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
03.09.2008 Window Round-Up
14.09.2008 Thursday Night Lights
28.09.2008 Now, Is Gascoigne Going To Have A Crack ? He Is You Know !
28.10.2008 The Revolving Door
10.11.2008 Looking Up
14.12.2008 Window Shopping
31.12.2008 Is The Little Fella Too Big A Luxury ?
14.01.2009 Return of the Prodigal Son ?
26.01.2009 The Tottenham Way
THE TOTTENHAM WAY
Iíll be honest, I donít like the way Spurs play football. At the moment we seem obsessed with having wide men to cross the ball. Yet that style of football leaves me cold. Perhaps I could be more forgiving of our side if we were struggling but trying to play the game in the right way, like West Brom. But no, ever since the start of the season we have been hoofing crossing into the box for our solitary big forward to get on the end of.
Largely, this is Ramosí fault. We are still using his system because we still have a lot of his players, and that isnít going to change before the end of this season. But how many times this season already have we seen Spurs pick the ball up and cross it from the wings, Pavlyuchenko/Bent/Campbell fail to get there ahead of the two giant centre-backs his battles against and the ball is cleared out of the box. And who is out of the box ? No-one. Our entire midfield has retreated to the safety of the halfway line.
It wouldnít be so bad if we actually had quality wingers. But Bentley hasnít lived up to his price tag and my fear that he is a highlights player (a player who looks great on the highlights because he makes a few good passes, occasionally gets an assist or a goa and maybe does a flick here or there, yet in the span of a game does nothing else.) is quickly being realised.
But itís okay, because our left-winger can do the business. Oh yeah, we donít have one. And then there is Lennon. His crossing is much better than it once was, but he still isnít consistent, yet he is streets ahead of Bentley, because he has pace and isnít afraid to run at the opposition. (Levy made the right choice to sack Comolli this season, but he should have got rid when he moved for Bentley in the summer as opposed to a left winger. Balance is the key; being able to field a team of eleven players comfortable in their positions and able to do their jobs is generally quite useful. Having two England International class right wingers shouldnít have been our first priority).
Modric has done well on the whole this season, but I want him hanging outside the box, a la Scholes on Saturday, ready to pick up the pieces. At least now we have Defoe we can start to play some football, but I fear that the damage has been done and in the desire to avoid the drop style will go by the wayside. I can sacrifice that to stay up this season, but in subsequent campaigns I want Tottenham to play in the right way.
Spurs, along with Manchester United and Newcastle, have a history of playing good football. We are the guardians of the game in this respect, and it shouldnít be sniffed at. Redknapp, on the other hand, might have a reputation for playing tidy football, but rarely is it that exciting. Consider the cup final last season; Portsmouth played Cardiff in the cup final and won 1-0. 1-0 against a lower league side. 1-0 with Kanu, Lauren and Campbell in the team, players who had worked under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. Surely with the superior technical skills of the Premiership players they could have played far better ?
But media darling Redknapp barely had a bad word said about their win; largely the narrow score-line was dismissed as nerves. Iíll admit that nerves play a part and players freeze. You canít expect them to play an expansive game at Wembley just because they are a Premiership team, but there should have been more flashes of gusto than there were. And now that style is coming to Spurs.
Donít get me wrong, Iím all for having a solid defence. We have been crying out for a holding midfielder since Carrick left, so if Palacios is indeed that player then fantastic, because we need him. But our interplay has gone downhill rapidly.
Last season we were tipped by some in the media to finish fourth. And even when we struggled in the early stages of the season there was never any danger of us going down, because we had so much talent and a large part of the blame for our poor form could be put down to the disgraceful way Martin Jol was pushed out of the club. Defoe couldnít even get into the side. Now he is an automatic starter. He hasnít become a better player in the year he has been away, he still lacks the vision to make a pass to a player in a better position and he still misses chances which he should tuck away, but now he looks frighteningly better than some of the players rivalling him for his place.
A backward step conclusively, but itís difficult to compare anyone to Berbatov and Keane. Yet I liked the patient interplay, I liked the fact that one or the other could drop out of the box and pick up the ball, because that made us more than one dimension. Now everything through the middle goes through Modric. Nullify him and you nullify Tottenham.
And all this adds to the general mess we find ourselves in. Iím not sure about Jones either. I saw some indication that he was a good player last season, but Jones is suited to playing one upfront, and to play that way we need a midfielder that will hit fifteen to twenty league goals a season. Otherwise we just wonít score enough. And we are also trying to bring Chimbonda back too. Why didnít we just give Portsmouth and Sunderland £10million each last year and kept our players ?
Do we even need a right-back for that matter ? Gunter can play there, surely he deserves to be given his chance ? And what about signing a left-back or a left midfielder ? Being as we donít have a left midfielder, it would be nice to have some balance. And although Assou-Ekotto has done well in the full back position out there, there are rumours he wants a return to France.
Harry was right when he said our transfer policy was a joke and although his signings have patched up some of our holes, we still have plenty to do to fix the team up, let alone build a side capable of challenging for the top six positions. We seem light years away again, in truth. It doesnít help either, when Redknapp criticises the team in public. Nor when he takes the credit and refuses to shoulder any blame after matches. (see his Ďit was all down to me, I b******ed the players and they respondedí interview after the first leg against Burnley, and then his Ďit canít be the managers faultí comments after the match against Wigan).
We have a lot of work ahead of us to get back to where we were under Martin Jol, but first of all we must build a side to get out of this mess. Yet, Iím afraid to say, it wonít be done in the Tottenham Way.
Which way should we play ? Towards the opposition goal would be best, but should we return to Jol's strategy or go with Harry's plot ? What is the Tottenham Way these days ? Let us know what you think at email@example.com.
RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON ?
If I offered you the choice, would you take:
A. Relegation and a cup treble, or
B. A scraped seventeenth place finish in the league and defeat in the next round of all the cups ?
If you answered A to the above, you will be certainly killing off Tottenham as any footballing force for the considerable future. The game is no longer about glory. Money drives matters now. Smaller top division sides will gladly field weakened sides in the cups, sacrificing silverware for Premiership points.
Three cups in one season would amount to one of our best ever seasons, but the reality is that relegation canít be contemplated; the maths just wonít add up. Being in the elite amounts to approximately £50 million a season, and that isnít including the money earned for league position (which is somewhere between £500k to £750k per place, meaning that the club who finishes ten earns £5m to £7.5m extra, whilst the club in fifteenth earns £2.5 to £3.75m. That could be one extra player). The winners of the Championship, in contrast, earn just over £1m in prize money. As I said, the maths donít add up.
Well run or not, any club who goes down is in big trouble. Charlton and Ipswich were both incredibly well run and are virtually bust at the present time, wholly reliant on kids to fire them up the table, their prized assets long gone. Look at our squad, which of our players would stay for a fight in the Championship ? And which of those could we afford to keep on with their present wages ? Wage drops arenít easy to force on players, they donít have to take the cut.
The end result of which will be a fire sale of players (which will delight Levy, Iím sure, as he finds himself on the wrong end of all negotiations), leaving us with those who no-one wants and those who are willing to stay for the fight, all of which on Premiership wages, without having Premiership money to pay them.
And a return to the top flight isnít guaranteed either. Other big clubs have fallen through the trapdoor and havenít returned, you only have to look at Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest to see that it doesnít get any easier for the big sides.
Then, of course, there is the fact that our crowd is notoriously impatient, and jumping on the back of youngsters as they try to learn to play the game wonít help them. Wednesdayís form at Hillsborough has been awful since they went down, because their players canít handle playing in front of a frustrated crowd which is so large.
So relegation: financial implosion, erosion of the first team squad, blooding of an entire near side which means it will take half a season to get in any order, writing off the chance of an immediate return, and over expectations from the crowd. Basically, therefore, if given the choice above, we have to go for option B.
