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
04.05.2007 The Spurs Odyssey
18.05.2007 A Case For The Defence
31.05.2007 The Death of a Selling Club
14.06.2007 Home Is Where The Hart Is
28.06.2007 Rose Tinted
12.07.2007 A Tale of Four Strikers
26.07.2007 The Itch
It happened later than usual this year; normally I get 'the Itch' after a couple of weeks of summer, not in the third week of July. In fact, truth be told, Iíd rather enjoyed the liberation it gave me not to suffer through 'the Itch' this summer, but I must admit Iím relieved if anything that itís finally arrived and I put it one hundred per cent down to the first Spurs tickets going on sale.
By 'the Itch' Iím talking, of course, of that horrible feeling all football fans suffer through the summer months; when time seems to drag, links with mundane centre backs get your heart rate flying and thoughts naturally turn to a drastic improvement in fortunes. It gets worse when youíre in one of those protracted transfer sagas; the Tevezesque ones which seem never ending and where, because itís summer and thereís nothing else to think about, you seem to pore over the details in much finer detail.
I blame the World Cup and the number of matches in the previous season for the late onset of this feeling; I know by the time the final fixture came around, and we trotted out against City on the last day, I walked out of the ground happy we finished fifth and more than ready for a post season rest. There wasnít a break over the previous summer, what with the World Cup joining one season to the next and then a season where Spurs pushed to the latter rounds on four fronts, playing more games than they had done for well over a decade. It was wearying, and the stress and worry Spurs put me under left me crying out for the break.
But now that has passed and I am refreshed and ready. This season will be one of the most crucial campaigns in recent memory; the push for fourth is a realistic one, and the chance for silverware is within grasp too. Letís consider the chance for silverware first, as surely the whole point of football is for clubs to win glory through the acquisition of silverware ?
Well, despite Mourinhoís confidence, I donít think we will challenge for the title, that trophy will be won by either a resurgent Chelsea or an irresistible Manchester United. The FA Cup would be fantastic to win, but you never can tell with that competition, my own suspicion is we will focus on the UEFA Cup and League Cup as winnable trophies.
Last season we could have beaten Seville. There is little doubt they are a decent outfit, but they beat us in Spain through one of the worst refereeing decisions of all time, and the tie was put beyond us at home due to our horrific injury list. Now that we actually have a degree of quality cover across the board, the latter situation should not repeat itself to such an extent, although the former will always be unavoidable.
Bayern Munich are the stand out team in this competition this time around, and no-one should doubt their quality. After a poor season last year they have embarked on a spending spree to rebuild their side and regain their position as the dominant team in Germany. Even so, I think last season showed the UEFA Cup was to the playerís liking, and I expect the same this time around, with the added bonus that the team have already tasted defeat last season, and they will be hungry to avoid that this time around.
The League Cup is another trophy we can win, because a number of clubs within the Premier League donít take the competition seriously. That no longer includes the top three sides, who all put out strong teams, yet I think with some of the purchases we have made over the summer we can afford to rotate to a degree and rest key players, such as Berbatov, King and Lennon, in favour of squad players without disrupting our chances of progression. In the latter rounds it will be a case of sending out a stronger team to ensure progress, but I think one important lesson was learned by Jol last season, and that was that if we are to improve and break into the top four, we need to show consistency in the league.
I think this is the problem with football these days. There once was a time when a club would go into a season looking to win a trophy, and any trophy would be one worth winning, although naturally some were regarded as more prestigious than others. Nowadays clubs aim to finish as high as they can in the league, disregarding all other competitions as the most cash, and the best players, end up in the hands of the top league sides. Itís a sad fact of life that a sixth place finish is probably more important to a club than winning the League Cup.
Of course the FA could solve the problem in one simple move; by giving the Champions League places to the League Champions, runners up, and League and FA Cup winners. Naturally, they donít have the bottle to do that, so the Premier League remains the king of competitions, and we will continue to see clubs throw out weakened sides in the FA Cup in order to ensure their first eleven are fit to play a mid-table clash a few days later.
Jol learned this lesson last season, when following the Fulham FA Cup match the club won eight, drew three and lost only one of their last twelve league matches. That form took us from mid-table to fifth, and without question saved our season which was flagging and looking increasingly reliant on progress in the cups, something which can never be certain.
Even though I want silverware next season, you canít bank on it being won. Two years ago Middlesbrough ignored the league, and progressed far in the three cups. Yet look at them now; the manager who took them there has left, and their best players want to leave, all because their league form is not what it was a few years before. If we want to progress, and reach the level to compete with the top sides as we once did, we need to ensure the league remains our number one priority.
A good start to the season could really put the cat amongst the pigeons. Manchester United and Chelsea might be certain of their positions in the Champions League next term, likewise Liverpool should make their place, but I know a number of Arsenal fans who are uncertain as to their own future. My view is that it will be closer than a lot of people think, and for us it will depend on our start. If we start well, as we did two seasons ago, we can grab the Champions League place, as confidence will grow and we will start to get on a roll.
If we can win at Sunderland that will give us a massive boost, as we saw last season how difficult it became for the side when they began to suffer in away games on a regular basis, and that all came from the start. True, we werenít given many favours with the opening away games we faced; after all Old Trafford and Anfield are never easy places to go and win, and the Reebok was a fortress under Allardyce. But what really set the rot in were two draws with Villa and Watford on the road. Both were winnable games, yet we failed to capitalise in either.
That took us up to the start of November without an away win, and you sensed that it was starting to affect the confidence of the side. We need to make sure we start well this time around, and that means getting something from Sunderland and Fulham. Personally, I think we can win both, although the minimum we should seek is four points from these games. Home wins over Everton and Derby, are both possible should really set the ball rolling, and anything that we manage to grab from Old Trafford would be superb.
That would take us into the North London Derby in good shape, and if they are suffering with an indifferent start to the campaign, then they could well be there for the taking. I think its an advantage to play Arsenal earlier rather than later; people have tried to tell me that we will suffer due to it, but if they know that they need to points to deny us or for their own benefit, they will play that much more intensely against us, whereas if we play them earlier we can catch them cold.
That brings me to my next point; matches against the top four. I think most of us would say that one of our big failures was in the games against the top sides; this has been our biggest let down. In the previous two campaigns we have won four points from those eight matches. Compare that with the points the top four won against the top sides, including ourselves, and you will see that Manchester United picked up fourteen from eight, Chelsea got ten, Liverpool twelve and Arsenal fifteen. Last season Arsenal were eight points ahead of us, and if we had been better against the big sides there is no question we would have been closer to them
We have to start making it hard for them to come to our ground. Clubs need to fear playing us, and they need to be concerned about coming to White Hart Lane. Bolton managed the same thing with the Reebok, and Liverpool have had it for years with Anfield, but we need to do the same with our own home ground. I believe there is an element of this already, and obviously it takes time, but we need to make it so the big clubs donít relish their annual trip to our ground either. That step will be a big one in our progression, and one we must take if we are to break into the Champions League places.
But that is all to come, and hopefully this season will bear itself out to be a successful one. For now I am looking forward to a return to the Lane, a return of European football and a return to the Bell and Hare. Roll on the start of the season, and roll on with a glorious 2007/08 for Tottenham.
If you agree with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to give us your view.
