Wanyama The Unlikely Saviour As Spurs Stagger Over The Line

In a week full of sprint finishes and even a despairing dive for gold, yesterday Spurs fell over the line like a bloke wearing a Mr Blobby costume in a charity fun run.

The man who dragged us through the tape was Victor Wanyama. Bought to strengthen our defensive midfield, he displayed an enterprising spirit, often moving upfield to support attacks, although he is equally able to play a 5 yard ball sideways with some intensity. He unmistakably relished the honour of scoring the late winner against Palace on his home debut. Kane rose spring-heeled from a corner and his big straight header was touched past the keeper by Wanyama, loitering 5 or 6 yards out. Kenya’s finest footballing son dashed towards the bench to celebrate with his manager. Clearly they have faith in each other.

The goal was a relief, coming when Spurs had seemingly run out of ideas about breaking down the well-marshalled Palace defence. 10 behind the ball, stifle the space, hit us on the break. Limited ambitions – dull – but it worked last season in the Cup and could have been equally as efficient yesterday if they had had any punch in the box. Benteke is the man for them. Zaha especially elusive in the second half but there’s not much to give the ball to once he gets there.

Final ball. Final touch. Fine margins. Tottenham showed last season’s fluency only sporadically but even so, chances were made and missed. Much of our play came through Eriksen who had a bit of a stinker. Given the congested midfield he did well to find space. However he constantly fluffed his lines, hesitating on several occasions and falling between two stools, either shooting feebly or passing straight to a defender.

When the chances did come, they were missed. In the first half, Janssen was unlucky as Hennessey made a double-save low down, as did the Everton keeper last week. Kane shot wide. In the second, Kane missed a tricky diving header. Janssen was impressive throughout. He reminds me of those warriors in Clash of the Clans, muscular legs and wide shoulders, intent on doing some damage. He’s willing, works hard and takes up good positions. Finally, deep in the second half, the ball reached him in one of those positions as he burst into the box. It was by far the best move of the match, started deep by Kane and energised by Dele’s first touch after coming on as sub. There was no finish to match, however, Janssen missed it, but goals will come. It was an impressive home debut.

Spurs lined up at kick-off with three at the back, Dier to the right of that three, but soon reverted to our familiar 4-2-3-1 with Wanyama alongside Dier, Lamela on the left and Kane playing deeper than Janssen although his mobility meant he was able to get alongside the Dutchman. Maybe it was in response to Palace’s formation, maybe just a bluff.

Whatever the reason, it was pleasing to see Spurs opt for an attacking formation. But there are costs as well as benefits. When Kane came into the side, there was a feeling he was better playing off the front, now we see him as an out and out centre forward, albeit a mobile and adaptable one. He looked slightly out of touch, a hangover from the Euros. More to the point, did it disrupt the team’s flow that looked so instinctive last season? Playing with two DMs provides more strength, less creativity. Benefits and costs. We’ll see how it works out over the games to come.

One benefit was Kyle Walker’s excellence. Top speed down the right, slicing diagonally from right to left into the box, rock solid at the back, especially on the far post in the second half when Palace tried to stretch the back four. At least one English player improved after the Euros.

Lamela has a poise and purpose about him this season. Something’s changed. Maybe he can start putting it together now and taking more responsibility. Meanwhile, Townsend exhibited a masterclass in why Poch sold him. Late on he was stunned into immobility when Lamela nutmegged him, but he won’t be the only right winger this season to get no change from Danny Rose.

Sadly for my state of mind an early thought in the aftermath of the goal was how Pardew would whinge about it. Sure enough, he pointed to centre half Delaney’s injury and the consequent defensive reshuffle. In fact, Palace were allowed to bring on a sub before the kick was taken, whereas usually teams have to wait for a sub to come on after an injury.

The yawning gap in the northeast corner is the shape of things to come. Four cranes watched over us, towering above the old ground. Hard to grasp this is the last season here.