Redknapp wants fighters, and I agree that we need them. But no goals in three Premiership games and defeat due to goals conceded in the final minutes of the last three away games speak of big issues unresolved in the squad. I donít like the way Redknapp airs his dirty linen in public. If he wants to bullock the squad for their performance at Wigan, thatís fine, but he should do so in private with the players. Boasting about it to the press doesnít help them. The manager and players need to show unity in public, they need to be seen to be working together. Ferguson uses the media sparingly, and to his advantage. Redknapp is in the press every week with a sound-bite. After the Burnley game, for instance, he revealed that he laid into the side at halftime against Burnley. Why mention it? It makes him look great, sure, but it doesnít boost the confidence of the squad. Praising the team for their effort in the second half would have done much more for the mindset, and itís what Jol would have done.
And then thereís changing the formation, that to me stinks of desperation. At the bottom you need to find a system and the players to fit into it. You build a side able to pick up the points to drag you clear. Redknapp has the time and money to get the players he needs this window, because Iím sure Levy would agree with me that survival is infinitely more important to us than silverware. We should go 4-4-2. Modric has shown he can play through the centre, and I donít see why Bale canít play on the left wing and Lennon on the right once Ekotto is back from suspension. We need balance, and the team needs as many form players as possible. The rest must be given confidence if we are to succeed.
Before Christmas we went into matches against Newcastle, Fulham, West Brom, Wigan, Portsmouth, Bolton and Stoke before Arsenal. Seven games in which is was crucial we pick up points in all of them. Each one against a rival, each one which could see us progress up the table. Instead we have picked up one point and haven't scored. That isnít good enough. Of the reverse fixture of these matches we have played, we picked up one point, at home to Wigan. Form against your rivals is absolutely vital, especially at the bottom where points are so scarce. We canít rely on a six point return from the next four matches against the big four to drag us clear, we have to start picking points off our rivals.
So we need fighters, and thatís where Hossam Ghaly comes in. I was at the Blackburn match where he threw his shirt to the floor. I agreed with the substitution at the time, because he was the worst player we had on the pitch, but the time has come to move on. People overlook the fact that Ghaly was actually coming good that season, that he lost teeth for us at Portsmouth that season, and that he drove the team on to a 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge in the cup. We have too many men out there who shirk the challenge, what we need is fighters. And I think Ghaly will deliver that. He is a fighting character, and he could well be the man to rescue us, he just needs a chance.
Has Richard gone beyond the pale in advocating the return of Ghaly ? Have his ball-winning skills been honed training with the youngsters ? Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IS THE LITTLE FELLA TOO BIG A LUXURY ?
Of all the players to play for Tottenham in this calamitous half season to date, there is no question that Modric has been the resounding success. He has emerged as someone genuinely capable of playing in this, a potential star in our side. Yet with Tottenham struggling is he someone we can afford to play ? What I mean is that incorporating Modric into the team means that the whole system we play has to be changed around him, and can we afford to play so one dimensionally when we desperately need to start getting the wins on the board to drag ourselves clear.
Last season we played 4-4-2 through most of the campaign and although we didnít have a good season it is a system that every player can understand. 4-4-2 is the simplest formation there is. It is symmetrical, and everyone has a clearly defined role in the system. But Modric, as has been proven by Redknapp, is best in free role. Harry is happy to let him drift about the pitch, to prompt and come into areas of the pitch to cause havoc. The problem is that by playing him in such a way you lose the clear definition of the 4-4-2 system.
The sacrifice we have made for Modricís free role has been the second forward, as we now play 4-4-1-1. This would be fine if we actually had a forward capable of playing upfront on his own, but we donít. Bent is an average Premier League forward - one which I donít rate very highly (see my previous comments on Bent); Pavlyuchenko, who scored a lot of tap ins for Spartak and who is still adapting and Frazier Campbell, who has shown in half a season he isnít yet ready for the Premier League.
Pavlyuchenko is a good forward, one who I am happy with, but he isnít the type of player who can play upfront alone. Bluntly, he doesnít work hard enough for that. He needs someone who can work off him. If we still had Keane at the club he would have been a great foil, but we donít.
To play one upfront you have to have a forward with pace, strength and power, one who can hold the ball up and bring others into play and one who is good with the ball at his feet. Adebayor, Drogba, Berbatov, Torres and Agbonlahor are all perfect as lone forwards, but Pavlyuchenko and Frazier Campbell donít have the presence and Bent doesnít have good enough feet.
Modricís free role also means that the men playing the centre of midfield have to be able to provide quite a bit for the team. Between them they have to break up play, they must be fit, they must be able to shield the backline, they must be able to play a tidy short pass to retain possession and in the modern Premier League they must be quick, athletic and able to score and create a bit too.
Jenas and Zokora, the preferred partnership at Tottenham, both have their fair share of deficiencies. We could live with some, because what Iíve described above is effectively a Dave Mackay, but Jenas and Zokora have too many. Didier canít make a pass or a tackle when he needs to, let alone shoot. And Jenas, although a player of high energy and one who does contribute, is a blow it. Jenas is the type of player to weave through a defence, go round the keeper and just have to tap in, only to inexplicable side foot the ball into the post (Check out his misses at Anfield and St Jamesí Park in 2006 in our respective 3-0 and 3-1 defeats). He has the talent, he has just failed to seize his potential.
There are further problems with playing 4-4-1-1 in that you have to have very good wide players. There is a danger with having one forward in that you have no bodies upfront to score the goals to win you games. Under Mourinho, Chelsea were guilty of being too defensive for long periods. The wide player therefore become crucial because they create the supply for the forward, they stretch the opposition defensive line and they also need to score goals. At the moment we are playing Bentley and Lennon.
The first problem that springs to mind here is that they both are right wingers. Added to the fact that Bentley is never worth £17m and is out of form, that Lennonís delivery, although getting better, is still suspect and the flanks of our midfield really arenít creating much. And Lennon alone is stretching the defensive line.
In effect, by playing Modric we end up a lot more one dimensional and a lot less creative and potent then we could, it simply means we donít have enough upfront to inflict damage and doesnít help our midfield to open the opposition up. To play Modric in the hole means he has to chip in with about ten to fifteen league goals and the same number of assists. But at the moment everything is going through him and it is too easy to close us out of games; stop Modric, and you stop Tottenham.
Donít believe me ? Have a look at the below:
On his own, Malbranque at Sunderland has scored once and has nine assists. Our statistics arenít great. Yet stats donít always tell the full story. On the face of the above, it is very easy to see Bentley as our best midfielder, whereas Modric and Lennon have had far better campaigns, but statistics on all the little things you see during a live game which show their class, such as the attempted pass which is blocked, are hard to find.
Even so, it looks bleak. Our midfield isnít creating enough at all for our lone forward, and with us struggling again, there is a strong argument to suggest we should go back to a formation all the players know. Certainly, 4-4-2 would probably get us more chances. Two forwards would stretch opposition defences more than one, not to mention that the crosses from our wide players have a second forward to service.
But that takes Modric out of the side completely. He canít play in the middle in the Premier League because he isnít big and strong enough to win the fight there and he canít play on the wing because he doesnít do the defensive work required. But there are other options.
For years in Italy they played 3-5-2, a system which allowed a player to drift in a free role. Totti, Del Piero, Rui Costa, Kaka, and Baggio. All of them thrived in this system. And we could put a team out to play in that system. Woodgate, King and Corluka are all decent centre-backs and could play as a trio. Bale would be a superb left wing-back, although there would be an issue with our right side as either Bentley or Lennon would have to take on more defensive duties, but we could field a side to play it. And certainly it is something worth giving serious consideration to.
Yet this all pre-supposes that Modric is more of a disruption to our team than a benefit. Does his presence in our side really inhibit us ? He certainly has the ability to open up many defences in the Premier League, but I think Redknapp relies on him too much. Le Tissier dragged Southampton out of many a relegation battle in the mid-90ís, but we havenít seen the best of Modric yet and the Premier League is a far tougher division now than it was in the 90ís.