A TALE OF FOUR STRIKERS
There was a great deal of speculation this season regarding the relative merits of two strikers and their respective transfer fees. I think every Spurs fan in the country had the same reaction to Darren Bentís arrival; good player and a real prospect but overpriced. Within the same week Henry ended his eight year association with Arsenal and made a hasty exit to Barcelona, predictably professing his love for them down the road, and his belief in their future.
What followed this was nothing short of vitriol against our new arrival. In the media we heard about how Spurs had paid over the odds for an overrated player; how Bent struggled to make an impact for England and how he wouldnít reach the required heights to fire Tottenham onto the next level. Most notably, this attack came across on the BBC website, an article by one of their journalists slating Bent and praising Henry, ridiculing one transfer and mourning another. I wholly disagreed with this manís comments, and the more articles of his I read, the more I realised he hasnít got a clue about Spurs.
He has recently written a piece on why Carragher is right to retire from international football. Whilst I can see his views there is a pathetic cheap shot at Ledley King within it; a wholly pointless and unjustified attack. If I was more paranoid I would say that he has it in for Spurs, and you donít need to delve very far to find yet more evidence of this trait in the media; just look at the recent speculation surrounding Defoe and Berbatov, despite assurances from both that they will remain with us next season. My own suspicions point towards fans of Arsenal and West Ham trying to stir up discontent with our club.
Yet Bent and Henry werenít the only strikers making a move in the Premiership around the same time. Torres and Da Silva joined the ranks at the two clubs who finished directly above us last season. I have to say I found it bizarre that so much negative reporting surrounded Bentís signing; a player who had proved over the previous two seasons he can cope with, and score in, the Premiership. Neither of the other two strikers are proven at this level, and Torres was supposedly signed for an additional £10m more than Darren Bent.
I do believe Torres will adapt to the style of play within the English leagues and eventually will prove himself to be a quality signing, yet there was nothing in the media regarding his price, or questioning his ability when any Premiership fan will tell you the major obstacle a foreign player has to overcome is adapting to our league.
Some people might by now be questioning why Iím discussing the merits of these four strikers on a Tottenham website, and the reason is that they could very well have a massive impact on our season. We have a chance to snatch a Champions League place next season, and to do that means displacing one of the four above us. We all recognise that of those teams Arsenal are the weakest; with their well documented discontent and underachievement within the last two seasons making them the most likely of the four to falter. But Liverpool too are within our sights. True they have money, but they lack supply from the wingers. Itís no good having an amazing forward if he doesnít get the supply, and this is the situation Torres could now find himself in.
Da Silva has massive issues to overcome. He has come in off the back of Henryís sale, and whichever way you look at it, he is the man replacing him. You can only fail in that situation, and although he has scored goals for fun in the Croatian league, that a whole different standard to the Premiership; itís not only an issue of adapting, but a huge gulf in standard between the leagues to overcome.
This is where Bent has a massive advantage; he has experience of the Premiership and is the only player who wont need to adapt to itís pace, standard or rugged play. Heíll get more games than Da Silva in his team, as Iíd expect Da Silva to be second choice to Adebayour and Van Persie, and whilst Bent canít expect to walk into the Tottenham first eleven when Keane and Berbatov played so stunningly together at the end of last season. So of the three only Torres can be expected to play more games, simply because his rivals are nowhere near his standard, although I feel Kuyt is a decent player.
This is all good news for Spurs. Whilst the Kop looks to Torres to produce something to win a match going nowhere, putting a weight of pressure on a player still trying to adapt at the same time, and Arsenal fans grow more and more disillusioned as they noticed the larger and larger gap in their side left by the departed Henry, Bent will be pulled off the bench to begin with to replace or add to an out of ideas Tottenham attack, and provide the aerial ability that Defoe lacks in attack.
So what abilities does Bent bring to Spurs;namely what it is that caused us to fork out £16.5m on a barely established Premiership player, and one who is yet to make an impact at international level ? This is the nub of it, and something which other fans fail to appreciate. We all know that Keane and Defoe canít play together, and that without Bent there is no-one to cover Berbatovís absence with any height upfront.
Last season we actually had four forwards, something everyone outside of our club seems to so quickly forget as Mido labours in the background with weight and personal problems or injury. Suddenly Bentís arrival has triggered speculation that Defoe or Berbatov are on their way out, and I donít believe this at all. We started last season with four forwards vying for two places, and I donít see any reason why this season shouldnít be any different in this respect.
Our main forwards all provide different things, but Bent is one of the most interesting of the four. He isnít a deep lying forward, or a tricky one; his abilities revolve around his pace and getting in behind opposition defences. At Charlton he starred with success as the one man attack; running through to score goals with an ease in the Premier League, but there are question marks about him, and rightly so.
He is a forward that offers us something different. He won't drop deep to pick up the play, but will get into the box to get onto attacks. Well used to leading the line on his own at Charlton, he learned his trade at Ipswich playing up front next to another forward playing tidy football. This is beneficial for us, as it means he wonít find it too difficult to slot into our style of play as well as offering us the chance for something different.
Iím sure you can all recall, as I can, exasperating afternoons sat watching Spurs labour to breakdown a stubborn side who had clearly turned up at White Hart Lane for a point, and the growing sense of frustration as our forwards dropped deep to pick up the ball only to find that there was no-one up front to receive the pass. In these situations Bent will naturally stay forward, and although there is a deficiency in this in a number of games where intricate deep play is preferred, that will help us against these stubborn opponents.
Bent has not established himself at international level because he hasnít proved himself in a team where he is not the focal point of the whole side. At Charlton, their whole attack was setup around Bent. All their forward balls were designed for him to finish, and when a team revolves around one player so critically, a side will be setup in order to play to that playerís strengths. At Spurs, Bent will need to prove his ability to play in our style of football and slot into a side where he is not the star. Take Malbranque; a player who starred at Fulham yet one who has become a bit part player at Spurs. Malbranque is a good player; he just isnít the key player in the team allowing his abilities to be used to their maximum. Thatís one of the problems of being a good player at a big club; the team donít revolve around you and there will be times where you end up in the background. If Bent proves himself to have the ambition and the skill to play for Tottenham, overcoming this problem in the process, his England prospects will drastically improve.
There is something else in the Bent deal which no-one has considered; namely the possibility that we could play three upfront next season. The more I consider things the more I think it could be a possibility. Jol is clearly aiming to make Lennon as versatile as possible, as we saw last season with the winger thrust out of the left winger for large portions of last season. Yet in one particular game he starred with great success through the middle, and that was against Chelsea away in the FA Cup.
If we went to 4-3-3, Lennon could play through the middle with Zokora and Jenas next to him, both the latter two players more than capable of doing the ball carrying that is required of a three man midfield. It would enable Bale and Chimbonda to push forward, playing to their attacking instincts. And what a breathtaking attack Keane, Berbatov and Bent would form.
The first two are more than capable of dropping deep and picking up the ball, with Bent operating as the head of the attack. If needs be the team could even switch into a 4-4-2 from there, or a 4-5-1, and that changeability can be underestimated, after all the last three titles have been won by clubs able to change things in the pitch without the need for substitutions when things arenít going to plan.
