n17 nik

N17 Nik takes a look at the game today and Tottenham's part in it.

            An Honourable Man - 25.10.2005
            Predictions - 08.08.2005
            Time To Leave The Lane - 01.09.2006
            The Need For Steed - 18.11.2006
            Red cards and angry faces -  23.11.2006

            Previous articles by Nik

red cards and angry faces


Last Sundayís game against Blackburn certainly created a few column inches both in the national press and here in MEHSTG. I thought Iíd add to them.

 I thought we played in a contained fashion. Without Lennon we lacked creative spark in the midfield and tried to fashion opportunities by passing balls through to the strikers. We did create a few chances and if it wasnít for a wonder strike from Tugay we wouldíve got out of Blackburn with all three points. I thought Mido looked a little off the pace. Heís had a frustrating start to his second spell with the club. Arriving short of match fitness didnít help and nor did being shunted out on the left wing for his first couple of games. After his goal against West Ham we saw Mido at his best Ė looking strong and determined. Unfortunately, he picked up another injury after the West Ham game and he didnít shoot confidently when given the chance against Blackburn. We defended pretty well but lacked a bit of quality on the ball in midfield. I was disappointed that Malbranque made little impact but Iím sure heíll perform better when he gets back to full fitness. I would have liked to have seen Murphy come on when Blackburn were reduced to ten men, to try and add a bit of guile. All-in-all, Iím sure most Spurs fans would have taken a point before the game and itís what we got there last season. Lennonís injury couldnít be helped and neither could Malbranqueís lack of fitness. If either player was fully fit and on-song, we could well have nicked the game.

Iím disappointed the FA didnít rescind the red card Hossam Ghaly received. It did initially look like he was jumping with intent to hurt Gray but clearly lowered his arm and caught him around the neck with a floppy forearm. This was no better or worse than what Mido did for his booking in the first half and a three game ban is unjust. Although harsh, technically Tugayís was a sending off. If itís a penalty Ė which it was Ė then he had to go. This is one rule that needs looking at and I think a penalty is punishment enough.

I was surprised to read Martin (in MEHSTG) predict that Jol will be gone in twelve months. Yes, we have performed woefully on our league travels but I think thereís enough potential in the performances so far to suggest weíll have a decent season. I think Jolís recent signings have all shown in patches what they can do. Chimbonda has been by far the most consistent and is certainly our best right back since Stephen Carr. Iím happy for Assou-Ekotto to be given a season in the first team to see how he goes. He does lack composure going forward but is strong in the recovery and I think heíll get better. Zokora and Berbatov have been frustrating. Both could be Premiership stars but need to string a run of performances together. Berbatov, in particular, is frustrating. His touch is glorious and his finishing in the UEFA Cup has been clinical. He is lazy, though, and either needs to ensure he finishes a higher rate of his chances or offer more to the team - weíll forgive his laziness if he scores more often.

After last season expectations have been raised. I see us as having the fifth best squad in the league and we should, at least, finish high enough in the league to clinch UEFA Cup football again. We have an outstanding chance of reaching the semis of the League Cup and should progress to the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup. From thereon in, itís a lottery.

I wouldnít compare our recent form to the weeks preceding Hoddleís departure. Prior to Hoddleís sacking, we lost consecutive home games against Fulham and Southampton and had ended the previous season with heavy defeats away to Middlesbrough and home to Blackburn. By and large our home form is decent and, if anything, weíre due a bit of luck in games rather than riding it at the moment. Things are going for clubs such as Portsmouth and Villa at present but their good form wonít last the season and I think we should gather momentum and break into a UEFA Cup spot in the second half of the season. If we donít, then the pressure will be on Jol next season. However, I think heís done enough to earn a yearís grace from us. So, please, letís concentrate on backing the players and hopefully all this potential will turn into productivity.  



the need for steed


With Spurs continuing to look impotent away from home, there is the need for different creative avenues other than Aaron Lennon.  Itís been quite a year for Lennon Ė twelve months ago he wasnít even in the first team picture and now heís arguably our key player.  The way Spurs utilise him reminds me a bit of the days of David Ginola, where team mates would give him the ball and then say, ďGo on, then.Ē  With the advent of technology in football, and good old-fashioned scouting, opposing managers have twigged the Lennon tactic and are double-banking on the boy.  Spurs need a plan B for creating tactics. And, hopefully, something a bit more subtle than Paul Robinson booting the ball down the pitch.


