Spurs Back in the Groove Even If the Record’s a Bit Scratched

Arthur sits in front of us. Coming to Spurs all his life. He said it was good to be back. I was surprised. He detests Wembley and the journey is murder. I asked him why, and he paused, then looked around at the familiar faces in the stands. “Well, you’re all here, aren’t you?”

We’ll all go our separate ways at the new Lane. Meanwhile, football’s back and with it the camaraderie, the greeting of old friends, the bright promise of each new season. It was good to get back to the football.

And it was a promising start. Spurs dominated the opening twenty minutes, passing through or round the Fulham defence with ease. When we lost the ball, our opponents, jittery and overawed, obligingly presented it back to us.

We made and missed our chances. Davies plonked the ball on Moura’s head 6 yards out but he put it wide, then the Brazilian’s normally reliable ball control let him down when clean through. Eriksen moved smoothly onto a loose ball at the edge of the box, not easy but we’ve become accustomed to him being on target, so it came as a surprise to see it slide past the right-hand post. A penalty after Kane’s ankles were tapped?

Then, the match required reappraisal. Fulham’s confidence rose, encouraged by Spurs’ failure to press home the advantage and a couple of counter-attacks of their own. Now it was Lloris who was forced into making the sharp saves, including one impeccably timed block on Sessingnon as he crept unnoticed into the penalty area.

Chances wasted against a side we should overcome, tempo dropping, possession conceded – Spurs fans began to replay this familiar negative scenario in our heads. Then Moura, whose confidence seemed sapped after those earlier misses, joyfully curled a loose ball, first time, round the defence and into the net. He pranced and leapt in the air, a celebration that exorcised the uncertainty and restraint of his Tottenham career thus far. It felt as he had arrived and was part of things. He proceeded to have a fine match, playing in an advanced role in support of Kane and furiously chasing down defenders when we needed to stop Fulham building from the back. Lamela took three years to work out that the PL requires hard work allied to skill and intelligence. It looks as if Moura has it sussed.

Spurs emerged for the second half looking as if they had spent the break running up hills carrying backpacks full of rocks. They drifted around, weary and unmotivated. Just when we should have stamped our authority on the game, it looked like we were about to let it slip. Fulham move forward eagerly and with pace. With Mitrovitch in the middle, they come from deep, in numbers. He hit the post – we were right behind the line of the shot and I thought it was in – then he equalised.

Fulham were posing a series of problems we couldn’t deal with. We’d lined up with three at the back, full-backs advanced and wide, Dier in the centre. Kane and Moura up front, so that makes a 3-3-2-2. Fulham pushed into the space out wide. Davies and Trippier were uncertain. Sessingnon drifting wide, right and left. Trippier and Davies didn’t know to go out wide with him or leave to the back three. As a result, Vertonghen on the left was pulled wide, leaving a big gap inside him, and Fulahm piled into those gaps. For ten minutes, outnumbered in midfield, we couldn’t get a touch.

Pochettino moved decisively to change formation and personnel. It won the game for Spurs. We went to four at the back with Dembele in midfield. We now had the numbers, plus the Belgian picking up the ball from defence to move it forward, his strength and purpose shifting the equilibrium. Lamela on next, lithe and active, just the energy boost that was required.

One moment of sublime skill put Spurs ahead. A free-kick 25 yards out. Post World Cup we have a new gunslinger in town. Lamela pushed and shoved in the wall, but it was a mere distraction as Tripper curled an unsaveable shot into the far corner. The perfect free kick.

As Fulham came forward, Spurs took advantage of the gaps that appeared for the first time. Lamela’s surging run took him the best part of forty yards through any number of opponents. The timing of his release was perfect, drawing the defenders to him as Kane waited in space. One touch from left to right, a jabbed early shot low past the keeper. Classic Harry, a real gem of a goal. Let’s hope it becomes classic Lamela. Could this be his year? I have the uneasy feeling I’ve said that for each of the past three seasons. he could play in Eriksen’s role when Christian needs the rest.

