Farewell 22-23 and Good Riddance

The season’s over and good riddance. Out of Europe, no manager, no director of football, no manager for the women’s team. Supporters who pay among the highest prices in Europe are angry, disillusioned or overwhelmed into apathy. I’ve been all three at various times. For now, add relief it’s over. Later, add fear, the fear that the board’s continued ineffectiveness will lead to a chaotic summer precisely at the moment where we need calm, clear thinking to lead the necessary and overdue team rebuilding.  Supporters can see what’s happening and feel our loyalty is taken for granted, exploited as a commodity the club can trade and if necessary, disposed of.

I read that Spurs are a club in crisis, that we’ve reached rock-bottom. This is patently untrue, a distorted perspective that comes from the arrogant entitlement that sadly characterises an increasing number of fans of the top PL sides. Bury, Rochdale, Scunthorpe, the fans of these clubs truly suffer, and my heart goes out to them.

But I support my team the same way they do. I go to games, my support is integral to my life, my emotions, to family, friendships, to who I am. My disappointment this season is crushing and debilitating. It hurts, and so much of it could have been avoided.

The protective gloss of big-name managers at a big club lost its sheen to lay bare the vanity that led to their appointment and the board’s incompetence when it comes to running a football team. To repeat an analysis that I first wrote about a decade ago, any football club depends on three elements, a manager/coach, recruitment and finance. Seldom in the twenty-two years he’s been in charge has Daniel Levy successfully aligned all three, and when he has, those fleeting moments now seem like outliers.

The underlying fundamental problems have become ingrained in the club’s fabric, which is motheaten and rotting away. There’s no plan, and there’s no plan because the board still do not know what they want this club to be. They want success but do not know how to create and sustain it. They do not understand how to pick the right coach or how to support their chosen man. This season, these faults have been exposed game after game, just like our defence.

To repeat, it’s not a question of throwing money at the problem and to be fair to the board money has been spent. To say that it hasn’t is an outdated narrative. It’s just that we have talent we valued at around £200m out on loan when gaping holes in the squad remain unfilled. This is a consequence of disruption and change, and comes back to the element of recruitment. Six managers in four years, each with different ideas about how to play and who to play, a squad with players from all these eras. It is also reasonable to ask at what point our much-vaunted stadium income will be used for the transfer budget.

Conte lifted the side to the fourth in his first season but could not sustain it. He was no doubt unhappy with the quality of many of his squad but appeared unwilling either to coach promising younger players to improve or to adapt an inflexible playing style that stifled creative instincts and, more significantly, opponents found straightforward ways to counteract. I wonder if the last straw for him was the ultimate for a manager of his record and for his self-image – he was unable to get through to them and to motivate them. And so he left because he had no reason to stay. Why bother, separated from his family, the loss of three dear friends and on a short-term contract. You can’t motivate your players if you can’t motivate yourself.

Contemporary football is tactically sophisticated, but I lost count of the number of times I bemoaned basic errors endlessly repeated. This was the ‘surely season’, fans saying, ‘but surely we won’t do that again?’ Outnumbered in midfield, starting games cautiously surrendering the initiative to opponents, failing to block shots from the edge of the box. My worst image of the season is that blocking move obviously coached where defenders stay static, turn sideways, put their hands behind their back with one knee high.

It was dull to watch but more than that, it was ineffective and outdated. I can’t recall the last team remotely successful in the league who did not play on the front foot. In passing, I read an astute quote from Arne Slot (whatever happened to him?) saying, I paraphrase, that he doesn’t like a consistent low block because it dulls the senses of the players. It’s boring, it doesn’t challenge them and they become worse as a result.

The Milan home leg was the low point in this respect. Champions League, the Lane packed and expectant ready to lift the boys and overcome a 1-0 first leg deficit. So we sat back for an entire first half. That’s not the Tottenham way in Europe.

Even worse was the lowest of low points this season, away to Sheffield United. Ahead of us was a game against a championship side resting several key players, only 4 PL teams left in the cup. The team selection was born of hubris, the performance complacent. It also represented the lack of connection with supporters, 5500 fans travelling hundreds of miles midweek because it’s Spurs in the cup.