All in all therefore, I think we are faced with three options:
Of those, the first seems to me to be the best option, whereas the second is likely to be impossible because it is asking Modric to be something he isnít. You might as well ask Zokora to play upfront. As for the third, that will cost us upwards of £25m and who is going to sign for us worth that much in our current state ?
Richard makes some pertinent observations, but how do Spurs approach the remainder of the season ? Is Modric the man to set up Spurs for a charge up the table in 2009 ? Let us know at email@example.com.
Harry has now been in charge of Tottenham for thirteen matches (if you include Bolton). His record is won nine, draw two, lost two, and both of those draws have come against big four clubs. His four cup games (two in UEFA and two in the League Cup) have brought us four wins and almost certain progress on the European front post-Christmas. On paper then, his initial spell at Tottenham has been superb.
Yet largely this papers over the cracks. The two defeats we suffered, away to Fulham and at home to Everton, reveal far more about the state of our side than those nine wins. We were absolutely appalling at Craven Cottage and deserved nothing from the game. Inept in the first half, we were largely toothless in the second when Modric came off through injury. Against Everton, their strength and organisation largely stopped us and despite an injury to Yakubu, they still managed to find a way past our improving defence.
Thereís no doubt Redknapp knows his onions. He can see the flaws in Gomesí abilities, just as he can see the frailty of our defence. But the January window will be a tough one for him. Money is tight. Levy doesnít want to flash the cash now we are building a new stadium, and after our spending spree in the summer he is reluctance to outlay another £20m to £30m, especially as what is generally available in January isnít the best.
The question of money is one thing, but what we need is quite another. We haven't had a holding midfielder since Carrick left and we havenít had a natural left-footed left midfielder for even longer. Our problems on the left side are exacerbated by our left back problem. Bale is a talent, but I donít think he is that good defensively, and I donít rate Gilberto or Assou-Ekotto at all. We also have the long standing Ledley King issue and now Hutton to add to our long-term defensive issues. All this doesnít even take into account our inability to break teams down without Modric and our relative lack of firepower. All in all I think we need a holding midfielder, left midfielder, right-back and forward before we have any balance in our squad.
Diarra, Capel, Johnson and Owen would be my choices. Yet that would set us back somewhere in the region of £35 million, and I donít think any of those clubs would be particularly eager to let those players go in January. More realistically, especially considering our budget, is that Gunter will get a run at right-back, Lennon will remain on the left, and unless Real do seriously want Zokora then Diarra is hugely unlikely to come in, especially as Manchester City are now interested in him. That said, I can see us securing someone like Zaki in the window, although itís questionable if his form will prove to be a sign of quality as opposed to a hot patch. We do need another forward, especially someone capable of holding up the ball and bring others into play, which neither Bent nor Pavlyuchenko seem particularly able to do. Ultimately, if you have good firepower you stay out of danger, but in January we might ignore our lack upfront because of the problems we have at the back.
Redknapp has spoken about the need for a new goalkeeper to keep Gomes on his toes. I think we can read into that that Harry doesnít rate Cesar that highly. But we arenít going to get much for a 38 year-old, so whoever we bring in will impact the limited funds we have to spend.
Gomes has played very well these past few weeks, but we have seen him at his worst. I believe that if we can get consistency at the back and settled side by the summer, then we stand a good chance of once more making the top six next season. Good sides build from the back. If I was Redknapp I would look to build a defence that can play every game together and is a secure unit, even if that means that King is pushed out the side. Redknapp is the master of finding cheap options that can provide quality; he has shown that at Portsmouth and West Ham over the years.
Once have a solid back line we can work on bringing quality options up front. Our present forward line is a threat enough that we are capable of scoring, and our midfield can create. But we need to take it one step at a time. There is a tendency, especially with the run in we have at the end of December and through January (Fulham, Stoke and Portsmouth at home, and West Brom and Wigan away) to look up the table. And whilst this is positive we canít forget that we are where we are for a reason. This is still the same side that was bottom of the table and sinking without trace in October, a side that hadnít won a home Premier League match since March, and despite Harryís arrival and the optimism it has brought with it, it is still the same side that lost to Fulham abjectly. The road back to where we were is a long one, especially now that Everton, Villa and Man City have overtaken us, but we can get there with sensible purchases and one eye on the future.
Has Richard's attack on the defence been more accurate than a Didier Zokora shot ? Would you let Mr. Kelly loose with your January sales spending money ? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evertonís victory at White Hart Lane has left us at a crossroads. Last season after stabilising the ship Ramos focused on the cups. He clearly felt Europe through the league was beyond us and looked at the cups as our only route back into the UEFA Cup. In many ways he was right, although our appalling post-League Cup run in the league was largely down to his failure to motivate the side sufficiently to push up the table. But now we find ourselves in similar circumstances once more, albeit in a slightly more trickier position in the league.
I donít believe we are going down, although we might struggle. And I believe Levy will give Redknapp some significant cash to spend in January. Heíll have to, because at times we look clueless upfront, guileless with Modric and we still have a habit of conceding some shockers. And whilst I donít expect to see all of those positions filled, I wouldnít be surprised to see another big money high profile defender, another Ďkeeper, and a striker arrive in January. Nonetheless, we are only outside the bottom three thanks to our goal difference, and with away games to come against fellow strugglers West Ham and Newcastle, and a home match against English and European Champions Manchester United in the next three, we might find ourselves right back down there by Christmas.
The bottom line is that we have to stay in the Premier League. Yet there are other things to consider too. How many of our players will we keep if we fail to get back into the UEFA Cup? Bentley, Modric, Bale, Hutton, Woodgate, Pavlyuchenko, and even Jenas might choose to leave if we canít keep our place in Europe. Of course they wonít all leave, but they only need to have a good season in spite of a bad one for us to be noticed by another Premier League and snapped up. I believe, therefore, that it is not only imperative we survive, but that we qualify for Europe again.
There is congestion at the top of our league which hinders us. I honestly believe that it is now virtually impossible to break the big four. Even if Aston Villa, for instance, were to get in amongst them and stay there until the end of the season, they would have to do so again next season and probably the one following before they were secure in their position. And what clubs are most likely to drop out of the big four in place of them? Arsenal this year, but in the past Liverpool have also been the club most likely. Both of those clubs make up the most prestigious trio in English football. Arsenal and Liverpool are both clubs that big foreign names want to play for. Villa and Everton canít compete with that.
If you accept that it is now virtually impossible to break the quartet at the upper echelons of the league, then UEFA Cup qualification as the best we can hope for in terms of European competition. Add the now considerable fortunes of Manchester City into the mix, and you are looking at a best placed finish of sixth in the short to medium term. Laudable achieve sixth place maybe, I donít think its going to be something memorable that you recall in the pub.
What ties into this nicely are our chances in the cups. We have three chances to win a trophy this season, and a chance of progressing in each. Despite Redknappís reluctance in Europe, our progress to the knockout rounds seems assured, whilst a home tie against Wigan gives us a very good chance to get into the fourth round of the FA Cup. The big four donít seem particularly concerned about the two domestic trophies (they only seem interested in the Champions League and Premier League titles, which is particularly bizarre in the case of Arsenal, who havenít won any trophy since 2004). Our best chance, however, is once again in the League Cup. Thatís why Wednesday at Watford is so vital.
The hosts are struggling in their league and also have a new manager. And as much as they would doubtless like to win, a home draw with Doncaster isnít very encouraging. It gives us a chance, even though they will be fired up by the thought of an upset - incidentally Redknapp has lost his last two visits to Watford with Portsmouth, 3-0 and 4-2. By Wednesday night we should be going into our third successive League Cup semi-final. That would put us three wins away from Europe again, and give us plenty of time to recover our league status. The question is; do we take the chance and gamble on the cups and risk another poor league season or do we abandon all chance of a fourth successive UEFA Cup campaign and ensure we finish in mid-table ?
