I know it is really just some knockabout fun on a Saturday night but sometimes the X-Factor really gets to me. It’s not so much the lousy acts or the fact that the World’s Most Revolting Man leers out of the screen – I can and do turn away until it’s gone. It’s not even the fact that millions of people take part in a process that exists for one major purpose – to make Simon Cowell very, very rich.
The X-Factor distorts our perceptions about what is good and what is bad, where people win a tumultuous standing ovation apparently for their use of hair gel, where one of the last eight (mercifully I don’t know his name) was recently described as a ‘genius’. The currency of talent has been devalued to such an extent by this and other reality shows that we struggle to know what truly matters. Can we tell the difference these days?
Soul music, pure true, soul music is just that, from deep down inside, pure and fundamental. Several years ago on one reality show, a contestant was struggling with the singing teacher to grasp the plea to ‘put more soul into it.’ Suddenly the penny dropped: bright eyed she gasped, ‘I’ll sing louder then!’ It’s my metaphor for the times in which we live.
The League Cup is hardly the football equivalent of Jedward but it does require the application of a sense of proper perspective. It can be good fun in the later stages but in the end it does not matter that much. Certainly it is no benchmark by which to judge Spurs progress and development.
Against Manchester United we saw plenty of the new Tottenham but unfortunately traces of the old regime. In the first half some lovely confident, bouncy passing movements buoyed by enthusiastic overlapping full backs in Bale and Hutton saw us breach their defence on several occasions, to be thwarted by good goalkeeping and Keane’s dilly dallying.
For both goals, however, the old failings of a midfield not protecting the back four – they were there in body but not mind or spirit. A one-two and in the absence of cover, a centre back has to leave the safety of their box to close down, leaving space behind them. Then, our strikers became increasingly detached and any late challenge predictably was not forthcoming.
Over the last few games we have become used to better as the full potential of men like Lennon, Huddlestone, Defoe and Kranjcar has been unleashed. However, nothing significant is to be read into this performance and there’s little to be learned that we did not already know. The flowing passing game is fast becoming ingrained but we remain vulnerable defensively, although as a whole the team is moving forward. Everton is a much truer test, partly because they will be well organised and hard to break down, partly because the Premier League matters.
The prospect of a trip to Wembley is incentive even for this grizzled sceptic and with a fair degree of hypocrisy I take an illicit pleasure in the semi-finals and finals, a little like going up to bed as a young man then listening to Radio Luxembourg under the covers. Like the League Cup it wasn’t so good but pop music seemed so much more important then, so you put up with the signal fading in and out just to be part of something special and mysterious. Our triumph against Chelsea was undoubtedly a great day, the tension stretched to breaking point because of our lack of success in recent years and the London rivalry. But Sky’s frantic hype about a Wembley final and the prospect of Europe cannot compensate for this trophy’s fading appeal. Even the carrot of a place in the Europa league means little given the contempt with which that competition is treated.
So if we have a trophy that the big clubs don’t want to bother with, then why should the players? I know one answer – they should give 100% in every game and that’s what they are paid shedloads to do. But the human psyche is phenomenally powerful. It works in mysterious ways, functioning on levels way below the conscious. The doubts about the competition may be securely hidden from the individual players themselves, immune to the most rousing of motivational team talks.
Not even Henry V could have got through to Bentley, Palacios and Jenas the other night, let alone our own King Harry. However, HR chooses to share his priorities with ‘arry’s ‘acks a day or two before the game, and the League Cup is pretty low down the list. He should have kept his mouth shut; the players cannot fail to absorb some of that. What we are talking about here is that extra 2 or 3 per cent that makes the difference between winning and losing. The team played some decent football in the first half – it’s rare that teams playing United have a greater share of the possession. However, after the two goals we did not possess the wit, wisdom or desire to claw our way back into the match. It felt like, if it happens, it happens, if not then, well…
Those vague performances by Basson, Palacios, Hud and JJ were about the missing 2%.
If we are questioning the wisdom of this tournament, we English fans who delight in our payers running themselves into the ground week in week out, for whom the never-ending fixture list is a merely a test of true manhood, then what on earth does a Honduran make of it? Wilson does care, of course he does, but that extra yard or two, one further lung busting sprint back…. A week’s rest would have done him good.
It was not a good performance and in many ways a missed opportunity, but there are no meaningful judgements to be made about players or the team. HR must enable them to focus on Sunday and the true test of a tough but winnable away match at Everton.