Our almost forgotten about August signing, Steed Malbranque, is closing in on full fitness.  He did get an hour in the Carling Cup against Port Vale and showed some nice touches and a willingness to run with the ball.  Encouragingly, he cropped up on both flanks.  I think Martin Jol is right when he says he wants Lennon to do for us what Ronaldo does for Manchester United.  Ronaldo switches wings regularly and thus doesnít allow a full back to settle.  If this is the plan with Lennon, then we need another player in the midfield who is happy to swap flanks.  Currently, Hossam Ghaly is our other wide player.  Heís neat and tidy but doesnít look particularly dangerous when in possession Ė a bit like Jermaine Jenas.  Ghaly is still young and has done reasonably well, but I fear wonít ever become a first pick for Spurs.  Therefore it looks like there is a vacancy in the team and itís likely Malbranque will soon get the chance to stake his claim.


The rumours are already flying about of potential January signings for Spurs, mainly left wingers.  Itís true we donít have a natural left winger in the squad Ė there is Ziegler, more of a wing back, I think, and Jol appears reluctant to give him a run in the side.  If, as is likely, Malbranque gets a run in the team, he could end up saving us millions.  Seeing as his Fulham contract was up next summer, we got him for around £1.5 million.  I think most experts would price him at £5 million, so it was pretty good business to buy him.  I think his debut for Spurs was encouraging, albeit against lower league opposition.  He is comfortable on the ball, has scored goals at Premiership level and likes to beat players.  My only reservation about having Malbranque in the team is Iíve always thought of him as being best in a midfield three, with him being handed a freer role.  Whether he can adapt to a slightly more disciplined wide role remains to be seen.  Itís fine to have freedom to switch wings going forward, but wide midfielders do still have to support their full backs and getting up and down in this manner may not come natural to Malbranque.  Itís true he could play through the centre Ė possibly in place of Jenas but I think Jol purchased him to play wide.  The way Premiership teams are lining up now is to have strong, athletic players through the centre of midfield and for the creative players to play wide.


I hope Malbranque gets fit quickly enough to have a decent run in the side prior to the opening of the January transfer window.  Heíll certainly add creative options to the team and, I think, be a player the fans like to watch.  However, time will tell if he can bring balance to the often lopsided Spurs midfield and possibly save us having to splash out come January.



time to leave the lane ?


Maybe itís because Iím getting older but White Hart Lane seems smaller these days.  It may be because the numerous executive boxes strip out rows of seats - whatever, I think the time has come for the board to seriously consider a new ground. 

I am a football traditionalist and in a romanticised way, Iíd like Spurs to remain at The Lane forever.  Thereís something about going somewhere legends have already been.  Many people visit sites of historical significance for leisure and as Spurs fans, we get to reminisce about the old days of Blanchflower, Greaves, Lineker etc and watch the modern day players play.  However, football has moved onto an economic era and Spurs have to look at every possibility to generate more cash to fund better players.  

Thereís no room around the outside of the stadium and so the only possibility for increasing the attendance at the current venue is to build upwards.  

However, Iím sure Spurs would only be able to add a few more extra rows in, for structural reasons.  Other clubs have relocated in recent years and have impressive stadiums.  What does concern me is that Championship clubs like Southampton and Derby have stadiums pretty much as big as ours yet have a far smaller fan base.  If itís true that Spurs really did turn away 20,000 season ticket applicants then basic maths tell you Spurs could potentially have around 40,000 season ticket holders Ė more than the capacity at White Hart Lane.

Also, White Hart Lane is tricky to get to.  Access via the tube system is awkward to say the least and anyone who dashes to get the first train from the station after the game risks getting crushed in the tiny trains provided.  Thereís also no official parking around the ground. 

And then thereís Arsenal. Our greatest rivals have a similar fan base to ours Ė albeit a little larger now due to their recent successes.  The capacity at The Emirates Stadium is 60,000 Ė around 40% higher than ours.  Something is amiss here.  If weíre really serious about catching them on a regular basis, surely we need to match them stadium wise ? 