Anyone who has read my articles before will know that I feel we need a left winger, a goal scoring replacement for Jenas and possibly even a defensive midfielder if Zokora doesnít make expectations. Now Bent has arrived that has all but increased the need. Taarabt is a fantastic prospect, however at the moment he is just that; a prospect. I hope Martin isnít relying on him to come in and make a massive impact, as much as I would hope for one, as youngsters are liable to irregular form and you canít rely on them for success.
Equally, Malbranque isnít an out and out left winger either, he will do a job out there, but itís a makeshift solution. We need a proper left winger desperately, someone around their late 20s to early 30s would be ideal, especially a player with a good deal of high level experience. He could drastically help Lennon and Taarabt reach their potential, as well as provide a method of attacking down the wing that is not reliant on Aaron.
Because Bent wont drop off to join in the intricate play that Berbatov and Keane revel in, we need to have wingers capable of opening up space on both flanks, as much as someone creative to drop off and provide balls for him. With decent service, he should be aiming to hit twenty goals next season, and thatís without necessarily being one of the first choice forwards.
Itís clear now that we are aiming to secure our place in the Champions League through firepower. We undoubtedly have the strongest line up of forwards in the league, each with different talents and all with Premiership experience. If we hit the ground running, and that is crucial if we are to break the top four next season, our forwards could well power and maintain us at the top of the division for the early period, which is something that could give us much needed breathing space from Liverpool and Arsenal before their strike forceís are firing to their maximum.
As I said, I think Torres will come good, but like Berbatov before him he might take half a season to adapt, especially as he is likely to play upfront alone. No-one knows how Da Silva will do, as his step up is the biggest of the three, and that would explain why Arsenal are trying to tempt Martins to North London. Yet that deal isnít done, so for the time being we have the most reliable forward line out of the three, and maybe that will be just enough to give us the early lead we need to make it.
There shouldnít be any question over whether Bent is able to play at this level; the two previous seasons alone have proved that. The only concern there should be is on the price we paid, and whether the move is one that will enable Bent to both win silverware and establish himself in the national side. In answer to those issues, that will all be decided on Bentís impact on the side. If he is a success then the money we paid is justified, hopefully silverware will follow too, as for the national team selection can only ever be decided by the manager of the day, currently that is the woeful Steve McClaren so I wouldnít hold my breath if I were Bent, even he set the league alight next term. And if his goals fire us to into the Champions League then the investment is immediately worthwhile and a wholly justified, doubly so if the goons implode at the expense of our qualification, allowing us to take our rightful place back as the biggest club in North London.
[Thanks also to Marc, Rob and Nick who provided their opinions and some good points regarding this topic.]
If you agree with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at email@example.com to give us your view.
I can still see the image now; as he waltzes through the defence, deftly switching the ball from left to right foot, moving gracefully through defenders with a roll and dip of his shoulder, the red shirts totally contrast his serene movements, desperately twisting and cutting, their legs splayed as they make a last ditch lunge to stop him passing by.
He looked more like a man taking an ambling, summer stroll across a field rather than a player slicing through a defence. His movements seem almost tranquil, and he seems so slow when you watch him, whilst the defenders look frantic and haggard. If ever a moment summed up one glorious season for a player, surely Ginolaís was that goal against Barnsley.
From the moment he cut in and sauntered past defenders, to the moment he open his body and passed the ball majestically into the bottom corner of the Barnsley net, the moment oozed class, individual skill and spoke of a player at the height of his powers. 1999 was to be Ginolaís season as he won the PFA Player of the Year Award and the Football Writers Association Football of the Year Awards as he won the League Cup with Tottenham.
It is somewhat ironic that when we have the strongest squad we have had since the late 1980s, we still hark back to the dark days of the late 1990s for a left midfielder of true class. If we had that Frenchman for next season in that form, I donít think weíd have much problem overtaking Arsenal. And just imagine how much his tutorage would benefit Lennon.
That 1999 success was a shining light in a sea of mediocrity, as a period of footballing time so dull and poor that we were reduced to looking forward to cup runs and an outside chance of Europe. There were occasional moments of brightness in this period, who can forget Klinsmann or Ginola ? Who doesnít recall fondly the demolitions of Manchester United and the League Cup Semi Final against Chelsea, where we totally outclassed them ?
But these moments came all too rarely, and in truth there were far too many low points, such as home defeats to Leicester and Coventry, and much too much ineptitude on and off the pitch, who doesnít cringe at the memory of Pleat sending the team out in 2003/04 and persisting with Ricketts and Jackson ? How about watching Gary Doherty at the back ?
And how we actually finished in the middle of it with a forward line of Iversen, Armstrong and Ferdinand Iíll never know. After all, Iversen and Ferdinand were almost as injury prone as Anderton and Armstrong didnít even want to play for the club. But then, we are supposedly a fickle bunch, quick to condemn our players when they fall short.
I donít think this is wholly the case, as Spurs fans are generally quite knowledgeable of the past of the club. That causes a problem for our current players, for each and every player is compared to the best one we had in those positions. Bill Nicholson made us all perfectionists; he was the one who raised the standards and ambitions sky high, demanding winning football played in the right way.
Because of it, every Tottenham manager since has been compared to him, just as every striker is compared to Greaves, every midfielder to Mackay, White or Hoddle, every defender must match the class and poise of an England or Burgess whilst the keepers expected to match Jennings. Each and every time our players step out on the pitch they do so weighed down in the expectation that they are capable of living up to those famous names of the past, and of matching their lofty achievements in the current era. If we had Mackay, White, Greaves and Burgess next season I donít think weíd merely be aiming for fourth, I think weíd be aiming for the title.
I never saw these any of these players ply their trade in our famous white shirt, in fact I believe my first Spurs memory was of the 1991 FA Cup Semi Final against Arsenal. I know my first football memory was of the England versus Egypt match in the 1990 World Cup, hardly the most memorable matches in itself, it has nevertheless stuck in my memory along with vague images of Roger Milla dancing in the corner after scoring.
As you can guess, my formative years as a Tottenham supporter were ones spent in hope, rather than tinged with ambition, as the club lurched and laboured along, either avoiding relegation with a few games to spare or finishing short of European qualification by ten or so points. The cups were my one source of interest as a youngster, and we always seemed to fall short at the last.
Letís take a moment to look back, and cast our eyes over the dross that was on display at White Hart Lane at the time, players like Vega, Edinburgh, Fox, Sherwood and Armstrong amongst many. Post our FA Cup success in 1991, we had a very poor time of things and languished in mediocrity; just good enough never to go down, we lacked quality in too many areas to succeed. Europe was a wild hope of a dream, rather than a minimum requirement of a campaign.
The reason I bring all this up is simple; over the next season I have no doubt that the Spurs board, fans, players and coaches will aim for a Champions League place and in so doing blow the big four cartel wide open. As fantastic as it would be, and as delighted as I would be if we achieved it, I donít want to see or hear any more Spurs fans berating Jol or the players if they fail in this.
We sit in a precarious position; we are by far the best side outside of the top four, with good players across the park and a decent depth of a squad, but like any ambitious club should we want more and that means Champions League qualification and future silverware. The problem we have is that in order to break into the Champions League places we need players of that standard, and they all want to play for teams in the Champions League.
