dan kelly investigates ...



spurs set for second clear-out ?


Reports have been circulating suggesting that Spurs may be considering a second summer clear-out in two years.  Keane and Davies look set to leave and rumours have suggested that Edman, Davis, Atouba and Davenport may also be allowed to leave the club. Mendes, Ricketts, Jackson, and Bunjy also to likely to join them.  Other Premiership managers have already begun to root in the Spurs bargain bin, with Moyes and Bruce already expressing an interest in some of these players. 

Jol has already bemoaned Tottenhamís lack of width and penetration this season, and the lack of goals from midfield has hamstrung the club this season.  Speaking after the Blackburn game Jol also intimated that a lack of experience in crucial games cost Spurs a European place this season (Fair Play Lotteries aside).  In the light of these comments I would expect to see at least one pacy winger brought in, probably including Routledge, and a goal scoring attacking midfield to partner the deep-lying Carrick.  The names of Van de Vaart, Sneider and Van Bommel have also been mentioned but would appear to be a little far-fetched.  A experienced thirty-something seems a more likely addition to the dressing room. 

Replacements for possible departures are already underway with Huddlestone and Tainio already set to arrive, and with the Spurs squad already bloated it seems likely that more players will leave than arrive this summer.  Davenportís rabbit in headlights performances at Southampton may well have cost him his Spurs career, and Ricketts profitable time at Wolves may herald a permanent return.  With Spursí centre midfield already overstocked and over-defensive at least one of Davis and Mendes looks likely to leave in search of regular football.  Davies and Keane are rumoured to be Evertonís top targets and with Davies still short of his form of three years ago and Keane desperate for regular first team football both could be allowed to leave.  Looking to defence, Atouba and Edman have alternately thrilled and despaired the Spurs faithful at left back with unbelievably risky turns/stopovers, wonder goals and rash/clumsy tackles.  Losing one of these players seems more unlikely but may bring fans blood pressure down to more healthy levels. 

To conclude a second summer of change looks to be in the offing at White Hart Lane, with at least two and up to four first XI spots likely to be improved upon and a large squad in need of some culling.  Last season, quantity was the order of the day as the old squad was swept away and a new base of younger players brought in.  This summer those solid foundations are in need the extra quality required to make it into the top six of the premiership.


can spurs win the games the matter ?


Spurs face a home match against Fulham on Saturday chasing the three points that will place them back in the hunt for Europe, followed by a trip to Nottingham Forest for a place in the FA Cup quarter finals. Both games look on paper like wins for the White Hart Lane team, victories which would begin to fulfill expectations, and that is exactly the sort of game Spurs have been losing for as long as I can remember. 

Looking back over the last few years, Spurs have started the season brightly, been European contenders coming up to Christmas only fall away into mediocrity. Fans and managers alike point to a crucial game or set of games as key for their seasonís aspirations. These can be games against the top sides Spurs seek to join, which Spurs nearly always lose, or those against the type of lower teams Spurs are attempting to distance themselves from. The result is always the same defeat. The last few seasons reveal a litany of such failures, FA Cup, League Cup and Premiership. The League Cup Final against Blackburn, where Spurs famously failed to turn up is a prime example, but amongst others I can also recall a game against 10 man Fulham at White Hart Lane Spurs failed to win, and a sorry last day capitulation when victory would have claimed 7th and the defeat saw Spurs slump to 14th

Even looking at this season, Santiniís charges flopped after a fantastic start, losing to Portsmouth, Bolton, Fulham, Charlton, Arsenal and Aston Villa to slide down the table. A turbo-charged run under new coach Martin Jol pushed Spurs back to the fringes of the European places, only for the side to lose consecutive games against Palace and Bolton. An unexpected draw with struggling Palace a few weeks earlier also halted Spurs five game winning spree. Spurs remain in the hunt for Europe because of their good early season form and the Jol winning spree, but the next few games are once again make or break for Spurs season. Fulham, Forest (FA Cup), Southampton, Charlton, Man City, and Birmingham look on paper like winnable fixtures, but will Spurs still be threatening the top six at the end of them? 

Martin Jol and his young side have much to prove to the long suffering Spurs faithful. Early signs are encouraging, yet the inconsistency of youth and the weight of recent history stands in their way. But if Spurs can shake off a decade of underachieving failure, then maybe it will be this season and not next year that the sleeping giant at White Hart Lane will rise from its slumber.




spurs curse strikes again


The revolution looked like it might be in full swing by now, a Spurs rebuilt with new players and new management, hoping to wash away the disappointments of the last ten years. 13 points from the first eight matches hinted at better things to come.  Only the revolution, ironically enough, has come full circle.  You can change the faces but the injury room remains as full as ever.  