So in the end, a deserved win but only after moments when Fulham thought they would get something from this game. Their supporters have every right to feel encouraged for the future.

As for Spurs, Pochettino’s reintegration of Dembele and Alderweireld into the line-up is a shot in the arm. It’s one thing demonstrating authority by making an example of a player who does not want to play for the club, but the reality is, in any club, or in any workplace for that matter, not everyone is entirely motivated and focussed to the same degree. Managers have to bring recalcitrant players on board, or remind them that they are highly paid professionals, and professionals play. Poch seems to have developed that new skill. So refreshing to see Toby back, keep him there for as long as possible.

Kane looked sharper, helped by the support he received from Moura.  he hit the bar and could easily have notched another hat-trick. Again, Pochettino’s tactics moved to deal with a problem in the side. Dele did well, Hugo was full of confidence that spread through the side. Lamela looked right on it, more please.

Trippier was constantly available on the right, fulfilling instructions to cross early, although not enough were accurate. He and Davies are perfectly suited for a back three. However, at times we looked short in midfield. Eriksen and Dier looked like the World Cup still weighs heavy on their legs. With sterner tests to come in the next month against United and Liverpool, Pochettino has to find the right balance.

My first game of the season, an annual rediscovery of the joy of the goals and the angst of missed opportunities, the elation when those second and third goals went in. Lamela to Kane, his calm in the box, the finish, a fabulous piece of football.

On the way back, we bumped into friend of the blog Adam Powley. Plenty of time to chat as Chiltern Railways appeared oblivious to their timetable obligations. Wise man that he is, he remarked that it felt as if nobody, fans and players, really wanted to be there. It looks as if we may have to get used to it for a while longer as the electrical problem, buried deep inside layers of concrete, will take some time to dig out.

Conspiracy or cock-up? Instinctively I plump for the latter. Human fragility is always with us. Without regurgitating the details, on balance delays are not in Levy’s interests. A cautious man, he stepped out of character to announce an opening without giving any leeway for a cock-up. He should know better – the timescale was always tight, better to hang on and get it right.

The real problems come not from the bricks and mortar but the way the club see fit to explain this, or not. Their communication is poor. Fans deserve to be kept fully informed about progress, even if it is bad news. We’re grown ups, we can handle bad news. “We’re really sorry but because of safety concerns we can’t open the ground yet. We’ll keep you posted.” Easy, isn’t it. But beyond the club, apparently.

Communication should be improved, but communication is a means to an end, not an end in itself. On the Fighting Cock podcast this week, Kat Law, the joint Trust chair, made the point that the club firmly believe that their PR is spot on and that they know just what supporters want. This is the real problem, an absurd misjudgement born of arrogance that reveals the growing distance between fan and club created by their actions since the perfect WHL finale. That rainbow, that did happen, didn’t it? Seems a long time ago now.

Meanwhile, Spurs change the earth for Wembley. Last year, 1/19th of my season ticket at Wembley was about £52. This year, I must pay £70 for the category A Liverpool game. Clubs and fans have a bargain, a Faustian pact perhaps. We’ll turn up, you play your best. We’ll put up with a lot, give us something back.

I get it, I play along, I know what I’m doing. I don’t expect much, but some money off,  information about what’s going on, a proper acknowledgement of the impact on fans rather than detailed comments from the NFL: all beyond the club. You are left feeling as if they don’t need you, not as an individual anyway. They need consumers, hoovering up the merchandise, but anyone will do as far as they’re concerned. If you’ve been Spurs for fifty minues or fifty years, it’s all the same to them. They grow the brand – so abhorrant a phrase I can barely type it – but marginalise the loyalty of fans who need no further convincing. Stick the grid reference of the White Hart Lane centre spot inside a shirt collar and charge extra.

We should be grateful that our manager gets it even if the board don’t. Win for the fans, do our best with what we have and not dwell on the problems of the window. That’s something we can all get behind.

