It’s thrilling at this time of the season when, usually, the games pile on top of each other so there is barely time to breathe between matches, but occasionally I appreciate a break. Maybe I’m getting on a bit now, need to take things slowly at my age. Nah – I’m fine, my enthusiasm for the game is undiminished by the passing years and the way money is in danger of poisoning the relationship between clubs and their fans. Rather, maturity teaches you to rest awhile and enjoy the view on along way, rather than hurtle from A to B.
Despite Tuesday’s defeat, as I suck a thoughtful tooth there’s plenty to relish. The 2nd leg against Milan will do but we are also 4th in the league after a good run of results and are playing some cracking football. In Modric, Bale and Van der Vaart we have three of the most exciting players in Europe. However, it’s given me time to catch up on a few thoughts left over from the Milan victory, one being a radio discussion about our future prospects. Was this momentous victory, one of the great Spurs performances of the last 30 years in my view, the breakthrough moment, the Yellow Brick Road to untold future glory, or was this a time to savour because this is as good as it gets?
The case for the first proposition is obvious – I’ve mentioned enough evidence already – so let’s look at the case for proposition 2, which goes something like this: Spurs cannot play consistently well to take on and beat not only the cream of Europe but also remain a fixture in the top four. To do this requires better players and better resources than we possess or are likely to possess. As sweet as victory as this was, in the cold light of day it’s out of synch with our true status.
In taking this on, I wish I could begin on the pitch but these days we need the Financial Times not the back pages to find many of the answers. Where there’s money, there’s power, and the single thing the powerful are best at is holding on to power itself. Despite the forthcoming changes to the relationship between the salary bill and income, Chelsea and Manchester City, bankrolled by billionaires for whom the purchase of a Torres or Toure has no more impact on their wallet than using a £50 note to light their cigar, will hold sufficient advantage to distort the market in their favour. United or would-be challengers like Liverpool have the might of corporate finance behind them. L’arse depend more than any of the others on the skill of their manager. Whilst his current reluctance to spend is unfathomable, the Emirates is a goldmine, their debt must soon be paid off and there’s a takeover in the air.
Fighting our corner is a shrewd businessman who falls into neither of these camps. More accurately he actually has both – our de facto owner Joe Lewis is a billionaire and corporate financier – but has access to neither. Consistently up in the top 15 clubs in the world in terms of income, we are unlikely to have the massive resources to match those of our main rivals. In ten or 15 years time maybe, not just when the new stadium is built but when the debts are manageable, but not yet.
However, I’m not giving up that easily. Let’s get back to what matters, what happens on the pitch. Spurs have to take the blueprint that got us here and throw everything behind that. Players. Players are our future. Young players who will mature – we will find them and once here, cherish them as if they had returned to suckle at their mother’s breast.
Time – give them time to develop, grow and achieve their full potential. With patience, time is a resource conspicuously lacking in the minds of Abramovich or City’s sheikhs, yet it is within our gift.
Process – this is a process, a flow of players joining us. As one reaches the first team, another is out on loan learning their trade, a third is sweating blood in the youth side. Whilst our own youngsters need to progress, our success has been to identify young players who have some first team experience elsewhere.
Football men. Football men in charge of the team who can make these players believe and excel, to be better than they think they can be. Most significantly, football men off the pitch and in the stands of grounds around Britain and and Europe, men who understand not just what a player can do but what they could become. A man like Comolli. Allowed too much influence by Levy, the club’s management and accountability structure hampered progress and Levy must never allow that mistake to be repeated. I’m aware he may not have personally picked all of these players, but in his time Gomes, Bale, Lennon, Corluka, Modric and Assou-Ekotto joined this club. Director of Football, chief scout, I don’t care what he is called, we need someone who can ensure a flow of players on their way up.
We’ve shown we can compete. Keep this team together and add quality all over the pitch, especially up front, and I am convinced we can challenge the best. Walker and Sandro are next in line: hugely promising. Hard enough though it is to find these precious and scarce resources, the true test is whether we can keep our young (ish) stars at the end of this and next season. The signs are good at the moment but let’s face it – in the summer bids for Luka and Our Gareth will start at £30m. I trust Levy is practicing his cold stare as we speak.
In one of the first ever posts on this blog, I answered the question of where we would finish in the league that season by saying that my true hopes were about the manner in which we went about things. I would have been happy if we were genuine contenders with a realistic chance of challenging for honours and the top four. Whilst I’m still not sure exactly how to define it, I know when I see it and that’s still how I feel. It’s what we are doing now. If we give it a right good go and finish 5th, I’d be disappointed but not too downhearted.
Right now, I’m pessimistic about the top four – 5th, lost by a short head is how it feels. The burden of expectation is starting to weigh heavy on our shoulders and our strikers are seriously misfiring, but to be serious challengers, now and in the future, is good enough because one day, one of Chelsea, City, United and L’arse are going to fall from their pedestals, as did Liverpool, and we need to be waiting. That day could be sooner than you think. As I write, L’arse will have to pick themselves up from their League Cup defeat, a hammer blow that they did not anticipate. City have drawn with Fulham – they are not yet a team, they have problems gelling as a team. Chelsea have misplaced their mojo and in the longer term need to rebuild. Finally, at some point in the next couple of years, United have the twin problems of replacing Ferguson at a time when they are burdened with debt.
Let’s reflect on how we got here, make a plan and stick to it. Levy has found money for a striker, even though we couldn’t find one, but in the transfer market it’s a scout that we need the most. Maybe we have one already. If so, if there is a man who brought Walker and Sandro to the club, then I salute you and I’m glad you do not seek the limelight. In considering the future let’s not forget to enjoy the present. This season is chock full of glorious memories and there are more to come. Now and in the future.
Finally, I’d like to join Spurs fans in mourning the loss of Dean Richards, who died yesterday at the tragically young age of 36. Signed from Southampton by Hoddle for £8m, a fee that was without looking it up the highest at the time for a centre half even though he was uncapped, I hoped he was the solution to our problems in the centre of defence that had dogged us since Richard Gough departed. Strong, experienced, not the quickest but still mobile, he was the big man at the the back, the leader we craved.
Well though he played, the fact that he never quite hit those heights meant that he was underrated by many. We now know something that even he did not at the time, that his balance was affected by a serious brain condition that eventually claimed his life. In the circumstances, his achievements were remarkable. My sincere condolences to his family. At Spurs we will have good memories.