Financing a new stadium would, of course, have an impact on the club in the short term.  However, not as dramatically as many would fear.  Arsenal may have only purchased one player in pre-season but the fee for Rosicky was rumoured to be around £8 million and Arsenal purchased Eboue and Adebayor for around £10 million the pair in the January transfer window.  The stadium itself is owned by Ashburton Properties Limited and the bankers hold the financial burden of the stadium, not the football club. Iím certain someone would back Spurs in a similar way.  It must annoy Arsenal fans that the name of their new stadium bears a sponsor but all in all a minor matter. A new Spurs stadium would have to be sponsored too and this would raise some cash, as would the sale of White Hart Lane Ė horrible as this sounds. 

One other long shot would be for Spurs to use the new Wembley stadium Ė if it ever gets completed.  It may not be seen as ideal to rent a stadium but it would bring costs down and raise even more cash for players. 

If Spurs are serious about breaking into Champions League football we need to do something to give us long term growth and a new stadium with a large capacity is just about our only option.  ENIC have ploughed a fair amount of money into the club and the deals with sponsors Mansion and kit manufacturers Puma have added to the pot but weíre still a long way short of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool Ė you can, of course, forget Chelsea.  



predictions 2006


I doubt Spurs fans have looked forward to a new season as much in the past twenty years.  Well, maybe the 20,000 fans that were unsuccessful in getting a season ticket (so the official line was) maybe a bit miffed, but even so.  Even the sale of our best midfield player has failed to dampen the enthusiasm around The Lane but what can Spurs deliver this season ? 

The squad has definitely been strengthened over the summer.  Assou-Ekotto will provide competition for Lee at left back and may even mean that the South Korean reverts to right back, where he played in the World Cup.  Iíve never liked a left footed right back, or vice-versa, as it means the player tends to cut back inside to cross rather than crossing on the run.  Zokora should add bite to the midfield and doesnít seem the type to be bothered by reputations.  Berbatov, however, is likely to be the man who our season hinges upon.  Spurs failed to win any of the games against the top four last season, although the matches were close.  Failure to score that goal at that vital time cost Spurs a Champions League place.  In pre season, Berbatov has given hope he could be the man with four goals to date.  Heís already spoken about scoring against Arsenal and doesnít appear short of confidence.  For the first time since the inception of the Premiership, Spurs have a genuine goal scoring target man Ė Ferdinand and Armstrong et al fell short of the mark.  If things go well for him, he could do a similar job for us that Van Nistelrooy did for Manchester United. If things donít, Spurs wonít make ground on the big four.  The loss of Carrick shouldnít affect Spurs progress.  He is a nice player with a good range of passing but needs to step up another level to be classed as a top international player.  Carrick kept play ticking over but rarely got forward and his goal scoring record was disappointing.  And the fee was excellent business for Tottenham.  Zokora is a different type of player but showed against Argentina in the World Cup heís quite happy to get stuck in against the big guns and players like Lampard and Ballack will certainly feel the heat against him more than they would against Carrick. 

The players who were at the club last season should, in the main, improve upon last season.  Pundits often talk about how a good spine is essential to success.  Spurs have this in defence with Robinson, King and Dawson and should have it up front with Berbatov and Keane or Defoe.  However, itís the centre of the midfield where I feel Spurs need to improve.  If selected, I think Zokora will do a good job if heís allowed to play in his favoured role as a central holding player.  This is Davids favourite position and I suspect his decision to stay was largely due to Carrick leaving.  I felt Davids was slightly disappointing last season but rarely did he play in the centre of midfield Ė he was often asked to perform a halfway-house between left wing and left centre.  This made the team lopsided with Lennon providing excellent width on the right.  If Davids and Zokora were to both play central, it would be too defensive.  Therefore, Jenas is likely to partner one of our combative midfielders.  Certainly Jol seems a huge fan of his.  I think we need more from JJ.  He did okay last year but okay wonít enable us to break into a Champions League spot.  I hope Iím wrong but I suspect Jenas is just short of international quality Ė more UEFA Cup than Champions League.  If he can play energetic, attacking football and chip with a dozen or so goals, itíll help Spurs succeed.  It remains to be seen if Murphy and Ghaly can make a first team position their own Ė I suspect not.  Although I hope Huddlestone gets quite a few starts under his belt. 