Aretha has left us this week. She made my heart sing and spirits soar. How I shall miss her. Here she’s recorded live, singing gospel. That rumbling in the background – that’s the sound as the walls come tumbling down

Spurs Transfer Window Inaction Shows Fatal Lack of Ambition

“The Premier League is like the London house market. It’s not about true value and worth, you pay or you don’t. It’s as simple as that.”

Sean Dyche

Tottenham are in a good place right now. An excellent team now established as genuine contenders, an outstanding manager and, come September, a home to call our own. The team still has room to grow, with key players like Kane, Eriksen and Vertonghen at the peak of their powers, Dele and Sanchez both internationals yet still on the up, Son, Trippier, Dier and Davies finding out how good they can be. And the World Cup winning captain in goal.

Now is the time to sustain this progress, yet Spurs have failed to invest in order to maintain momentum and safeguard the future. Bereft of energy and drive, the window represents not only a lost opportunity in a highly competitive top half of the league, it also raises fundamental questions about Spurs’ ambitions and the sort of club we want to be.

Throwing money at the team won’t cut it. Buying the right players when we’re making progress will. Consolidate when things are going well rather than act in a rush when we’re on the way down.

Any player coming to Spurs will have to fight for his place.  Our first team, first, say, 15, is a match for anyone, but we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. We need greater squad depth, with real alternatives off the bench. Also, there’s no such thing as a team that cannot be improved. It’s a long season – I’m not fussed on squad rotation but we have a back-breaking, ligament-stretching schedule ahead. All around me I hear the clamour to win something. That means going in hard on four competitions.

To gauge squad depth, I think about what happens if we have two injuries in similar positions. Assuming Toby is out of the equation (if we don’t sell him, Poch won’t back down), one out and Dier drops back. Foyth to me isn’t ready for ten or twenty matches. Carter Vickers may step up, and I hope in time they can both come through into the team, but if we want to stay contenders, we should not be two injuries away from them starting regularly. I’d be delighted to be proved wrong. I see potential in both of them, and Poch is the man to bring that out, but the pressure at the top of the league is intense.

This has knock-on effects in defensive midfield. If Wanyama’s hurt, as he is at the moment, gaps start to appear. Winks is the future, a top-class prospect, but he’s taken a long time to come back from falling over a bucket. Can’t rush him. Dembele is a warrior whose powers are slowly diminishing, although it pains me to say it. Rumours suggest he will be sold. I’m tripping over the ifs and buts, but this is reality rather than pessimism. If Winks is not quite right yet, and Dembele goes, our ability to shift from defence to attack is diminished.

And Dier needs a rest as much as any of them. A fine player, I’d like to see him rejuvenated as someone who dominates that area in front of the back four, rather than a guy who loses concentration towards the end of games because he’s mentally weary.

Kane is a hero but he’s not superman. His World Cup ended with him totally knackered, physically and mentally. He selflessly carried the burden of a nation’s expectations, and for his pains was kicked to pieces in a manner that took me back to football in the 1970s. And we know he wasn’t the same after his mid-season injury. That he kept on scoring without being at his peak showed the talent and character of this remarkable footballer. Now Levy needs to look after him a bit better. He deserves it. We all do. Llorente – does what exactly? Instead of repeating an ultimately doomed search for a Kane Clone, try a different set-up up front, with a quick, mobile forward. Son to support, Eriksen and Dele with the service.

It could work out fine. Pochettino brings the young men through, our first team raise their game for a fourth season running. If anyone can, he can. We have to steer clear of injuries, mind. He also has the tantalising option of rehabilitating Toby. Good managers find a way of building bridges if they believe it benefits the team. Not Pochettino’s style, but he may be left with no choice. Spurs are doing their utmost to shift Rose by all accounts, but he could still be around too.

That said, I simply do not understand why Levy leaves Spurs so vulnerable. He hasn’t done so when it comes to stadium finance, so why risk the progress of the best Tottenham team since the mid-80s.

