Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was – The Players

The second in a series this week – the Players

Rubbishing Crouch and Jenas, demanding a wholesale clear-out, insisting on bids for every striker in La Liga. If only it were that straightforward.

It’s not just about the individuals, it’s where they will fit into the shape of the team as defined by our tactics and how they combine with each other in crucial areas of the field such as up front and in central defence. It’s also going to be a busy old season, with two European games before the end of August let alone the league and two cups.

The absurd demands of the Europa League mean that we have to have a squad capable of playing consistently well over a long period of time. Old heads to steady the ship alongside youngsters who should relish the chance not only of first team experience but also of reminding the manager that they deserve a step up into contention for a league start. We have much to learn in this respect – last season we could not rotate the squad to any extent without significantly reducing our chances of winning.

Redknapp has some big decisions to make regarding our approach next season. In the previous piece I advocated a more cautious approach – reality dictates that our open formation neglectful of our defensive responsibilities will not bring sustained success.That doesn’t mean we have to be dull and boring – that’s not what I want from my Spurs and that too does not win trophies. It’s asking a lot but we have the nucleus of a team who are able to deliver, better perhaps than for twenty or thirty years. Top class players who could be the heart and soul of a consistently successful team for years to come.

Some of those partnerships are well defined. Our strikers have looked lost and lonely for much of the season, an estranged couple waiting for the divorce papers to come through. At the back Dawson’s game has improved but he’s mightier still alongside Ledley’s pace and anticipation. Other combinations are no less important, however. If our wide midfielders are going to attack, perhaps they are better off having a defensive minded full-back behind them, who prefers to stay back. Alternatively, a flank combination of full-back and attacking midfielder is potent going forward, then an extra defensive midfielder to slide across can protect us at the same time. It’s about equilibrium – change one part of the system and the rest has to readjust to maintain the balance.

Finally, one formation isn’t enough. We need not only to have  plan B at our disposal, we should be comfortable  and familiar with any changes necessitated by the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents or the need to change gear during a game.

The very roles themselves have been altered by the demands of success in the modern game. Flexibility has a high value, the ability to be mobile and alert physically and mentally, to play a variety of roles often within the same minute or two never mind in the same game. Midfielders have to defend whether they like it or not. A player like Defoe suffers because he’s geared to do his best work in the box but doesn’t bring other players into the game. In the crucial position of defensive midfield it is no longer sufficient to be able to run and tackle. You have to be able  to pass the ball and turn defence into attack.

Goalkeepers

Ah Gomes, you were so nearly the love of my life. Our very own cult hero, derided by many, we could see the potential. We nurtured and protected you until the world saw what we already knew – you could really do it. Until this season when you kept chucking the ball in your own net. Overall he’s not had a bad season, making many vital saves almost as a matter of course. The problem is, the high profile cock-ups have ben recent and stick in mind. Better on crosses lately, the real problem was not the soft one against Madrid or Chelsea (although of course actually that was a save because it didn’t go in) but the panic shown against Blackpool and earlier versus Inter. Mad dashes off the line are one thing but pulling down players for no real reason indicate a lack of composure essential for any reliable keeper.

Reliable, that’s all we need. Solid rather than spectacular will do, good handling, takes the crosses, cuts out the mistakes in front of a sound defence and maybe doesn’t always get into the top the corner. I’d keep Gomes unless we can buy a world-class upgrade.

Cudicini has been a capable back-up but we need more. His legs have lost their spring and anyway I’d prefer to see someone challenging Gomes for the first team place rather than just hanging around for injuries. Pietklosa came well rated but ignored, while if Alnwick cost a penny it was too much. His signing shows the dangers of buying a back-up as opposed to someone who could mount a proper challenge for the first team.

Defenders

A few weeks back i started selling the house and all my possessions, not for the Rapture but for a charitable medical foundation with the sole aim of healing Ledley knee. A true Tottenham great, I raved about him a couple of weeks ago. His magnificence radiates not just from his pace, ability to read the game and perfect timing, it’s his dedication to just playing. he’s adapted his game, using short scurrying strides when once he strode across the turf, minimising his running to save every last drop of energy for the few yards that take him into the right place at the right time. The many fans who wrote him off should be ashamed of themselves. They failed to recognise the willpower of the truly great.