So it’s February, Conte’s contract is up in the summer and his disillusion with the club is becoming ever more apparent, except to Daniel Levy, who sits on his hands. The club finally make a public statement via the infamous Paratici ‘hostage’ video, shot on a mobile with lighting straight out of a low budget horror film. Paratici is banned from football because he’s dodgy, a probability known to everyone who follows football, except Daniel Levy. The club wail, ‘but, but nobody told us…’. Levy shares his thoughts not with supporters but at the Cambridge Union.

It’s tough being a leader, I understand that perfectly well, but hiding is not a good look. Such fireproof self-protection communicates weakness and indecision, as do his choices about managers. This runs right through the club, a lack of direction or plan. He has the vision and no idea how to achieve it, even after all these years. His capacity to not see what is happening around him smacks of remarkable self-delusion and lack of insight.

Then, Conte torches his bridges as well as the boardroom, the players and of course we the fans, who don’t understand him. Levy acts, and appoints Stellini on a temporary basis. When change is required, the board appoint a man so steeped in his mentor’s methods that he might as well be his shadow. Stellini’s legacy is that the defending turns from dire to embarrassing. Spurs go from conceding the initiative and the first goal to conceding the first three.

We then move to our second caretaker of the season, Ryan Mason, always one of our own and passionate and articulate about what the club needs and should be, but his inexperience shows. I prefer a back four and hoped the change would work. It’s understandable that Mason wanted to make an impression in the short time available to him but it would have been better to settle for a three with extra beef in midfield.

And so here we are. The disappointment comes not merely from a poor season but from knowing what might have been, maybe what should have been. Pochettino was by no means perfect but whatever we had then has now been thrown away with no lessons learned, except that we appear to be looking for an up-and-coming man with some experience but for whom Spurs are a step up, and who plays attacking football.

I say ‘appear to be looking’ because with this board, there’s no plan. Rather, they are rootless tumbleweed, buffeted in the breeze and blown whichever way the wind blows. Names come and go, as do the theories why we, apparently, have not appointed them. However outlandish these theories are, the past behaviour of the board gives them credence. Haggling over a release fee, not allowing them freedom to bring their own people in, pretending they haven’t spoken to candidates when it seems they have, not even ringing Poch because someone had a row with him, I have no idea what is true but all this and more is perfectly possible given their past ineptitude.

Moreover, their choices are limited as a consequence of their own behaviour. Word is out that Spurs is a toxic place to work, where promises are not kept. With all due respect to Dutch football, you’d come to the Premier League if you had the chance. You’d come to the world-famous home of the Spurs, except now, you wouldn’t. Who could blame Slot for the choice he made. It might change if Munn has some influence over the football side – it could indicate a change of tack by the board but frankly, history makes me sceptical. I hope I’m wrong, but to paraphrase the words of Logan Roy, someone also concerned about succession planning, “I love the club but you’re not serious people.”

The players need a jolt up the backside too. Some are decent footballers but jaded. They’ve been here too long, and we, and they, will do better for a change. Not to let them off the hook, but modern players expect coaching and familiar patterns. I watch games as a fan not as an analyst, but look at Villa, Newcastle and Brighton, Brentford too, all of whom achieve their potential because of good coaching that suits the players they have available.

But if we don’t have a manager, what do we need? What’s our shape, what are our tactics? Once more, we are way behind our competitors, and next season, it will be even tougher because the top six all have something to build on, whereas we have no foundations. And that’s before we think about the transfer budget.

I read we’re not far off being competitive again. I’m not so sure. We need a new goalkeeper, two centre halves and some extra creativity in midfield. Bentancur, his status enhanced by his absence, is not back at least until November. He plus Bissouma, Sarr and Skipp give us something to work with in midfield. I still see Kulu as an attacking midfielder and hopefully there’s more to come from him, that’s assuming we pay his fee as he’s still on loan. We also easily lose sight of the absence of a midfielder who is comfortable and best suited in defence, as opposed to players who can fill in.

Up front, Richarlison has more to give, Sonny’s still there and Harry, we’ll have to wait and see. Full-backs are a big problem if we go four at the back because we’re overloaded with wing-backs. To inject some optimism into what I concede is an article full of pessimism, we have the nucleus of an up and coming set of younger players, including Porro, Spence and Udogie, that a coach could work with and impose his ethos. There’s real promise there.