Obviously, you get occasions where players of genuine class are prepared to give up Champions League football for a season or two, as in the case of Berbatov, because they really believe in a club or are wowed by a manager into joining. But such players are generally the exception and not the rule, and thatís where the problem lies for us. What chance do we have to attract the top talent if they feel they are deserving of a place amongst Europeís elite? And how much are our chances of grabbing a player reduced if one of the so called big boyís also interested in the player?
The Premier League has come on leaps and bounds since itís inception, no doubt because of the success of foreign imports and the sustained influx of money for all the teams involved, yet it was only at the arrival of Abramovich onto these shores and his purchasing of Chelsea which altered the make up of our league. In the pre-Abramovich era, foreign players who arrived on these shores typically fell into two categories; either they were players coming to the end of their careers, as in the case of Laudrup or they were failures from abroad, as in the case of Bergkamp. Very few came at their peak, and certainly none came to clubs in England when a half decent La Liga or Serie A team was interested.
That changed with Abramovich, he made the Premier League attractive as a division for the top foreign internationals of the day. Suddenly, players like Xavi Alonso, Crespo and Robben were choosing English football over Italian or Spanish. There were always some that plumped for our island over the warmer climates of the Mediterranean, such as Van Nistelrooy, yet the money Chelsea had made our island a lot more attractive for these players, and at their peak, which is the most important thing.
Most significantly, this change has affected the top four clubs in the country. Because each season they achieve Champions League football they ensure more money and a bigger transfer budget, enabling them to outspend the rest in their division. They already have a better squad than the rest of us, so this just moves them away from us.
Tottenham have made massive strides in the past few seasons, closing the gap to the big four and so much so that we are on the cusp of overtaking them. In fact with the state Arsenal are in (and despite their fanís delusions that it wont affect them) we could very well achieve our aims of breaking the top four, perhaps this will even be the moment when the balance is tipped in our favour for a significant period.
In order to do this, the board have recognised that a significant amount of money must be invested into quality players within the squad. Players such as Bale, Kaboul, Bent, Sneijder, Petrov and Pedersen would get into any side in the division, and their undoubted quality is what we need most. Thatís why I think these things are taking so long. Spurs donít want to pay over the odds, but when you are negotiating to buy real class the whole situation becomes protracted and difficult.
In the case of Bent, he would make a quality addition as a replacement for Mido, because I think we do need four international class forwards in order to compete and if we did have those players there is no question we would have the strongest forward line in the Premiership. Charlton wanting £17 million for him is their prerogative, he is contracted to them and they have the right to ask for an amount they think fair. I believe that they are trying to ensure the costs of dropping out of the top flight are covered by his sale.
I donít want to get into this too much, but I do think that they are taking us for a ride. They have overvalued him and if they are confident that he will be as big as a success as they believe, then there are plenty of long term bonuses we can give them when the time comes. Broadly, I think in some way we are taking our eye off the ball when it comes to a left winger.
Bringing in someone of ability on the left wing would improve our side immensely, but the problem is we havenít heard anything about it. Thatís not necessarily a bad thing, as we all know that Spurs like to operate without confirming rumours until the deals are done, but we desperately need someone over there and I cannot believe that the coaching staff havenít identified it as one of their main targets.
Hopefully, the club can succeed in bringing in Bent, Kaboul, a left winger and perhaps even someone like Sneijder for the centre. Those four players would make a world of difference, but even if we donít, and we only bring in Bale in the close season, donít forget how far we have come, and remember that without Jol, Levy and the rest of the board, we could still be sitting their praying that we sign a player able to single handily carry us into Europe, hoping above all else that this season to come is the one; where we break out of mediocrity once more. I donít want to go back to that, and Iím glad that the club has finally matched our ambitions with its off field work.
Jol and Levy are the best things that have happened to this club in the Premiership era, they deserve our trust. So far between the two of them they have got things right; time and patience are what we need to reward them with because in this season to come all our long held ambitions; of overtaking and beating Arsenal, of rebuilding a side which we can be proud, of making a Champions League berth and perhaps even winning silverware, all these things could true happen, and five years ago when Jackson ran out in the first team, who would have said that ?
If you agree with Richard or even if you don't, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to give us your view.
HOME IS WHERE THE HART IS
I have a dream; that one day in the near future I can ride the tube to White Hart Lane Underground station on my way to a game. Itís a simple dream, but one with the promise of so much. I make my way up to the High Road, and even from here the ground looks rejuvenated as it rises high towards the heavens looming with understated majesty. This has been well commented on, ever since it was spun around and rebuilt into a sixty thousand all-seater stadium. Despite the increase in seats, the atmosphere at the Lane remains as fierce as ever as the East End of the ground growls with noise during matches, rising to a crescendo as the sound rolls around stadium before spilling out over the rafters like a flood. The architects have done their job well, creating a ground which is able to safety house sixty thousand seated fans yet keep the traditional feel of the ground and encourage the atmosphere within.
Along the Park Lane, now running along the length of the pitch following the rotation of the ground, fans make their way from Northumberland Park station, one of a number of improved rail stations on the new Lea Valley Line created for the Olympics a few years before to carry hordes of fans to events in Broxbourne and from Stansted airport. At the top of the road, where the Park Lane meets the High Road, a large electronic billboard shows Ledley King advertising his new boots.
On the High Road, a group of Bulgarian fans makes a slow progress as they dawdle in front of the ground. The group are in good spirits, laughing and joking as they anticipate seeing their hero Berbatov ply his trade in the white and blue of Tottenham. They take pictures of the stadium and its surrounding areas eagerly, each one carrying bulging bags from the megastore, itself now located further down the road in a larger location.
The Paxton Road side of the ground is now the front of the stadium, and a large statue of Bill Nicholson and Danny Blanchflower dominates the scene. The two men stand proud and erect, immortalised forever in iron as a reminder of the club and its values. Behind the two great men, the words ĎTottenham Hotspur Football Clubí emblazon the side of the stadium; the first sign of things to come for all visiting teams as they arrive.
On Worcester Avenue the great body of the home support will soon swarm, coming from the Corner Pin or the Bell and Hare in the half an hour before kick off. Now, despite the time to go before kick off, away fans wait patiently for the turnstiles to open so they can enter, they are all in light, jovial mood, as few expect to leave White Hart Lane with the points these days. Itís a nice dream, but one which could become a reality with some canny thinking.
By the turn of the New Year, Daniel Levy and the rest of the Tottenham board will have made a decision and the above may or may not become actuality. We all know that broadly the key issues are a need to have a ground of a size that befits us, transport links capable of bringing the supporters into, and out of, the area and all without bringing the club into financial difficulties. But these issues ultimately are financial ones; more supporters equal more money going into the club through tickets and the match-day merchandise, good transport ensures that people can get in and out without hassle and ensure their return custom, in particular families, whilst it would be a poor financial decision to hamstring the club and tie it to repaying a stadium with no chance of operating in the transfer market and therefore no base to compete from.
So what is crucial for us, the fans who make their way down to the ground week in and week out, who have supported the club throughout the bad old days and who are now eagerly looking forward to our bright future? Well in the immediate a larger stadium will improve my chances of getting a ticket (I was a member, Iím now a bronze member), especially now that the Paxton has become the family end.