However, he can’t play every game. Dawson can, or appears to want to. Undeterred by a serious injury sustained whilst playing for England. he’s come back stronger than ever. He’s learned to deal with his lack of pace and doesn’t plough in high up the field, timing his interventions with assurance. He does his best work  in the box, however, as does Gallas, so Spurs benefit from some defensive midfield protection. This was conspicuously absent in the matches where our back four were stretched. Any defender on the planet looks uncertain if left exposed and vulnerable.

Gallas and Assou Ekotto both demand special praise for outstanding seasons. Harry’s best acquisition, once fit Gallas has proved himself a fierce warrior. His performance at the Emirates was one of my highlights of the season, his goalline clearance against Milan one of the moments. No hint of the dressing room disruption that has tainted his reputation. On the contrary, everyone around him must surely learn from and respect his attitude. In two or three games he has been injured yet played on as if nothing happened. At the Lane I sit close enough to the pitch to see his pain was real, yet he simply will not bow to the pressure.

If Redknapp likes a player, he will give that man a chance. Although Benny appears not to be moved by anything much, he’s taken his chance, upped his game and become a canny consistent footballing full back, good touch, bit of pace and neat on the ground. He still makes mistakes, usually due to his welcome obsession with not conceding possession – ironically he tries so hard to hang on to it for the team rather than wang it away that he ends up being caught – but the moments where his brain checks out have virtually disappeared. He still needs to tuck in closer to his centrebacks, though.

Another player given his chance by Harry and who has taken it is Kaboul. Sometimes he still looks like an overgrown Labrador puppy but once those growing pains disappear, we have a top class centre half versatile enough to cover at full back. These things are important if we are playing over 60 games a season with squads limited to 25. Another one with a great attitude.

Woodgate’s demise seems to be premature with rumours of a pay as you play deal on the table. Only the club know his true fitness but it will have to be good to get a squad number, given that Ledley will certainly be there.

Less good news on the right flank. Corluka has been extremely disappointing this term. We’ve seen little of the positional shrewdness and strength on the ball that used to cover his chronic lack of pace, whilst his distribution has not been up to previous standards. I still see him as a centre back playing out of position. With Hutton, it’s the opposite – his pace can’t make up for his dreadful positioning. He has no future here.The speed of  Walker’s development has certainly surprised Harry but he will be first choice and vindication of our policy of armin gout young players to gain firs team experience, although from what little I’ve seen, he has work to do on his defensive play.

Bassong needed a run but never quite deserved it on the basis of his play. he had a good subs appearance marking Drogba but fatally he lets players get behind him

Danny Rose. Was he a winger or a central midfielder? No, he’s a full-back and a damn promising one at that. Remarkably good positioning and determined in the air, he’s definitely a first team squad man.

So we are in good shape at the back. Bassong will probably depart although he has the ability to stay, and we will go for another centreback, It’s up to the coaches to weld them into a unit – the raw material is there already.

Midfield

I have never made any secret of my love for Luka and I remain besotted despite his many other suitors and admirers who belatedly have succumbed to his charms. My eyes linger for a fatal fraction of a second after the ball has left his foot, just to see him run. One of my moments of the season was against Newcastle, when as the knee-high tackles flew in, three opponents descended upon him in the centre circle, scenting blood. Waiting until he could feel their breath on his collar, he dropped one shoulder, left two of them stranded, beat the third and was away in a flash, the same focussed, purposeful expression on his face, already looking to shift the ball forward in search of an opening. World-class, he makes football beautiful. One of my favourite players of the last thirty years.