News of Sean Davis surgery and consequent two to three months on the sidelines capped a miserable few weeks for the White Hart Lane faithful. Injuries, surprise surprise, are once more crippling the team.  Davis made an impressive start to his Tottenham career, forming an instant partnership with Pedro Mendes, and looked to be the heart of a new, tougher Tottenham.  A knee injury ruled him out for a month, and upon his return to the first team, the 2-0 defeat to Fulham, another knock to the knee has led to his latest setback. Eric Edman, a vital cog in the Spurs defensive machine, picked up a head injury in the win against Everton and has been out since.  Spurs have lost all three of their premiership matches in his absence, conceding five goals.  The previously tight ship has started to spring leaks.  Thimothee Atouba, the left sided midfielder on whose height Spurs early season attacking patterns were founded, is out injured again after a stop start season.  Looking across the rest of the first XI, Simon Davies and Robbie Keane missed the start of the season and are yet to find form after injury, and Freddie Kanoute has also suffered from a hamstring injury and missed games. 

Looking at the back-up players in the Tottenham squad does not improve the picture.  The experienced Mauricio Taricco and the talented Anthony Gardner have both suffered from niggling injuries.  Michael Carrick, who may fill Davis slot in midfield, suffered from an ankle injury almost as soon as he arrived and has only recently returned to fitness.  With a new side needing time to gel, injuries have been the one thing Spurs needed to do without.  And being Spurs, were the one thing they got.  ĎSicknoteí may be gone but his legacy lives on. 

If Spurs are to progress, then consistency is the key.  Successful sides are settled sides, and no depth of squad, no formation, and no tactical insights can compensate for this.  Jacques Santiniís biggest challenge is to get the same XI out on a consistent basis.  Then, and only then, can the revolution truly begin.



the case for the big man


Freddie Kanoute and Robbie Keane OR Jermain Defoe would not at first glance seem to be the best strike pairing, with Robbie and Jermain's consistent scoring record for the Spurs but I believe that Freddie, despite media speculation to the contrary, could have a big future at the Lane.  

With the arrival of Jacques Santini, Tottenham have begun to play with a solidity not seen in far too long, we all agree.  They have also played with much more width.  With two hardworking and essentially defensive minded midfielders in the centre providing this solidity, the emphasis of our attack has altered somewhat.  The wide midfielders have been asked to stick to the touchlines and the fullbacks to overlap, though this has only developed properly on the left with Davies missing the start of the season. Looking at this left side, we see Atouba asked to play wide and used as a target man to hold up the ball, encouraging Edman to overlap.  With both players possessing such excellent engines, and with Atouba experienced as a right back, this interchanging makes us both solid defensively and more importantly, difficult to mark.  

With Davies returning we can hope to see a Spurs side with more attacking options.  Simon will provide an attacking midfielder who can dribble and cross and more importantly one who can link up with the forwards and get into the box far more than we have seen so far from us.  Davies will have the responsibility of both scoring and providing goals from midfield. 

The result is that a great deal of crosses are going to be delivered and that is where Freddie comes in.  His height offers a goal scoring threat, and also an out ball for the defence to relieve pressure.  The importance of the little man comes with the space between the opposition back four and midfield.  With our central midfield tending to sit deeper this creates space for players such as Defoe to run at defenders, the Norwich game most recently highlighted this.  And with midfielders with the passing ability of Mendes it also allows us to play on the counter away from home. 

The little and large combination offers a variety of threats that two smaller strikers cannot without a wholesale change to our play.



coming to terms with loyalty


With the post-Bosman transfer system settling down into a degree of restraint, Chelsea and Wayne Rooney aside, it's interesting to note the recent media-fuelled redefinition of the importance of 'loyalty' and the redefinition of the term to the players' detriment.  It is also instructive to measure how Spurs have reacted to these changes over this period. 

To deal with the former, it would appear that on the back of several high profile transfers and the subsequent media circus that accompanies such transfers, the word loyalty has been never been in the headlines more.  A player can be branded disloyal by fans and the media if he leaves the club for another (see Sean Davis) , especially a rival, or if he refuses to sign a new contract and leaves the club on a free (the much maligned Sol Campbell).

Yet, it is impossible to ignore the essential hypocrisy in this recent redefinition of loyalty.  For whilst a player is heavily criticised by fans and the media alike for acting disloyally (see Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Alan Smith, and Sol Campbell to name a few), this disapproval fails to be carried over to the conduct of clubs as a whole.  

With survival in the Premiership dependent to an overwhelming extent upon club finances, the word loyalty has no place in the boardrooms of the country's top tier clubs, but is expected to be shown by its players.  Football is now a business, but players are expected to act as if it was still a sport.  The treatment of managers (See Paul Sturrock and Spurs 1990 - 2004) by these clubs highlights just how much value is placed on loyalty by clubs. The price is just too high.  

The contract is a prime example of this contradiction at the heart of football.  Players who leave in the middle of a contract are criticised for not honouring their agreement, yet clubs will not allow their assets to complete a contract in order to maintain their value.  If a player attempts to break this cycle by refusing to sign an extension, they are once again criticised, yet if a club decides not to renew a contract because the player no longer has value, the word business is used to sanction the action.  The player cannot win.  Similarly, if a fee offered for a player is of high enough value, then clubs are allowed to justify the sale of a player as good business and loyalty is conveniently forgotten.  It is also accepted that if a player fails to perform he is offloaded, no matter how loyal he may be, and that if a player is performing well he can be sold for profit to another club.  The player, on the other hand, is not expected to treat his clubs with such dispassion.  The point is that he should be.  If a player is good enough he should be able to climb the career ladder to the top clubs (with his previous clubs generally ensuring they are adequately compensated), similarly if he loses form over a long enough period of time he will slide back down this ladder until he is performing to expectation.  The football world is ordered on merit. 