Do you think Richard's view of our season is spot on ? Or off target ?? A risk worth taking or should we concentrate on the league ? Let us know at email@example.com.
Well, what a difference two weeks makes ! Two points in the league and a solitary win in both the cup competitions to date was all we had from August, September and October under Ramos. And then came Harry. Redknapp is one of those stalwarts of the game. He, like Ferguson, has always been about. He is one of the regular faces of the game, the link between the old school and the new ways and modern, scientific, thinking which are now de-rigueur for any aspiring club. Of course, I had my doubts. Redknapp was a man who was good in a crisis, so the right man for the right time, but who would have expected ten points from Arsenal and Manchester City away, and Bolton and Liverpool at home. I was expecting three from Bolton, and anything over three from the rest as a very good return.
So far Redknapp has impressed me. And it is not just in results where we are starting to see some progress. He has boosted the morale of the whole dressing room, instilled a team spirit and work ethic that was lacking under Ramos. Players want to play for him, they trust him and believe in him. And these are big things. Because wanting to go to work, enjoying your job is something that cannot be bought. He had got our misfiring forwards scoring, he has unleashed Modric, so much so that those comparisons with Cruyff donít seem so wide of the mark, and he has got Bentley playing like a footballer. If he can sort out the defence, we might be really dangerous.
But we have only just begun. The question marks over Redknapp have never been over his ability to get the best out of players or pick up results in the league, they have been in the matches where it matters, against the big guns in the big fixtures. The cup games, for instance. Redknapp has won one big trophy in his career. True, he hardly managed the clubs which could be expected to compete for the top honours every season, but heís never exactly knocked the door down in this regard either.
And this is my fear. We are a demanding lot, and whilst we maybe happy for the present to see Spurs alive and kicking in the league, when it comes down to it, our best shot of winning a trophy is in the cups. We are likely to face a weakened Liverpool on Wednesday night. That said, their reserves arenít exactly that weak, although it does afford us a great chance to progress. Likewise the UEFA Cup has also opened up a good chance to progress. Because Udinese won at Spartak, seven points would be enough to get out of the group and into the knockout stages. The issue is how far we can get.
Yet thatís in the future, and although we might have dragged ourselves back into the mix in the league, the fundamental issues we have still remain. We can still slip, although its nice to be looking up rather than down. It has been our recent form, after all, that has made the division so congested. For the record I donít think the close proximity of the leagueís points will continue for very long. In fact, by Christmas I expect there to be an untangling of the league. All of which puts us in a great position. If you would have asked me two weeks ago, Iíd have said our objective would have been to stay up and little else. Now, however, I feel the European slots are still within reach.
Fulham away followed by Blackburn and Everton at home present three winnable matches. Of course, being Tottenham, we will probably make more hard work of these three than we did against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, but on paper we have to target five to seven points from these matches at least to continue our development in the league. That kind of return from these matches will ensure that we donít end up falling back into the fight at the bottom, and should help us move into the hunt for a European place. Donít forget that two weeks ago Everton were in sixteen, whilst now they are in seventh.
The issue, as I have said, is our defence. Bent is on fire at present, whilst the midfield is performing now Modric has been unleashed, Bentley is aware of his role, and Huddlestone has come into the side and created some bite, which was sorely lacking under Ramos. Yet its behind them that where we continue to struggle. Six goals conceded in five matches is a bad record in matches which we have remained unbeaten. And it is something that needs to be worked on.
What compounds matters, is that the problem is across the whole backline. Woodgate apart, they all seem to struggle. Hutton clearly isnít fully fit yet, Gunter is still learning, Gilberto is terrible, Assou-Ekotto isnít good enough and Bale looks more suited to the wing than a full-back role. And in the centre there is the King conundrum. Our best centre-back canít play every game, so how can we hope to forge a tight unit when the key player misses out every other match? So do we accept the circumstances and hope for the best, or do we do what the top teams would do, and bring in a player we can rely on.
Donít get me wrong, I think Ledley King is unbelievably good, and before his injury he was one of the top centre-backs in the country, hugely underrated compared to Terry, Ferdinand and Carragher. But if he canít play every game, the defence canít become a unit. For that reason I believe that Corluka has been bought in to replace King.
All of which brings us neatly to Gomes. The media have clearly already made up their minds that the bloke is a shambles, that he would be more suited under a big top than the floodlights of a Premiership stadium, but letís let the facts speak for themselves:
∑ In four seasons in Holland, Gomes won four league titles.
∑ With him in goal, PSV reached one Champions League semi-final and one quarter-final in three seasons. They also reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals last year.
∑ He was in PSV sides that knocked out Arsenal and Tottenham from Europe in successive seasons.
∑ He is presently third choice keeper for Brazil.
∑ He has only played twelve matches in the Premier League so far.
∑ He has only played with the same back four for two consecutive games once.
You canít judge a player after twelve games. Four matches ago the media were labelling Modric a flop, so I donít see how they can be so quick to rubbish Gomes. This is the same media, after all, who all rushed to acclaim him after his performance against Chelsea, and could not wait to rip into him for his performance at Stoke.
Yet the Stoke game was must win for both teams, we lost a man and struggled for long periods. Gomes was not alone in being poor that day. Besides which he is still coming to terms with the English game. It is all about speed and strength; two attributes which most leagues lack. Gomes has the capability to adapt, he just has to be given the time to do so. He kept us from conceding a late equaliser against City on Sunday, as his shot stopping has never been bought into question.
Yet good teams have keepers who they can rely on to keep them in matches when it doesnít go their way. Manchester United have Van Der Saar, Chelsea have Cech, and Liverpool have Reina. Having a keeper as reliable as these would propel us up the table and back into European contention. Unthinkable two weeks ago. Gomes has all the attributes capable of being as good as these keepers, but he has to have the chance to be so. And we wonít see the best of him until he gets a settled backline.
Do you share Richard's belief in our new keeper ?? Have Spurs finally turned the corner ?? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE REVOLVING DOOR
The King is dead, long live the King ! If anyone else was on the internet about midnight on Saturday, they would have been witness to the fastest managerial appointment in Premier League history. It was announced that Ramos and Comolli were no more just before midnight, whilst Redknapp confirmed he would be taking over about fifteen minutes later.
The new appointment represents a dramatic change in the way our football club is run. Redknapp will be in sole charge, he will be trusted to pick his own transfer targets, he will be given a freehand in the market, and he will be a manager. The Director of Football/Head Coach system we have operated for almost fifteen years has been cast into the dustbin, and a return to the traditional methods of football management has come about.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Out start has been appalling, confidence was low, doom and gloom hung over the club as the team seemed intent on limping out of the Premier League with a whimper. It was obvious, and had been for some time, that we were facing a relegation battle. For the record I donít think Ramos is a bad manager. No-one who wins back-to-back UEFA Cups and who turns Seville from also-rans in Spain to title contenders is a bad coach, but he struggled to adapt to the English game. Not playing Ledley King in the key Premier League matches this season was a part of it, but allowing indiscipline to infect the squad after the League Cup triumph was the root of the issue.
When Spurs won the League Cup in February, Ramosí stock reached its pinnacle in England. A taciturn disciplinarian, Ramos was well known for his physical training methods and tactical acumen. His impact at the Lane initially saw the club rocket up the table and rescue their UEFA Cup campaign. Continued progress in the League Cup ended in victory, but there Ramos fatally allowed the squad off the leash. With the benefit of hindsight it seems that more than the one or two nights of celebration the players enjoyed were allowed by Ramos. In many league games the side were a shadow of themselves, as our season ebbed to a finish. That was where the rot was allowed to build, where the players lost their distance and respect from Ramos. Because, the Spaniardís relationship with the side was different from Jol. He wasnít one of them, he wasnít there to galvanise the side and build them up, he was there to bring the best out of them and win trophies. Similar to Capello in style, his management could work with quality players who believed in themselves at the highest level.