With just short of two weeks until the new season, Chelsea apart, Spurs Champions League rivals havenít improved too much upon their squad.  Itís barely worth mentioning that Chelsea should walk away with the league again.  Their only possible downfall is their own arrogance and, perhaps, if Mourinho tries too much to keep his big name players happy by adapting a formation to suit their egos Ė unlikely though. Manchester United will be boosted by the return of Scholes and Carrick is a big improvement on Darren Fletcher.  However, at present, they lack a top class partner for Rooney and the jury is out on Vidic as a partner for Ferdinand at the back.  Letís hope the Glaziers keep a tight control of Fergusonís spending.  Our friends down the road, by nature of blooding lots of young players last season, should improve.  Rosicky looks a good signing and Van Persie is a good bet to get close to filling Bergkampís boots.  If Henry had left, I think Arsenal would have dipped but he can help Arsenal beat any team in the world on his day Ė thatís if heís not in shrugging of the shoulders mode.  I think Bellamy will be a good buy for Liverpool.  Heís lightening quick and has always troubled Spurs.  Theyíve spent a lot of money on South American players who donít appear to have had a good pre season.  If they take too long settling in, Liverpool may lose early ground. 

I donít see any other team except Spurs challenging the big four. Newcastle will be boosted by the signing of Duff but lack all-round quality, especially in defence.  West Ham have strengthened their squad but not the team.  Bolton havenít spent much and Blackburn will miss Bellamy.  

So, can Spurs get a Champions League place next season ?  If we start well and Liverpoolís new players fail to click, we could well put them under pressure.  Squad wise, weíre in the mixer with Arsenal, Liverpool and almost Man United now.  All we need is the belief that we can beat these teams.  If Berbatov can get twenty goals in the Premiership and Jenas can impose himself on games, we stand a chance.  Spurs are fifth favourites and the bookies are rarely wrong.  Iíd settle for a strong challenge and a much better run in the cups.   

And thereís the UEFA Cup this year.  We need to plateau as a club Ė too many teams, like Everton, have one strong season then dip.  We shouldnít do that and anything less than fifth place would be a disappointment.  



an honourable man


One Christmas I travelled up to White Hart Lane by car with a friend. We normally caught the train but they donít run from Hampshire up to London on a Boxing Day. We parked in a random car park near the ground and grizzled about the exorbitant cost to do so. As we got out of the car, an elderly gent was getting out of an old Cavalier or such-like vehicle. My friend and I looked at each other and then back at the man. It was Bill Nicholson.

We were too stunned to say anything stronger than Ďhelloí and that was the only time Iíve met him. All through the 4-0 defeat of Watford Ė Ginola was rampant that day Ė we mused about the absurdity that our greatest ever Manager and current club President didnít take up his right to have the best car parking space at the ground. Let alone that he quietly joined the throng of supporters strolling to the ground.

Upon reflection and with the all the evidence surfacing in the past few days, I guess I shouldnít have been surprised at all.           

In all the years Iíve been regularly going to Spurs games my eyes have only seen the glory of the Worthington Cup. Successive Managers have tried and failed to emulate the silk and steel of the sides that Bill Nick sent out to play for Tottenham. In fact, itís been more enjoyable to read the literature and what video coverage there is of the days of yore than to watch the contemporary action. The legendary names of the 60s and early 70s roll off the tongue as do the great European sides that visited the Lane pre Champions League. It may be common place for sides like Benfica, Feyenoord and AC Milan to play in England now but it wasnít back then. Those names were reserved for teams that deserved to face them and Bill Nickís Spurs teams were one of them.

Having not seen any of Bill Nickís teamsí play I canít add any first-hand anecdotes about them. All I will say is that he gave us a history to be proud of. Itís somewhat ironic that our closest rivals are playing a brand of football thatís quoted as being closest to that of our double-winning side. Spurs fans have often been criticised for harping on about the glory glory days but thatís because weíve not had it so good since and probably never will again. We owe the majority of our proud history and our world wide reputation to Bill Nicholson.


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