It is easy to forget that footballers are employees, regardless of their celebrity status.  People do not stay in the same job their whole lives, nor are they expected to.  When a bigger salary, or the chance of a better position, even at a rival, is offered, we jump at the chance, and no-one criticises.  Players have a right to try and maximise their income and fulfill their ambitions by moving clubs, just as clubs have a right to both cash in on their assets when they choose, and to maximise their players' value by tying them to long term contracts.  Football is not a funny old game any more, for better or for worse it's now business.  

To look at Spurs in more detail, it is encouraging to see that Spurs have finally woken up to the new realities of the transfer system and are now exploiting its possibilities instead of being hamstrung by its failings.  Tottenham's transfer policy of the 1990's saw us spend money on overpriced and over-aged players with no resale value.  

It is well documented that Spurs have spent more net transfer fees than Arsenal since Arsene Wenger took control of the club.  In short, we embraced a short term, low loyalty approach where high management turnover and the accompanying fan pressure saw us attempt to buy a side, despite not being able to attract players of a high enough calibre to do so.  And all too often this side cost large sums to assemble, proved to be disappointing and was in turn dismantled.  On the basis of these failings Sol Campbell's departure has to accepted as the right decision on his part.  The same fans that clamor for the head of the chairman or the board or the manager or any player that is not performing at the time have to accept that just as we demand success, so do the players.  As Teddy Sheringham and Sol Campbell cited, they left the club, not because they were disloyal, but because they were better than Spurs.  They left on merit and they were right to seek silverware elsewhere.  Two players could not carry us to glory.  The true failures of the era were that not more players rose through our team and carried it to a higher level, that too few players of quality were signed and that that the culture of negativity around the club did not engender significant player development. 

The last few seasons, I am pleased to say, have seen us begin to reverse this trend. Steven Carr, for example, was allowed to leave and thanked for his service, the blow softened, admittedly, by his poor form last season.  More importantly the club has invested in talented young players, whereby the club can profit from their improvement in both terms of an improved team but also in a higher resale value.  It should not be forgotten that the current Arsenal side was built on the profits of the Anelka sale.  The results of this approach are just beginning to pay off. We are seeing an improving side, a side with the energy and enthusiasm of youth.  And a side containing improving players will in turn improve.  That's my hope for the coming seasons.  And, touch wood, we may not replace the manager this year or even next.  It's easy to be loyal when you win.  



the importance of pace


Watching the game on Sunday, it struck me how the ability to run very fast remains a lethal weapon even at Premiership level.  Indeed, the game proved to be a showcase of the tactical options enabled through having a pacy striker.   

For Norwich, watching Darren Huckerby open us in the second half up from every corner we won, it seemed that their best form of attack was to concede a corner !  Despite the attentions of the excellent Ledley King and most of the rest of the Tottenham back four and midfield, by simply dropping deep and to the wing on the counter, Huckerby repeatedly gave himself the opportunity to run at the Spurs back four ... literally all of them at some point !  From a position of the wide on halfway line, Huckerby forced his opponents to risk a ball winning tackle at that point or to vainly trail behind him.  And utilising the fact that Mendes and sometimes Pamarot went up for the corners, Norwich often succeeded in isolating Huckerby against a slower player covering in the full-back position.  

Huckerby's 30 minute cameo showed how pace up front can be used to counter-attack from deep, creating the space behind defences to run into.  Indeed it was only the fact that he can't finish and that no-one else could keep up with him that we kept a clean sheet.  

Such tactics have proved highly successful against teams defending high up the pitch, Michael Owen's years at Liverpool providing a fine example. 

For Spurs, Jermain Defoe highlighted another tactical approach.  Norwich opted to defend deep, squeezing the space between back four and keeper.  This approach negated attempts to run into the space behind the back four, but instead presented other attacking opportunities.  Defoe simply used the space vacated by the retreating back four to get into striking distance, running from deep to shoot from 18 yards or using the momentum of the run and dribbling skills to close further.  Birmingham can testify to this.  

Thierry Henry, notably against Spurs, also highlights this approach. 

The reason that pace will always be such a formidable weapon is that the only way to combat it is with pace itself.  And there are so few defenders with the pace to match players such as Owen, Henry, and Ronaldo to name a few, that this is not a realistic proposition.  The reason is that pacy players tend to play up front or on the wing early in their careers and that they tend to stay there. 

Naming pacy strikers in the Premiership is easy (Vassell, Defoe, Saha, Bellamy, Kezman, Henry, Hasselbaink, Anelka).

Naming pacy defenders (Ashley Cole) is much harder.

It is no coincidence that successful teams contain pace. And to finish with a Spurs slant, I'm delighted to see that Santini has injected some.

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