenít played in the Premier League, so how do we know they will adapt ?  And how do we know Bentley will adapt to our club either ?  Last summer Bent was a huge prospect and he flopped massively.   

At least under Jol, the turnover was not so great.  He was clearly trying to build a team in every sense.  He tried to make a unit that worked for each other and got results.  Ramos has a different style and likes a different type of player, preferring width, power and pace.  Itís not a bad thing but you have to worry about both the numbers and the experience of the players we are losing.  At least we know with Malbranque that he can do a good job in the Premier League. 

At present it looks like a number of players are on the way out and those we have targeted are either reluctant to come in, or we have cooled our interest because we are losing our forward line.  The club donít want to sell Berbatov to Manchester United, they would prefer Barcelona, Real, or Milan, but ultimately they want the money the transfer would bring in.  That was never the problem and every Spurs fan I spoke to expected he would leave this summer and possibly to Manchester United.  The real shocker was Keane and that has upset the apple cart. 

Bent canít leave at present, not until the forwards are sorted out.  We now need two forwards, which is why we are looking at Arshavin, but were are entering a number of these deals far too late to have any impact, not to mention the fact that everyone will know our pockets are full of cash and bump up the price as a result.  This is particularly concerning, as we havenít fully resolved our defensive issues (it would be wrong to blame Cerny and Robinson for all the goals we conceded last year), we still need another centre-back and defensive midfielder, in my opinion, too. 

Yet the forwards remain the prime issue to resolve.  You canít go into a season without a decent forward (we certainly canít start with Bent upfront on his own, as he canít hold the ball up and Pekhart is too young to be given so great a responsibility).  All of which leaves us up the creek. 

Already facing a huge turnover of staff, we now have to endure the massive hole upfront is filled before anything else.  It has certainly changed our ambitions in the market, thatís for certain.  We canít afford to spend too much time negotiating with Blackburn for Bentley at present and we donít seem to have followed up on any centre-backs, suggesting that both Lennon and Dawson now have futures.  And Huddlestoneís new deal seems to point to no new defensive midfielder.   

These next few weeks will be a key time for the club and they do still have enough of it to bring in all the targets they want, but there is still a long way to go on this and I fear we are facing another difficult season. 

You might have noticed Iím a bit disillusioned.  Pre-season is a time when you are supposed to be ridiculously optimistic, but Iím not so now Iím worried about being worried.  I know I need Tottenham to rekindle my interest in them.  It sounds very bad, but I feel jaded and a lot more distant from the club.  I felt part of something under Jol, I felt immense pride when we won the League Cup, but that last run of games angered me.  Why should I bother when the players did not ?  Iím investing my cash, at an amount where I actually have to pause to consider the cost and they arenít even trying. 

Distanced from them by all that, the club then increase their prices and threaten to take away my loyalty points if I donít renew, further making me feel like a customer of theirs rather than a fan.  So, to have all the Berbatov/Keane saga rear its ugly head has not helped me reconcile where I am.  What I need is for Tottenham to start with some wins and good performances, then all that has gone on will be justified.  I could then accept the price rises and the feeling that Iím being ill-treated, and I could forget about the abandonment by our forwards. 

But then this is Tottenham Iím talking about, and when it comes to doing things, they always pick the hardest road.

 

Richard makes some good points ?  Agree or not ?  Let us know your view by e-mailing us at mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk

 

05.05.2008

END OF AN ERA

On Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur, as we have known it for the past four seasons will be at an end.  The team, forged in Jolís image, will never take the field in the competitive match again.  Have we already seen the last appearance of Berbatov, Robinson, King, Lennon, Chimbonda and Lee in Tottenham colours?  Will Dawson and Jenas play their last games against Liverpool?  Possibly, some cases, certainly in others.  Only a handful of men know the answer to those questions, and for the time being, they arenít saying.

Nevertheless, the side which Jol built (and with the exception of Hutton and Woodgate the other nine players all were either signed by Jol, or in the cases of Keane, Robinson and King, played their best football under him) did win a trophy, albeit with Ramos in charge; the man who has been given the unenviable task of taking Tottenham to the Ďnext level,í namely, breaking the cartel of the Big Four.

So, how does this Tottenham side, as trophy winners, rank against previous silverware winning sides?  After all, a team which wins a pot canít be a bad one, can they?  Hereís how I see they rank against other previous trophy winning Spurs sides (for the record, I wont include pre-War sides, because I donít know enough about them).

 

  1. 1959 Ė 1964 (Honours:  1 First Division Championship, 2 FA Cups, 1 Cup Winnerís Cup) The Classic Line Up: Brown, Baker, Henry, Norman, Blanchflower, Mackay, White, Jones, Smith, Greaves/Allen, Dyson.  Manager: Nicholson.

 

I donít think there would be any Spurs fan in the land who would put another side above this one.  I have chosen those dates for this era because 1959 was the year Mackay arrived, and drove Tottenham to unprecedented success, and 1964 was the year White died, and the team was dismantled.  No-one can doubt the impact that side had on the English game, re-writing records that had seemed to stand in stone. 

Until that point, no side had won the double since the 19th Century, these being the days were only one or two clubs played in Europe each season, a time when the Cup was still seen as more significant than the league, the fledgling season of the League Cup (and voluntary entry) and at least a dozen clubs fancied their chances of the title.

In 1960/61, Tottenham not only won the double, and the league with games to spare, they played the game with a flourish, unmatched in style until Arsenalís unbeaten season, when they were finally matched.  Yet the legacy they left, long faded in many memories, is the yardstick to which all subsequent Tottenham sides have been measured, after all isnít every new striker compared to Greaves, and every midfielder to Mackay and Blanchflower?

Tottenham won the first eleven matches of the start of that season, and to date, no-one has ever equalled that.  The following season saw Tottenham retain the FA Cup, the first time that feat had been achieved for a decade, and only the second time since 1891, reach the European Cup Semi-Finals (where the team were knocked out in distinctly dubious circumstances), and finish third in the table.  They were the first side to chase the treble, and were very unlucky not to have achieved it.

