the world cup and what it means to spurs

24.07.2006

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.

ALAN FISHER

 

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