Usurping Walker for man of the match has to be halftime compere Paul Coyte. Interviewing Spurs mute new mascot Lily, Chirpy’s female counterpart (just good friends by the way, those rumours can neither be confirmed nor denied), must have been the lowest point of his professional career. Coyte is a bit Smashie and Nicie but he’s a real pro and people who know him confirm he’s a thoroughly decent bloke and Tottenham to the core. MOM is the least I can do for you Paul.

 

Scratch That Itch Spurs

Love is a nagging irritation
Causing my heart complication
Love is a growing infection
And I don’t know the correction
Got me rockin’ and areelin’
And I can’t shake the feelin’

Love is like an itching in my heart
Tearing it all apart
Just an itching in my heart
And baby, I can’t scratch it
Keeps me sighing, ooh
Keeps me yearning

Time to scratch that itch. This love affair gets stronger by the season and I’m in too deep to shake the feeling, even if I wanted to. Even got Saturday 3pm kick-offs.

There’s no debate about the key man at White Hart Lane this season. Mauricio Pochettino has become more than a fine manager. He’s a leader whose passion can inspire players and fans alike. We supporters hurt as the season disintegrated in May, yet no one felt the pain more than he did. He’s been extensively quoted on how his fury infiltrated his holiday and caused nightmares, not that you can imagine a man who spends 12 hours a day on Spurs business ever relaxing. No easy pre-season for the squad as they drifted in from the beaches. First team talk: “I wanted to kill all of them”.

At Everton on Saturday, the players may well have heard the same message at half-time. Spurs were flaccid, a limp imitation of the side that had swept away so many opponents last season with flowing football and intense pressing. Instead, old failings. A jagged, discordant pattern – slack tempo, conceding needless free kicks, Lamela lost, Kane isolated, players turning into trouble and inevitably losing possession. Seen it so many times before. Familiar and unwelcome.

Habitually I like my summer break and ease myself into the new season. This time, I couldn’t wait for it to begin. Not because I think we’re going to storm the league but for the pleasure of watching this fluent, fabulous, dedicated team play the game. Let’s take them all on, be proper contenders, make opponents skip a few fixtures ahead and say ‘we’re playing Spurs in a few weeks’. Let’s make them afraid of us.

No, mama can’t help me
No, daddy can’t help me
I’ve been bitten by the love bug
And I need some information
To help me out this situation

Help me Tottenham, help me. The mug’s free-kick, swung in, misses everyone, keeper by-passed as it plops inside the far post. Five minutes gone. Help me out this situation. Don’t give unnecessary free-kicks away. Put us under a lot of late pressure in games last season when we were on top but conceded the initiative. Wanyama has a reputation for this, he must learn to curb his instincts. A good buy though, value for money. He’s a defensive DM as opposed to players like Dembele and Bentaleb who are deep-lying midfielders and play from the back without being so certain the box. Second half, Wanyama twice made crucial tackles to cover Everton breaks.

More gloom. Lloris injured, a month out he says. Vorm the unlikely hero of the new season? Some guaranteed games might relax him and he could take responsibility in Hugo’s absence. There’s a proven PL keeper there somewhere….yeah, I’ll be holding my breath too. Made a fine save with his feet to stop a certain second, so that’s a confidence builder. Him and mine.

One advantage we have in this most competitive of PL seasons is a settled, established team to pick up points early on while our bigger spending rivals get themselves together. Last time out, the focus on the end of season falling away masks the draws we couldn’t turn into wins that cost us dear between August and October. On the evidence of the first half, that is a forlorn hope.

After the break Spurs picked it up, taking the game to our opponents. Things changed significantly however when Janssen replaced Dier and went up front. Lamela spent more time on the left. As a result, we were able to pose a threat in the box. Janssen had a couple of sharp efforts saved but his value could be seen in the way he rifted right and opened up space. Pochettino making changes here ten minutes into the second half rather than ten minutes from the end. Already Wanyama and Janssen give us more options for a Plan B, the lack of which has been a problem since MP came to the club.

