N17 Nik takes a look at the
game today and Tottenham's part in it.
An Honourable Man - 25.10.2005
Predictions - 08.08.2005
Time To Leave The Lane - 01.09.2006
The Need For Steed - 18.11.2006
Red cards and angry faces - 23.11.2006
Previous articles by Nik
cards and angry faces
Last Sundayís game against Blackburn
certainly created a few column inches both in the national press and
here in MEHSTG. I thought Iíd add to them.
I thought we played in a contained
fashion. Without Lennon we lacked creative spark in the midfield and
tried to fashion opportunities by passing balls through to the strikers.
We did create a few chances and if it wasnít for a wonder strike from
Tugay we wouldíve got out of Blackburn with all three points. I thought
Mido looked a little off the pace. Heís had a frustrating start to his
second spell with the club. Arriving short of match fitness didnít help
and nor did being shunted out on the left wing for his first couple of
games. After his goal against West Ham we saw Mido at his best Ė looking
strong and determined. Unfortunately, he picked up another injury after
the West Ham game and he didnít shoot confidently when given the chance
against Blackburn. We defended pretty well but lacked a bit of quality
on the ball in midfield. I was disappointed that Malbranque made little
impact but Iím sure heíll perform better when he gets back to full
fitness. I would have liked to have seen Murphy come on when Blackburn
were reduced to ten men, to try and add a bit of guile. All-in-all, Iím
sure most Spurs fans would have taken a point before the game and itís
what we got there last season. Lennonís injury couldnít be helped and
neither could Malbranqueís lack of fitness. If either player was fully
fit and on-song, we could well have nicked the game.
Iím disappointed the FA didnít rescind
the red card Hossam Ghaly received. It did initially look like he was
jumping with intent to hurt Gray but clearly lowered his arm and caught
him around the neck with a floppy forearm. This was no better or worse
than what Mido did for his booking in the first half and a three game
ban is unjust. Although harsh, technically Tugayís was a sending off. If
itís a penalty Ė which it was Ė then he had to go. This is one rule that
needs looking at and I think a penalty is punishment enough.
I was surprised to read Martin (in
MEHSTG) predict that Jol will be gone in twelve months. Yes, we have
performed woefully on our league travels but I think thereís enough
potential in the performances so far to suggest weíll have a decent
season. I think Jolís recent signings have all shown in patches what
they can do. Chimbonda has been by far the most consistent and is
certainly our best right back since Stephen Carr. Iím happy for
Assou-Ekotto to be given a season in the first team to see how he goes.
He does lack composure going forward but is strong in the recovery and I
think heíll get better. Zokora and Berbatov have been frustrating. Both
could be Premiership stars but need to string a run of performances
together. Berbatov, in particular, is frustrating. His touch is glorious
and his finishing in the UEFA Cup has been clinical. He is lazy, though,
and either needs to ensure he finishes a higher rate of his chances or
offer more to the team - weíll forgive his laziness if he scores more
After last season expectations have been
raised. I see us as having the fifth best squad in the league and we
should, at least, finish high enough in the league to clinch UEFA Cup
football again. We have an outstanding chance of reaching the semis of
the League Cup and should progress to the knockout stages of the UEFA
Cup. From thereon in, itís a lottery.
I wouldnít compare our recent form to the
weeks preceding Hoddleís departure. Prior to Hoddleís sacking, we lost
consecutive home games against Fulham and Southampton and had ended the
previous season with heavy defeats away to Middlesbrough and home to
Blackburn. By and large our home form is decent and, if anything, weíre
due a bit of luck in games rather than riding it at the moment. Things
are going for clubs such as Portsmouth and Villa at present but their
good form wonít last the season and I think we should gather momentum
and break into a UEFA Cup spot in the second half of the season. If we
donít, then the pressure will be on Jol next season. However, I think
heís done enough to earn a yearís grace from us. So, please, letís
concentrate on backing the players and hopefully all this potential will
turn into productivity.
With Spurs continuing to look impotent away from home, there is the need
for different creative avenues other than Aaron Lennon. Itís been
quite a year for Lennon Ė twelve months ago he wasnít even in the first
team picture and now heís arguably our key player. The way Spurs
utilise him reminds me a bit of the days of David Ginola, where team
mates would give him the ball and then say, ďGo on, then.Ē With
the advent of technology in football, and good old-fashioned scouting,
opposing managers have twigged the Lennon tactic and are double-banking
on the boy. Spurs need a plan B for creating tactics. And,
hopefully, something a bit more subtle than Paul Robinson booting the
ball down the pitch.
