A deep trough of despair. Darker than the furthest reaches of an undersea abyss. Despondency worse than watching ‘The Deep’ on BBC recently. Believe me, that is touching bottom.
Soaring skyward, floating high on wings of joy. The freedom born of pure elation. In between, flatline mediocrity. A footballing lifetime in 90 minutes. Euphoria terror disbelief exhaustion. Spurs in the Champions League.
We’re off! Spurs. In the Champions league. In the San Siro. Never thought I would see the day. But Adrian Chiles is on the pitch so it must be important.
Hang on. I saw him coming, why didn’t you? You saw him, Lenny, Zanetti I mean, but you stood still. No one else picked him up. Gomes, arms and legs. No good explaining it to your Brazilian mate, you’ve got to go. The rest, funny lines across the screen. Trouble with the signal, or hands over my eyes.
We’re all in this together. Sounds vaguely familiar. Reality is, some groups suffer more than others, and in our case, it was the fans. Spurs defensive formation was totally overwhelmed by a team playing the highest quality football. There were individual errors but I’m inclined against vulgar finger-pointing. Collective failure requires collective responsibility. We had little idea how to cope until the second half when we slowly sorted out the basics, not a lot to ask, and Milan slowed to walking pace. Even then they made inroads on a regular basis.
Given that we were a goal down after less than two minutes, it’s stretching things to say the writing was already on the wall, but in virtually the first movement of the game, Bassong advanced 35 yards from his goal to confront an opponent. Our goose was cooked. The midfield offered no protection so the back four had to come out. With Lennon looking on, neither back nor forward, Hutton advanced. Zanetti into the space left behind, gratefully, the pass a cutting thrust to our heart. In creation and execution it was beautiful simplicity, but there was so much room.
Inter, all poise and movement, lulling us into a false sense of security as they idled on the ball. In reality they moved in synchronicity, a many-headed single organism. Patience, then the gap and they pounced. Two and three, different players but the same move. Behind the defensive midfield and into the space, Bale and Lennon redundant as they should have come in much tighter to form a barrier at the edge of the box. Inter nonchalantly toyed with us like a cat pawing a half-dead sparrow.
Whilst I admire Redknapp’s attacking instincts, he mis-read this one. With Lennon, attack is the best form of defence: I get it, Harry. Defenders outside the Premier League have found Crouch surprisingly hard to handle. However, he misjudged his opponents. Lennon was the wrong choice, at the start and then when we had to make the substitution. We were too open when we did not have the ball. Modric should have stayed on. We could have remained creative, agile on the break and held possession better, a major fault as JJ was particularly wasteful, his anger at his own failings shown in his pace as he dashed back, sadly, too often too late.
Crouch meanwhile was crazily distant, 10 or 15 yards too far up the field. He could have been an effective outlet for the ten men but failed until the second half when clearly he had been given instructions to fall deeper. Surely that message could have been conveyed to him earlier. Compared with Inter’s superb football, our few hopeful crosses towards him in the box looked utterly pathetic. The one decent ball to the far post, he failed to even hit the target. This is the Champions League, we have to do better.
Late in the first half, Bassong was caught fully 65 yards from his own goal, still trying to get to his man. One on one he’s fine, good pace and timing, but we had learned nothing. If Gallas is supposed to be the wise old head at the back, then I’m not sure what exactly he’s up to. Benny was caught on one move but that was a breathtakingly accurate pass. One of many. Hud and JJ were bewildered, naïve innocents amongst masters.
If you’re four down at half time, the first word that comes to mind is unlikely to be ‘relief’ but be honest, you felt the same. Those fans who had confidently stated before the game how wonderful it was to be there, don’t really care about the score, didn’t consider the possibility of this impending catastrophe. Half-time was both respite and the source of further terror at what was to come.
Or so we thought. Inter strolled around but for the most part we were more resilient, tighter and narrow when they had the ball, set up for damage limitation.
Then came a force of nature, magnificent in all its fearsome glory. Bale could have fulfilled his defensive duties better but in full flight he is one of the great sights of European football. With ruddy cheeks, wide eyes and floppy hair, he looks like a kid in an adult’s body, but he is an awesome, inspiring figure who terrified the defence of the holders of the European Cup.
Television doesn’t truly show how big he is, unstoppable on the go and with the stamina to make lung-busting runs. Close control at full tilt, direct to the heart and one, two, three into the same corner.
How can defeat taste so sweet? When Bale is in your team. Scintillating, superlative. I’ll stop now.
We were beaten by a much better team, whose quality will be seldom matched in Europe, and 1-0 in the San Siro is OK. Today it’s the exhilaration of Bale’s hat-trick that remains, although I suspect that’s the mind doing good deeds in covering up some horrible memories from earlier in the evening.
There is genuine reason for optimism, though. They are strong defensively although we never seriously pressured them for any period. With ten men that’s understandable, up to a point, and when they come to the Lane in a couple of weeks they’ll have on their minds a vision of Lennon and Bale running at them, never mind VDV. Whatever, it will be fun finding out.
Perhaps the most significant move of the game was not one of Bale’s storming goals. After about 70 minutes, we pushed the ball around for 30 odd passes before suddenly upping the tempo for Hutton to advance towards their box. He wasted the chance, shooting over with his left foot when others were well-placed, but that’s not the point. In the move, we looked like Inter and that’s a real compliment. Steady, one and two touch, ball and players on the move, then the move on goal. Granted Inter were strolling at the time, but we were transformed from the gauche, naïve waifs of the first half. I think we learned something after all.