more !!  of oliver (phil)

The return of columnist Phil Oliver sees MEHSTG feature his work about all things football and Spurs in particular.




The summer transfer window has shut and the Tottenham squad is in place for the first part of the season. It was frenetic stuff in the closing hours, as it had to be – we were short of numbers in some areas and had a player whose position at the club had become untenable. 

We are known as one of the league’s top spenders, but this summer’s transfer activity will please the club’s accountants. Around £68m was spent, but we recouped an estimated £73.5m. The books are balanced, but should the fans be happy with the manger’s resources ? 

There is strength in depth and each first choice position has been improved, apart from in attack. This reflects a transfer policy that was a mixture of intentional overhaul and enforced buys; Heurelho Gomes, Vedran Corluka, Luka Modric, Giovani dos Santos and David Bentley had all been tracked for long periods and were primary targets for a new-look squad. 

However, the departures of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane were obviously not planned, although contingency had probably been made for the Bulgarian sulker’s departure. It is a safe football bet that Juande Ramos and Damien Comolli did not sit down in May and identify Darren Bent, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Fraizer Campbell as our strike-force to start the season. 

Having your hand forced is all part of the transfer window and there is consolation to be found in large fees received for Keane and Berbatov, although hindsight tells us that Jermain Defoe’s new year move to Portsmouth should have been blocked. 

It is no coincidence that clubs that have had difficulty in the transfer market have suffered stuttering starts to their campaigns. Everton, due to a lack of activity and Spurs, due to the Keane and Berbatov sagas, have both underperformed. It is early days and both clubs should have their Premier League odds checked in the race to finish fifth. 

Planning has clearly been disrupted, but the management must take some responsibility for out poor start. Spurs eased to numerous pre-season wins last year and came unstuck in the league openers, and the same thing has happened again. Pre-season preparation needs to be looked at. 

Ramos has made his mark on the squad and it is evident that he is a man who has faith in his decisions. If he doesn’t rate you, don’t expect a second chance. Pascal Chimbonda and Young Pyo Lee fell so far out of favour that they were allowed to leave despite Alan Hutton, the first choice right back, being injured. Paul Stalteri was not even given a squad number. 

However, this also means that Ramos is happy with his squad, as no one would arrive that he didn’t have full faith in. Pavlyuchenko and Campbell might be last minute replacements for last season’s front two, but we have to believe that they will produce their impressive goalscoring form from other divisions in the white shirt. 

Both are predominantly strikers who look to convert chances rather than create them, and whilst Bent is also not known for his link-up play, enough ammunition should come from the contrasting creative talents of Bentley, Modric and Tom Huddlestone. 

The two week international break has come at the right time and there should be no more talk of a squad being unfamiliar with itself when Aston Villa arrive at the Lane on 15th September. Last season’s corresponding fixture was one of the turbulent matches that marked the beginning of the end of the Martin Jol regime. This time it should denote the real start of a new managerial era.


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The transfer sagas of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane look like ending in their departures, so I, a little prematurely, begin to wonder about the type of reception they would receive on their return to White Hart Lane. 

The excellent last ‘View from the Shelf’ suggested our star strikers’ behaviour is systematic of modern-day disloyalty, claiming they deserve to be booed when they visit in their red shirts.  

There are many factors that contribute to former players’ unpopularity and Berbatov and Keane indeed appear to have ticked most of the boxes.  Massively popular in our colours – although Keane still divides opinion – their public agitation for a move leaves a sour taste. 

However, they are moving to Champions League clubs and can’t be begrudged the attempt to further their career. Keane is content at Spurs and would surely not leave for any other club than the one that he supported as a boy, who more importantly provide a good chance of first team football. 

It is therefore tempting to think that players who move to ‘bigger clubs’ as part of their career progression should not receive too much criticism.  Berbatov would join Michael Carrick and Teddy Sheringham as recent United recruits – the Red Devils raid us whenever they need a classy, clever player – and there is seemingly nothing wrong with leaving when the best team in the country come knocking. 

