We are Gollini. Gollini is in us. We have been well and truly Gollinified.
It’s a set-up, CFC create space in front of the keeper for big blokes to run onto the corner. He comes out, right move but sees it too late, Rudiger deadly with the back of his shoulder from 9 yards.
Gollini is everywhere. It’s a big game and he’s not up to it, but to fair to him, he’s not alone. The same description could be applied to any number of players, the right moves but half a yard off the pace, seeing the pass half a second too late. I don’t normally read too much into League Cup matches but these two games brutally exposed the gulf in ability between the two sides. Spurs are only a few places below them in the table, for extended periods it appeared we played in different leagues.
Taking a break from writing but not from the anxiety of watching Spurs leaves room for the long view. Apologies by the way. Partly life and stuff, partly not going to games because of the risks in my immunocompromised household of contracting covid, first such gap since 1969, but that’s for another time.
And to the question of why he played in the first place. Conte was roundly criticised for his team selection, to the point where many fans accused him of giving up already. Not so. Rather, it was the outcome of a ruthless and realistic appraisal of the parlous lack of squad quality and depth. We have 15 or 16 players worthy of Conte’s trust, a decent team here to build on, so he could not risk all of them with a busy programme in the league ahead. He looked at the first leg and calculated the odds. And so the team was Gollinified.
There is no comfort in this conclusion but it’s what we brought Conte here for. In a short space of time, he’s given the side shape, fitness and purpose in a way we’ve not seen for a few seasons. Players have a better sense of what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to be. His flagrant flamboyance on the touchline belies the hard work he’s putting in, getting up to speed and demanding on-field commitment to his way. Impressive.
We have points in the bag, games in hand and a home 4th round FA Cup tie, and I’m pleased overall with the impact he’s had, but his level of angst must be rising as he contemplates stepping up a level. Morecombe were swept aside only after our best forwards came on, hammering home the message that we are bereft without Kane, while Watford showed how hard we find it to break down a determined defence. Opportunities will increase with more creativity in midfield, but it’s not just about creativity in individuals, it’s also about how the team goes about it, picking up the tempo and limiting aimless crosses. About movement, about confidence that teammates will be in the right place to receive the pass. We don’t need a clutch of top-class midfielders to achieve that, we need the right blend.
At the Bridge, the camera cut to Conte late in the first half. He looked stunned, poised to give instructions to stem the blue tide but rendered speechless. Talk tactics or players’ merits all you like but there are times when even Conte has to say, WTF are you DOING? In the background, Dele sat grey and blank on the bench, the spark in his eyes long gone.
6 weeks ago, Conte spoke positively of his players. Incoming transfers were essential but the tone was of renovation rather than rebuilding. He sounds more pessimistic now, or maybe that’s just me. His list of positions where reinforcements are required seems to grow longer. Another centreback and right wing back, centre half, centre mid and up front. He’s right, and also right to say this needs the summer window before we can truly judge if progress has been made.
There’s another reason why I’ve not written much lately, a feeling that after 12 years, I’ve said it all before. Reaping the consequences of managerial churn – we have a limited budget, spend it on players who the next man in doesn’t like. And so it goes. Dembele and Eriksen not replaced. Doherty and Gollini look lost, Rodon never given a chance (he’s had four managers already), we still don’t know what Lo Celso’s best position is. Three, four or five at the back, all require different players, so always square pegs in round holes.
We have no cover for Harry, a problem at centre forward that goes back to the days of Frazier Campbell and Rasiak, a world where Louis Saha appears as a breath of fresh air. To repeat myself, talk tactics and players all you like, but we aim for top four and honours with no back-up central striker. If Kane were more moody and less willing, we would like him less but he would have protected himself. As it is, the club have contributed to his decline because he’s played too often, run too far, taken too many knocks.
I once grandly said of N’dombele, ‘whatever the question, N’dombele is the answer’ and implored That Man to get him fit. Turns out the only question remaining is, ‘how soon are you leaving?’ N’dombele has a rare and precious talent of picking a pass in confined spaces through the channels. How we need that, but we know now that physical fitness is not the whole problem. He’s not comfortable with the workload of a PL midfielder, and even if he did shift himself when we lose possession, he doesn’t know where to run to. Sloping off the field against Morecombe was a public display of childishness but again the CFC closeups show the real picture. On as a sub, he puffed and panted and brought up the phlegm much as I do when I get back into exercise, but then again, I’m an overweight asthmatic pensioner.
New manager, assess the squad, fit them into the preferred tactics he brings, reassess, try to fit around the players’ strengths, buy to fill gaps, and repeat to fade. The cycle is dismally familiar to Spurs fans. Same for Conte but he’s got through the early elements of that cycle quickly and knows what he wants. Recent performances have helped in that respect.
Like his many predecessors, he’s spoken to the chairman and has received assurances. The problem is, it’s new to him but we’ve heard this one before and know the punchline. Levy and Paratici have to rewrite the script for January and the summer for this particular sequel. Surely.
Conte will walk if the club don’t respond. Football or business, however he defines it, Levy would not risk losing his greatest asset. Surely. It’s not about spending the earth. Rather, it’s about targeted purchases that Conte can work with. Develop, then build again.
Despite Paratici’s arrival, long-standing questions about Spurs’ transfer policy and scouting hang fetid in the air. It looks like the government will continue to permit grounds to stay open, so Levy may feel more confident about spending money. It’s not about winning the league, it’s about a cup run and challenging for the top four in a season where amongst a small group of contenders, the side who can be most consistent in the coming months will finish fourth.
And there’s Nuno, in case we forget. Easily forgotten, he’s no outlier. Rather than a footnote in Spurs’ history, his appointment epitomises Levy’s lack of football acumen. Nuno was never a perfect fit but I mistakenly thought he provided a safe pair of hands. In reality, he’ll be remembered as the manager nobody wanted. He knew he was about tenth on the list. The players knew this, and knew that he knew. Paratici and Levy were lukewarm at best. This is an absurd state of affairs for a club with Tottenham’s ambitions.
The instability that surrounds the club is inescapable. Levy’s Spurs is built on shifting sands not concrete foundations. Conte had barely arrived before people began to ask what happens after he moves on. After all, he has an 18-month contract and does not have a reputation for hanging around, and why should he if Spurs don’t support him wholeheartedly. It’s built-in impermanence. Appointing Conte is an important step forward.
So now it’s over to you, Daniel. Build something not just for now but for the future. Inadequate support for Pochettino was an era-defining mistake that will forever taint your legacy, but Conte gives you another chance. How many times have I written that before?
Can’t go without mentioning the NLD that never was. Leave aside all the speculation about what might have happened if imaginary teams had taken the field. I would rather we had all our players fit and take them on, full steam ahead. The real issue here is the way the Premier League runs the game. They set the rules, then twist them out of shape, and it’s fans who suffer. Our interests are nowhere. People spend a fortune and plan months ahead to get to the biggest game of the season. Leave aside also the tribalism of social media reaction to this. Tribalism plays into the PL hands and undermines fans’ protest. These are problems we have in common.