I can see why improved transport is so crucial to the whole operation surrounding White Hart Laneís expansion. Itís hard enough making your way home as it is, especially following a midweek game, and add to that the multitude of rumours that are circulating about the buildings surrounding the ground and whether or not they can be bought, even the speculation regarding the rotating of the pitch so it runs east-west as opposed to north-south. When you consider these obstacles, it makes hard to see the club staying at White Hart Lane.
Thankfully, most of these issues can be overcome or disregarded as inaccurate. Take a walk away from the ground, towards Seven Sisters or Tottenham Hale, and thereís not much to see. A rundown area with little amenities hardly shines in the borough, and thatís where the club has one almighty advantage. Of all the things in the local area, the club is one of the few examples of vital and thriving life, and the Borough of Haringey would be mad to drive them out. This naturally doesnít rule out the possibility of a move, we could comfortably remain within the borders of the borough and move to a new ground, but my first choice would be to remain at the Lane.
White Hart Lane is our ground, what I mean by this is I feel its like a second home for me, and itís been the clubs home for over a hundred years. Add to that the fact that new grounds, while often looking aesthetically pleasing and without any restricted view, often lack the atmosphere that their predecessors had. There are plenty of reasons for this, the hardcore support being spread around the ground, a wave of new supporters coming into football, especially day trip fans, which turn up and donít sing or get involved. I donít want to sit in a shiny new plastic ground next to some guy who couldnít care less but wants to watch ĎBersaboví upfront, Iíd rather stay where we are and expand it, so I can stay standing next to a bloke who knows Jenas isnít as good as Gazza.
And staying where we are is the best option for the fans. The hardcore element get to remain together, and the buzz remains, and trust me on this, one of the things which excites neutral fans is that pre-match buzz, which you just donít get at Arsenal or Stamford Bridge. The ground looks like a ground should, rather than some landed spaceship, and you get the feeling that you are home, rather than playing in a set piece final, which is what I feel Iím watching whenever I see Ashburton Grove. These elements; of comforting surroundings and loud atmosphere, will help ensure that the new fans (those who canít get tickets because demand is so high and they are too far down the pecking order) who enter the ground for the first time will have an atmosphere to add to, rather than take away from.
There are other issues too, not least the fact that the longer we leave it the more we are being left behind by the other big clubs; Newcastle, Villa, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea all have bigger grounds than us, and therefore could all get more money on a match day. Even a traditionally mediocre side like West Ham have a large ground than we do, and soon Reading will expand their stadium to thirty-six thousand.
The point of this is that the longer we leave this to be resolved the further behind we could fall. Thereís no doubt we need to make sure we act now, but we also think about the future. It was only a few years ago that West Ham extended their ground, and now they are talking about moving away from Upton Park to extend further. We would be far better served considering a ground which we have the option to increase further should we need to at a later date.
That may actually rule White Hart Lane out of the equation. After all, the new ground probably needs to be around fifty-five thousand, as that should satisfy us for the current time, but what of after that? If success begins and then continues, the board canít afford to turn away another ten or twenty thousand on top of that each week, not if itís sustained demand. This is an extreme example, but we need to be able to house that kind of demand if it does happen, and that means we need more space than just what needs to be built on.
The transport issues we face could be largely overcome by the Olympics. Itís worth bearing in mind that there are Olympic events taking place in Broxbourne, and there are going to be high numbers arriving in London from Stansted. That kind of traffic will need decent access to the city, and that means that the existing rail line will need to be upgraded and improved. If Spurs could jump on the back of that, it could see a far better service provided for fans travelling from Harlow, Broxbourne and Cheshunt.
The other issue is fans travelling from Central London. The Underground doesnít run right outside the ground, and that means that fans are getting off at Seven Sisters or Tottenham Hale and making their way to the ground by foot, bus or rail. The good news is that the club are seriously looking at having the tube extended towards the ground, and that would be great for a matchday. As regards both an extension of the tube and the improved rail links, I would expect both to be tied in to the agreement to remain at the ground, because the last thing the club would want is for fans to be delayed in arrival at the ground- the earlier you get down, the more time you can spend in the megastore and the quicker you get away, the less likely the occasional fans are to complain.
Another issue we face seems to be the inflexibility of the property owners around White Hart Lane. I donít know the details, but there seems to be a good deal of talk about some owners reluctance to sell their properties to the club, and certainly if this is the case then it will impact whether we stay at our current location and could even potentially impact on the businesses who are so reluctant to move now.
The club have to be frugal in these circumstances, on the one hand it would be easier to develop the land we already own, yet on the other when you try to buy property from another business, they will always want more money if they know how crucial that land is for you. And to redevelop the Lane, we will need that extra land. Therefore we have to consider moving to a new site, where the land is not so over the odds and where we have the space to grow. My concern is that these businessesí greed will see us leave, and the area will spiral downwards, and as for us, we end up in a faceless stadium with little or no atmosphere.
Lastly, thereís the player factor. Players love playing in big, passionate grounds, thatís why they want to play for Manchester United or Liverpool, Celtic or Rangers. Of course, there is a culture of success at these clubs too, and that is probably more attractive to a player overall, but there is no question that when a good player is courted by a host of top sides, one of the factors that helps him make his choice, apart from success and wages, are the atmosphere at the stadium or training ground.
Iíll admit I donít know the ins and outs of any move and this is simply idle speculation. Ultimately itís the boardís decision to where we play our football in future, but I think most of us would favour remaining at White Hart Lane, and I donít mind if the ground is rotated or not. All I want is enough space for our supporters and a decent atmosphere. I expect some positive decision to be made by the end of the year, we canít afford a decision not to be made, and I fully expect us to remain close to where we play now. Two things are certain, the transport links to the ground and the flexibility of our neighbours are where this issue really lies. And if we do have to move to a new stadium, as much as I donít want it to happen, let it be called ĎNicholson Park,í entrenched in history and not named after some soul stealing sponsor.
THE DEATH OF THE SELLING CLUB
I donít like the way Manchester United do business. Thereís something unseemly about the way they state their intentions for players that really gets my back up. Sure itís not as underhand as meeting a player in secret without permission of the club heís contracted to, but neither is it something unavoidable like two players talking when they meet for international duty. Iím talking, of course, of the way they so publicly declare their interest in a player.
Take, for example, Carrick. At first all we heard were rumours that Manchester United wanted him, innocent throw away comments in the paper; the type of stuff we all take with a generous pinch of salt. Some of those type of rumour are genuine, although a good many are fake, but when something refuses to go away long enough you start to believe it.
Then all of a sudden the speculation grew and grew, talk of Carrickís future role in the England setup took momentum and Manchester United were so heavily linked you knew a bid was inevitable. The final nail in the coffin was that Ferguson came out and waxed lyrical about Carrickís role in his midfield, the type of player he was and thing Carrick could bring to United and before you knew it he was gone.
The whole thing was a public affair, which turned Carrickís head with promises of a more influential position in the England team, a major role in the Manchester United side, higher wages, the chance for major honours and Champions League football, what player wouldnít have been tempted ? Of course, the whole thing was done through clever use of the media, which effectively ensured that Carrick was fully aware of the regard Ferguson held him in long before they formally discussed any agreement.