Plus, and this is a plus as big as a house, why risk alienating his manager, the man who has made this all possible. All this tosh about a £150m war chest isn’t sustained by any quotes from the club, as far as I can tell. However, Levy has reinvigorated the salary structure and stated that transfer funds are available. The feeling is, this was a major influence on Pochettino’s decision to stay because the club’s ambitions matched his.

In public, Pochettino plays the game. He’s today repeated comments in his book that he would rather make do with what we have than buy players who don’t fit the bill. These qualities make me admire him all the more. However, this is not the same as telling his chairman there’s no need to sign anyone, because the right players will make a difference. He must feel let down – the only remaining question is, to what extent, and does he feel sufficiently disaffected to reconsider his position at the end of the season? Pochettino has been fundamental to our progress, so I repeat, why leave Spurs so vulnerable?

This raises two other, related questions about the way the club is organised. One, Levy’s transfer policy. He’s right to be careful about how he spends the club’s cash and to repeat, Spurs are never going to chuck cash at a problem and I’m fine with that. What I would query is Levy’s notion of ‘value’ and whether that has kept pace with market developments.

In the recent past, he’s spent money on players who can get better, don’t expect top-level salaries and have a sell-on value. When it works, as with Dele or Sanchez, it is a masterful strategy. When it doesn’t, as with N’Jie and N’Koudou for instance, to me it’s still worth the punt because he’s (presumably) backing his scouts and manager, and although we lose money, we’ve not bet the house on them making it.

These days, there are other factors at play. PL clubs have so much TV money, there’s less pressure to sell. Other PL clubs will pay higher salaries, not just those in the top 6. Restrictions on the number of non-homegrown players in the squad, plus the stadium costs of course, create pressure on Spurs to sell, which in turn is more difficult because potential buyers see the chance to exploit that pressure, a tactic Levy is familiar with. Clubs abroad can sit back and wait because their window is yet to close.

Price is what the market determines, not what Levy wants it to be. In short, if you want someone, pay the money. At Spurs we’re talking about two or three players, not an entire team. The value is therefore expressed in how they will improve the team and, if we’re talking money here, on the extra income from TV coverage, league position and CL achievement that improvement generates. This team is at a stage of its evolution where we need experience and ability, and that costs. To me, the right player is worth it whatever your perspective.

All of which assumes we can find the right players. I question how well the scouting process is working. These days, clubs identify a list of targets and work their way down. If Spurs can’t find any player who fits the bill, whether as a starter or squad member, that suggests we have a very short list.

Pochettino seems to prefer to work without a Director of Football. I get that – he wants to be in charge. The problems Spurs have had with DoFs since Levy took over have been ones of organisation and management. The holy trinity of manager, chairman and DoF have not worked together effectively. Indeed, allegedly Arnesen and Commolli were distrusted as they worked behind the scenes to undermine the manager. Allegedly.

It’s reasonable therefore for Levy to have misgivings about this post, although management issues are his ultimate responsibility and suggest weakness on his part if they were not dealt with. Whatever we call him – DoF, Head of Talent Identification, chief scout – the system must work better than it is now. Poch must know and trust someone for the role.

Writing this, a calendar notification popped up on the screen. It’s easy to forget we have a game on Saturday.  At the end of last season, Pochettino was keen to do business early, to get players embedded in his Spurs Way, in contrast to previous seasons. He may feel aggrieved about this, but I doubt this is too great a problem, because once the World Cup squads were announced, any proper pre-season went out the window then and there.

Pochettino must turn the absence of new players to our advantage. We may be rusty but these men know how to play together. Hitting the ground running may be too much of a stretch, but a decent canter will keep us going. I fear though, that the mental strains of the World Cup as much as the physical effort will catch up with them at some point. That said, maybe the strength, the will to win, that resilience is something they’ve all learned in Russia.

A high stakes season – push on or risk being overtaken. The fans are watching developments too.