And yet, in the basics he had deficiencies. His inability to master conversational English, his fatal misunderstanding of the strength of the English game, his woeful ability to coax our team up the table in this campaign, and stop our slow slide to the finish at the end of the last, all combined to finish him. When you factor in the player sales in the final moments of the summer transfer window, and his inability to manage either Keane or Berbatov and his reliance on Comolli all contributed to his own downfall.
But if the axe was hanging over his head after the home defeat to Hull, it was inevitable that it would fall after the defeat to Stoke. Ramos could not get the best from the players, he could not make them confident either. At best he was the right man at the wrong time, a decent coach at the wrong club. As for Comolli, he was just useless.
Yet in Redknapp we now have a man who knows how to get us out of this mess. I doubt he has worked with better players when he found himself in this position at West Ham, Southampton, or Portsmouth, yet one of the key issues he has to overcome is the balance of the side. We have needed a defensive midfielder for years, we have needed a left midfielder for years and now we are in desperate need of strikers. And in Harry, a football man, we might actually have the chance of getting them and building a proper squad, as opposed to a collection of players.
And that represents a dramatic turnaround in the way our club operates. Ever since 1984, when the clubís directors tried to exert a greater influence on Burkinshaw and the footballing side of things, have we seen our club pulled apart by men who wanted to involve themselves in every aspect of the club, so they could be lauded in success, yet still remain anonymous in failure. That was the day our club really stalled, and the influence of the boardroom took too great a strangle-hold. Is this a dramatic reversal ?
Redknapp has the ability to get us out of our predicament, yet it will be long hard struggle. The North London derby precedes the arrival of the league leaders before a trip to Manchester City. All three are tough, but then every game is a hard one when you are looking up from the bottom. And where we are two to five points would be a very good return from those matches. But the three following those matches are winnable. Fulham already has the look of a relegation clash about it, whilst Blackburn and Everton at home represent tough, but winnable home games.
A lot will depend on how Redknapp can affect morale in the dressing room, whether he can get the best from our players in a short space of time, and if he can create the side in his vision effectively enough that we pick up enough points so that we are still an inviting prospect when the January window comes around and the Tottenham chequebook is opened.
So what can we take from Redknappís appointment ? Ultimately, he is the right man at the right time. We are in trouble, and he is the man most qualified to get us out of it. He can create a squad feeling and get the best out of players. He is ambitious and clearly wants a crack at the big guns too. Perhaps we can give him that chance a few years down the line. That said, you have to ask the question as to why he hasnít been given this chance before. He took Bournemouth to the second tier, he took West Ham to fifth, he won the FA Cup with Portsmouth as well, so why is it that he hasnít had the hot-seat at one of the big clubs ? English football is packed with fallen and sleeping giants. At the moment Villa, Everton, Newcastle, Spurs represent those clubs with the ambition and support, on paper at least, to challenge the Big Four.
The initial signs are good and he has already begun well, and as a man who knows the Premier League has is a good appointment at the right time for us. He is also the first well thought out signing of our season, and someone who can finally push us up the season.
Richard's views are pretty clear, but what you do think ?? Let us know at email@example.com
ĎSomething is rotten in the state of Denmark,í said Marcellus in Shakespeareís play. And he was right, there was, just as there is something rotten at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. You donít become a bad side overnight, but you have to say that Spurs are situation wholly of their own making and indicative of everything bad about the way the club operates itself in relation to the transfer market.
We have heard this week that Comolliís job is now on the line, that Levy may ditch him and give Ramos a free hand in transfers. Some might see this as the right move, cutting out the weak link in the chain as the clubs looks to recover from their awful start and the sale of a significant number of first team players. But you could also see it from a cynical perspective as Levy protecting his own skin, Comolli being the sacrificial lamb that needs to be offered up for the mess we find ourselves in.
I think its important to remember throughout any transfer dealings that our club operates on a group basis. At Manchester United or Arsenal, for instance, Ferguson or Wenger will buy players based wholly on their own judgements and what they decide are in the best interests for the club. If they wish to spend the bulk of their transfer funds on a thirty-year-old defensive midfielder than that is their prerogative, and their success or failure is rightly judged accordingly.
To make a triumvirate workable you need to have a trio which works together. The First Team coach trains and selects the side on a match-day, and makes the decisions which affect the club on pitch. The Director of Football is responsible for developing the footballing side of the club from a holistic perspective, such as looking at the training facilities, the academy, and the reserve teams. The chairman is responsible for the finances. And that should be that. If each one is competent and trusts the other two then the system should work and allow far greater time to be dedicated to each area.
The problem we have is that they donít seem to trust each other. Levy is obsessed with getting the best deal he can and driving the hardest bargain. He would like to be seen as the hero when things go well, but blameless when things go badly. He hated it when Jol got the kudos for our success, and yet when things have gone awry, he is the first to decry another (Comolli being the latest example). Can we really be content with his chairmanship, which has seen the hasty demolition of the best Spurs squad we have had in fifteen years, and a failure to astutely improve it, or even dealing with the latent and long-standing deficiencies, when it was required? Comolli seems completely out of his depth. Is record in the transfer market isnít brilliant, as anyone who masterminded the signings of Bent, Kaboul, Boateng, Zokora and Pavlyuchenko. Rumours that he overstated his previous role under Wenger dog him, and his inability to bring in the quality youthful signings which have become the hallmark of his compatriot only compound the feeling that the man is inept. Ramos hasnít achieved the kind of success he had at Seville yet. Although he has won us a trophy, we are less than a year into his tenure and already serious questions have been asked and doubts about his capabilities as a manager are being asked. Critics could even point to his track record before Seville, which doesnít glitter at all.
But that is a very pessimistic outlook indeed. Regardless of what happened when Ramos was at Espanyol or any other club, anyone who can get Seville, a club who have the heritage of Sunderland (i.e. : they were very good a long time ago, and now seem a shadow of their former selves) not only into Europe, but make them consistent and regular trophy winners too. And anyone who can win back to back UEFA Cups cannot be a bad manager. Added to that his decision-making and motivation in our Carling Cup victory was first class, so he has it in him to do the job.
Levy is very good financially, in fact I would go so far as to say he was one of the better chairman we have had. How often do Tottenham announce profits for the year under his tenure? I think virtually every time we have announced we are in the black, and that speaks volumes for the man.
But the fact that I canít find many positives for Comolli highlight what I think of him. Broadly, I donít rate him. I think he came into the club and immediately tried to undermine Jol, and I think he is all too happy to be a yes man for Levy than focus on his job as Director of Football. He should be asking far more questions about why our reserve and youth players are breaking through. Why, for instance, did we need to spend our money on Pavlyuchenko and loan in Campbell? Did we not have players from amongst our own ranks? Pekhart has been at our club for four years, why hasnít he been given a chance? And why was Lee Barnard sold when it is clear he looks far too good for League One? Yes the Premiership is far harder, but he was hardly given the chance to prove himself for us.
Comolli needs to be looking at this, just as Levy needs to loosen his grip of the purse strings. Ramos is the man responsible for the first team, so if he asks for a specific player or a player to play in a certain position then he should be allowed to. I have nothing against Levy trying to negotiate the best deal for the club, but ultimately it should be Ramosí decision how much of his transfer fund is spent on the players he wants. Equally, we should be giving our Director of Football his own kitty for players that would benefit the club in general.
The problem with that is that you can end up in a position like that of Real Madrid a few years ago. The president was buying in Galaticos to appease the fans, the Sporting Director was buying in players to benefit the club in the long term, and the Head Coach was buying in players he needed to balance his squad. The result was a large influx of players, a large proportion of which the coach didnít need or want.