They were the first side to win a European trophy, destroying Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the final, the Spanish side a highly rated one, having finished runnerís up in La Liga that season, and holders of the Cup Winnerís Cup.

If you need further proof that this Tottenham side was the greatest ever to grace the white shirt, then consider the fact that within this era, there is the only Spurs side to win two trophies (proper trophies, not Charity Shields) in one campaign.

 

  1. 1949 Ė 1952 (Honours: 1 First Division Championship, 1 Second Division Championship) The Classic Line Up: Ditchburn, Ramsey, Nicholson, Burgess, McClellan, Walters, Bennett, Baily, Medley, Duquemin, Murphy.  Manager: Rowe.

 

More than simply winning trophies and breaking records, as the Double winners did so breaktakingly, the push and run side created the blueprint of football in which all Tottenham teams must follow.  They played the game in the right way from the off, passing as opposed to dribbling, with the ball on the floor rather than pumped into the clouds, they even beat Newcastle, the Cup winners that season, 7-0.  It was innovative football, the precursor to Total Football, and the brother of the style which was developed by the Hungarians, also advocated by Rowe when he coached there. 

True, there have been other Tottenham teams which have won more honours, yet in the early 1950s, only two were available, being the League and Cup, as European football was still a few years away.  That innovation, that style and swagger are what made this team memorable, and ultimately what has caused all Spurs managers to insist on good football as the platform for their success, so from that perspective alone, we should be truly grateful to them.

 

  1. 1980 Ė 1984 (Honours:  2 FA Cups, 1 UEFA Cup) The Classic Line Up: Clemence, Hughton, Perryman, Roberts, Archibald, Crooks, Hoddle, Ardiles, Galvin, Stevens, Miller.  Manager: Burkinshaw.

 

In the early 80s, Burkinshaw transformed Tottenham from a midtable outfit that played tidy football, the challengers for the title, and cup winners.  The club played in four cup finals in all, losing one, the League Cup to Liverpool in 1982 when the match went into extra time and the team tired as the long season took itís toll.

In the 1981 final, Tottenham were not even favourites against a rejuvenated Manchester City, yet in a thrilling match, the game was settled by Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles, the latter orchestrating the midfield in the match, and the former scoring twice, including that weaving, wonderful goal.

That success was the platform of what was to come, as the team played for five successive season in Europe, enjoying many great European nights.  The 1981/82 season saw Tottenham reach two cup finals, winning one, and finishing fourth, and the first time the team had challenged for the title since 1970/71.  The next season they finished fourth again, just two points from second.

Ultimately, the era was ended at the board drove Burkinshaw out, his final game the UEFA Cup Final at White Hart Lane, where the club famously won its last European trophy on penalties.

 

  1. 1970 Ė 1973 (Honours:  1 UEFA Cup, 2 League Cups) The Classic Line Up:  Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Beal, Gilzean, Perryman, Chivers, Peters, Coates.  Manager: Nicholson.

     

This was Nicholsonís second great side, but unlike the previous, this team could not reach the heights which the double winners scaled, falling short in the league in 1970/71 and never getting beyond the Sixth Round in the FA Cup.  That said, 2 League Cups, sandwiching a semi final defeat to Chelsea and 2 appearances in the UEFA Cup final, sandwiching a semi final defeat to Liverpool show just how close the team were to an avalanche of silverware.

And in Knowles and England, Tottenham had two of the great defenders of the early 70s, playing in front of the top keeper of the day in Jennings, World Cup winner Peters and the dynamic forward line of Gilzean and Chivers.  Tottenham had a truly great side back in those days, and were very unlucky not to have won more than they did.

 

  1. 1966/1967 (Honours:  1 FA Cup) The Classic Line Up:  Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Mackay, Robertson, Greaves, Gilzean, Venables, Saul.  Manager: Nicholson.

 

The 1967 Cup winners are unique in Tottenham history because they are the only side to be a hybrid; part Double winners, part early 70s sides.  In those days, when managers were given time to build their sides as opposed to nowadays, when managers must achieve immediate success, and at the very top clubs, where unless you win the biggest prizes, namely the Champions League or League Championship, you are seen to have had a poor season.  Even a domestic cup win is now viewed as a bridesmaid victory, hardly worthy of thought.

Every other Tottenham team has been one that is the pinnacle of a period, created in a managerís image, but this one was an interim side, built as one faded and another was being built.  Aside from setting a precedent of beating Chelsea in cup finals, the side also went close in the league, finishing third.

 

  1. 1989 - 1991 (Honours: 1 FA Cup) The Classic Line Up:  Thorstvedt, Edinburgh, Van Den Hauwe, Sedgley, Howells, Mabbutt, Stewart, Gascoigne, Samways, Lineker, Allen.  Manager: Venables.

 

In the 1989/90 season, Tottenham made their last challenge for the title, finishing the season in third place, yet largely, that achievement has been eclipsed by the Cup win in 1991.  That win is the first trophy I can remember Tottenham winning, following as it did the 1990 World Cup, which is the first football tournament I remember (even if my most vivid recollection is of Miller dancing with the corner flag, or as one boy told us at school, that was how you had sex.  To be fair, we were six).

To my mind back then, Gazza was what football was about.  He had power, drive, skill and was slightly crazy, and to a young boy, he all of that summed up a hero.  Regardless of what happened in the final, where he virtually ruined his career, from the 1990 World Cup until the FA Cup Final in 1991, Gazza was one of, if not the, best player in the world.

Of course, most Tottenham fans, will recall the Semi Final win over Arsenal, and certainly, it was the defining moment of the era.  I think it is important to just underline how good Arsenal were at that time, just to prove what a significant victory ours was, in the biggest game between the two clubs for a few years.  In 1987 Arsenal won the League Cup, upsetting Tottenham in the semi final, they won two titles, one in 1989 and the second in 1991 as well.  Grahamís side were certainly dour, but there was no question they were effective.