But then again, this is the world of football at the very highest level, where every avenue is used to gain an advantage and where the top clubs gnaw at, and seek to weaken, the emerging clubs at every opportunity. We got good money for Carrick, and letís not forget that money went towards buying Berbatov and Zokora, and he did want to leave, but did we make it hard enough for him to leave ? In that regard I donít think we did.
We could have stressed how important he was to us; we could have offered him a longer deal with higher wages, matching Manchester United in this respect. But we succumbed to the money, publicly stating that it was to ensure that a want away player with little time left on his contract did not leave without a penny being returned to the club. Ultimately, whether or not this is the truth or whether they wanted to bank the money we will never know, but selling Carrick unbalanced our side and it took us half a season to recover.
Fast forward to this summer, and the whole thing sounds a lot like the same bad record being played again. Manchester United have made no secret of their intentions towards Berbatov, and since April, perhaps even March, we have heard about him leaving, almost on a daily basis. So much rumour was caused by this that our chairman and manager were forced to come out stating their desire to keep him, and even Berbatov and his agent reiterated that the Bulgarian would spend next season at the lane. Despite this, Manchester United are still rumoured to be tabling a bid worth £39m, including Saha and cash, and seemingly every pundit in the country who speaks on the subject opines that Berbatov would be better suited in taking the trip north.
Thatís why this summer could be the making of Spurs. Ever since Sheringham left, ten years ago this summer, Tottenham have slumped to what I view as the second tier band of English teams. What I mean by this is that there has always been a group of clubs, able to buy the best players and snap up the trophies, and they are in the first band. The second band will occasionally rise to win the odd trophy, but in the main they produce good players and have a sporadic season in the limelight, before selling their best and slumping away again towards mediocrity. Before Sheringham left, despite a few seasons without trophies, we were still regarded as a big fish; an attractive prospect for good, ambitious players looking for somewhere to ply their trade in the prime of their careers.
Then of course, Sheringham left us to win trophies, and it sent out a statement in bold letters to everyone that our club was no longer one to be considered by ambitious players. From then on, the top prospects would always shun us for other, more likely to succeed clubs. We were still attractive to players at either end of their careers, and players looking to make it from abroad, but the recognised names walked on by.
Since Sheringham, we have suffered three more cases of players deciding they are more ambitious than the club. The most notable example was Sol Campbell who led us a merry dance before sauntering off down the Seven Sisters, with not a penny coming the other way. But then add to that Steve Carr, who blatantly decided he would run his contract down and leave on a Bosman, before we cut our losses and sold him to Newcastle. And forget where he is now because at the time Carr joined Newcastle they had just finished fifth. Lastly, of course, was Carrick.
All of this is why Manchester United and Chelsea can so openly covert Berbatov, and indeed any of our prospects which could emerge as the seasons continue. They see us as a club with talent, and they see the potential, but they both feel that if they threw enough money at us, we will take it. Refreshingly, our board seemed to have learnt from their mistakes in the past. They realised their mistake in appointing Hoddle, they saw the failures of Pleat and they put their money into young players. I have no doubt that they now consider selling Carrick to be a mistake, and they now are determined to hold onto Berbatov with everything they can.
As I say, this summer could be the making of us. Itís pretty clear that Berbatov is our key player, and a player who could set the Premiership alight for years to come, so itís understandable they want him. Yet we have to keep hold of him. I donít rate Saha, and certainly not at £11m, besides which who are we going to buy with the £28m to replace him? What forward is going to be as good as him, or want to come to our club once we sell him?
On top of that consider the number of times the big clubs do business between each other. Manchester United and Liverpool havenít done business since 1968, I canít remember when Arsenal did business wither either United or Liverpool for that matter, and its only in recent years that Chelsea have bought Veron from Manchester United (who Ferguson didnít want) and Cole moved from Arsenal with Gallas going the other way. Thatís two deals and the truth of it is that the big clubs tend not to do business with each other, you donít hear about Ferguson declaring his interest in Eboue as a long term replacement for Neville, despite the poor seasons Arsenal have had recently.
Apart from acting like the top clubs and not selling to the clubs we wish to see at rivals, what kind of indication does it give to our current players when one of our top talents is sold for the second successive season? If I was a player hungry for success and my club sold off our best player, Iíd think about my future. Keeping hold of Berbatov this summer will help us towards these goals. It will mean we keep a top talent and arenít rebuilding next season, it will mean that we have denied the top clubs from getting their hands on our top talent and it will settle the other potential stars in our squad. Through this, we will finally shake the tag of being a selling club.
Which is why the noises coming out of Spurs are all very pleasing, because the one area we can affect is Berbatov choice to stay or go in showing our ambitions for the future. We can make him feel our club is one going places and inline with his own objectives. Bale is a fantastic prospect and will add to our club. He is a player destined to be a hit and hopefully one who doesnít need to go any further to make the most of his career. Likewise Keane has flourished at Spurs, becoming a consistent talent, the player he always threatened to be, and has rightly been given a new contract.
Berbatov will doubtless see this, and hopefully himself sign a new deal; bringing his wages to something more deserving of his talent and tying him more securely to the club. If we continue to bring in the players that match his ambitions; the Petrovs, Pedersons or Sneijders of this world, then there is no question that his will look forward to next season with us, and that means the club can really start to go places, shaking off the selling club tag which has long dogged it, and at long last reawakening the sleeping giant to really ruffle the feathers of the big four.
One last thing, if anyone has not yet signed the below petition, please can you do so now. This is a worthy cause, and one gesture which is so simple and could mean so much. Iím sure all true Spurs fans will agreed that this stature is the least Bill Nick deserves.
A CASE FOR THE DEFENCE
Tottenham achieved their target by reaching fifth in the league on the last day of the season, adding to the three good cup runs and the potency of our excelling forward line, which undoubtedly amongst the strongest in the league (even including Mido). By the end of it, I donít think many of us were disappointed. Okay, at the start there was talk of making a Champions League challenge again, and everyone was desperate for us to get some silverware as soon as possible, but I think we gained something else from this campaign, some lessons which should stand us in good stead in the future.
The campaign was one where we all learnt a great deal about football in the modern era at the top level. Gone are the days when a side can challenge on all fronts and be regarded as successful if you win one trophy, you only have to look at the criticism Benitez has received because Liverpool only reached the Champions League final, the biggest competition in Europe. Players want to move on to the top sides as soon as possible, the money and success too enticing, although naturally there are exceptions to this and I fervently believe Berbatov is one of them.
These days the consensus is that the league, and only the league, is the most important trophy, everything else is just a cup. And for some clubs, if you only win the league, your season is still seen as below average. Football has become a squad game by and large. Itís not enough to have a team of eleven, even sixteen, top players; you need at least twenty if not thirty to cope with the demands placed upon the big sides. And I think Martin Jol has learned these two lessons now; the league has to be your main focus, as itís the gateway into Europe, and the squad must be good all round. After all, we have all seen some of the struggling games when Spurs have opted to rotate or weaken the side and failed to pick up the points. We have a squad capable of matching the top sides for long periods, but I donít yet believe we have the squad.
I donít think anyone feels Tottenham are in a position to challenge for the Premiership next season, and as it stands I think weíd all be delighted with fourth in the league come this time next year. Even to do that would take a monumental effort from the squad and in all honesty it requires a poor season from one of the sides above us. The difficulty here is that they have much more top level experience than us, and the general quality within their squad is higher than ours, for example Liverpool have Aurelio and Bellamy on the bench and Arsenal have Ljungberg, while we have Murphy, Mido or Gardner. I think this is where Jolís focus will be over the summer; on bringing in a few players of genuine quality able to challenge our first eleven in order to improve the general quality of the team.