Ideally, of course, you want the trio to work together. They should discuss the best decisions for the club and work together to achieve them. But if one cog, or in our case two, fails to work, then the whole thing unravels. I blame Levy and Comolli for the mess we find ourselves in. Ramos might not be able to get the blend on the pitch, but look what he has to work with. His best central defensive pairing can only play together once a week, we have no real cover behind the full-back positions, our midfield lacks steel and bite, he has two of the best right wingers in England, and no natural left-sider, and his forwards canít play together. Before the Hull game I couldnít understand why we werenít playing 4-4-2 as it is the simplest system and one every player can understand. However, having seen the way our forwards play I can understand why he is only playing one, and in my opinion that should be Darren Bent. And knowing how I feel about Bent anyway, that says a great deal about our present situation.
Comolli should have been going all out for a forward, he should have
demanded Levy put the cash up for a Huntelaar, or someone else of
genuine quality, and equally Levy should not have been so greedy
over the Berbatov deal. It was obvious he was going to leave all
day, Spurs should have wrapped the deal up early and focused on
their own targets. It is those two who should bear the brunt of our
discontent, as they are the principle reason we find ourselves in
this mess. Iím happy that looks to have been flushed out into the
open, but Iím concerned that the chief instigator of our predicament
(as the man who hired Comolli) will get away with it when he
deserves all the blame in the world. Hopefully, this affair will
reveal himself for what he is.
Richard's views of our purchasing policy and forward deficiencies strike a chord ? What do you think ?? Let MEHSTG readers know at firstname.lastname@example.org
ĎNOW, IS GASCOIGNE GOING TO HAVE A CRACK ? HE IS YOU KNOW !í
To some, those words come to mind over and over, synonymous as they are with both Tottenham and the Cup. It is as though the phrase is etched into the brain and read aloud every time someone talks that cup run. Others see the goal replayed in their mind over and over, like a loop; one moment of brilliant perfection to wash away all those moments of doubt and failure which are so often recalled.
I remember the semi-final more than the final. But then I was seven when we last lifted the FA Cup, and with the final being such a poor game it is lost in the memory. The semi-final, however, was different. The occasion, especially to a seven year-old when everyone in school seemed to support one of the two sides, and both clubs were having such great seasons, was a massive one. The competition itself was still as prestigious as it should be, with no manager even thinking of fielding a weakened side. Second Division sides with some form could knock out First Division rivals, every away game was a hard one, but that semi-final stands out like a polish diamond, encapsulating everything that the Cup was about. So too, was it the pinnacle of Gascoigneís Tottenham career, which had been building ever since his arrival. His talent was harnessed in the FA Cup that season, as he drove Tottenham to the final, before the horrific injury which was to end his Tottenham career and effectively any meaningful impact on English club football too.
Recently there has been a lot made about Paul Gascoigneís current mental state. But you would need to be a psychologist to be able to properly understand what is affecting him, and Iím not. Yet the fact that he has tried to commit suicide only underlines the sad state he finds himself in. Suffice to say, anyone who is quite clearly an obsessive compulsive and chronic attention seeker was always going to suffer when the game abandoned him at the end of his career. Iím not going to dwell on his downfall, but the brilliance of the man in his pomp, when he captured the imagination of one seven year-old in particular is what should always be recalled when mention of Gazza is made.
Paul Gascoigne joined Tottenham in the summer of 1988 for £2 million, then a British transfer record. And there the love affair began. Gazza was ever a player who played for the crowd, seeking always to impress his fans in football matches. You only have to consider his notorious flute playing incident whilst at Rangers to know that he wanted to be a crowd favourite wherever he went. It was not a deliberate decision but something natural, his will to win, enthusiasm and talent what endeared him to his supporters.
Of course, the fans took to him at Tottenham, because he was just what the team needed needed. The 1987-88 season had been a poor one for Tottenham as they finished thirteenth, some ten places below where they had finished in the previous campaign. And considering that between 1980 and the conclusion of the 1988 season Spurs had won two FA Cups and finished runners up in that competition once, won one UEFA Cup and competed for a sustained period for the 1985 and í87 League Championships, it was easy to see that the 1987-88 season was a hugely disappointing one. Part of this was, understandably, due to the almighty hole left gaping in the side by Glenn Hoddleís departure. Equally, Venablesí arrival that season meant the side would naturally be reshaped as he bought in those players he wanted.
Gascoigne was one of those men. He had the energy and tempo to grab a game by the throat, the strength and physique not to be bullied out of the roughest of matches, and the vision to rip open opponents. Yet up until that point only flashes of his brilliance had been seen. Arriving at twenty-one, the Geordie had yet to stamp his authority onto a club in the way we saw him do at Tottenham. Keegan might have hauled Newcastle out of the Second Division and established them as a top flight side, but it was the emergence of Gascoigne, Waddle, and Beardsley in the mid-80s which ensured they would remain a First Division side despite the lack of ambition in the north-east at the time, which can be evidenced by their willingness to sell off their top talents in the late-80ís, and their subsequent bottom-placed finish in 1988-89.
For Spurs, that season saw an improvement to sixth place. In the following campaign they finished third, and it wouldnít have been unreasonable for any Spurs fan of the day to hope of a Championship challenge in 1990-91. Yet any hopes the club might have of winning the title were effectively killed off by the crippling financial situation surrounding Tottenham at the time, which saw them sell Waddle to Marseille shortly after Linekerís arrival. In the modern Premiership era, where clubs have money thrown at them just for participating in the league, the financial burden suffered by Tottenham in the late 1980ís wouldnít have even been a matter of consideration. But with English football suffering under the shadow of the European ban, Heysel, and hooliganism, the money simply wasnít there, and Tottenham were very foolish to have built executive boxes and attempted to float themselves on the stock market at a time when football was more a business repellent than considered an opportunity.
On that point, English footballís resurrection is largely put down to the run of the national side to the World Cup semi-finals in 1990. In my opinion, you can also credit the decision to create the Premier League and get a bigger slice of the pie for the top division sides, and the Taylor Report, both its findings and the fact Hillsborough highlighted the need for change, as crucial. But my focus is Gascoigne, so letís look at his impact on the national game.
England went to the Italia í90 with an under pressure manager and an unloved side. As I have said, English football wasnít the media darling it is now. A variety of factors are the cause of this, but suffice to say hooliganism was what put off many. Yet the summer of 1990 changed much, as England captured the imagination. Despite making a poor start, they slowly got better as the competition progressed, beating Belgium with a last gasp goal and winning a thrilling game against Cameroon in the quarter final. An epic game against Germany followed, where England went close but failed to edge the penalty shootout.
Two Tottenham players played prominent roles in that World Cup, as Lineker finished with four goals, and Gascoigne played a starring role in the side, the only Englishman to make the Team of the Tournament. Despite his tears after the booking in the semi-final, which almost caused him to lose his head shortly afterwards, it was clear Gascoigne had finally realised his ability to grab hold of football matches on a consistent basis.
His return to club football in a Tottenham shirt saw that player abundantly. In the League Spurs faded away, but in the Cup, with Gascoigne the heartbeat of the side, Tottenham were irresistible. Maybe the World Cup had given him the confidence he required, or maybe it was his increasingly peerless displays in the greatest cup competition on the planet. Perhaps it was simply the realisation by one man that all he desired was in his hands, but Gascoigne was the FA Cup in 1991, as never before or since has one player stamped his identity on that competition so absolutely as he did that year. Here are Tottenhamís results in the Cup:
Third Round: Won 1-0 vs. Blackpool (a)
Fourth Round: Won 4-2 vs. Oxford United (h)
Fifth Round: Won 2-1 vs. Portsmouth (a)
Quarter-Final: Won 2-1 vs. Notts. County (h)
Semi-Final: Won 3-1 vs. Arsenal (n)
Final: Won 2-1 (aet) vs. Nottingham Forest (n)
Although not scoring in the win at Blackpool, Gascoigne scored twice against Oxford in the fourth round and was involved in the other two. He hauled Tottenham back into the match against Portsmouth in the fifth round, scoring twice as Spurs came from behind, and he scored the winner against Notts. County (who won promotion from the Second Division that season) in the quarter-final. In the semi-final, as we all know, he scored the first goal against Arsenal and was involved in the build up to the second.