So to beat that side, which was undoubtedly one of the top teams of the day, in such a manner, for the first time in many years in which the teams could be considered to be at an equal level, is a magnificent achievement.

 

  1. 2005 - 2008 (Honours: 1 League Cup) The Classic Line Up:  Robinson, Chimbonda, Hutton, Woodgate, King, Jenas, Lennon, Zokora, Malbranque, Keane, Berbatov.  Managers: Jol & Ramos.

 

For the record, I would have put the 1987 side above this one, and they would be above the 1991 Cup winners too, if they had won any trophy, because the football they played was magnificent.  Yet they, like the 1982 Brazilian team, are doomed to spend history in the annals of failure, because they didnít win anything, which means they canít feature in this list.

That said, the current squad is not a bad one, despite the abject league performance they have lumbered through this campaign, and the fact that we might finish below West Ham just compounds matters.  Ultimately one league hopes were put paid by a bad start, partly due to bad luck, largely due to the side being unfit, the undermining of Jol, which wasted a third of the season, and after a brief rejuvenation, a lack of interest after the League Cup win, when UEFA Cup football was assured and the squad doubtless assumed everyone would be satisfied with the salvage job. 

More fool them, because their disinterest looks to be the catalyst for their break-up, and if I was someone like Dawson, who has lost his way this season, I would be concerned about my future.  And the interest of Kevin Keegan, a man with a history of walking away from jobs when they get really difficult and blowing it when pressure is put on him, wouldnít comfort me.

Nevertheless, letís take a step back for a moment, and look at things a little more broadly, because this campaign is the culmination of three previous campaigns.  Jol succeeded Santini, the Frenchman unable to work in the continental system which ultimately cost Jol his position, as the Dutchman went about the job which Levy had initially tasked to the triumvirate in tandem with Arnesen. 

Youthful, English players topped the list of targets, and the team was originally shaped around the spine of Robinson, King and Carrick.  The following season, Jenas arrived to add his work-rate next to Carrickís vision, and a whole season playing the Jol way, in which Robbie Keane was to cement his spot in the side so decisively, saw Tottenham finish in the top five for the first time since 1990.  They could have done even better were it not for food poisoning on the final day.

Nevertheless, hopes were high, and Tottenham followed up their first top five finish in the Premiership with their second, finishing fifth again.  This time though, the team surged up the table, having been eleventh when they travelled to fifth place Everton in February.  A strong finish and excellent campaign in the spring, in which they went out of the League Cup in the semi final, and FA and UEFA Cups in the quarters, losing to the latter two to the two winners, and unlucky not to win any of those ties, having taken the lead in all three ties, and only losing to Seville virtue of an injury crisis which saw Tainio drafted into the backline, hopes were high going into 2007/08.

Obviously, being eight points from fourth, but having the third best form in the league in the final three months, as well as coping playing until the latter stages of every competition, you could be forgiven for the high hopes that were carried within the club and fans.  The media too (although you wont hear them say so now, they all backed us to break the evil cartel in the summer) felt Tottenham would grab a Champions League spot.

But they bottled it, and Jol was sacked as a result of poor form, largely due to what happened in the background, and Ramos came in.  The Spaniard, with a reputation as a winner, basing his footballing philosophy on retaining possession, fitness, attacking football and good tactics, was charged with salvaging the season.  And, largely using Jolís squad, he did, taking Tottenham to the new Wembley, the third top division side to go there since it was rebuilt, and win the cup, memorably against Chelsea.  Jolís team in the main, but Ramosí tactics which got the team there, the Spaniardís player who scored the winner, and his substitutions which turned the match.

 

  1. 1998/1999 (Honours:  1 League Cup)  The Classic Line Up:  Walker, Carr, Edinburgh, Campbell, Vega, Anderton, Freund, Nielsen, Ginola, Ferdinand, Iversen.  Manager:  Graham.

 

Iíll be honest, I donít rate the 1999 side that highly.  In fact, there have been plenty of seasons in which Tottenham have achieved far less but which the team has been far greater, the 2002 League Cup finalists for starters.  The final was hardly a classic, the goal scored in the dying moments, and the football they played, Ginola apart, was hardly in Tottenham tradition, yet cup winners they remain, and you cant knock them because of it.  Besides, they reached the FA Cup semi final too, and were unlucky not to get through.  And they were the only English team apart from Manchester United to win a trophy, so they canít have been that bad.

That season, Johan Cruyff proclaimed Ginola the best player in the world, similarly, so did the players and football writers award him as the best player in the Premier League that season, despite Manchester Unitedís treble triumph.  Yet there were plenty of weaknesses within that side too, Walker and Vega had their critics, as did Anderton and Nielsen.  Iversen never fulfilled his potential, and Ferdinand couldnít recreate his Newcastle form.

The sale of Ginola, at the end of the following season, pulled out the one cog on which it looked like the team could be built, as Graham went about building another dour side, in the image of his previous Arsenal and Leeds sides.  So yet again, what should have been a springboard to success was eroded because the team was dismantled, rather than built upon.  In this case, the manager, winning a trophy with a collection of players he inherited, wanted a team more befitted of his style, hopefully history wont repeat itself this time, and the side which Ramos builds wont fail to build upon what we have just achieved.

Has Richard got it right about the teams that made the club famous ?  And will history come back to bite us on the bottom ? E-mail us at mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk to let us know your views.

 

22.04.2008

THE KING OF HARTS

Can you name all the black players who have captained English clubs to silverware?

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No ?  Iíll give you a club, there are three of them.

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The men in question I was seeking, were Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira and Ledley King.

Thatís it, which is incredible when you consider there have been black players in the top flight and lining up for England since the 1970s, but perhaps not so when you realise that there are only a handful of black men ever to manage an English Football League club, of which Ince at MK Dons is the only one that springs instantly to mind.