One area which patently does need looking at is the defensive qualities of the side. For a side finishing fifth, conceding fifty-four goals in a season is far too many, thatís 1.42 a game and means in theory we are reliant on scoring twice a game at least. We canít rely on that every game, and our defence needs to be looked at as a number one priority over the season.
Broadly, we need to reduce that number as we shouldnít be conceding more than forty in a season. In the last two home games of the season I spent long periods of the match watching our defensive performance trying to work out why it is that we are conceding so many poor goals- and this is key, because so many of them are soft goals. In theory you can put every goal down to a mistake, there is no point in doing this because you donít learn anything about where you can cut out goals and players will always make mistakes. No team goes a whole season without conceding anyway, so that means you need to consider more general reasons for goals going in.
But you canít go blaming our problems wholly on injuries. Every team suffers injuries and besides which we were leaking goals long before we had these issues in the backline. As I see it there are a number of factors which need to be considered; injuries, style of play, the midfield and mental resolve. Obviously, the injury problems we faced around crucial periods in the cups severely hampered our chances. As I recall, we lined up against Seville with Chimbonda (allegedly carrying an injury), King (playing his first game back from injury and hadnít played since Boxing Day), Dawson (played every game but Manchester City away and tired) and Tainio (out of position). That tells a story, and when you are playing a top side in Europe, as Seville are, then they will be able to open you up, as was the case for the Kanoute goal.
We also employ a zonal marking system and this does cause us some problems, especially in terms of winning the ball back. A zonal system makes it easy for anyone to slot into as they all they have to know is positioning. This means that you are picking up space rather than men. It is pretty easy to play in this way, however there are two issues with playing in this way; when two players attack you section of the pitch and when another defender commits and gets beaten. In both these cases, it causes issues for the defence; in the former, a midfielder has to drop deep to cover and in the latter the centre backs have to cover.
This means that we drop back deeper the more pressure we are under, as our midfield comes back to help our defence and panic is caused when a defender misses a tackle. Even Manchester City managed to stroke the ball around in front of our backline with little pressure or a challenge put upon them, and a good deal of it was because our defence was running around picking up a position rather than picking up a man and putting in a challenge. I understand the team was tired after playing three matches in a week, but even when we only play one a week there are times when we look overrun.
I understand why Jol wants to play a zonal system, and it did work for us last campaign. Zonal football means that you can play a ball to an outlet and counter attack, it means the team keeps it shape and can attack and it means that all areas of the pitch are covered. Itís not a bad system to use in free play at all, our problems with using it are down to the makeshift nature of our defence, a lack of confidence and the lack of tackles in the midfield.
Too often, our opponents to push through our midfield in no time at all, putting far too much pressure on our defence. This is a big problem, as lots pressure means lots of shots and more shots mean more goals conceded. When you watch Chelsea or Liverpool defend, even Manchester United, they look a lot more difficult to cut through. This is because not only is their ball retention better than ours, but when they do give the ball away they are better are holding up the play and making it tough to get any meaning full possession. One good example of this is the cynical way in which they foul you in their own half in order to break up the play, we donít do this and although it might seem like not the Tottenham thing to do, there is an element of ruthless play which you need to bring into the game in order to be a top level success.
In the last two home games of the season our opposition had no problems bypassing our midfield and putting pressure on our defence, in fact it was only when we had three forwards did we seriously threaten the Blackburn goal because we were able to keep the ball and penetrate, putting the Blackburn defence on the back-foot. I think this is why Jol favours Tainio, because he does throw himself about to win the ball and isnít afraid of the physical side of the game. In fairness to Zokora too, he has really come on in the last few weeks as a defensive midfielder and maybe he can add an element of solidity into the middle.
Malbranque and Lennon, both wonderful attacking players in their own right, donít offer any kind of defensive resistance and Jenas, as a defensive force, only seems to become effective in fits and bursts throughout the match. There is an issue here in that you want to ensure that going forward you are able to attack your opponent and score goals yet defensively you are solid and difficult to break down. I wouldnít want us to become a dull side, like Liverpool or Chelsea and I do think that we should be an attacking, creative force, but the balance must be there and that means the midfield need to be mindful of their defensive responsibilities as well.
Another key area we seem to lack in is mental toughness and concentration. One thing that has hardly even been acknowledged is the fact that we did not concede a Premiership goal in the last five minutes of any match throughout this campaign. Thatís especially impressive when you consider that last season we conceded so many in the last minute. That said, some of the goals we have let in have been particularly disappointing; the goals Watford and Dinamo Bucharest scored against us instantly spring to mind. We need to be tougher and acknowledge the fact that sometimes we do need to put the boot through the ball. The top sides are excellent at putting pressure on you across the pitch, and every Premiership side is lethal when the defence goes to sleep.
Mental toughness is also one of the reasons we are conceding so many, both from set pieces and open play. It hasnít helped the defence playing in front of a shaky Robinson, who can sometimes play well, and pull off a string of incredible saves, but in other matches he is abject. One of the signs that he isnít confident is that you donít see him coming off his line to claim the ball as often as he should, and this causes problems as his nervous attitude filters through to the defence who then feel they need to deal with everything.
Just take a look how poor we were in dealing with Middlesbrough in the game at White Hart Lane. I felt they were exceptionally bad when they played us, and yet the goal they scored was because we were put under pressure and panicked. All the defenders felt they had to do something and charged into reach the ball, Robinson didnít claim it and there was disorder and chaos in what should have been a routine clearance.
Coupled with this is Dawsonís heading, as in general it isnít up to standard. The ball when he heads it doesnít travel far enough, especially as he is the one who always is willing to throw himself in front of the ball. Donít get me wrong, I think Dawson is an excellent player for us, and he has come on leaps and bounds over the campaign from where he was last season, but he is still a young player and naturally will have areas to improve on, and I think this should be one he needs to improve upon.
Thereís plenty here that Jol needs to consider, but a lot can be solved by improving the defensive qualities of the midfield. In previous weeks I have said that we need someone to bang in goals from the midfield and I stand by that, but I think what we now need is someone capable of winning the ball, as well as passing, shooting, I think that might well be Kevin Nolan of Bolton. Heís able to do all these things and has a drive to win which would be invaluable, something missing from our midfield since Davids returned to Holland.
If we could get Nolan to sit alongside Zokora, with Lennon and a new left midfielder, Petrov, for instance that would provide a sturdy midfield capable of scoring, assisting, keeping the ball and tackling. Add to that a left back of Baleís ability and we have a genuine shot of the top four without losing the potency of our forward line and making it far harder for teams to break us down.
One last thing, it has been bought to my attention that a number of Spurs fans are making a petition to have a statue of Bill Nicholson outside our ground. I think this is an excellent idea, and the least the man deserves. After all, this is our greatest manager and the most significant man even to pull on the White and Blue for Tottenham. After Nicholson, Tottenham Hotspur as we knew it really came into being.