So Tottenhamís march to the final was largely down to Gascoigneís brilliant form in the cup, yet what happened next was akin to a Greek Tragedy. Having dragged Tottenham into the final with brilliant performance after brilliant performance, the final was marked by his tackling, which saw him damage his cruciate ligaments and rule himself out for the following season. Tottenham came from behind in the Cup final, eventually edging Forest with a Des Walker own goal.
And that was the beginning of the end. There were flashes of brilliance afterwards, and he had a great period at Rangers, but having reached the pinnacle and achieving his dream of an FA Cup winners medal at just under twenty-four years of age, his talent should have seen him win far more. At every subsequent club bar Rangers he suffered inconsistent form, with only rare flashes of brilliance after he left Tottenham. And as his influence on the pitch waned, so did public patience for some of his antics. But thatís another story.
A fantastic player, one who played for the fans of his clubs and gave everything to them, he truly was one player who was worth the attendance fee paid, a player who makes you realise just why football is so brilliant. Equally, he wanted to play and played with passion as he did so, all of which made him loved when he was in his pomp. All of that is so much at odds with some of todayís modern starts, who seem to treat the fans who ultimately pay their wages as a nuisance and something to be avoided at all costs.
Critics will point to his off field problems, yet it is clear to me that they are all tied up with his well documented mental issues. And, didnít George Best have problems too? He was derided for it when he was alive too, only for him to now be deified now he is dead. And it is interesting to note that the two best England tournament performances since 1966 have been by sides which have been built around Gazza, proof that his talent was all too often under-utilised on the international stage.
Those same critics who are intent on damning the man for problems also presumably deride him for wasting his talent. Undoubtedly he should have won more, yet his career was largely curtailed by his prolonged absence due to his knee injury, which saw him lose crucial seasons when he would have been at his best. And equally, plenty of players have wasted their talent. Best, Bowles, and Marsh, even Ballack or Shearer, can be described as wasting their talent.
With recent events, and the circulation of evil rumours that Gascoigne had committed suicide, it is all too easy to look on his situation and feel sadness, perhaps even looking down on a man struggling to come to terms with life outside of football. Yet we, not just as Tottenham fans but as football fans, even human beings in general, should be looking to support him. Itís all too easy to forget the player he once was in the past, the joy he bought to us and for the fans of many of the teams he played for lost because those events which now surround him are prominent when mention of him is made, but we need to get behind him.
The FA should be doing far more for him, and so should Tottenham, Newcastle, Rangers, Lazio, Everton, Middlesbrough, Burnley and Boston United for that matter, as well as the host of friends he made in the game. But we should do something for him too, to give back something of what he gave us. The start of that is simply to want him to get better, to wish him well, so that he knows he is in our thoughts and is still loved by all the people of Tottenham Hotspur.
Get well soon, Paul.
Do Richard's memories of Gazza strike a chord with you ? If you don't think so, let us know at email@example.com
THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
The next ten days are shaping up to be crucial for Tottenham Hotspurís season. Laying bottom of the table after the weekendís fixtures, Aston Villa on Monday night becomes a crucial match. Villa are a club we really should be challenging in the league, as they are a side, like us, who aspires to qualify for Europe via the league. And at home, we have got to win if we wish to challenge them for that position. Fast forward to Sunday, and we face Wigan, a club who we should expect to finish above, but one who will work us hard. Following that we travel to comedy club Newcastle United, who seem to be the only Premier League side that conducts itself in a more ludicrous manner than ourselves, the on/off return of Kevin Keegan, like a battered wife who returns to her husband, evidence of that. Failure in any of those three games, which to me would be defeat in the North-East and anything less than four points, and already we look to be in trouble.
Yet my focus for today is the UEFA Cup. Europeís second club competition is derided by all who donít compete in it. Fans of clubs who failed to qualify will claim that it doesnít matter, that players donít particularly care about playing in the competition, and will point to lower ticket prices and smaller attendances. Those who ply their trade in the Champions League, in contrast, will mock those who play in the UEFA Cup, as though it is something unworthy of their consideration.
It certainly has been undermined by the Champions League. Cash rich, the competition has all the attentionís of the worldís media, and is certainly the place where the big names want to play. I doubt Robinho went to Man City because he really wanted to face Omonia Nicosia in the UEFA Cup, as opposed to Bordeaux, PSV and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League for Chelsea.
Yet this is part of the problem. So many clubs play in the Champions League that the UEFA Cup is filled with mediocre sides and is therefore derided. Nowadays, of course, freedom of movement with the fall of Communism, freedom of moment due to the Bosman ruling and the amount of cash in the big leagues has ensured that only a handful of clubs from the top leagues have any chance of winning these trophies, unless a club manages to build a side made up of youthful and talented players and keeps hold of them throughout the campaign, ala Ajax in the mid -90ís. The reality is, however, that nowadays that is hugely unlikely.
We really should be one of the clubs going out to win the UEFA Cup. This is our third successive campaign, which of the big league clubs makes us the most experienced of what to expect, but it wont be as easy as that, of course. The UEFA Cup, as I have already mentioned, is so easy to deride, but AC Milan, Valencia, Sevilla, Benfica, Feyenoord, Ajax and CSKA Moscow line up as well. All of those clubs have pedigree, leaving aside Everton, Villa, and Man City who have all won European trophies too. Our campaign seems to hinge on whether Bent and Fraizer can find goals in the competition. We have a defence capable of providing the platform, and we have a midfield able to create chances, the real question mark remains on our attack.
Added to that, of course, we need a bit of luck. Last year, but for a penalty shootout, we would have progressed to the quarter finals for the second year and the season before that, if it wasnít for an injury crisis we might have got beyond Sevilla. At the business end of any competition the big clubs appear again and again. In the Champions League and in the race for a league title it is usually the side with the most effective side and most determination that wins out. Luck is minimised, because the quality is already proven due to qualification.
In the UEFA Cup, in contrast, luck plays a far larger role. Because the big clubs are rarely involved those had have to suffer the indignity of playing outside of their statue, as in the case of AC Milan this year and Bayern Munich the last, are often rebuilding. AC Milan might only play in the UEFA Cup for one season, but there should be doubts as to whether they can win this trophy. Aging players and new signings mean they are a season or two away from the Serie A title, although if they can gel they might be able to win the UEFA Cup.
Yet itís all too easy to see them as the outright favourites and our only real threat in the competition. Bayern were favourites last season, but they fell at the semi-final stage, whereas unfancied Rangers and Zenit contested the final. Valencia, AC Milan, Ajax and Benfica will undoubtedly focus on getting back into the Champions League as more important than winning the UEFA Cup, although all of them will still want to win it.
Yet itís important to take it one game at a time. Wisla Krakow might not have any realistic chances of winning the trophy, but they still remain a threat. Wisla beat Barcelona in their home leg in Poland in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, so our first leg of the UEFA Cup at White Hart Lane is crucial. Itís important we win by a clear margin without giving away a goal. It will be a real test for our team, a passable one and hopefully the springboard for greater things.
Ramos made his reputation in the UEFA Cup, after all. In fact, he has pedigree in cup competitions in general, in many ways like Tottenham, so perhaps this is where our greatest hopes lie. Sevilla, when they entered the UEFA Cup in 2005, they hadnít won a trophy since 1948, by the end of 2006 they had won another three. This season it is important that we reach the latter stages of all the cup competitions and make a reasonable defence of the League Cup and challenge in the league for the UEFA Cup places. That would represent a decent season. Ramos has the capability to do that for us, which is easy to forget after watching Tottenham play so ineptly since March, so letís hope the Ramos of old returns with a vengeance in the competition in which he made his name.