Similarly, those who seek new challenges on the continent generally don’t earn supporters’ scorn. Steve Archibald, Glenn Hoddle, Clive Allen, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, Gica Popescu and Jurgen Klinsmann’s moves to European clubs represented an endorsement of successful Spurs careers rather than a jumping of the Tottenham ship. 

There are no set rules for the treatment of former players, although those who leave for smaller clubs generally earn appreciation on their return, depending on their contribution to Spurs.  Few can question Pedro Mendes and Jermain Defoe’s conduct in seeking first team places at Portsmouth and their success on the south coast acts more as a reminder of what might have been. 

Receiving good money for those who are past their Tottenham sell-by-date – Mido, Wayne Routledge, Andy Reid, Stephen Carr and Simon Davies spring to mind – gives the players an easy ride on their return. 

Some receive special treatment after making a good connection with Spurs supporters.  The Shelf would have applauded Steffen Freund if he scored against us in a Leicester shirt and Michael Brown, another midfield workhorse, achieved great respect for his insistence on acknowledging the travelling support rather than his new fans when unveiled at Craven Cottage after his move to Fulham in January 2006. 

Keane would surely expect a good reception on his return to the Lane after six years’ fine service, but will have to make do with a mixture of polite applause and boos.  He might even get a better response than he will if his transfer request is ignored and he stays as Spurs player.


What will you do on the return of Keano and Berba ?  Will it be S.Cumball all over again ?  Tell us your view by e-mailing




It was around this time last year that the Tottenham board made known their expectations for the impending season.  Two successive fifth place finishes encouraged Mr Levy and co. to openly state that fourth spot was the next goal. 

It sounds entirely logical now, but, at the time, it amounted to little more than an ultimatum.  We have not made the same mistake this time around (‘Carling Cup last season Juande, so FA Cup this term, or you’re out’) but expectations remain high. 

There is nothing wrong with aim-setting – no one wants to stand still – but the targets have to be realistic.  Martin Jol was put under pressure to overhaul Arsenal or Liverpool in the league last season, despite the pair being stronger than they were in the previous campaign. 

The problem is that many other clubs have similar aspirations to us.  Everton, fourth in 2004/05 and fifth last year, have the most valid designs on a top four finish, but the rich overseas owners of Aston Villa, Manchester City and West Ham all want to receive the reward of Champions League football in return for their investment.  

Portsmouth and Blackburn also finished above us last season and will be eyeing UEFA cup places this season.  Middlesbrough continue to spend big and Newcastle, no strangers to delusions of grandeur, possess a manager who said last term ‘if Tottenham can finish fifth, so can we’. 

Despite this competition, it is clear that Spurs should finish fifth.  Supporters of our rivals will probably claim the same thing, but an impartial comparison of squads reveals ours to be the strongest. 

It has the most depth and, at the time of writing at least, the most outstanding individuals.  Money is in the bank waiting to be spent and recent acquisitions Luka Modric and Giovani Dos Santos are of the stature to attract some other star players to the Lane.  The manager isn’t bad either. 

We are therefore unsurprising favourites to repeat our fifth place Premiership finishes of 2005/06 and 2006/07.  Spurs are more likely to win the UEFA Cup than finish fourth, which reveals both the strength and weakness of the Premier League.


Is fifth place attainable ?  Does the Tottenham squad fill you with confidence for the coming season ?  Tell us your view at




Thankfully the European Championships are nearly over. I am weary of them not because of the tournament itself – watching an England-free, high-scoring event has been a pleasure – but because of the punditry and commentary.

I like to feel relaxed when watching football from the sofa. A neutral should be able to take in the game without getting irate and tense, yet this is what happens to me when watching the Euro 2008 coverage. 

Not quite shouting at the screen, but still wanting to tell Lee Dixon that he is wrong. All the time.  

He has perfected the smug confidence of the bad pundits with ease and is following the Tony Adams and Martin Keown template for TV persona of former Arsenal players – a bizarre mix of earnest self reverence and an ability to talk rubbish. I think I’ve just described Garth Crooks, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead on that one. 

Pundits should be able to add to our enjoyment and knowledge of the game. Both major channels have recruited some respected names in management and the viewer should therefore get some expert opinion. 