We need to move players on. I wish Sanchez, Hugo, Moura and Tanganga well. I would keep Davies – he’s underrated, covers centre back in a three and full-back and is loyal to the club. Hojbjerg has been poor lately and there is apparent interest in him so he could be sold to generate transfer income, as could Sessegnon, who has not progressed significantly and we have alternatives, although to be fair the same could have been said before Christmas for Emerson. Dier has been injured – while he could one of those who has gone stale, I wouldn’t sell until we had a replacement, and keep him if not. Same goes for Perisic, who I doubt would move anyway given his salary.

N’Dombele, Reguilon, Winks, Rodon, Gil and Lo Celso are all talented players with a future elsewhere They don’t feel part of the club and I can’t see how motivated any of them will be, given their experiences with us.

And so like our season, this piece drifts away into oblivion. Sincere thanks to everyone who has read TOMM this season and who has commented, apologies for not replying to you all. I’ll be back at the Lane and in these pages next season. Where else would I rather be?

Lots of love and good vibes to my good friend Pete Haine and to Jilly. Pete, I’m sure you won’t mind if I end with a word about Harry Kane. Harry is a marvel. Watching greatness is hard to judge at the time, without the perspective of history, but he is a true Tottenham great, a wonder, a marvel, a delight, one of our own. This is arguably his best season. 30 PL goals in an average side, time and again lifting us bodily from the floor, rising above the chaos. Arguably our best midfielder too, best at heading corners away.  All this after virtually a year of non-stop football including the pressures of being England captain at the World Cup, bearing in mind those dodgy ankles and the number of times he gets kicked.

On no account sell him. I don’t care about cashing in with one season to go, anything he gives us outweighs that a hundredfold. Pay him a fortune – he is the marquee signing we need, a message to football that Tottenham matter and are worth playing for.

Beyond Anger

The opening twenty minutes were a dereliction of responsibility, a trashing of everything supporters hold dear. I’ve never seen anything like it since I started going to White Hart Lane in 1967. Bad football I can deal with, the same goes for opponents being excellent, as Newcastle were. I am profoundly shocked that professional footballers can defend so ineptly, not just for one or two goals, we’ve seen that enough times this season, but for five. I’m not prone to hyperbole or rash statements, but this was an utter disgrace and the players should hang their heads in shame.

The frisson of anticipation when a 4-3-3 was announced (trying something different!) dissipated after a few moments thought. Playing a good, organised side, away from home, with a lucrative top four place at stake, so we go into it with two young midfielders, a defence that have never played in that formation before and no full-backs, because Porro and Perisic are wingbacks, a very different role.

So tactics and team selection naive and misguided, but international players watching, and that’s how ineffective they were, watching opponents waltz through, without closing down or even the bare minimum of getting in the way, that’s beyond me and it’s down to the players. Get in the way is not asking too much. Is it? Hojbjerg waving them through, Romero dreaming he was in Argentina, Porro ball-watching, I had no idea what Hugo was doing and neither did he. On the touchline Mason all urgency and agitation, Stellini, in charge, with a death mask for a face, his mind as blank as his gaze.

Credit where it’s due. Forster has been impressive in the way he’s stepped up (Hugo’s muscle injury – yeah right) and Sanchez too. I wonder if the shameful booing at the last home game – never abuse an individual Spurs player in the ground – was a factor in team selection. We always play 3 at the back, he was fit but maybe they thought he wasn’t in the right frame of mind. If so, that’s down to the booboys.

The worst thing of all? We knew something like this was coming. Fans could see it, smell it, even if the media and pundits did not. Like a pear that’s been sitting in the fruit bowl for too long, Spurs are rotten to the core. Looks good enough to eat but pick it up and your hand is a mess of pulp.

I’m beyond angry. I’ve been angry so often this season, the match to match grind of predictable, avoidable and repeated mistakes, dull, cautious football and the sense of marking time until Conte left. Such a waste. Now, I’m numb with the futility of it all.