 

Lamela took advantage, cutting in to hurl himself in front of a defender and on the end of Walker’s perfect right-wing cross. A classic diving header to equalise. Many have tipped Lamela to shine this season. I commend the effort he’s put into his game but to me he spends too much time looking lost rather than trying to impose himself on the game. However, if he can continue last season’s run of decisive contributions, whether goals or assists, he’ll prove his worth. The taker of sharp chances, the maker of sharp chances under pressure, that is what Spurs need.

You can’t, and shouldn’t, read too much into the first few matches on the season. Pochetinno’s intensity isn’t an act. It’s how he is, and he will convey this to his players. The disappointment of last season will make them stronger. A season older and wiser, the presence of mind to handle the pressure is the extra ingredient to keep us as genuine contenders in what could be the tightest title race for years.

There’s pressure wherever you look. Spurs played some breathtaking football last term, some of the best I’ve seen in half a century. Now to turn it on in the white hot heat of the crucible of expectation. We are targets and teams will go that extra mile to shoot us down. In April and May, teams sussed us out. Always happens in the PL, Leicester aside of course. Fall back, limit space, maybe concede the wings but reinforce central areas. It chimes with the message from Euro 2016 where teamwork trumped individuality and flair. Pressure to overcome that.

Pressure on our players to perform. We’re a top side, expected to win. Players like Alli and Kane are expected to deliver. The scrutiny will be cranked up, the media waiting to pounce if standards slip. It’s impossible to assume the five players returning from England’s ignominious Euro debacle can be unaffected, physically certainly from a knackering year, mentally too because they embraced failure. Young men like Alli have something new to learn. Pressure to expand the squad. I had hoped for more signings by now, pace up front, some guile behind.

Supporters have a role to play too. Let’s not plunge into this befuddled morass of instant gratification and overweening arrogance that serves as fan behaviour these days. Let’s be different, be Spurs. Let them play, get behind the shirt and give them time. The contrast between Spurs fans at Everton and the home crowd at the Emirates when their sides went a goal down this weekend could not have been more marked. And roll on Saturday. Always yearning…

And talking of Spurs fans (smooth eh?) A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, the story of Spurs supporters and support, is already the best-selling Spurs book on Amazon and it only came out yesterday. More on the book in the coming weeks.

This Photo – The Shape of Things To Come?

Spurs blog 152

This is the ticket availability for Spurs’ three Champions League matches at Wembley Stadium, as of 9.30 on Friday morning. Never red? I’ll make an exception this time. It could prove to be one of the most significant pictures in the illustrious history of Tottenham Hotspur.

As of about now, it means that almost every seat available at the moment has been sold, not for one game but for three, without knowing the identity of our opponents. The screenshot doesn’t actually mean that Wembley is sold out. Yet. The club say they have sold over 41,000 packages to season ticket holders and members. Some tickets are being held back for sale for individual matches only. Assume the away allocation will fill up but there’s Club Wembley, UEFA seats and the ring of shame, the executive boxes. But any remaining tickets will be snapped up by Spurs fans, of that there is no doubt. 75,000 Spurs at Wembley. It will bring the house down.

It’s an uplifting affirmation of the loyalty and passion of Spurs supporters. Any lingering sadness that these games could not played at White Hart Lane as part of the final season there was dispelled when out of the navy blue, the club announced a three-game package costing £70. Even then people on social media were complaining, until it was gently pointed out to them that it wasn’t £70 for one game, but three. No, I couldn’t believe it either.

The significance of this goes way beyond August’s credit card bill. The club’s future revolves around the new stadium. It has breath-taking potential. 61k capacity, stands close to the pitch, an end, in N17, ours not the taxpayers. One thing obstructs progress – the price of seats. Tottenham On My Mind has consistently and vehemently argued that accessible pricing will safeguard Spurs’ future, not just this generation but generations to come. Young people and families now excluded will be able to experience the unique pain and joy of being there. That picture proves it. For the first time, Spurs put that theory to the test. Not bloggers, supporters’ groups, fan activists or serial whingers, but hard evidence that the club cannot ignore.

Drop the price and keep supporters happy. You don’t have to be Brian Cox to solve that equation, yet in the last two decades the Spurs board have struggled to grasp the concept. In that time they have disgracefully exploited the peculiar football laws of supply and demand as distorted by the loyalty of supporters to charge some of the highest prices in the league.