Of course, two of those black captains lifted trophies at Tottenham, although Vieira is the only one of the trio to lift two different trophies.  And if Campbell captains Portsmouth and wins the FA Cup this season, then he will be the first black captain to lift two different trophies with two different clubs.

I donít want to dwell any further on any achievement Campbell makes in the game, because the man deserves absolutely none of them, and Iíll leave aside Vieira because he played for the enemy, but notwithstanding, there is no question Ledley King joined in February a very elite band of men in the English game.

It takes desire, commitment, mental strength and self belief to reach the position that Ledley has done, and his position as captain at the club perhaps reveals more about the man than his on pitch persona seems to suggest.  The very fact that Rio Ferdinand is the first black player to captain England, in 2008, tells you just what beliefs and views he could have had to overcome to first become a professional player, and then captain of one of the biggest clubs in England.  Naturally, this all makes Ledley King a role model for black youngsters, showing they can achieve success if they want to. 

Even so, from the interviews I have seen of King, he seems a very shy young man, and one who certainly doesnít revel in the limelight and almost circus-like attention which seems to follow in the Premier Leagueís wake, and he probably would feel his rise through the ranks first to the first team, then becoming captain before finally winning the League Cup this season, was part of his job, in the same way you or I would accept a promotion offered by our respective companyís.

Aside from being a black role model, letís consider Ledley King the player, and the role he has played at Tottenham Hotspur since he made his first team debut.  King became a professional in 1998, making his debut away to Liverpool in 1999.  By 2000, he was playing in midfield, and starting to make a name for himself in that role, even scoring the fastest ever Premier League goal away to Bradford in that year.

He was integral in Tottenhamís FA Cup run in 2001, when the club were beset by injuries, and the following season, when that other black cup-winning captain for Tottenham left to join the enemy, he emerged from his shadow to make his name as the top defender at the club.  And who amongst us doesnít remember the pictures of a youthful Ledley King sitting on the Cardiff turf after Tottenham had lost the 2002 League Cup final to Blackburn? 

However, that pain was cushion somewhat for Ledley by his first cap for England.  Despite his obvious talent, King has won just eighteen caps for England, which is even more outrageous when you consider that Phil Neville has over fifty (in fact, if Neville has that many, where are my England caps?).

In the following campaign, he suffered a hip injury which put him out for a long period of the season, a campaign in which Tottenham struggled towards the end and shipped a large number of goals.  In 2003, Hoddle was sacked, and King was moved back into midfield by Pleat, who wished to offer his defence more cover.  The move seemed to have some impact, and the team were able to consolidate their Premier League status.

However, once more King showed signs of the form which had already interested a number of Premiership clubs, and Eriksson showed no hesitation in bringing the player into his Euro 2004 squad.  If there were any doubters to his ability, they would have been blown aside after his performance against France in the opening group match, in which he totally marked Thierry Henry, then the best player in the Premier League, and one of the top players in the world, out of the game. 

Compare that to Terryís shaky performance in the same game next to him, and it is hard to understand the criminal decision which meant the Chelsea man kept his spot at the expense of King.

Back at Spurs, and following Euro 2004, Ledley King finally was given a defensive partner able to bring him on to the sustained level which all Spurs fans were now hoping for.  Naybet joined, and by Christmas King was producing the sustained performanceís his potential had always hinted at.  In January of that season, after Redknapp left for Southampton, he was appointed Club Captain by new manager Martin Jol.

In his first full season as captain, and King almost led Tottenham to the promised land of the Champions League, as the club eventually finished fifth.  After being fourth for so long, it was hard for all of us to accept the manner in which Arsenal usurped us, yet looking back perhaps it is unsurprising as King injured himself at Everton, with a handful of games to go.

That injury more or less blighted his entire campaign the following season, as he played less than half the games, and the defence acted like a colander.  This season, as we know, has been the same, with King not featuring until Boxing Day.

More than simply his longevity at the club, it is his talent which makes King such a great player.  What stands out so much is his pace, yet he is such a great reader of the game, strong tackler and solid in the air.  These days, defenders are more than simply players who are employed to hack the ball away from their goal, and lunge fearlessly into challenges designed to take the man and the ball.

Defence in the modern game requires a great deal of patience, and a sizeable degree of subtly.  With most challenges that would have been deemed acceptable in twenty years ago receiving a caution these days, a defenderís prime asset is not tackling, but the ability to read the ball, make good judgements and position himself well to intercept passes.  Of course, tackling hasnít left the game wholly, yet the is no question it is slowly being driven out.

King has these assets in abundance.  If you want to see his pace, go to You Tube and look for his last ditch challenge on Robben last season, when he outpaced one of the fastest players in the world or his tackle on Huckerby in Norwichís last trip to White Hart Lane.  You only have to watch the League Cup final from this season to see all the other aspects of his game, and suddenly his value to club becomes obvious.

So imagine my surprise when I hear Ramos say last week he is considering taking the captaincy from him, and even letting Ledley King go if he can't manage to play every week.  To my mind, Ledley King is the club.  One of the few players in recent seasons to actually emerge from the Tottenham youth setup and establish himself at the club, he is one of us, immersed in Tottenham heritage.  The only man even close, in Tottenhamness, is Robbie Keane.

The media, and Iím sure plenty of fans, will consider the Berbatov saga the more interesting of the summer in terms of our club, yet it isnít the case at all.  Berbatov is a frighteningly good talent, and I speak as a man who has watched him play live what must be close to fifty times, yet he came to England with an agenda; raise his profile, get into a team capable of winning trophies and playing Champions League football.  And letís face facts, we arenít likely to be in the top four next season either, because with the number of players Ramos probably isnít happy with, I expect a hefty amount of the squad to be changed in the summer, and teams take time to take shape, so we might as well get more money for Berbatov this summer, and spend it on his replacement and bringing in some substance to the midfield.