I have to make a concerted effort to remind myself that it is only a few years since Spurs were one of the most admired teams in the Premier League, albeit grudgingly by our rivals. Dashing football in front of packed houses, English record crowds sustained through all that time at Wembley, then back home to our new stadium, all done without breaking the bank.  That was what, four or five years ago, yet I see through a misty-eyed haze of nostalgia, a different era.

We might be rotten inside but the blight spread from the top down. Countless times I’ve written the same story. I shy away from simplistic explanations but at the heart of it is a chairman who has been in football for over twenty years and knows nothing about the game. He talks sincerely about the club DNA without having any sense of our identity, of what he wants the club to be. Be prudent with transfer funds, I get it, so find a manager and recruitment team who can operate under those circumstances and build a team, rather than appoint vanity celebrity managers who will swiftly move on if conditions aren’t right for them. And right for them says it all, they didn’t have the club’s interests front and centre.

Complete due diligence on a director of football, rather than being the only person in football who was surprised that Paratici was facing charges. Don’t keep changing the manager, and the playing style, and the transfer targets, so we have squad made of choices of what, 5 managers? Apologies but I may have missed one along the way, easily done at Spurs. Don’t sack the manager then appoint his disciple as caretaker, because, you’ll never guess, nothing will change. Or why not speak to the fans, not the Cambridge Union?

Not that this is new. Santini couldn’t speak English, let alone communicate his tactics to players. Redknapp needed a striker when we really only had one, so we ended up with Frazier Campbell on loan, then Saha up front and Nelson at the back. This is the culture at the club. Any football club at any level has three essential elements in the way it is run – coaching, recruitment and finance. The board have hardly ever aligned the three in the last 22 years. They are incompetent and negligent, and the stench runs through the entire club, including Sunday’s unmotivated, passionless players. 

Plus, don’t charge the highest prices in Europe then be surprised that the fans are restless. When the prices for the new ground were announced, I wrote that this was all well and good, riding the good vibes of Poch and the new place, but it stored up problems for the future if the team should be less successful. When we become fans, there’s an unspoken but tangible bargain between the club and supporters. We will take the bad times, we’ll stay through thick and thin, just give us something back. A trophy would be nice, but if, not, play with some pride and acknowledge our presence and our value. It’s an emotional rather than a financial transaction. It is natural that fans ask, as so many diehards say to me, what are we getting back? And at these prices, money enters the equation. It jacks up resentment just at the time when the team need a boost from the stands. Again, that’s an consequence of board decisions.

So it all came to a head in 20 minutes at St James’s Park, not just a humiliating team performance but years of neglect and missed opportunities. Another aspect of being a Spurs fan that I wrote about pre-Poch was the alienation many supporters felt, that the club and fans were disconnected and far apart. I read some stuff last week questioning whether this had any meaning. I think only a non-fan could seriously sustain that argument but here is the evidence. Spurs fans travel hundreds of miles at great expense. Away tickets always sold out. Delays of over an hour coming back, another hour of your head and heart full of that wretched performance. There’s no respect for fans, although they’re happy to take our money. Give us a plan, pretend you know what you’re doing (and remember we can see right through you if you don’t), respect us and respect the shirt. Be honest. Play honest.

For now, understand how hacked off we are and do something about it. The atmosphere on Thursday is likely to be toxic, and frankly the board need to be faced with the consequences of their actions in really the only way fans can be heard, voices raised at the ground.

Sack Stellini and appoint Mason. Oh hang on, they just have. Signed by Daniel. Mr chairman, you’re not my mate. You can’t get round me by using your first name.

Here’s a novel thought – choose a manager that suits us. You know those dull job descriptions us mere working mortals have, essential this, desirable that. But why not write one? A manager for whom Tottenham is a step up, not a consolation prize or a stop en route to another job. Able to build teams over time. Bring on young players (we’ve got some talent). Front foot tactics. Then go and choose a bloke who fits. Radical I know. Wait til I tell you that I also want the coach to choose a DoF who he can work with. Right now, though, the media are full of names but it ignores one question – if you were any good, why on earth would you want to manage Spurs?

Spurs Excel in the Theatre of the Absurd

For the final twenty minutes, the Spurs players depicted the chaos at the club through the medium of football. It was high art. Pure brainless mayhem, all self-inflicted. As a portrayal of the life and times of Tottenham Hotspur, the sheer theatre of it will never be surpassed.

