Nothing like a perceived injustice to bring
the nation together, and despite the whinging of my previous column,
even I got behind the brave 10 men as they battled towards the
inevitable inglorious exit on penalties. My beloved caught the mood of
the column too, well, at least the bit that acknowledged that I am a
miserable old git, and persuaded me to fly a flag from the car.
Thus intoxicated with the heady brew of patriotism, even after it was
swiftly vandalised I continued to proudly display the plastic bit that
goes into the car window as a badge of honour.
As befitting my advanced years, I adopted a
patricianís air as the tournament progressed, smiling with that inner
glow of fatherly pride as the nation clamoured for more of Aaron Lennon,
and leaping protectively from my chair whenever a lumbering full back
scythed him down, not that many could get anywhere near him, of course.
Carrick could look after himself, and deserved more of a chance, whilst
I fretted with anxiety whenever Robbo came off his line. Jenas was more
like the boy at university, out of sight, out of mind and just donít
think about what he might be up to, although in JJís case he no doubt
occupied his time with deciding which sun-lounger provided the best tan
by the pool.
Regarding my fears that our stars would
turn themselves into transfer targets, Lennon seems happy enough at this
early stage in his development to not have itchy feet, whilst Robbo
frankly did little to enhance his reputation. Thatís fine by me,
the Park Lane will welcome him home with open arms and wipe that nervous
expression from his face. Expect lots of crosses from opposition
teams this year; no worries, Mighty Mike will just head them all away !
And then thereís Carrick, of whom more later, although I would point out
that no one seems to have had a go at Manchester United for unsettling
an England player during the most important tournament in the calendar,
confirmation again if any were needed that United are untouchable in the
eyes of the media.
Major tournaments often set the fashion
for tactics and formations in the year to come. Hopefully the
Premiership will pick up the theme of a generally attacking approach,
which certainly suits us. Whilst the nation obsessed for three
weeks on defensive midfielders, wide men and big blokes up front, the
better teams had two covering players and a degree of interchangeability
up front, with the front-men acting as forwards rather than strikers,
that is they saw their role as providing goals as well as scoring them.
Width was offered by attacking full backs using the space created by
more narrow midfields.
Again Spurs seem well placed to follow
the trend, if indeed thatís their choice. Jol likes a tall centre
forward as the focus of the teamís attacking play, although regular
Spurs watchers no doubt identified with the problems England had when
Crouch played, which in my view were less about him, despite his
limitations, and much more about the rest of the teamsí apparent
inability to hold onto the ball for more than two seconds without
feeling compelled to whack the ball forward in the vague direction of
his head. This was so often our pattern of play when Mido started,
and is something that must be eradicated next year to use Berbatovís
talents to the full, yet we appeared less comfortable by and large with
the Keane-Defoe combination.
Full-backs are an acknowledged weakness.
Jol predicted the trends by using Lee to attack the space created by a
narrow left-sided midfielder. This was largely nullified by Leeís
inability to accurately cross the ball and subsequently by opposition
teamsí focus on our left as a weakness, which saw him penned back on
defensive duties for long periods. Also, to start Lennon
regularly, as surely will be the case, either the right full-back or the
midfield, probably both, will have to accomplish extra defensive duties
to accommodate his forward runs.
If nothing else, Englandís World Cup
experience showed once again that we have every right to have utter
confidence in our manager. Jol is a forthright character, able to
communicate with his squad, tactically astute, able to make changes in
the midst of the tumult and furore of the match and remain clearly and
completely in charge. Contrast this with Svenís woeful performance.
Hitherto I had largely gone along with Sven. I tolerated that he
was putting his squad and patterns of play together, qualifying
relatively easily without setting the world alight and maybe our
world-class players could be the spark to ignite the team once the
tournament started. In reality Svenís fire-blanket of a
performance extinguished our hopes. Over five years to prepare,
yet he had no idea of his best team, brought in players to play vital
roles in crucial games who had been available but not employed in that
role for four years and picked an Arsenal reserve with no Premier League
experience. When he cheerfully admitted that he had never seen
Walcott play, did Sven expect us to empathise with his boldness, or
forgive him when, as soon as he did see him operate in training, then
clearly realised he was nowhere near good enough ? You felt that
if England had another forward injured, James or Carson would had got
the nod rather than employ Little Boy Lost.
Now that the World Cup is over, itís back
to the phoney war of transfer speculation in the build up to the new
season. Excitement over possible new signings quickly gives way to the
tedium of reading endless back page rumours recycled ad nauseum around
Newsnow blogs. Itís impossible to determine the authenticity of
the vast majority of these transfer titbits. Much it emanates from
agents placing Ďfor saleí signs on their clients. When Carlos
Kickaball reveals that ďa move to Spurs would be a dream come trueĒ,
remember this translates as ďGod knows Iím sick to death of playing for
Villa and anyway the signing on fee will come in handy for my new
Porsche Ė but if Man Utd come in for me then bugger Spurs.Ē At the
same time, itís obvious we bid for and talk to many players, some of
whom arrive at the Lane and many donít. For example, consistent
rumours a year or so ago that we were talking to Vieiri and Hargreaves
have been recently confirmed. Both were very interested, but in
the end Hargreaves unsurprisingly opted for the Champions League with
Bayern, whilst Jol quite rightly declined the Italianís request for a
guaranteed first team place.
Much of our best work in the transfer
market goes unheralded. Key signings like Defoe and Carrick
received little advance publicity, as did the recent arrival of the two
young French defenders. Meanwhile, Zokoraís arrival followed a
period of sustained courtship by the club, and not just on the basis of
his excellent World Cup, and he seems to have genuinely appreciated this
as a factor in his decision to join us.
One rumour that wonít go away is
Carrickís move to Manchester United, a done deal by all accounts.
Clearly Alex Ferguson is a better judge of midfielders than I had given
him credit for. Jol has rightly reminded Carrick of the need for
loyalty, given that not only was Mendes sold to give Carrick a free
rein, but also our entire style and pattern of play has been built
around him. He signed on a relatively low wage, around £15k a week
by all accounts, and presumably heís turned down our contract offer of
around triple that. In which case, it is pointless trying to keep
him because you never get the best from an unhappy player. And
after all those nice things Iíve written about him too.
The broader implications of the Carrick
deal may be more significant than the playerís loyalty or the eventual
fee. Last season we finally broke free of the dreaded
Ďtransitional seasoní with a group of talented, committed and mostly
young players who were a dodgy lasagne away from the Champions League.
We turned Carrick into a world class midfielder, but cannot resist the
siren call of a team plump and moist with the kudos and cash of several
years of Champions League football. Defoe is apparently the next
target. I believe we should do everything possible to keep the
current group of players together and enter the new season riding the
momentum of the old. The English top four will be salivating at
the Ďall stock must goí sale of 15 or 20 internationals from the
disgraced Italian clubs. Eyes bulging with anticipation like
characters in a Tex Avery cartoon, their attention should hopefully be
distracted until the end of the transfer window, leaving us to
concentrate on new players to improve and augment the existing squad
ready for Europe, rather than replace outgoing players.