Besides which, when King has been out of the side, Tottenham laboured to fifth last season and have struggled for consistency this campaign.  Before Berbatov, Tottenham were ninety minutes away from the Champions League.  So to my mind, losing King is a bigger story, because he is Tottenham.  And if he is thrust out of the club this summer, I for one would be distraught.

 

Do you agree with Richard about Ledders ?  Will it change the feel of the club if he does leave ? E-mail us at mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk to let us know your views.

Richard,

Great article, and it would be a shame to see King stripped of the captaincy, or even worse leave.  One comment though - didn't Paul Ince captain England ?

Cheers, and keep up the good work !

Mart

Hi Richard,

You are, from my rather jaded opinion, spot-on my friend and I'm glad I am not the only Yiddo thinking it.  Having drunkenly ranted about this for weeks, I'll spare you the details, but like Mabbutt before him - balls to his race, Gary was definitely Ledders' natural predecessor - I would rather have Ledley in the squad playing seven solid games in a season if that be the worse-cased scenario than to ship him out. 

Berbatov, I suspect like, but having been through this before, if he wants to go, get on with it.  We lost Carrick in similar circumstances and why the legacy of that move debatedly had led us to our current predicament - success and failure in an uncharitable pattern - Tottenham as ever carry on regardless. 

While seeing Berba smile after winning the Carling Cup will stay in my mind as a moment akin to potentially seeing that of a new born child entering into the world, I don't feel I can claim him as a player like Ginola or Gazza as something that is Tottenham through and through. 

So we know Keano and Woody will be there, and let's pray Ledley will join as well - there is always next season as they say, and while the inner anguish will no doubt be as high as ever, I can't wait.

Come on you Spurs.

Neil Merrett

 

07.04.2008

THE STATE OF PLAY

Are Tottenham the highest maintenance side in the world?  Is there any other side who could capitulate quite so remarkably to Newcastle, ten days after such a stirring comeback against Chelsea?  Add to that that Tottenham tend to labour to breakdown a lot of sides (and if you watch them as often as I have, you will realise how frustratingly true that is, despite all the goals we have scored) and look about as easy to score against Derby County.

Ramos hit the nail on the head last week when he commented that the team seem to perform well against the top sides, but struggle against the lesser sides.  Welcome to Tottenham, Juande, weíve been doing that more or less every season since the 1960s.

Yet at least Ramos wants to change the culture of the club, turning it into a consistent side.  To do that, however, he will need to change the ethos at Spurs from top to bottom.  Not giving you manager the support or freedom to operate in the transfer market as he wishes instantly spring to mind, but it is deeper than that.  How many youth players break into the first team?  OíHara and King are the only two, and that is a poor return, especially when you consider just how many youth players break into the Manchester United first team.  And what about the freedom of information surrounding the club?  How often are we aware of Tottenhamís transfer targets and departing players when the windows rear their ugly heads?  What about the fact that everyone in the stadium knew Martin Jol was about to be/had been/ in the process of being sacked during the Getafe match?  Professional, well run, businesses should be able to ensure their employees donít go blabbing. 

That said, in Ramos we have someone who has already changed the whole face of his previous clubs, bringing unparalleled sustained success to most of his former teams.  Twice promoted from Spainís second tier, his serious success has been well documented, coming at Sevilla, where he won two UEFA Cups and a Spanish Cup.  When you consider the fact that the two Seville based clubs, Sevilla and Betis, are akin to Newcastle and Sunderland, in that they have huge fanbases yet never seem to win anything, (it is not even uncommon to see them in the second flight, just as Newcastle were in the 1980s and Sunderland very recently) you can see exactly why he was praised so highly in Spain. 

That therefore makes the Tottenham job the biggest of his career to date, and not only must he step up to the challenge, but he must also adapt to the Premier League in the process.  Let us not forget that before Jol, Tottenham hadnít finished in the top six for fifteen years, and after two successive fifth placed finishes the board decided to eject him.  So if Ramos thinks the Carling Cup win might have given him some breathing space, he has another thing coming. 

Standards are high at Tottenham, and rightly so.  If people ask me what I think Tottenham should be aiming for over the next few seasons, I will say that next year I would be happy to have our fifth place back again, and a proper tilt at all the cups, but from that point onwards I want a Champions League place.  Some might call that arrogant, that Spurs have no place up there because they have never featured in the competition before, and only once played in the European Cup, but there was a time when Liverpool hadnít either, and besides, ambition means you set yourself challenging targets, doesnít it ? 

I think the club, in general, shares that ambition.  We supposedly have a better training ground than Real Madridís, we are a rich, and financially well run club (probably the best thing ENIC does is the books), we are well supported and are looking to build a new ground, or improve White Hart Lane, we seem to have an improving scouting network and academy system.  Naturally, there is still potential for growth, yet it is moving in the right direction.  That said, the area where Tottenham have fallen down so dramatically this season, is on the pitch, specifically the current first team. 

You could ask any man propping up any bar stall in any pub in the country at the start of this season, and they would have highlighted our defence as the key area that needed improving.  Who did we get?  Darren Bent, a player who seems light years away from the type of forward we need anyway, let alone a defender.  Yes, we bought Bale and Kaboul, yet they didnít have the experience required to break the top four, and youthful potential can only take you so far.   

When the board took on Jol, the clubís policy was firmly based around buying in the brightest youngsters they could, and form a side that had the potential to one day challenge the established teams.  If was refreshing, it was innovative, and it almost worked.  But this type of policy requires patience, and when the club came so close, as they did in 2005/06, you can forgive a little bit if expectations are raised.  That said, there seemed a decisive policy shift around this point, as the board decided the policy was not only a good one, but would deliver success in a set timeframe.  But when you want to achieve things, you need the knowledge and craft to do so.  I might be able to paint a fence, but when you want to paint a bridge, you hire an experienced contractor.  You get someone in who knows how to do the job, a professional.  Itís the same with players.  You can blood youngster and sign players who are looking to make the step up all you want, but if you want to achieve something you need to have a core of players capable and experienced at playing at that standard.  Tottenham forgot that in the summer, and felt that their policy of buying youthful, talented players would see them safely into the top four. 