A goal up against 10 men playing a team fighting relegation, who played for all but 13 minutes without a proper centre forward, and our response is to degenerate into a mindless rabble. Rather than acting as incentive or inspiration, the prospect of holding onto a lead terrifies them, such is their mindset.

(Ex) Manager, chairman and players must all bear their fair share of responsibility for the turmoil at the club. Here the focus is on the players, though. Where there should be heart and soul, ambition and determination, there lies only a gaping void. We are the tin men of football.

We have discovered the ability to lose from decent positions, and we may not take much from this season but boy, we’re not going to let that honour slip without a fight. We’re stroking the ball around, back three move up into the space, fine if we can ponce about a bit, then it all collapses as soon as we come under any pressure. Last night, Saints the game before, even Sheffield where we weren’t ahead but they sussed our weakness after an hour and took advantage, as they should.

I’d like Spurs players to pass the ball to other Spurs players. There, I’ve said it. (Other radical tactical insights are also available, including, why do we emphasise the creation of goalscoring opportunities for wingbacks, if they were any good at scoring goals, they’d be forwards not wingbacks?) Is that expecting too much? Apparently so. Time and again Everton, with 11 men then 10 pressed us into giving the ball away. Sanchez came on and to get a feel of the game, with studied precision looked up and passed it 15 yards to an opponent. But he was only following the example of Hojbjerg, Skipp and the other defenders, all equally culpable, as was Hugo, who had an all too familiar brain freeze whenever the ball landed at his feet. The anxiety spread from the back, from the leader.

This performance, this theatre of the absurd, was horrendous and laughable at the same time. Moura on, the most experienced of a callow bench, gets himself sent off in double quick time. Doesn’t play badly, no, that’s not enough for our Lucas, goes straight for the red card.

It is ridiculous, and I can barely contain my fury at what Spurs have become. Not for the first time this season, I’m left shouting into the emptiness, what are you THINKING? New guys in charge but Conte’s presence is very much with us. They are conditioned into playing one way. Whether it works or not appears irrelevant to those in charge. No spark, no improvisation. Play out from the back even though our opponents have closed down those routes but we carry on doing it and making the same errors. Go longer, safer and they have a man less, so there’s a good chance our three forwards have some space, but there’s no adjustment to what is happening in the game at any particular time.

What are the managers seeing? Really, I’d like to know. Because it’s not what I see. Goal up against 10 men and we sit back. Allow ourselves to become trapped in the press instead of breaking free. Outnumbered in midfield with our two against their three or four – why not bring on another midfielder? Fail to close down at the edge of our box, repeat to fade and the season is lost. I didn’t anticipate any major changes with Stellini in charge, he’s Conte’s disciple after all, but I hoped we would follow the example of a couple of other games when he was in charge earlier this season when we kept a similar shape but moved it up the field ten yards and took the game to our opponents. Or maybe I imagined that. Is it fanciful to think Mason might have done better on his own, to give players fresh ideas and impetus?

The players must take their share of the blame but as I’ve said before (this piece has ended up repeating so much of what has gone before), the modern player expects to be coached, whether or not you think that’s a good or a bad thing. Take Romero for instance, all over the shop again yesterday. He benefits from being told to stay tight in a three so he can do his best work in and around the box. Left to his own devices he’s less effective and more liable to commit reckless fouls. Nobody can rely on anyone else.

A reminder, if only to myself, that we didn’t lose and still have something to play for this season, a telling comment on the standards of the league this season. But this result and the manner of it has real impact because it hammers home the chaos and disunity from top to bottom and a reminder that fans have seen Spurs waste more opportunities for genuine success in the last decade and a half than most other clubs have come their way in two or three lifetimes.

Everything’s Fine at Spurs, Except for Everything

Another cycle almost complete. Change welcomed, blowing away the stale air of the last rotten manager. Sticky, uncertain beginnings, then promise and progress, only to slide back into a mire of frustration, recriminations and bitter departures. The only thing that changes is how rapidly we move through the different stages. Nuno was something special, a record-breaker even for us, but Conte’s coming in a close second.