Hereís the link to the website to sign up for your
support. It only takes two minutes and itís the least us Spurs fans can
do for a man well deserving of this type of accolade. Please add your
THE SPURS ODYSSEY
Recently I have heard a number of Tottenham supporters question the managerial prowess, tactical nous and even the entire tenure of Martin Jolís reign as Spurs boss. To my mind, this is utter madness. When Martin Jol became manager of Spurs in 2004, he emerged from the backroom of Santiniís fleeting stewardship to steady the ship and take the club onto the next platform.
But let's cast our minds back some months earlier, when we had no permanent manager, the inept David Pleat in charge with Rohan Ricketts and Johnny Jackson in midfield. At the time, there was a genuine threat of relegation hanging over our club, and as I recall we scraped through to safety with two or three games to spare, certainly close enough for a club of our size to panic.
That summer, Pleat and Ricketts were sent on their way, and Santini, Jol and Arnesen were installed. Of course we have all heard the ins and outs of their respective roles at the time, but the fall out of losing your head coach, so quickly after a horrendous season for the club, was a massive task to face. Yet it was overcome, and we almost finished that season in the European places (as it was we finished ninth).
Last season, as we know, we finished fifth and almost made the Champions League. And this seems to be the point of the issue. To some fans' casual eyes, sitting ninth as we do looks to be a backward step. But let us not forget we have a game in hand and fifth is more than achievable from this season as well. Add to that two quarter final appearances in the FA Cup and UEFA Cup and a semi final in the League Cup and you have a fairly decent season.
That to me doesnít sound like a backward step, rather an establishment of our intent. Back in 2004, when Pleat made us look so incompetent, if you would have offered me this kind of season I would have bitten your arm off. Yet it shows how far we have come. The meteoric rise, fourteenth, ninth and then fifth has raised the bar and expectations among fans and media alike, yet there was always going to be a period of plateau, where we reach a ceiling and have to recollect ourselves before pushing on.
So where did those expectations come from ? Well, when you get the best out of a group of players, they have improved and reached their greatest impact and the squad that Martin Jol inherited from Santini and Pleat, largely made up of players who had finished the previous season fourteenth or players into the club from above and a smattering of youngsters from within, Jol managed to push to finish ninth. Then he took that squad and added some more and took them to fifth.
It was probable that we would struggle to improve further at this stage, given that the squad is actually able to compete to the latter stages in all competitions now. There are other factors involved in why this struggle has come about; firstly every position you want to move up the table is harder than the one before, and a number of our players were ones we bought in when we were further down the table, and therefore no longer match our ambitions.
My example here is Ziegler. When Ziegler came in he was highly rated and was exceptional in his first season for us. Following this he was loaned out to Hamburg but failed to make an impact before spending the rest of the season at Wigan. Patently good enough for a side who had just finished fourteenth, he was not currently good enough for a side who finished fifth. Perhaps I am being harsh, but it speaks volumes that when we donít have a natural left midfielder to play, he doesnít manage to get within the side.
This example serves to illustrate a problem with going to high too soon; that the players you bought previously are not good enough for the standard you now operate at. The fact is that Spurs are the fifth best side in England. I said that at the beginning of the season, and it hasnít changed now. None of the sides in the European hunt with us have pushed on all the fronts we have, and our squad has held together and we are still in it, but that does not hide the fact that we have a small group of players who arenít up to the standard we now want.
Jol knows this, and he will seek to replace them. And when he does so, he will bring in players nearer the expectations of quality that we now expect from our players and continue to tweak the squad. He is still building his squad, and at the end of the day without Jol as manager we wouldnít have Dawson, Chimbonda, Lennon or Berbatov wearing the cockerel would we ?
So letís discuss Jolís tactics, which seems to be one of the most discussed concern. We all know that sometimes Jol makes changes that donít pay off, but what manager doesnít ? Benitez gets a lot of criticism from Liverpool fans when he rotates a winning side, and on Tuesday in their Semi Final win against Chelsea who didnít question Alonso starting on the bench ? Itís the same when Mourinho doesnít play Robben in matches and Chelsea go on to lose. Remember last season when we drew at Highbury ? A lot of the pre-match talk was of Henry being on the bench, when he came on to score and deny us a win. I remember plenty of Arsenal fans questioning putting your best player on the bench for a crunch match, especially as they only got a draw.
The point is that all the big managers make changes to personnel, tactics or formation from time to time when they feel the gamble is worth taking. There are plenty of steady managers such as Glenn Roeder who will play the same side and tactics regardless, but that isnít always the right way to success. These days the top sides are flexible, able to change system and switch positions from game to game and even within one match if asked it of them.
The system Jol employed at Stamford Bridge, for instance, in the FA Cup was a masterstroke, until injuries and fatigue got the better of Berbatov and Lennon causing us to succumb to Chelseaís pressure and concede a late goal, the match ending in a draw. And in that is the problem we have; we donít have the squad to make the changes Jol wants and his only failing here is in trusting his players. But what can he do ? They must show enough during the week to justify his belief they are capable to do the job given them.
The big four all have much more strength in depth than we do, and when they lose a player or two its not the issue for them that it is for us. We probably have a fifteen man squad of a decent enough standard with another ten of average quality, and at any club like ours where you should be reaching the latter stages of all competitions youíre involved in, it will take its toll. Clubs like Blackburn or Bolton who focus only on the league and one of the cups can overcome this issue far easier than we can.
The other clubs around us donít have to compete on the same number of fronts as we do, and nor do they have the kind of aspirations we do. Everton, Iím sure, would like to establish themselves as a top six side as we do, but for Bolton, Reading or Portsmouth they will view a European finish as a rare event and something to be considered a bonus.
This makes it very difficult for us, because for those clubs they can forget the cups and just go for the league. If they progressed in the cups, and doubtless they would hold greater interest if they progressed to the latter stages, then this attitude might chance, but until then, it means we are fighting to finish above them with a slightly better squad and in all likelihood ten to fifteen more games. In this respect their lack of ambition will benefit them in the league in the short term, whilst hopefully our long term interest in everything could help us improve the squad and get the experience to really challenge the top sides.
On Saturday we went to Middlesbrough and won the match. It was a match in which Ghaly played on the right for a long period, and was in the side at the expense of Lennon. If we hadnít have won, I guarantee you that questions would have been asked from some sections of the support of this selection despite the fact Lennon looked jaded and out of touch for long periods in the last few games. Thatís not a slight on Lennon, who has improved from last season, but the number of games heís played this season has taken it out of him. Sometimes these decisions will go for you, other times against you, but when you have a squad better able to cope and a higher general standard these changes have far less of a negative impact.
If Iím honest, I donít know where Jol will take us. I hope he can win a few trophies and have the kind of success Ferguson has enjoyed at Manchester United, or even the success of Burkinshaw at Spurs in the early eighties. But I donít know, and nor does anyone else yet. Hopefully, at a minimum he has the kind of impact Houllier had on Liverpool (not the boring football, but establishing a side in the Champions League places, winning trophies and bringing in top players), but if nothing else bear this in mind; Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United in 1986, and it wasnít until 1990 that he won a major trophy and 1992 that he won the league. The big clubs, the ones with success, give their managers time to forge a side. Jol is doing that, and he deserves at least another few seasons to show what he is capable of.
For the article Fourth Time's A Charm by Richard Kelly, click here.
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