Fast forward to January, and it clear wasnít just Jol who was bemoaning the summer signings, but his successor.  Add to this that Comolliís job is on the line if Ramos failed, and suddenly the this policy has been put on hold.  Ramosí decision to bring in four defenders in January was an obvious one.  Woodgate and Hutton certainly look the business and tick the boxes that should have been ticked in the summer.  If you add King to the mix, and he stays fit for the thirty league games next season (please God) then you have the basis for a decent defence.  Bale is hopefully the player Ramos will plump for at left back, because Gilberto already does not look good enough to fill that slot, and is not even able to displace the disinterested Chimbonda. 

What is more key now is the question of who will start the season between the sticks.  I donít know what happened to Robinson at the World Cup in 2006, but the decent keeper we sent off to Germany came back a shadow, and he has only diminished subsequently.  There are plenty of rumours circulating at the moment which suggest he was offered for sale in January, but there werenít any takers.   

I donít believe that in the slightest.  He is still a decent keeper on his day, and an incredible shot stopper.  Plenty of times I have already accepted we have conceded when he makes a point blank save to keep the scores level.  The problem is that two minutes later he stands behind his wall and sticks his arm out as the ball flies into the empty, gaping half of the goal when an opponent gets a free kick. 

He isnít what we need if we want to break that top four.  We need someone who is going to be comfortable guarding his net for 85 minutes of a match, before springing into action when seriously threatened.  That what Cech does so well, because when Chelsea are exposed he makes so few mistakes that it becomes so hard to break them down. 

I like the look of this Lopez guy, who currently plays for Villarreal.  He looks like he might be the above kind of keeper, who can not only make a save when it counts, but actually dominate his box in the way Robinson fails to.  The problem is his fee, which is £27 million.  However, what a good keeper can guarantee you is ten to fifteen extra points a season, over the average ones.  Confidence at the back radiates through the team, so you could even say that itís not even the points a keeper has tangibly picked up from match winning saves, but the belief inspired in his team-mates that one or two goals is enough to win that a good keeper brings you. 

Iíve spoken previously about the need to beef up our midfield and get some proper, creative midfielders in the side, especially wide men.  Add to that the need to bring in a forward capable of challenging Keane and Berbatov, yet happy to sit behind them for long periods and offering something different.  This need might require two forwards, probably one youngster and an older player.  When you total that up, and our existing needs at the back, you are looking for seven or eight players for the first team, with the same number going out. 

We have seen previously that a dramatic intake of players disrupts the team, although this summer will be the one that Ramos uses to lay down his foundations for building his side, it is worrying nevertheless.  Clearly, he doesnít favour the same types of players as Jol, favouring an aggressive, fit, possession based attacking side over a ball playing, technical, possession based attacking side that the Dutchman preferred. 

I am concerned that the one area in which Jol was vastly superior over Ramos, that being team building and spirit, is being eroded by events behind the scenes at White Hart Lane.  Berbatov seems as moody as ever, Chimbonda clearly doesnít want to be there, half a dozen players are frozen out, and another few are treated badly despite their obvious commitment.  Hauling Keane off, for instance, match after match doesnít do his confidence any good, and his goals have dried up as a result.  I can appreciate that Ramos wants to be certain about every player at his disposal, and therefore needs to give others game time, in particular Bent, but spirit is a key element to success. 

Chelsea were most effective under Mourinho when they worked as unit, when they seemed machine-like in their actions.  Manchester United have always had that togetherness, generated by Fergusonís ability to create a siege mentality around his team.  When you consider too, that Arsenalís season has unravelled since Bendtner and Adebayor decided to have a fight in our penalty box in January, and Gallasí reaction to the draw at Birmingham, you can see just how important it is. 

It is the thing, arguably the only thing, which Keegan does best, and the reason why his Newcastle side were so high in the table in the past.  He doesnít worry about tactics, he just sends his players out to play.  It shouldnít work in the modern Premiership, but in the nineties it saw his team soar to the upper echelons on the table. 

I am, of course, looking at the foundations and worrying about future cracks.  I donít know if Ramos will worry about this aspect of the team until the summer, when he has assembled the core of his squad.  I hope that is the case, because we have been through the poor man management of Graham with Ginola and Hoddle with Freund to know that in these days of player power, you have to treat them with some degree of kid gloves, even if their petulance doesnít deserve it 

This summer, therefore, is as important for Tottenham as it is for Ramos.  It is the biggest club he has managed, and one capable, on paper at least, of establishing themselves at the top of the world game.  Donít believe me?  Well consider that we are the fourth best supported team in the country, eleventh richest in the world, and could have a genuinely world class training ground.  And thatís without playing a minute of Champions League football and after being crap for fifteen years. 

We need him to get this right, because at the moment we are still a magnet for some of the best players in the world, and we need this current league campaign to be a blip rather than a return to the status quo.  In short, in six weeks time, Ramosí work at Tottenham really begins, and the man cannot be judged as a success or failure until that time.

Has Richard identified the right areas to improve ?  E-mail us at mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk to let us know your views.

 

24.03.2008

ENIGMA
 

ĎA riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.í 
 

Churchill may have said those words about Russia in 1941, yet they could so easily be applied to Jermaine Jenas.  The stand out player in both semi final legs against Arsenal, in which he scored in both games, and one of the best players on the pitch in the Carling Cup Final this year, it is quite clear that Jenas has it within himself to become one of the star players in the Premier League.  But then compare those performances to the one against Chelsea, last week, or in the first leg against PSV.  Okay, so in the latter none of our players exactly performed to their highest ability, but in these types of game the area of the pitch most key to victory is the midfield; control that, and you win the game. 

Iím of the opinion that Ramos will hold on to Jenas next season, and will look for someone physical to line up next to him.  If that is the case, then we need Jenas to not only find consistency, but perform to the same standard as Gerrard, Lampard, Fabregas and Ronaldo.  That is the standard we will need from him if we are to break into the top four, as that position is key to sustained success. 