Fans come to an understanding about their relationship with the club. We are prepared to give up time, money, energy, patience, relationships even, prepared above all to get behind the team, but we want something back. Not much, and we are prepared to put up with a lot, but something. We want to be recognised and we want to feel that the club and players feel the same way about Spurs as we do. Doesn’t sound too onerous a demand. Trophies would be good, but first and foremost, we want the club to respond.

Watching Spurs is never going to be cheap but the extent of the ticket price increases plus the realignment of long-standing friendship groups in the stands and the Park Lane, the fans’ end, pockmarked with the 1882 scars, caused dismay. Season ticket sales have predictably gone well, although as I understand it, around 2000 fans who enjoyed or endured Wembley did not renew. Stories that 6-month-old babies, registered as Spurs members by proud parents even before they popped down to the registry office – get your priorities right – have been offered season tickets because they’ve reached the top of the waiting list, show that while the offer is popular, demand isn’t infinite.

It may be good business to ascertain the limits of demand for your product. However, I sense there’s a ceiling here, where supporters are saying, look, I love the club but that’s too much money. I’ll come every now and again, and renew that Sky subscription (or find a good stream). The joy of being there may not have a price but watching Spurs regularly does. People have to prioritise in this era of austerity.

Supporters have a bond with these players – not even the wide-open spaces of Wembley could separate us. Not to be taken for granted, this. A few years ago, the distance between club and fans created disaffection and disquiet. But this lot, they play with passion and integrity. They give their best. They don’t hide. The new ground, officially called “The Tottenham Stadium Until We Flog the Naming Rights”, offers the dual security of home and a vastly increased income stream. We’re modern football fans. I’ll work up a chant in praise of prudent amortisation just as soon as I think of a word it rhymes with.

Football carries an element of escapism – take me away from reality for 90 minutes. But the prices and the lack of transfer activity pose a question that no one can ignore – what do we get for that? I’ll be there – being a fan is as much about the friendships, the thrill of being there that for me has intensified rather than dissipated over the past fifty years. Prices and a transfer window that implies the chairman lacks ambition create a breeding ground for resentment, once the new stadium bounce wears off. Again, I hope I’m wrong, but whether I am or not, the club is left vulnerable at the point where we should be celebrating. Why undermine progress in this area too? Does Levy expect fans not to complain? The Fulham game offers an example – judging by the ticket availability today in virtually all parts of the ground, people will not make the effort. As a goodwill gesture, the club could have reduced prices, but they’ve rejected that option in favour of short-term income gain.

So that’s off my chest. Let the season begin. Some football will do us all good. I’ll be writing Tottenham On My Mind regularly this season, probably not in line with every fixture though. I deeply appreciate all the messages I’ve had saying that people would like me to keep writing, means a lot to me, thank you.

The quote from Sean Dyche comes from Michael Calvin’s new book State of Play – under the skin of the modern game, due out on August 23rd. Full review later this month. If you read this blog, it’s right up your street. Packed with insight and meaning.

Spurs Last Two Games a Watershed: the Most Important of Levy’s Era

Spurs final two games, at home to Newcastle tomorrow and Leicester on Sunday, are arguably as significant as any since Daniel Levy became chairman. Two wins and a top four place is guaranteed. Anything less and it’s Thursday nights on the BT channel that nobody subscribes to, but the ramifications could reverberate long into the future.

Playing in the Champions League is enticing, exciting and a source of pride. It’s not the Holy Grail, as many would have us believe. I’m an old-fashioned soul. I think we should push for third, because third is better than fourth. Finishing second is good, because we’re better than all but one of the other teams, and because it’s better than third. I want Spurs to be contenders, not also-rans.

No trophies for finishing third or fourth but there will be lots of money. In the past, the sense is that Levy does not budget for CL qualification and presumably he took this approach into negotiations with the banks offering the loans that pay for the stadium. I suspect the banks looked harder at season ticket sales than the league table, and those have gone very well despite the insufferable price rises.  So the club finances won’t fall apart if we fail to qualify – Levy would not let his vision hang by a thread as flimsy as a place or two in the table.