In our People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur, Martin Cloake and I contend that a major theme of our history is how fan culture and identity is shaped by the interaction between the club and its supporters. Organised supporter protest has been a feature of Spurs’ fan culture since the early 1960s when Spurs fans demonstrated against the unfair allocation of cup final tickets. With Scholar, Sugar and Levy, Tottenham fans were one of the first to take protest from the fanzines and the streets into the AGM, the council chamber and the media.

Long aloof and unresponsive, gradually the board have shifted their approach. Partly this is down to economics. The PL luxuriates in a floatation tank filled with the effluence of sponsorship, commerce and distant ownership, isolated from what affects fans’ day-to-day lives, like being able to pay to get in, or racism, or financial probity.

Partly though this is due to fan pressure – from blogs, social media, individual complaints and the tireless efforts of the supporters’ trust. Partly it picks up the national mood. Slowly, too slowly for sure but something is happening none the less, supporter organisations are getting the message through that fans need to be treated with respect. Away tickets are now capped at £30, some teams like Watford and W Ham have introduced highly competitive price tiers. Dinosaurs such as Hull – no concessions for kids or pensioners – will be in for a shock, although in their case they seem to think they can manage without players as well as fans.

Spurs being Spurs tried their best to chuck away the goodwill achieved by the CL pricing by ramping up fan frustration as they watched the Ticketmaster Wheel of Doom move as quickly as Tom Huddlestone on the turn. Dismiss the mealy-mouthed platitudes on the official site about ‘unprecedented demand’ (ask the fans, we could have told you) and time checking memberships before allocating seats. It’s down to money – Ticketmaster did not provide enough server space and/or peoplepower. The less they spend out, the more profit they make. Either it’s their fault period and/or the contract they have with Spurs gives them too much leeway. Either way, the interests of fans come second.

So there you have it. Next year, keep prices reasonable, fill Wembley. It makes the club money, fine by me if fans are looked after too. Year after, fill the new White Hart Lane. Ten, twenty, forty years after that, it will still be full because those fans will have become fans for life. The people have spoken. Great idea. Make it a permanent part of being a Spurs and write the next chapter in the People’s History.

 

 

Down To Business

Down to business. New season. Team. Players. In out. Go.

Something to build on. Tottenham made progress at a remarkable rate last season, both as a team and in terms of the individual players. This is Pochettino’s finest achievement – every one of them were better players in May than they were in August. As for the team, stratospheric improvement.  Some, like Kane and Dembele, made themselves indispensable. Others like Alli grew from boy to man. One, Eric Dier, came from developing centreback to the best English defensive midfielder. And the wonderful thing is, there’s still room to grow. Their potential is thrillingly enticing.

So first priority – make sure these players who the whole of Europe is looking at stay. Alli, Wimmer, Kane and Dier have all signed new contracts. According to the media, Eriksen is not keen on whatever Spurs have offered but my sense is that negotiations continue and it will be sorted.

By April, the first team picked itself, simultaneously sound and fragile. Excellent for team togetherness but it exposed the weakness in the squad – a lack of depth. Without Alli and Dembele we looked a level below our best. My ambition is the same as it has been for several years – I want Spurs to be real contenders, to give every competition a right good go. To do so, we must strengthen. I’ve heard it suggested that we need only a couple. No – we need more. This isn’t a moan, not being negative, it’s reality. Don’t want to break the bank but spending on players is an investment.

Priorities: cover up front and in defensive midfield. Poch knows, and he knew it this time last season. Whatever he said in public, he wanted this done a year ago. An injury to Kane would have destroyed our season. Dier I have heard suggested from a London based journalist that the switch to DM was out of necessity not desire and no one expected him to be that good. Who knows?