Our almost forgotten about August signing, Steed Malbranque, is closing
in on full fitness. He did get an hour in the Carling Cup against
Port Vale and showed some nice touches and a willingness to run with the
ball. Encouragingly, he cropped up on both flanks. I think
Martin Jol is right when he says he wants Lennon to do for us what
Ronaldo does for Manchester United. Ronaldo switches wings
regularly and thus doesnít allow a full back to settle. If this is
the plan with Lennon, then we need another player in the midfield who is
happy to swap flanks. Currently, Hossam Ghaly is our other wide
player. Heís neat and tidy but doesnít look particularly dangerous
when in possession Ė a bit like Jermaine Jenas. Ghaly is still
young and has done reasonably well, but I fear wonít ever become a first
pick for Spurs. Therefore it looks like there is a vacancy in the
team and itís likely Malbranque will soon get the chance to stake his
The rumours are already flying about of potential January signings for
Spurs, mainly left wingers. Itís true we donít have a natural left
winger in the squad Ė there is Ziegler, more of a wing back, I think,
and Jol appears reluctant to give him a run in the side. If, as is
likely, Malbranque gets a run in the team, he could end up saving us
millions. Seeing as his Fulham contract was up next summer, we got
him for around £1.5 million. I think most experts would price him
at £5 million, so it was pretty good business to buy him. I think
his debut for Spurs was encouraging, albeit against lower league
opposition. He is comfortable on the ball, has scored goals at
Premiership level and likes to beat players. My only reservation
about having Malbranque in the team is Iíve always thought of him as
being best in a midfield three, with him being handed a freer role.
Whether he can adapt to a slightly more disciplined wide role remains to
be seen. Itís fine to have freedom to switch wings going forward,
but wide midfielders do still have to support their full backs and
getting up and down in this manner may not come natural to Malbranque.
Itís true he could play through the centre Ė possibly in place of Jenas
but I think Jol purchased him to play wide. The way Premiership
teams are lining up now is to have strong, athletic players through the
centre of midfield and for the creative players to play wide.
hope Malbranque gets fit quickly enough to have a decent run in the side
prior to the opening of the January transfer window. Heíll
certainly add creative options to the team and, I think, be a player the
fans like to watch. However, time will tell if he can bring
balance to the often lopsided Spurs midfield and possibly save us having
to splash out come January.
Maybe itís because Iím getting older but
White Hart Lane seems smaller these days. It may be because the
numerous executive boxes strip out rows of seats - whatever, I think the
time has come for the board to seriously consider a new ground.
I am a football traditionalist and in a
romanticised way, Iíd like Spurs to remain at The Lane forever. Thereís
something about going somewhere legends have already been. Many people
visit sites of historical significance for leisure and as Spurs fans, we
get to reminisce about the old days of Blanchflower, Greaves, Lineker
etc and watch the modern day players play. However, football has moved
onto an economic era and Spurs have to look at every possibility to
generate more cash to fund better players.
Thereís no room around the outside of the
stadium and so the only possibility for increasing the attendance at the
current venue is to build upwards.
However, Iím sure Spurs would only be
able to add a few more extra rows in, for structural reasons. Other
clubs have relocated in recent years and have impressive stadiums. What
does concern me is that Championship clubs like Southampton and Derby
have stadiums pretty much as big as ours yet have a far smaller fan
base. If itís true that Spurs really did turn away 20,000 season ticket
applicants then basic maths tell you Spurs could potentially have around
40,000 season ticket holders Ė more than the capacity at White Hart
Also, White Hart Lane is tricky to get
to. Access via the tube system is awkward to say the least and anyone
who dashes to get the first train from the station after the game risks
getting crushed in the tiny trains provided. Thereís also no official
parking around the ground.
And then thereís Arsenal. Our greatest
rivals have a similar fan base to ours Ė albeit a little larger now due
to their recent successes. The capacity at The Emirates Stadium is
60,000 Ė around 40% higher than ours. Something is amiss here. If
weíre really serious about catching them on a regular basis, surely we
need to match them stadium wise ?