This rarely happens. Martin O’Neill is generally asked what the mangers are thinking but usually comes up with something we can discern for ourselves, although Sam Allardyce is occasionally insightful and is capable of shedding light on teams’ tactics and strategies. 

It is for this reason that my spirit is lifted when Alan Shearer is touted for a Premier League job. A walking cliché, he is unable to say anything of note unless it is blindingly obvious and if a club who secures his services is successful, I will begin to wonder what managers actually do to change a club’s fortunes. 

TV analysis rarely offers more than the conversations fans are having at the same time. BBC and ITV might as well go down Sky’s fanzone route, a comical commentary option that at least guarantees passion and opinion.  

It is a shame they have lost Ian Wright, who was effectively there as an England fan, once famously refusing to pass comment because he was ‘too gutted to speak’.  

The most frustrating element of current punditry is the misinterpretation of events on the pitch. Opinions are formed lazily, with rules of the game discarded in their quest for referee ‘common sense’. 

Although there has never been a golden age of punditry, commentary standards are certainly declining. John Motson has become a caricature of himself and Clive Tyldesley is becoming ever-more infuriating in his search for the perfect sound bite. 

Maybe I’ll watch the final with the sound off.

Do you think Phil opinion is as valid as the experts who he is taking about ?  Should the sound of silence be the way that the TV stations go in future ?  Let us know at



6 + 5 = ???

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has had many strange and controversial ideas to improve football, but his latest might actually be of benefit for Tottenham. Forget his proposals of bigger goals and skimpy female players’ kits; the ‘six plus five’ rule represents a massive step and would only be a good thing for Spurs. 

It is of course early days for this foreign player quota. There are clearly legal ramifications and Premier League boss Richard Scudamore is confident that EU employment laws will prevent the implementation of such restrictions. 

Blatter has suggested European clubs should adopt voluntary quotas and it is pretty evident that this will not be allowed to happen, especially as UEFA president Michel Platini is also currently opposed to the idea. 

There is still no harm in speculating on the effects of such a rule change, not least because Blatter is determined to prevent English club domination of European competitions (although he also suggests the proposals are for the benefit of the English national team and Premier League). 

The knock-on effect of a lack of top flight English players is for another day – although last term’s all-time low of 34.1% is worrying for any follower of the national team.  

How would clubs fare under the new rules, which would involve a maximum of seven foreign players in starting line-ups from the 2010/11 season ? 

More than half of the Premier League clubs fulfilled that requirement last season, with 11 fielding an average of at least four Englishmen per game, with Spurs being the eighth most ‘home grown’ team, with an average of 4.37 per game. 

With so many clubs meeting the proposed quota without even the intention to, it is clear that the supposed problem is not as bad as is suggested, although the foreign allowance is planned to decrease by one over the next two seasons to create ‘six plus five’ in 2012/13. 

Italian clubs fielded an average of 7.3 Italian players on the last day of the Serie A season, compared to the Premier League’s average of 3.9. The difference is stark, and if Blatter wanted to break the monopoly of the so-called ‘big four’, there is no guessing who will lose out. 

Manchester United and Chelsea fielded 10 English players between them in the Champions League final and they are unlikely to be unduly troubled by the rule thanks to their ability to recruit young talent at will. 

However, Liverpool and Arsenal had best start developing their youth academies, having had respective English player averages last term of 2.34 and 0.34 per game. At least little Theo would be guaranteed a game. 

Tottenham on the other hand, have nine established first team Englishmen to currently choose from (Robinson, Dawson, King, Woodgate, O’Hara, Lennon, Huddlestone, Jenas and Bent).  

We will have no problem in adjusting to the quota system and would be strengthened in relative terms to other clubs – that pool of English players is stronger than that of West Ham and Aston Villa, who had the highest average number of English players last season. 

There is much debate about how the money-soaked English game is changing for the worse. It is doubtful whether this proposal will improve it, however nice it is to think of us as champions because of it.

Do you think Phil is right ?  Will Spurs be OK or might things change after this summer's purchases ?  Let us know at

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