But, before we go any further, let consider Jenasí background, because that is key to understanding exactly the type of player we have on our books.  Jenas is twenty-five years old, and has played in the Premier League since 2006.  Tottenham are his third club, having played previously for Nottingham Forest in what is now the Championship (what used to be the First Division and what should be the Second Division), before moving to Newcastle for five million. 

Jenas only played one full season for Forest, in which they lined up with a number of youngsters.  The following season, they reached the play-offs, proof that the team from which Jenas graduated was a good one, although still learning their trade in the season he played for them. 

In his first season at Newcastle, he won the PFA Young Player of the Year Award, scoring six goals in the league.  Yet he couldnít build on his impressive debut season, and his next two campaigns were disappointing.  After three full seasons at Newcastle, he arrived at Tottenham for seven million.  

When he arrived at Spurs, he was clearly a player low on confidence and Jol did a very good job in rebuilding the playerís morale and self belief over the season.  The result was a vintage season for Jenas, as he hit six goals in thirty league games for the club, as they went to the cusp of Champions League qualification. 

The following season he hit the same number of goals, although only in twenty-five matches, and for the first time you could see the important role he played for the side.  In the previous campaign to the last, his good season had been overshadowed by Carrickís awesome displays, Lennonís emergence and Davidsí battling.  But last season, with Carrick gone and Davids in the background, Jenasí energy became all the more key.  That was underlined to me in the second leg of the Arsenal cup matches, where he was absent and the FA Cup match against Southend, which he dominated. 

Most of the media seem agreed that Jenas is the most improved player since Ramosí arrival at the club, doubtless due to the fact that Jenas has a reputation as an energetic, box to box midfielder.  The Spaniards much publicised and lauded fitness regime undoubtedly served to improve Jenas, who looked the fittest player in the Jol era as it was. 

These days, he does seem to impose himself for longer on matches, especially against the lesser sides at home, but he still needs to dominate games against the top sides, and away from home there are plenty of Tottenham players who seem to play within themselves.  Nonetheless, Jenas is key to Tottenham hopes. 

About a yet ago, I wrote that Jenasí return to the side had coincided with a resurgence within Tottenham, and a run of five matches.  I also wrote that to break the top four, you need a goalscoring midfielder.  That hasnít changed, in fact, Ronaldo has underlined the need all too readily this campaign, but I will add also that whoever plays in the centre needs to impose themselves on matches, and control the games. 

The question begs itself, therefore, considering the length of time Jenas has played in the top flight, and the frequency with which he is called into the England squad, why Jenas isnít more focal in more matches.  He is a player who gets into goalscoring positions on a surprisingly regular basis; he sets up goals, he can tackle, dribble, beat a man, pass, run, cover, out muscle, and score, but what is most frustrating is his failure to maintain that, and link it all together. 

In his first season at Tottenham, on his return to Newcastle, Jenas had the ball in the box and, faced with an open goal after beating a couple of defenders and with Given nowhere in sight, he blasted the ball into the crowd.  Was that a sign of a lack of composure, or something deeper?  A season later, who can forget the open goal he faced at Anfield when the score was 0-0 and all he had to do was slide the ball into the net, and he touched it wide?  What about this season in Eindhoven, where he was brilliant for 120 minutes, and stepping up for the final spot kick, produced a terrible penalty, without any disguise on the direction, and at a saveable height ? 

You could claim that these events speak of bad luck, you could claim they show a lack of composure, but I think it is something deeper than that.  He doesnít seem like he has faced any real setbacks in his life to date, and consequently has never had to prove himself in anything.  As a youngster you could imagine that he was head and shoulders better than anyone else at the game, because he is so full of running and so talented with the ball.  That creates complacency, because he has never had to prove his talent. 

At Forest, he made his debut at eighteen, and a year later was at Newcastle, who at the time were one of the clubs vying for a Champions League spot.  Doesnít seem like he exactly had to fight for his place there either, does it?  When it all comes so easily too you throughout your life, you donít learn how to fight to get what you want, or overcome a setback.  Iím of the belief that this element of his temperament is what is chiefly responsible for his inability to impose himself on matches. 

And this is where Ramosí role comes into it, to my mind.  The Spaniard has a reputation for getting players and teams to believe in themselves and not on match the top sides on a match to match basis, but across the whole season.  He had already shown that this season with Tottenham, beating Arsenal and Chelsea and drawing with Manchester United and Chelsea in the league at White Hart Lane.  In Spain, he won two UEFA Cups and the Spanish Cup in two years with Seville, a club similar to Newcastle or Sunderland in England. 

So he has a track record in getting the best out of players, and a reputation for winning trophies.  That is good news for us, because if he can get Jenas firing and performing at the level he has shown in brief flashes, then we might well be able to match the big four over the course of a league season for the first time in three seasons. 

To my mind, there is still one piece of the puzzle missing.  Not only must Ramos train the right mentality and temperament into Jenas, he must also find someone to play alongside him who can compliment him.  Jenas is a slight player, and sometimes it seems as though he has been bullied out of games, and fades in the fiercest arenas.  Having a Dave Mackay style battler next to him will free him up to play his game, and perhaps give him the confidence to produce consistent high level performances.  And if Ramos and Tottenham are serious about reaching the highest level, then they must crack the code of the enigma that is Jermaine Jenas.

 

Do you think Richard is right ?  E-mail us at mehstg@blueyonder.co.uk to let us know your views.

 

10.03.2008

BRAVE NEW WORLD

The 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley of the above name concerns itself with John, a savage from Malpais, a land which was outside of the Ďcivilisedí world of the future.  In the book, John was the son of a woman from the world outside the compound, who had been abandoned there.   John was an outcast from the tribe which his mother attached herself too, as he was deemed not one of them and denied the chance to participate in the various rite of passage which all the young boys of the tribe were put through.