Gareth Bale suffers from being too good. Fans’ expectations reached absurd heights, then he gets criticised for not doing the impossible. This is the Premier League not Melchester Rovers. He’s marked by two or three players most games so he can’t run through the lot of them any more. To me it is astonishing how often he almost does. I’ve never seen someone as big and powerful with such pace and touch. If our strikers had been half decent he would have twice as many assists. He delivers more than enough excellent crosses despite the attention he receives now, and his exploits against Inter are the stuff of legend. Long term his best position may be full-back, where his height and pace will be handy in defence and he can make runs from deep.

Sandro is the discovery of the season. His performances against Milan were those of a man who’s played 210 games, not 10. He’s everything a modern DM should be – moves well, slots into the back four and tracks the runner, yet in a trice is up the other end, and he can pass it too. Genuinely a world-class prospect, he and Modric are already a magnificent pairing and could be the cornerstone of years of success.

Pienaar will fit in well next season: his movement and passing can keep attacks going. I’m less enamoured of Kranjcar, Jenas and Palacios. The former may be able to hammer the ball in from distance but he’s overweight and does not work hard enough. If a theme of this year has been the way several team-mates have made the most of their opportunities, he seems intent on wasting his considerable talents, although to be honest he’s had little chance to shine of late. I always liked JJ although he’s so frustrating. he seems to have the ability to do anything and everything, effortlessly, yet he’s never consistent. His arrival as sub has injected drive in the second half when we have been flagging but he’s now in Sandro’s shadow. Palacios is more of an old-fashioned midfield ball winner and does not either pass the ball well enough or tuck himself into the back four when required. We may have outgrown them all.

Lennon’s game is still developing and he’s come on again this time but his final ball, although much improved, needs further polishing. He’s a fine sight whizzing down the wing: his future to me is more about the shape of the team and whether we can afford to have so many attack-minded players in the team at once. Believe me, I hate to say this, but he and Bale have to work back more than they do.

Hud did well before his injury. We seemed most comfortable when he slotted in in front of the defence and we don’t make the best use of his passing range. For someone who once played centre half, he has little awareness of his defensive responsibilities: it’s partly his stature but mainly he does not have that sense of anticipation. A fine player, if he had that first yard in the head he’d be a world-beater.

Van der Vaart was a steal at £8m. We’ve learned enough to know that he must play in that free role between the midfield and the striker. More about this in my final segment of this series, about the future, but suffice to say I would gear the team to play to this strength, perhaps sacrificing a winger and definitely finding a striker who can genuinely play up front on his own. Rafa can play off and around him with the midfield piling through to help out.

Once again we have riches almost beyond my dreams. Another wide man with different skills to those of Lennon to prevent Luka being moved wide is on the cards and perhaps some experience for the long haul ahead. Again the coaches have to the get the formation right. If Hud could lose 7 pounds, who knows?

Strikers

This is the shortest section but has been the biggest problem all season. Shortest because I’ve been banging on about the same things all season, most recently in the previous blog post.

Crouch is immobile, his touch is dreadful and his accuracy from the balls he wins in the air is poor. We’ll always get something but I want more than a percentage game. Moreover, his mere presence encourages the high ball, thus negating the advantages presented to us by the skilful players in the rest of the team. If he hammered in towards the goal with headers, touches and deflections, that would be fine, but he doesn’t know where the goal is half the time and a nudge in the back takes him out of the equation.

Pav is great if he has the time. Many of his goals are scored when he can push the ball a metre or so ahead of him and move onto it. Sunday was the prime example. The reality is, this seldom happens in the Prem and his touch lets him down more often than not.

Also technically poor is Defoe. Erratic ball control, inadequate positioning and a reluctance to get in where it hurts in the box have led to a poor season punctuated with a few great goals, again when he has the space to move onto it. He’s worked harder than ever (not on Sunday) and his link up play is better but that does not mean it’s up to scratch. Hugely disappointing.

In this department, major surgery is required.

The rest

Some players have not been around for a while and we’re never going to see them in a Spurs shirt again. Keane has been an example to every professional footballer that the grass is not always greener. Stick to what you know, where you feel comfortable, and it will bring out the best in you. I’m sure he’ll find another club that he supported as a boy.