Financing a new stadium would, of course,
have an impact on the club in the short term. However, not as
dramatically as many would fear. Arsenal may have only purchased one
player in pre-season but the fee for Rosicky was rumoured to be around
£8 million and Arsenal purchased Eboue and Adebayor for around £10
million the pair in the January transfer window. The stadium itself is
owned by Ashburton Properties Limited and the bankers hold the financial
burden of the stadium, not the football club. Iím certain someone would
back Spurs in a similar way. It must annoy Arsenal fans that the name
of their new stadium bears a sponsor but all in all a minor matter. A
new Spurs stadium would have to be sponsored too and this would raise
some cash, as would the sale of White Hart Lane Ė horrible as this
One other long shot would be for Spurs to
use the new Wembley stadium Ė if it ever gets completed. It may not be
seen as ideal to rent a stadium but it would bring costs down and raise
even more cash for players.
If Spurs are serious about breaking into
Champions League football we need to do something to give us long term
growth and a new stadium with a large capacity is just about our only
option. ENIC have ploughed a fair amount of money into the club and the
deals with sponsors Mansion and kit manufacturers Puma have added to the
pot but weíre still a long way short of Manchester United, Arsenal and
Liverpool Ė you can, of course, forget Chelsea.
I doubt Spurs
fans have looked forward to a new season as much in the past twenty
years. Well, maybe the 20,000 fans that were unsuccessful in getting a
season ticket (so the official line was) maybe a bit miffed, but even
so. Even the sale of our best midfield player has failed to dampen the
enthusiasm around The Lane but what can Spurs deliver this season ?
The squad has
definitely been strengthened over the summer. Assou-Ekotto will provide
competition for Lee at left back and may even mean that the South Korean
reverts to right back, where he played in the World Cup. Iíve never
liked a left footed right back, or vice-versa, as it means the player
tends to cut back inside to cross rather than crossing on the run.
Zokora should add bite to the midfield and doesnít seem the type to be
bothered by reputations. Berbatov, however, is likely to be the man who
our season hinges upon. Spurs failed to win any of the games against
the top four last season, although the matches were close. Failure to
score that goal at that vital time cost Spurs a Champions League place.
In pre season, Berbatov has given hope he could be the man with four
goals to date. Heís already spoken about scoring against Arsenal and
doesnít appear short of confidence. For the first time since the
inception of the Premiership, Spurs have a genuine goal scoring target
man Ė Ferdinand and Armstrong et al fell short of the mark. If things
go well for him, he could do a similar job for us that Van Nistelrooy
did for Manchester United. If things donít, Spurs wonít make ground on
the big four. The loss of Carrick shouldnít affect Spurs progress. He
is a nice player with a good range of passing but needs to step up
another level to be classed as a top international player. Carrick kept
play ticking over but rarely got forward and his goal scoring record was
disappointing. And the fee was excellent business for Tottenham.
Zokora is a different type of player but showed against Argentina in the
World Cup heís quite happy to get stuck in against the big guns and
players like Lampard and Ballack will certainly feel the heat against
him more than they would against Carrick.
who were at the club last season should, in the main, improve upon last
season. Pundits often talk about how a good spine is essential to
success. Spurs have this in defence with Robinson, King and Dawson and
should have it up front with Berbatov and Keane or Defoe. However, itís
the centre of the midfield where I feel Spurs need to improve. If
selected, I think Zokora will do a good job if heís allowed to play in
his favoured role as a central holding player. This is Davids favourite
position and I suspect his decision to stay was largely due to Carrick
leaving. I felt Davids was slightly disappointing last season but
rarely did he play in the centre of midfield Ė he was often asked to
perform a halfway-house between left wing and left centre. This made
the team lopsided with Lennon providing excellent width on the right.
If Davids and Zokora were to both play central, it would be too
defensive. Therefore, Jenas is likely to partner one of our combative
midfielders. Certainly Jol seems a huge fan of his. I think we need
more from JJ. He did okay last year but okay wonít enable us to break
into a Champions League spot. I hope Iím wrong but I suspect Jenas is
just short of international quality Ė more UEFA Cup than Champions
League. If he can play energetic, attacking football and chip with a
dozen or so goals, itíll help Spurs succeed. It remains to be seen if
Murphy and Ghaly can make a first team position their own Ė I suspect
not. Although I hope Huddlestone gets quite a few starts under his
short of two weeks until the new season, Chelsea apart, Spurs Champions
League rivals havenít improved too much upon their squad. Itís barely
worth mentioning that Chelsea should walk away with the league again.
