Unlike many of you, I look forward to a couple of months without football. The summer is for rest and recuperation, time to reflect on what has gone before and anticipate the season to come. It’s welcome respite from the self-inflicted psychological damage of being a Spurs fan.
As the seasons ebb and flow, football takes its place in the natural order, a dormant period of regeneration only to return bright and vibrant in August. Cricket takes over. There’s pleasure and beauty to be had from the sport itself, with its genteel nuances and balance between bat and ball, but these days I enjoy it all the more because it’s a break from the all-consuming partisanship of the winter game. When the time comes to be completely engaged once more, it heightens the enjoyment. Standing back temporarily offers perspective on the truly important things in life.
Such simple pleasures are blighted by the curse of the close season, ITK. We all want to know what’s going on in the club and speculate about our future but this is no excuse for wallowing in the bilge of rumour and lies that now characterise our close season. The only thing I hate more is myself for reading it.
Despite pretences to the contrary, football is no different from any other aspect of life. We all like to know something that others don’t; the gossip at work, a tip on the horses, a special offer at B&Q. Maybe the last one is just a fleeting insight into the murky penance I pay for spending so much time on Spurs. However much we kid ourselves that we are part of this thing, make no mistake, we’re on the outside looking in. We have little real idea of what goes on day to day or what our heroes are truly like. In the know, part of the in-crowd. Information conveys status, and what’s the point of a secret unless you tell someone?
Like I said, laws of nature, in this case demand and supply. And there’s no supply shortage to feed this apparently insatiable demand. from large scale commercial websites, including the established media of course, to the messageboard peddlers of info with their cryptic clues and secret identities. Anyone would think they made most of it up.
We’re all caught up in this. However much I try, eventually I succumb but truly, I don’t read half of it. Unlike most messageboard members, I can’t comment on the merits of one target or another as I don’t profess a detailed knowledge of every player in Europe and South America, although this might be due to the fact that I’m still playing Championship Manager 01-02 rather than FM2011 and To Madiera still hasn’t signed for Spurs in real life. When you’re watching La Liga and Serie A, I’m doing time at the diy.
I confess: last week I resorted to Wikipedia for my info, but even then I haven’t quite got the hang of it. I looked up Leandro only to emerge none the wiser as several Brazilian footballers with that name. Some have been tipping Damaio, but it’s only just occurred to me that according to Wikipedia, they are one and the same player.
Only once have I plumbed the depths that ITK can drive a man to and scouted a player via Youtube. Having touched bottom, I’ve since bounced back up because funnily enough, they all look good on Youtube, assuming that we’re not going to sign the keeper who celebrated the penalty save at the precise moment the rest of the crowd were watching the ball spin back into the net or the guy who blazed over an open goal from two yards. Wait, we did, his name was Acimovic. Mind you, I know of a dozen Premier League players who were signed last summer by managers who had seen them only on a DVD. That’s on reliable authority, of course.
ITK is a bit of knockabout fun that passes the time. What I find harder to grasp is the way so many fans take it as deadly serious. In our postmodern society we all understand how the media works, consuming its product enthusiastically knowing that much of it is fluff and puff as news morphs into entertainment. We don’t believe everything we read, a scepticism that’s entirely healthy. Except apparently when it comes to ITK. The time and energy spent on earnest discussions not just of individual signings but the meaning for the club based on rumours lacking any corroboration from posters using false identities, yet the future of the club is in their hands, if you are to accept the premise of the endless repetitive discussions on twitter and the messageboards.
Don’t shoot the messenger. Well, I’m a non-violent man (some people use the term ‘coward’ but I find that hurtful to be frank) but I’m tempted. Lots of websites write pieces in order to increase their hits. if they carry ads, more hits mean more revenue. Same for the papers. This may be news to many people out there, but they don’t have a crack team of dedicated journalists scouring Europe 24 hours a day, spending careers cultivating relationships with the sole purpose of being first to unveil the identity of Spurs new 6th choice centre half. That Romanian based site that has something different from the rest – they’ve made it up.
Yet loads of people out there lap it up as gospel. I wonder how they spend their lives. I can only presume that in real life, when approached by a total stranger telling them that Nat West are giving away free money, just pop in and say, ‘I’m only passing it on in good faith, they respond, “Right, I’ll straight round just as soon as I’ve texted all my mates and tweeted”. Even as I write, having emailed their bank details to Nigeria they are on tenterhooks expecting the funds to appear in their account.
This summer’s classic ITK has been Joe Cole’s supposed transfer from Liverpool. This ‘news’ swept across the boards, picked up a further head of steam on twitter and was backed up the following day in the papers. It had the ring of truth – going nowhere up north, the prodigal falls into the ever-open arms of his good ol’ uncle who is known to like a bargain.
In turn this provoked sustained and scathing criticism of Redknapp and Levy because it indicated that far from going for gold we were buying up over the hill cast-offs, a policy that would send the club into the gutter precisely at the moment we should be looking up at the stars. Harry has history, of course, and our only signing thus far is Friedel, a 40 year old keeper looking to grab a signing on fee from someone in order to pay for his bankrupt US soccer school. HR just can’t resist.
Even if Cole arrives, it’s evidence of nothing in particular. Friedel was opportunism: we moved quickly to secure, free, an experienced keeper who will offer cover and stability during a long season and either gee up Gomes or provide competition for his replacement. What’s not to like? It dealt with a particular issue in a specific position. In other positions, most notably up front, we are clearly seeking younger models, men on the way up to provide spark and pace.
Redknapp faces a genuine dilemma. Because of our salary structure and absence from the Champions League we probably can’t get top class established players at their peak. However on the other hand we need men who can perform if not straight away then at least after a short period of settling in, rather than waiting 3 or 4 years to reach maturity as we have done with some of our current first team. Also we need men who can handle the pressures of big matches twice a week, every week, and the only way to develop that resilience is to have been there. A mixture of experience and newcomers seems about right to me and a perfectly sound and realistic strategy.
There is one other crashingly obvious point – the window is open for another two and a half months. Agony for ITK watchers but let’s not jump to conclusions. I know Harry has form but he has no incentive to fall back into bad habits. This is Spurs, not West ham or Portsmouth, This is his last shot at the big time with a club. No one knows that better than he – he’s never had a squad this good before so why waste a chance of glory that he clearly craves by bringing in a succession of has-beens. Also, the desperation of our tragic last minute January efforts to buy any/all La Liga strikers demonstrates at least that Levy has got the message – he has to invest and brinkmanship is indulgent luxury.
As with all good mysteries, the Joe Cole story has a twist in the tale. Sifting through the dross, the egos, the attention-seekers and inadequates, a couple of people have provided decent info in the past, one of whom came up with the specifics of a fee and date for a medical in respect of Cole. The rumour mill began there but a few days later he revealed in a moment of honesty rare in the ITK community that in his words, ‘I’ve been played’. Liverpool had fed him the info in order to generate some heat around the transfer because they, Liverpool want to get rid of him and in fact so far there are no serious takers. If fans don’t understand how ITK works, then it’s clear the clubs do. That and other misinformation, fuelled by agents as well as clubs, mean the ITK season has only just begun.
Footnote: in less than half a day, this article has become the most read ever in TOMM’s history. By a street. I’m genuinely delighted that people have dropped by and enjoyed it. The high numbers could be a belated recognition of my genius or in an act of supreme irony, the fact that the term ‘ITK’ is used in the title so the link’s been clicked. I think we know the answer.