I was all for the signing of David Bentley – he worked hard and his crossing would be just what we need, so I take no pleasure in identifying why it’s not worked out. The signs were there early on. Suddenly he began to appear in the media, opinion pieces and interviews. His agent was shaping him to be the star he was in his own head but he failed to realise you have to work at it. He didn’t have the nouse to realise that alongside Modric and others, he could cover up his inability to beat players and his lack of pace. A real shame.

Dos Santos never showed any consistent talent. To be fair to him, he was always stuck on the wing (small and skilful, see) whereas for Mexico he has a freer role across the pitch. Levy will have to take the hit on all three.

Next – the manager

13 thoughts on “Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was – The Players

  1. Good summary. My only (slight) disagreements are Pienaar and Kranjcar. I’m still not convinced Pienaar is much more than a squad player based on what I’ve seen so far. Kranjcar seems to offer a bit more in attack, prepared to have a shot given the space but I think there will be a few clubs in for him.

    The striker situation is woeful and it’s difficult to see how we’re going to make substantial changes without some good returns on player sales? Hopefully Levy will be able to resist offers for Modric and Bale – I’m not sure he will be.

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    • Don’t get me wrong – I really rated Nico when he arrived, thought he was a steal at 2m and a good piece of business. Disappointed that he’s not done more and it might still be there, maybe to cover for VDV in that free role.

      Regards,

      Al

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  2. You have most of the squad right but where i disagree is from the midfield and attack . Firstly our defence was a new one with Dawson injured King out Woodgate Gallas and when Wigan beat us one nil my heart sank because i new this was going to be a hard season. Wigan had shipped 11 goals against Chelsea and Blackpool and yet we could not score and this became the seasons talking point and the blame was shared between Crouch Defoe and Pavlyuchenko . I warned all my fans last season and the season before but i had no compute or lap top then it was talk Sport and texting. . Like i say i warned you last season we got beat by teams in the bottom three Liverpool beat us 2-0 and we beat City in a win all game. This year the desperation was twice has much the sackings where a constant warning to managers the axe was not far away this increased Liverpool Moyes Mancinci Ancelotti even UTD where struggling to beat the desperation from teams on paper not good enough. Then it started shocks after shock results teams playing in breakneck tempo dirty tackles swearing anger fights in training defences and keepers raising there game the better the opposition the better they performed. This is where we failed to join in Utd Chelsea Lverpool Everton Man City all joined in and raised there tempo when the bad headlines got bigger Utd played better and Chelsea Liverpool changed there manager and there tempo Roy followed to save West Brom. You are wrong to say Hudds would be World class if he thought faster because if he did he would be like Man Citys Kolo Toure Slimmer and FASTER but a World Class cheat . He is the best passer of a ball and striker with both feet i have seen the one problem with Hudds he has got injuries every time he was progressing Knee operations ankle have hampered him for two years. This ankle has not just flared up he has bean carrying this for a while but because he is two footed he has got away with it till the pain got to bad and he has bean operated on he needs the off season to fully recover and get fit.

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  3. Very fair Alan, you clearly watch Spurs now and again.
    In some ways you need to start with the manager because everything stems from him and his tactical decisions.
    Both Krancjar and Pavlyuchenko have been badly deployed.

    The buying of Piennar was a waste for us and him and where Piennar has played, Kranjcar might have more profitably done so or at least been given longer than 5 minute cameos.

    Crouch and Defoe have been overused and had Pav. had the opportunity he would have been
    our 20 goals a season man at his current rate of scoring.

    I disagree about having a Plan B. We need Plans B,C,and D for the variety of teams we play against
    in the Premiership, the cups, Europe, home and away, two legged ties and so on.

    I don’t want to see a mass clearout, we are where we are by slow build up of the squad and long may it continue. Palacios, Jenas, Bassong could all stay for me as back up.
    Walker for Hutton makes sense, Rose supplies the left back option, If Ledley is fit(ish) then Caulker could come in to be bloodied next season.
    Sorry whose blog is this?