Only when Bernard, a psychologist, goes to the reservation and discovers John, does he bring him and his mother back to the civilised world.  John had dreamed of such a place since his childhood, taught him stories of the world she had come from and given him a glorious ideal of the world outside the reservation to which he had been born.

Yet John, on entering this new world, discovers he hates it, and finds their values and beliefs totally alien to his own.  John was rejected by the society to which he was born, and unable to fathom the one which he had joined.  And there are times, when considering modern day European football, that I sometimes feel like John the savage; because the label on the can I opened does not tell the whole truth.

Iíll leave aside the two things I despise most about the current incarnation of the UEFA Cup, those being the ludicrously unfair group stage, where you play two teams at home and two away, and the fact that the Champions League losers get to drop into the competition, a fact which thoroughly devalues it, because the thing most evident to me on Thursday was that PSV arrived to nullify us and win, the way you would approach an away match in the league.

In the 1950s and 60s, when European football was a new and all European campaigns were adventures into the unknown, excitement in these games was expected.  The game in those days was vastly different from today anyway; all teams felt it was their responsibility to entertain, and every team went out to win every match they played. 

I am far too young to have been present in those early European adventures for Tottenham, yet Iím told of memorable matches against Dukla Prague and Benfica in our solitary European Cup season, and of the wondrous manner in which we played in the following seasonís Cup Winnerís Cup, culminating with the 5-1 demolition of Atletico Madrid in the final.  Tottenham became the first British Club to win a European trophy in that season, and ever since they have been synonymous with European football.

A few more European campaigns followed in the 60s, yet it wasnít until 1971 that Tottenham first played in the UEFA Cup, the inaugural season of that competition, and won the competition.  The following season, they lost to Liverpool in the semi finals, and in 1973/74, they lost to Feyenoord in the final.  Between 1981 and 1985, Tottenham also qualified for European competition.  In 1981/82, and 1982/83 they were in the Cup Winnerís Cup, in 1983/84 and 1984/85 they were in the UEFA Cup, winning the competition in the first of those seasons.

But following that, there was the Heysel tragedy, and English clubs were banned from European competition for five seasons.  When the ban was lifted, Tottenham appeared in the Cup Winnerís Cup in 1991/92, but they were a shadow of what they once had been.  Financial difficulties meant the club had sold off their top players, and had begun to slip into mid-table, where we were destined to languish for the next twelve years.  Despite that, two brief European campaigns were still embarked upon; the Intertoto cup in 1995/96, and the UEFA Cup in 1999/2000.

And that was about it.  And while we Tottenham fans sat outside of European competition for such a long period of time, effectively since 1985 because the three campaigns in the interim were so brief, the game in Europe change absolutely.  In the old days, Europe was a reward for a successful domestic campaign.  It wasnít guaranteed or expected, it was special.  Straight forward, two-legged, knockout matches went from start to finish, and fans would flock to the games to see if their side, made up almost exclusively of British players, would line up against foreign players and teams that had never been heard of.  In some cases, players such as Johan Cruyff and Beckenbauer would arrive at British grounds, players who would have only been seen on television sets in the World Cup, and never in the flesh.

Yet familiarity breeds contempt, and European football is a world away from those days now.  Manchester United have enjoyed consecutive Championís League seasons since 1996, and Arsenal since 1999.  Clubs now are guaranteed a number of money spinning fixtures in a group stage before the competition enters its serious phase post Christmas, and all matches are on television.

PSV are one such club who are typical of this new type of European club.  They seem to appear in the Champions League every season, and in more recent campaigns have reached the quarter and semi finals of that competition.  No longer holding its special-ness for PSV, and with the easy access to football from across the world and the very nature of football, which sees the top players invariably end up with the bigger clubs in the biggest leagues, PSV would have found no surprises when they faced Tottenham, and we would have had little when they lined up against us.

They came with a game plan, to nullify our attacks, pack the midfield and deny us space and time to threaten.  They set themselves up to be cagey, to hit us on the break and suck us in deep, to deny us the ball for long periods, and chase the game, and to pounce on mistakes.  Thatís exactly how they play when they go to the Ajax ArenA or De Kuip.  And, as lacklustre as I think we were, Iím not going to take away anything from their performance.

But, as someone pointed out to me in the week before the game, in the modern European game, its not about what you do at home, but what you do away that counts.  Arsenal avoided conceding at home against AC Milan, and once they nullified the Italians and Fabregasí speculative long shot went in, they were through.  Likewise, last season AC drew 2-2 with Bayern Munich in the San Siro and won in Germany by two goals in the return.

Liverpool beat Barcelona in the last sixteen in the Nou Camp and PSV in the Phillips Stadium, yet they lost to the Spaniards at Anfield and only beat a well beaten PSV 1-0 in the second leg.  So too, did Chelsea knockout Valencia in Spain last season.

And this is not a recent development either, only impacting Europe in the last two seasons, because Bayer Leverkusen were ruthlessly attacking the first leg of their Champions League semi final in 2002 against Manchester United, ensuring they left the north-west with a 2-2 draw.  In the home match, they were cagey and tight, and did enough to progress.

Away goals are what counts nowadays, and with that in mind we should be pleased that PSV were only able to pick up one.  They donít get any further chance to get an away goal in the tie, whereas we do.  Equally, the tie is not dead, and the Dutch team will know that.  As Gilberto so dreadfully showed on Thursday, it only takes one mistake to change the face of a game, and in Holland it that chance falls to us first and is taken, it will wholly change the face of the tie.

The Dutch fans would urge their team on, as the home side, they would attack, leaving space to exploit at the back, and if Berbatov, Keane, Lennon and Malbranque are playing as we all know they can, it could provide a second.  And then PSV need two, and in Europe, thatís a mountain to collectively overcome.  We have nothing to lose in this tie, whereas PSV might be tempted to hold onto what they have.  And, as with everything, to the brave go the spoils.  Its time for Tottenham to stand up, and yet again, be counted. 

 

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