However, although with Levy there’s no apparent causal link between CL qualification and the transfer and salary budget, the CL money gives him more room for manoeuvre in a summer where Spurs must invest heavily in the squad in order to stand still, let alone make progress. As I said last time, Pochettino faces a new challenge – having built a side, he now has to rebuild one. Rose and Alderweireld seem certain to go. Dembele too – he will never be the same force again – Wanyama possibly. The squad needs to build muscle. Kane has no reliable cover, four years of this now. Sissoko and Lamela are given responsibilities by their manager who seems to see things in their overall play that have escaped many of us, including dependability and creativity, not to mention goals. And so many goals have escaped Sissoko this season.

Money will come from sales but we still have to buy. A perfectly reasonable scenario is that we have to replace four high quality players in the summer. That’s digging deep into the team’s flesh. And deepen the squad on top of that. And can we wait for players to mature to fill the boots of the class players that went before them- we need to pay extra for experience.  These feel like big changes, on a scale greater than Pochettino has had to face before.

In a cut-throat market where everyone is climbing over themselves to buy success, Spurs choose to operate at a disadvantage. As a counter-balance, we have Pochettino and his reputation for playing the young men and making them better players. We also have the CL. Poch plus playing regularly plus the CL equals, what, 20k less a week on the salary? 30k? Some won’t even think about it, others will listen.

Levy relies on this and the patience of his manager, in order to keep down the budget, but for how much longer? Walker, Toby and Rose grew tired of the disparity. For now, Spurs are less of a draw if we’re out of the CL, and perhaps the ties to their manager, genuine though they clearly are, might begin to loosen if the big offers come in this summer for Eriksen, Dele and – I dare not speak his name out loud.

Next season, with the league the way it is, with other sides in what is effectively a top six getting their act together, competition will be intense. CL qualification means more than I can ever remember. It feels like a watershed. On one side, continued improvement, Levy willing (big if). On the other, half a squad leave, are not replaced adequately, we fall backwards, even slightly, and players and fans alike become unsettled. And manager?

Enough of the balance sheet. We need to finish in the top four for the fans’ sake. We want this. Not a trophy, but it means something. Means we finish above London rivals. Means we’re not bottlers. Means we have achieved something without playing any home matches.

Means the pride we have expressed in our team is justified. To me, fans have shown faith in the team. Spurs are good and we want to be able to tell people that. No league or cups but look where we finished. Above you. May not be much but that’s what we’ve got. We can tell people this is what good football gets you. That feeling is always around but again it feels more important that ever before. We’ve endured Wembley, no trophies, considerable expense – two wins mean something. This matters. Wish we had something more tangible to cheer, but right now, this matters.

Like a blunt knife, just ain’t cutting. Spurs are off the boil. Simmering or has the gas been turned off completely? Son has gone back to kicking the ball straight at defenders. Kane’s back on his heels. Dele drifting. Marking at corners helps too. And not giving stupid fouls away.

I was going to identify Eric Dier as the key man, the Dier who cleans up the midfield, not the Dier who loses concentration and gives the ball away. Like the others, he looks weary. But he’s sick, so Wanyama has to step up. Take charge, take our chances, take the top four.

Pochettino seems worried that he’s not getting through. He relies on players taking responsibility for their performances, as opposed to a ranting captain or manager berating them into action. Too late to change that – they must find motivation within. And maybe, ultimately, they need to prove to themselves that they have what it takes to win under pressure. Whatever they say to the media, the niggles must be there.

Glory, stagger over the line, I don’t mind which. Two games, two wins.

 

 

 

Spurs – My Semi-Final Anxiety Dream. And the Day Tony Galvin Shook My Hand

Watching Spurs in a semi-final is like an anxiety dream. That’s where you try to do something, something ordinary usually, but you suddenly find you’re unable to perform the simplest task. You can’t walk, run, find your way home, you’re late for work. You wake in a cold sweat, only for a sense of unease to remain with you long into the daylight hours.

Supposedly the most vivid and memorable occasions in the calendar because of what’s at stake, frankly they have become a bit of a blur, all melded into a mush of an anxiety dream, where Spurs turned up but couldn’t perform.