 

A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club by Martin Cloake and me is the story of the fans from 1882 to the present and the future. Out on Pitch Publishing on August 15th preorder now on Amazon

 

Anyway, Poch is ahead of the game and has acted early to buy Janssen and Wanyama, good buys at good prices. Wanyama is ideal – DM is his natural position, sniping in front of the back four, solid in the box and able to knock it quickly to a teammate once he wins the ball. Trusts Poch, Poch trusts him. Can slot right in. Janssen, you should never look at youtube highlights so I looked at his youtube highlights, couldn’t resist it. Scores with both feet and his head, I particularly liked his ability to improvise. Balls at awkward heights, he’s falling over, whatever he gets it on target somehow. Like that a lot.

Cover at centreback will come from Carter-Vickers – Pochettino has said he’s not going to look outside the club. Dier can of course drop back there but he’s our best DM and I believe the best players should play in their best positions. Hope we do not get the injuries that leave us to rue that decision.

So I’d like some pace – N’koudou from France is the N’Jie upgrade in that respect – and another creative force in centre midfield. We could look for a hard-working up and down right midfielder – teams see a Spurs side with Lamela in front of Walker as defensively weak on that side. Not first choice but this is squad game.

That offers cover, flexibility and options. For instance, Wanyama could replace Dier to give Eric a much-needed rest but also they could play alongside each other when we need that extra protection, for instance away from home in the CL. Dembele is a DM as in deep-lying, instrumental in starting attacks from deep as well as winning the ball in the middle but he is less sure-footed in our box. Wanyama’s role is different. Also, maybe Dembele can play further forward, using his runs and unheard of ability to hang on to the ball to run at opposition defences. Or how about Lamela in a free role. I admire his effort but he’s not comfortable when defending, so there’s the option of freeing him up to make those quick 10-15 yard diagonal passes from central areas that have provided several assists. Release his talent.

We know N’Jie, Fazio, Pritchard and Bentaleb are on the way. Shame to lose Nabil. 18 months ago I thought he could become the best of all our young players, and I’m including Kane in that. Rangy stride, confident on the ball, always available and a great pass, what’s not to like? Rumours are that his attitude was poor last season but he was injured for an extended period. Pochettino gives players an extended chance if he likes them but if they don’t take it, they’re gone. Expectations are high at Spurs, rightly so, and if players don’t progress at the same rate as the group, they are shown the door, which seems to be Pritchard’s fate.

Of the rest, Tom Carroll seems vulnerable. Mobile, willing and another good passer, over time he doesn’t make enough of an impact compared with his team-mates. So too is Chadli, who has great skill on the ball and can take up good attacking positions but spends too much time waiting for other players to put in the work, not exactly the Poch way. Mason I would keep without question. Committed, very much part of the squad and playing for the most part out of position – he’s an attacking midfielder by trade – he was hampered by injury after a fine start to last season and I would not judge him on a couple of weak games at the tail end of last season when he was not match fit. Four competitions remember over the next months – we need squad men like him. I’ll leave you with the thought – why be in a hurry to sell anyone?

Another thing I’d like to see Spurs have is a Plan B, an alternative set-up to match the situation. N’koudou could be the pace to take the game to teams who are hanging back. And sides will hang back. Towards the end of the season less able opponents worked us out – everyone back and hit us on the break or at a set piece. We ran out of ideas – I’m thinking in particular of the crucial draw versus West Brom, two points dropped after being a goal up and momentum lost. Also, this style is the tactic du jour after Euro 2016. Tactics come in and out of fashion, and the lesson from the Euros was surely about how teamwork and a relative lack of attacking ambition is a potent leveller.

I wouldn’t mind seeing an out-of-character purchase of a man with experience at the highest level. Not so much Naybet or Nelsen, more Davids or Gallas, warriors with nouse and passion if not quite the bounce in their legs any more. Gallas the last time we were in the CL or versus Arsenal, if only he had come to the Lane a few years earlier….anyway, a bit of leadership never goes amiss and it’s not just the young men who have ambition.

Won’t happen of course, not how Pochettino sees things. I hope Levy gives him what he wants. Suspicion lingers that Levy has set a finite budget that includes sales from Pritchard, Bentaleb and possibly Chadli. If that suits MP, fine, but Levy has a history of not fully backing his managers. Surely Pochettino has done enough to inspire his chairman’s complete confidence.