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  4. An accurate summation, Alan. I know it’s rather cliche to bash certain players, but I honestly feel the key is Crouch. His mere presence (and therefore, lack of) disrupts the rest of the team to such an extent, he may as well bring a deckchair most days. He — and Redknapp — cannot dine out indefinitely on the (initial) goal at Eastlands and the winner at the San Siro. It really makes my heart ache thinking about Modric dropping deep, getting the ball, turning to skip through three opponents, looking up and… well, he can’t do it all. He — and the rest of the team — need more in front of them.

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  5. Generally agree with the article but, as Jimmy G, feel that Kranky has not had enough games and when he has played has contributed well, he clearly likes to score. Similarly feel that Pav is by far our best striker and has been much underplayed. This man is a ball playing forward with a great sense of space. I have also seen him come back into midfield and pass good ball, fast, along the ground and with accuracy. As a goalscorer he’s technically miles ahead of the others and in earlier days seemed to have a good understanding with Lennon. He needs to play with the ball playing midfielders we now have, and I am sure would become, as Jimmy G said above, a twenty goal a season man.

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  6. I warned all my fans last season and the season before but i had no computer back then or lap top then it was talk Sport and texting. . Like i say i warned you last season we got beat by teams in the bottom three Liverpool beat us 2-0 with a high TEMPO and we beat City in a winner takes all game. This year the desperation and the high Tempo had increased along with more television money and all the sackings this was a constant warning to managers they had to win or gain points to stay in there jobs. . The experts excuses for the shock results was teams where stronger and no longer weak yet we played teams with key players missing and we still drew or lost . I knew this was not the truth and when we played teams who where desperate and getting bad headlines i could not watch till the game was over because i knew we would not have a minute to move and we would be pressed for the full 90 plus mins and i was not proved wrong This made me even more angry when my fellow fans slagged this player off and Blamed Harry i can honestly say the only real part of our draws and defeats was Gomes gifting goals the rest was down to what Kolo failed a drugs test forand has bean kept quite till toay when his hearing and excuses will be heard by is teams ex chairman in 1999 Max Bernstien he will give him a sympathetic hearing has too why he was full of energy when they played another energised team Utd the funny thing was he was sub the daft Italian left him full of evidence and this is why he failed when other players passed thee tests. One foot note this was not the FA stamping drugs out someone leaked this from the new testers UKAD because the FA don’t name any one from the premiership because of the power of Scudamore and the prem . Why have the FA kept this B sample on hold for so long well Man City have finished third and won the FA Cup the FA are broke City Oilers are loaded this could be backed up by the angry Tony Pulis no not for a bad refereeing decision but becaue Stoke where drug tested before and after the Fa Cup Man City was not tested. This shocked me for two reason one Pulis revealing this on Sky and he second one is with City s Captain r suspended for energy drugs offences or his wife’s slimmers why was they not tested. could Pulis be suggesting City who won with a high Tempo where on a diet supplement and was this why they where not tested or is it the new FA boss who helped them get third and the Cup.No wonder they have abstained from voting for the corrupt rein of Blatter is it guilty conscience Pulis thinks so and so do i. and our strikers stats prove it worked against Wigan West Ham where we failed to break down a defence on paper cannon Fodder.? All i want next year is a better slower policed Premiership or we will keep throwing money after a problem hidden called deadly Tempo.that cost hard up clubs nothing in transfers remember this the biggest club in the World won the league owing nearly a Billion in loans with playes aged 37 playing with the energy of a man of 21 who also hid fom the world he hd an affair with anothe women what else would he hide . We have a team good enough to be a success and young kids knocking on Harry’s door if the FA don’t stop the energy drugs Spurs will buy Adams and others who cost millions an then be sold for half the price when they fail to live up to there last club form and our promising kids will be lost along with Harry.. City won the race to the champs League and the cup but it was not only money they used Kolo and Paddy Kenny is just the prove and the tip of a big iceberg of energy

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  7. Nice assessment.