I’ve been to six of the eight successive semi-final defeats. Intensely disappointed at the time to miss Everton and Newcastle, it was probably a blessing that I could hide behind my sofa instead of suffering on the terraces. As time has gone on, bile and bitterness have given way to a sense of numbness and inevitability. As it was on Saturday – too anaesthetised by failure for anger, although I would be justified in such a reaction.

The semis against United and Chelsea showed we could not consistently play at our best on the big day. For a while, there’s been no margin of error in these big games. Spurs at their best can beat anyone but we have to have everything firing on all cylinders for that to happen. No room for off-days. I say it’s all a blur, except I can recall those moments when your heart sinks, where you think, this time, it can’t go wrong, and it does. Dawson’s slip against Portsmouth, Alderweireld’s error last season or Son’s reckless tackle on Moses, Docherty putting us a goal up at Old Trafford offering some hope…Losing to a better team I can manage, enough practice over the years, not doing our level best is always much harder to take.

Law of averages anyone? Not that I’m desperate. I’m desperate. On Saturday they did it again. Hopes raised came crashing down from a dizzying height. On top early on after taking the game to an uncertain United side, Dele scored a fine goal to give Spurs a deserved lead. We were determined, industrious and well-balanced.

Don’t give the ball away – my epitaph. Whoops we did it again. Dembele this time, a goal well-taken by Sanchez but he should never have had the opportunity. Then, a Dembele-sized hole opened up in our midfield. No off-days allowed, especially for the mighty Moussa. His ability to hold the ball sometimes slows our attacks down but it enables any player to have a moment of respite. Under pressure, give it to Moussa and he’ll hold it while everybody adjusts, usually from defensive formation into attack. The transition I believe the young people of today call it.

On Saturday, he was a shadow of himself, Superman playing with a ball made of kryptonite, David after a haircut. United sensed weakness like a lioness stalking her prey. They pressed him hard and we could not find a way round it. The team wilted from then on, as if the palsy spread to their bones and muscles. Vorm too – I thought he was weak in his dive and too far over to stop Herreras’s drive.

Also, that cross, not a particularly good one, stretched us more than it should have done. The goalscorer wasn’t tracked, and throughout the match we had a couple of midfielders drifting about in no man’s land when United attacked, instead of getting goalside. I realise Poch wants to attack but there’s no alternative sometimes, especially to get our wide men to cover Trippier and Davies out wide. We ask too much of our full-backs too often. Trippier is prone to drift up field and inside.

United didn’t do much and sadly didn’t have to. We had no creative ideas or impetus, nobody to turn the game around and regain the initiative. Kane faded but had little support. Son peaked last month and is slightly off. Eriksen did well but was forced deep where he’s less dangerous. Fine margins. Vertonghen was excellent once more. Outstanding season – it’s a pity his drive and determination couldn’t inspire his team-mates.

Nobody pinpointed what had gone wrong, and without that we can’t put it right. That worries me.

As a writer about Spurs, I am duty bound to have an Alderweireld Angle, so here it is. It doubles as a Rose Reflection, just change the names. Spurs do not pay the market rate for top-class footballers. It is a remarkable testament to Pochettino’s powers of motivation and team-building that the so many have stayed for so long because of their belief in him, what he has done for their careers and where they think he can take the club in the future. That and Levy’s allegedly fat bonus system that adds a substantial whack to quoted basics.

I’ve said repeatedly in the past that Spurs should increase their self-imposed ceiling on the top earners. Not break the bank, not make them the best payers or anywhere near it, but enough to be an incentive both to stay and to encourage new talent to join. That fits with the club’s circumspect financial planning and is sound investment planning. Without top quality players, we won’t challenge for the top four, or encourage consistently high crowds. Even win something for goodness sake.