Their only possible downfall is their own arrogance and, perhaps, if
Mourinho tries too much to keep his big name players happy by adapting a
formation to suit their egos Ė unlikely though. Manchester United will
be boosted by the return of Scholes and Carrick is a big improvement on
Darren Fletcher. However, at present, they lack a top class partner for
Rooney and the jury is out on Vidic as a partner for Ferdinand at the
back. Letís hope the Glaziers keep a tight control of Fergusonís
spending. Our friends down the road, by nature of blooding lots of
young players last season, should improve. Rosicky looks a good signing
and Van Persie is a good bet to get close to filling Bergkampís boots.
If Henry had left, I think Arsenal would have dipped but he can help
Arsenal beat any team in the world on his day Ė thatís if heís not in
shrugging of the shoulders mode. I think Bellamy will be a good buy for
Liverpool. Heís lightening quick and has always troubled Spurs.
Theyíve spent a lot of money on South American players who donít appear
to have had a good pre season. If they take too long settling in,
Liverpool may lose early ground.
I donít see
any other team except Spurs challenging the big four. Newcastle will be
boosted by the signing of Duff but lack all-round quality, especially in
defence. West Ham have strengthened their squad but not the team.
Bolton havenít spent much and Blackburn will miss Bellamy.
So, can Spurs
get a Champions League place next season ? If we start well and
Liverpoolís new players fail to click, we could well put them under
pressure. Squad wise, weíre in the mixer with Arsenal, Liverpool and
almost Man United now. All we need is the belief that we can beat these
teams. If Berbatov can get twenty goals in the Premiership and Jenas
can impose himself on games, we stand a chance. Spurs are fifth
favourites and the bookies are rarely wrong. Iíd settle for a strong
challenge and a much better run in the cups.
the UEFA Cup this year. We need to plateau as a club Ė too many teams,
like Everton, have one strong season then dip. We shouldnít do that and
anything less than fifth place would be a disappointment.
One Christmas I travelled up
to White Hart Lane by car with a friend. We normally caught the train
but they donít run from Hampshire up to London on a Boxing Day. We
parked in a random car park near the ground and grizzled about the
exorbitant cost to do so. As we got out of the car, an elderly gent was
getting out of an old Cavalier or such-like vehicle. My friend and I
looked at each other and then back at the man. It was Bill Nicholson.
We were too stunned to say
anything stronger than Ďhelloí and that was the only time Iíve met
him. All through the 4-0 defeat of Watford Ė Ginola was rampant that
day Ė we mused about the absurdity that our greatest ever Manager and
current club President didnít take up his right to have the best car
parking space at the ground. Let alone that he quietly joined the throng
of supporters strolling to the ground.
Upon reflection and with the
all the evidence surfacing in the past few days, I guess I shouldnít
have been surprised at all.
In all the years Iíve been
regularly going to Spurs games my eyes have only seen the glory of the
Worthington Cup. Successive Managers have tried and failed to emulate
the silk and steel of the sides that Bill Nick sent out to play for
Tottenham. In fact, itís been more enjoyable to read the literature
and what video coverage there is of the days of yore than to watch the
contemporary action. The legendary names of the 60s and early 70s roll
off the tongue as do the great European sides that visited the Lane pre
Champions League. It may be common place for sides like Benfica,
Feyenoord and AC Milan to play in England now but it wasnít back then.
Those names were reserved for teams that deserved to face them and Bill
Nickís Spurs teams were one of them.
Having not seen any of Bill
Nickís teamsí play I canít add any first-hand anecdotes about
them. All I will say is that he gave us a history to be proud of. Itís
somewhat ironic that our closest rivals are playing a brand of football
thatís quoted as being closest to that of our double-winning side.
Spurs fans have often been criticised for harping on about the glory
glory days but thatís because weíve not had it so good since and
probably never will again. We owe the majority of our proud history and
our world wide reputation to Bill Nicholson.