Is the award of a dodgy penalty in injury time a tipping point moment at Tottenham? Surely Conte would not have fired off his press conference broadside if the ref had waved play on or if Forster had saved it. Asked a question and he was off on one, blaming everyone except himself for the team’s recent performances. Or I am thinking of a JM conference – it’s so confusing.

There were truths in what he said. The players are not giving their best and it is entirely legitimate to criticise the way the club has taken team and player-related decisions over the past 20 years. It’s been suggested this was a dig to motivate the players and provoke to board in some way but I don’t buy that. It was an exasperated rant without any goal in mind. He’s sick of everything at the club, who in his eyes have not supported him as his status requires and at his own failure to get through to players who aren’t responding to him. Conte didn’t say these things because he wants to provoke a positive reaction and plan for the future. He’s said them because he wants to protect himself and his reputation. He’s halfway out the door already.

I care about the future of my club. He speaks as if he’s on the outside looking in, it’s all they this and they that, as if he has nothing to do with where we are right now. The team have no togetherness or spirit but who organises and leads them if not the manager. That is his job. That’s what managers do.

I don’t wish to excuse the players totally. Late on in recent games they have not looked confident as a collective and individuals have made poor decisions. We don’t seem to have that on-the-field gumption to lift ourselves to get over the line when things aren’t going our way. That bloodymindedness is hard to put your finger on, but whatever it is, we don’t have it at the moment. That said, the modern player expects to be coached and organised. There’s a debate for another time about whether that’s a good thing or not. Players still show individuality but within coached patterns and shapes. They expect this, and it’s Conte who consistently encourages them to sit back in the first half and, if we are winning, at the end of games, which did for us on Saturday and nearly did the same against Forest, a match we dominated. But nothing apparently is his fault.

The players know he has given up on them. They know he’s going. And last week he blamed the fans. Expectations too high. Impatient. We don’t understand. I don’t need him to be patronising. If I wanted to be patronised, I could go on Twitter for half an hour. One trophy in 20 years, highest prices in Europe yet the ground is full every week, away tickets allocated at sky-high points totals, and we still sing his name. 5,300 go to Sheffield on a weekend night, no trains home. We didn’t pick the team.

The fact of the matter is that while this rant has been interpreted as an event of seismic proportions, it changes nothing. Maybe he’s squeezed some pus from the boil but the infection is still there.

Everything is the same as last week. Then, as now, I write the same things. Conte doesn’t want to be here any more and he is not getting through to the players, so go now. He could have left with dignity. He deserves our sympathy for the losses he has suffered, and his serious illness was understandably a time for personal reflection. His family is still in Italy, his contract is up in the summer, so he could have left with our good wishes. But his reputation is his priority so he’s leaving a scorched earth policy in his wake.

Spurs remain a club working full tilt to not win anything. The board consistently make poor choices of manager because they don’t understand the game or, more importantly, what sort of club they want us to be, let alone how to achieve their goal. JM and Conte were vanity driven choices. Spurs need a manager who can build a side over time, who can improve players and who is properly and consistently supported in the transfer market. By that I don’t expect money to be thrown at the problem, rather there needs to be a shrewd, targetted recruitment policy.

History tells us that recruitment remains a problem at Spurs. Paratici has done well enough but it’s the gaps that have not been filled by him and others that reveal embedded, cultural problems, the impact of which will worsen when we have to replace Hugo, possibly Son and Kane, as well as find creativity in midfield and a couple of dominant centre backs. This is a big deal.

This is how ridiculous our club is. Paratici draws up shortlist for a new manager, fine, that’s his job. But he may not have a job soon because of the dodginess in Italy. And he’s not going to opt for anyone who he might clash with if he keeps his job. But someone else may well have his job by the time new man arrives.

Saturday night, we all thought Conte was writing his own P45. However, yesterday the message was that he and the board had had a chat, and they accepted that his words were directed at the players, not them. It tells me that for whatever reason, the board don’t want to sack him, so they are spinning the interpretation that emphasises his criticism of the players, not them. So it’s not their fault either. That’s something they and Conte have in common. Protecting reputations seems more important than Tottenham Hotspur’s future. It sickens me. The fingers point, blame game in full swing. I hear only one thing loud and clear – this club is a complete and utter mess.