    Yes, the strikers were pitiful. Wholesale changes needed. But I’d hang on to Pav. Always liked him. Defence seems solid enough to nurse the luxuries that are King and Woody. And in MF, if someone can figure the best way to use Modders, Hud, VdV, Sandro,Lennon, Pienaar and – who knows ? – Parker, would love to hear it.

    Most intriguing are rumours that the Russian rouble’s after Harry…and Martin O’Neill’s back on the market. I wonder…

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  8. Alan as someone who obviously knows much about football you surprised me with your assesments of Pieenar and Kranjcar. I really think that Kranjcar is technically and in terms of footballing intelligence simply on another level compared to Pieenar. Yes, he lacks some pace or stamina, but even with those deficiences he could have been a major weapon when we needed to break down lesser teams. Shame that Harry inexplicably opted to simply not use this truly gifted player at all.

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  9. Thoughtful, very thorough and very insightful stuff Alan.

    I think it will be hard to find an upgrade on Gomes. The keepers in the class above him won’t come to Spurs. Bigger priorities lie elsewhere, perhaps. There is a whole summer for Tony Parks and the club psychologist, if there is one, to get Gomes back on track. Pavlyuchenko is the only one of the strikers I’d retain in the squad.

    I think I’d prefer Corluka or Kaboul at right back to Walker, who doesn’t look very clever defensively to me. In faact he reminds me of Hutton. We’ll see.

    We seem to have so many central defenders something has to give. I hope Caulker is going to get a chance to step up in the EL and domestic cup comps. I worry about letting a good and young player like Bassong go when the admittedly excellent Gallas will be a year older and his Indian summer may not continue, and the appearances of King and Woodgate are so restricted. King has to stay, even 10-15 games a season are worth it.

    I agree that we need more than one formation. I said on the previous blog that I’d like to see us play three in central midfield at times, as I feel we can get outnumbered and outmanoeuvred in there with two. For me, Sandro Hudd and Modric can all play, with Bale and Lennon wide with a lone forward, eg Berbatov! This would mean omitting VDV. He can only really play in a 4-4-1-1 for us (I don’t like him starting wide right as it leaves an open door for teams to overload us down our right flank, as Wolves and West Brom did so well at the Lane).

    Anyhow, no need to throw babies out with the bathwater. I’d be more than happy to keep JJ, Pienaar, Bassong, Kranjcar as squad players, for example, which is big of me. They may want to play each week, even if it means a step down. Or they or others such as Robbie Keane might not want to drop their wages, so choose to stay around or go on loan rather than bringing in fees. These personal issues and the 25 man squad regulation will play big parts in what happens over the summer. As will the destiny of the manager and one or two star players…

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  10. Watching Barca last night made me think its not just the players its the links between players – that telepathy thing where do you get that from? Great players make other players seem great along side them. So maybe we need to think – how do you make players, any players, play together like that. Could you make a good standard squad into the great team by learning that secret thing. is it just playing a lot together? Can players/teams improve through this … in which case … change as little as possible … maybe (just a thought lol).

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  11. Alan, I guess it’s just you and me on Pienaar. I can only think that Niko’s technical ability enchants many into ignoring his lack of positional discipline, poor work rate and Scholesian tackling style. Don’t get me wrong – I love watching him and wish as well that he could show the changes in his performance that would lead to a more regular place. But defensively he just doesn’t know where to go to effectively blunt the offensive flow.

    Watching Barca just reinforces my belief that the one player who fits that system is Luka. Always looking around, moving into intelligent positions to receive the ball, reversing direction and directing the ball to areas where Spurs have an advantage rather than just [passing sideways to get rid of the ball, comfortable in traffic. I think, given time, he and Sandro could develop into a pretty potent combination, not to mention Bale and Lennon.

    Speaking of Bale, I struggle to understand why LB would be his proper position. Personally I want him as close to goal as often as possible. He’s one of the few natural goalscorers in the squad. I don’t want to take him farther away from it.

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    • concerning Bale the reason lb is a better position for him to attack from is its hard to mark him with two or three players when he’s left back.

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