Gomes, Sanchez, Corluka, Modric, Bentley, Dos Santos, Pavlyuchenko, Campbell (Loan)
Keane, Berbatov, Robinson, Cerny, Chimbonda, Kaboul, Tainio, Gardner, Malbranque, Lee
As a Tottenham fan, you have to be excited at the dawn of each transfer window. Tottenham, after all, have a history of buying big names, a tradition which has continued into the Premiership Era. From Blanchflower and Greaves, through Chivers, Ardiles and Villa, Waddle, Lineker, and Gascoigne, to Klinsmann and Berbatov, Spurs have always gone for big name talents. Because, nothing gets the Tottenham fans going more that a superstar in our ranks.
West Ham might proclaim themselves the ĎAcademy,í and recently Middlesbrough and Manchester City might have put their faith in their youngsters, but Tottenham been about big name signings since they broke a transfer record to bring in future double winning captain Danny Blanchflower from Villa in the 1950s.
So naturally, with all that in mind, I entered this summer full of optimism. Looking at the squad at the end of last year, it seemed as though quite a bit of work was required. That said, it was achievable. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking back on the games I saw us play at the end of the 2006/07 season it seemed as though although we had the guile and quality in our attacking play, we were sorely limited at the back. That season a late surge saw us into fifth, optimism was unbound, the cracks were papered over, and talk of breaking the top four was widely suggested (including in the media and by other fans, although they all like to pretend they would never have said such a thing).
Last season was a nightmare in virtually every way bar the League Cup. Changes did have to be made, players did need to go to freshen up the squad, and new players were required. So at that stage, what did we require? Goalkeepers, a centre-back, a defensive midfielder, a left midfielder, and a forward to replace the obviously outbound Berbatov (seemingly obvious to everyone bar the Tottenham board). This, bear in mind, was May, before Liverpool had come calling to bring Robbie Ďhomeí.
Initially, the defensive portion of our team should have been our primary focus. So, how did we do on that score? Gomes and Sanchez are both good players, with plenty of experience. I have no doubts on either of them, and I even expect Gomes to improve in the Premiership against better players than he faced in Holland. Added to that, Corluka is a quality addition. Capable of playing at right-back or centre-back, he solves the short term issue of Huttonís injury and will cover for the inevitable absence of King or Woodgate.
The club have done really well in this area as well, because they have cleared out a number of questionable players from this part of the pitch, and hopefully the woeful defensive lapses we have suffered over the past two seasons. Robinson had confidence at Tottenham and needed a move as much as Tottenham needed a new keeper. Cerny was reliable backup but no more, Gardner hadnít progressed in about five years, Kaboul was error prone and reportedly fell out with Ramos, and Chimbonda has a questionable attitude. He was also surpassed in many regards by Hutton, who is a better player. The result is we now have quality at the back and a small amount of depth across the line. This area has been significantly strengthened and no Tottenham fan can deny that.
In the midfield, Tottenham have bought in quality players, although not in the positions we needed them. Modric was superb at Euro 2008, although he hasnít got to grips with the Premiership yet. It seems the pace and energy required, more than the physical nature of the game, are where he needs to adapt. And that takes time. Dos Santos looks to be a good prospect, and from what Iíve seen so far, Iíve got no complaints with him. Bentley is an interesting buy. I thought his arrival would see the departure of Lennon, but that hasnít been the case. I canít make sense of it, apart from the clubís desire to bring in a good player who was made available, regardless of the need for him. And thatís my point, because even though I do think he will be a great player for the side, and I like what I have seen so far, I have to question the sense in bringing in another right sided player when we need a left winger.
I think part of the problem here is the strange scattergun approach Tottenham have to buying. There doesnít seem to be any clear definition of who buys our players. For instance, Ramos seems to have been instrumental in bringing in Dos Santos, but Bentley seems to have been bought in by other contacts, as his initial interviews spoke of first impressions of Ramos in training, rather than respect of his record as was the case with Modric, Dos Santos and Woodgate. But then look at Aston Villa and Sunderland: at the end of last season Keane was unhappy with the quality in his squad, so he went about signing player to improve the club. The result is that now they have a squad more than able to ensure a mid-table finish. Villa, on the other hand, go from strength to strength. Whilst the Barry saga rumbled on, OíNeill went about signing ten players. Suddenly they have a team with depth and quality, to the degree that they are my tip for fifth this season.
But whilst purchases for the defence might have been good business, and midfield decent without actually signing a defensive midfielder or left winger, upfront we suffered a catastrophe. It seems to me that the powers that be at Tottenham felt that Berbatov would eventually be content to remain at the club. In fact, after the League Cup win there plenty of public praise for the forward, but to what end? The player, his agent, the media, the fans, and Manchester United all seemed to know he was leaving. They came knocking, he was eager to answer, and Tottenham seemed to gladly stand aside once the money was thrown our way.
But the Berbatov transfer was long expected, it was the Keane one which came out of the blue. Just a few weeks before he had claimed he would never leave Tottenham, yet as soon as Liverpool came along he was quite prepared to be off, and once more Spurs took the cash without putting up much of a fight. Aside from the lack of fight to keep our best players, Iím not going to blame the club for being unprepared for Keaneís departure. It came out of nowhere and was so fast they couldnít have had a readymade replacement.
Yet they should have done so for Berbatov. That move was inevitable when Jol was edged towards the door, as that was the point where all hopes of a Champions League tilt had vanished. Pavlyuchenko might be a great player. He scored a few goals in the European Championship, and a quick search on You Tube found me a lot of tap ins he scored, but can he adapt? We desperately need him to, thatís for certain.
Because Campbell stinks of a panic buy to me. Supposedly the Berbatov deal went through with twenty minutes of the window left, so that hardly leave much scope for negotiation. The Tottenham website had a comment on the situation on Tuesday, hinting that the club were in for another forward but time and difficulties with the playerís agent were against them. Campbell was tacked on because we had no choice left. Yes, he might be highly rated, but just like Pavlyuchenko, he hasnít got any proven pedigree in the Premiership.
But we had more time than this, didnít we? And we didnít need the money for Berbatov before we could buy. Perhaps we should have taken a leaf out of other clubís books and conducted our negotiations publicly? Okay, so everyone knew we needed a forward and were bumping their prices up, but £20 million would have secured Santa Cruz, and he is proven in the Premiership. Now we have a bundle of cash and no chance to spend it, with the hope that both Pavlyuchenko and Campbell take to the Premiership like ducks to water, and Bent rediscovers his pre-season form.
The aforementioned statement on the clubís website seems more like a plea to the fans not to blame the club for our position but our two former forwards who so willing jumped ship. In my opinion not enough was done. Villa did not wish to lose Barry to Liverpool, and they did everything in their power to keep an unhappy player at their club. Likewise, Manchester United showed exactly how to ward off persistent interest in one player by one club in the Ronaldo saga.
And what message does this whole debacle send out? That Tottenham will moan and groan loudly, when their players are coveted, to the degree that they will report those clubs to the FA, but then back down when enough cash is offered. It smacks of a lack of ambition. We didnít put Keane and Berbatov in their place, and nor did we do enough to overturn other clubís interests in our playing staff.
And what of the Campbell deal ? We have loaned a player from a team we have openly stated we are aiming to overtake, at the same time selling our best player to them in the process. How can we expect to break the big four if we sell our best players to those clubs consistently ? Does this mean, then, that of Bale or Hutton were to have good seasons for us that if one of the big boys came sniffing we would once more allow them to go, if the price is right ? I guess the bottom line is that to the present Tottenham board, the bottom line speaks volumes.
Has Richard made any errors in his judgement ? If you think so, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
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