So give Toby a substantial pay rise. And Harry, and Hugo and Jan and Dele. If that’s not enough, he wants more elsewhere, other teams will give him a longer contract than Levy would give a player of his age – nothing you can do about that, goodbye and thanks for everything. We can’t compete with the top payers without jeopardising the club’s future. We think of City, United and CFC as our peers, in terms of salaries they live in another world. Recent figures showed the gap in total spend between ourselves and the two highest payers, City and United, is greater than the gap between ourselves and the lowest payers, Bournemouth and Burnley. It’s just that we could, and should, try harder, and Levy saving money because his manager is so good with players is a false economy.

In the meantime, Toby is a Spurs player and he should play. I’m a huge Pochettino fan but I’m not blind to his faults. Managing contract niggles is part of every manager’s role. Excluding Toby sends a message to the squad that he wants 100% commitment. Fine for one player, but this is three now – Walker, Rose and Alderweireld. Players might think, well, so be it, I’ll go if the manager won’t respond.

Spurs need Alderweireld. We need his nouse and experience. Sanchez has learned fast and he’s a tremendous prospect, but time is on his side. It won’t harm him if Toby plays the season out or indeed if he had contributed his experience on Saturday. Excluding Toby with half a season to play has brought no discernible benefit. It feels like such a waste of all Pochettino’s hard work in making him and other individuals a better player.

Semi-final defeats focus the mind. It’s not a time for long-term judgements, except they force you to do just that. Spurs once again are not quite good enough. The ‘bottlers’ tag makes for easy copy, and certainly there’s some truth in the absence of a long-term winning mentality at the club.

But this is about Pochettino’s Tottenham and only that. Spurs have tended to fade around this period in the last few seasons, this after our Christmas charge. Last season, we kept going without being at our very best. In the short-term, we must push Watford and West Brom as hard as we possibly can.

At the end of this season, Pochettino has a new challenge to face. Team building gives way to rebuilding, which he must accomplish under restrictive financial conditions. The team and the individuals in it have improved immeasurably. That’s all down to his remarkable influence. Now, there are signs that progress may stall.

It seems highly likely that Rose and Alderweireld, two outstanding players, will follow Walker out of the club. Davies and Trippier (to a lesser extent) are able deputies but they are not as good as their predecessors. Many fans seem to forget how influential and dynamic Rose was for a season and a half. Seems a waste to me. If not exactly spent, Dembele cannot again be the force he once was. That’s four top class players out of the picture.

We must ease the burden on Kane. The current squad needs at least another centreback and a midfielder, plus a sub goalie. Have more alternatives available for long seasons ahead.

Pochettino seemed momentarily crushed if not by defeat then the manner of it, unable to lift them with the resources he had on the bench. Far too much has been made of this understandable reaction, but the fact remains, he’s vulnerable to an offer just like his players. Fourth – we deserve it. Third – Liverpool have other things on their minds. Fifth – for this team, this season – unacceptable. Watford and West Brom become big games. Let’s push on.

On Saturday we were in the Spurs end on the corner, ordinary seats in the lower tier. Ten minutes before kick-off, Pat Jennings quietly walks in and sits two rows in front of us. Looking around, he’s followed by a virtual team of old Spurs. Steve Sedgley and David Howells, Tony Galvin and Martin Chivers. John Pratt sat next to my son and complained about paying £65 for the seat and having to stand up for the whole game, but then again, his knees are shot because of the running he did for us. Graham Roberts down the aisle. Gents all of them chatting to fans and posing for pictures.

Second half under way, suddenly someone grabs my arm and shakes my hand. It’s Tony Galvin. Says he’s a fan of my work, loves the shows, and has always wanted to meet me. “Great to finally meet you – Danny Baker!”

Still pumping my hand vigorously, I had to let him down gently, I said I was a huge fan of Galvin’s – I was and am – and it took him a moment or two to be convinced that I was in fact Joe Schmoe from Kokomo. And that’s the day Tony Galvin wanted to shake my hand.  

And Danny has appeared before on TOMM https://tottenhamonmymind.com/2010/03/12/paul-gascoigne-and-the-ultimate-taboo/