The dread anticipation of the Doomsday Scenario was hideous, elongated as it was over several weeks as first the semi-final and then the season’s final day played out. Goals and sendings-off that weren’t, the bitter tease of a former Spurs keeper throwing three goals into his net, yet another rearguard action, all of this involving not just any club, not just one rival but both of our bitterest enemies. Bad enough, or so you would think. Not so: fate was having a ball so why stop there. The way things were panning out, being outplayed and snatching a winner on the break was all too predictable but a late equaliser, missed extra-time penalty and the last-kick shoot out never crossed my mind. Simply could not happen.
The consequences for Tottenham Hotspur didn’t bear thinking about, yet over the weekend I could think of nothing else. However, in the cold light of day, which for Spurs fans admittedly felt arctic, nothing has significantly changed. Planning for next season and the longer-term future is the key issue and always has been. Recent events have had little effect on the context.
What I want for Spurs more than anything else is a plan. I need to know that we have a long-term strategy to keep the club at the very top of the English game. Chucking money on a few marquee signings will keep most fans happy but it has to be part of something wider, stronger, more permanent. Change for change sake is a recipe for disaster. We can’t control the efforts of our rivals but we can be contenders, competing on merit with the very best.
While fans and the media focus inexorably and, frankly, tediously on Redknapp, Daniel Levy remains the pivotal figure at Tottenham Hotspur. The cornerstone of our present development is financial prudence. It’s been that way for many years and because of the impending costs of the new stadium that would not alter even if we were in the Champions League. Granted a season will produce a windfall that could go on players but Levy does not include such revenue in his budget calculations. He won’t overturn his principles and throw money at the problem, or as he sees it throw money down the drain in the pursuit of short-term success without any guarantees and which is unsustainable in the long run.
I firmly believe this team is hesitating on the threshold of glory. Whether it takes a step into the unknown depends on keeping our best players and adding top quality new recruits, two strikers and a mobile centre half being the priorities. Levy is not going to radically change our salary structure, therefore regardless of where we play our european football next season we will be pursuing players on the up rather than established stars. It’s no bad thing – give me players with the right ability and mental attitude, men who want to better themselves and who focus on the game not celebrity status and I’ll show you a club with a future.
I’m not sure that we have scouts any more. They probably have a business-speak title like ‘Talent Development Analyst” or some such bollo, heading a department composed of statisticians pouring over facts and figures rather than standing on exposed touchlines searching for the next big thing. Whoever they are, they hold the club’s future in their hands: we rely on them totally.
They have to be psychologists too – motivation and a determination to be the best convert ability into class. We’ve done well in that respect lately – Walker, Kaboul, Sandro, all are good footballers united by a desire to play, and a total cost of what, £15m?
It’s the same with transfer fees. Levy the ruthless negotiator looks for value, not just at the bottom line. To him, paying a large sum for a youngish player with a bright future is an investment. Everything’s risky in this game but a fat insurance policy, long-term contract to maximise any future transfer price and payments to former clubs spread over several years all significantly decrease the uncertainty. Over the years he’s learned the price of experience too, about £4m and 70k a week for Parker or Adebayor on loan. Spurs have to pay for that knowledge and that time in the game but Levy won’t go over the odds.
Our salary structure is well set, with a maximum of around £70k a week, although that is extended by various means including lump-sum loyalty bonuses. It should be extended upwards but it won’t approach the double or triple that is commonplace elsewhere. Our stars are therefore vulnerable and being in the CL would help player retention but nothing can outweigh the pull of big bucks if a man is that way inclined. Again, no CL is not a major determinant of our future.
Our chairman is in the box seat when it comes to our manager too. Levy’s last gamble with the precious jewel that is our club was dismissing the popular and comparatively successful Martin Jol in favour of Juande Ramos. When Redknapp arrived amidst relegation panic, all thoughts of any strategic approach had gone, or so it seemed. In fact, contrary to my initial expectations, Levy has reined in Harry’s worst excesses in the transfer market. Also, whilst Redknapp is one of the world’s best paid bosses, there’s value to be found. He’s not only saved us (you probably know how many points we had when he arrived…) but he’s taken us to the CL quarter-final and our highest sequence of finishes for donkeys’ years. Also, Levy has refused so far to extend his 4 year contact beyond the end of this coming season. He doesn’t want to get caught with huge severance payments should manager and staff be sacked. Doing everything he can to keep the odds stacked in our favour.
So Levy finds himself in the place that all CEOs or businesspeople want to be – he has options. I completely agree with Spurs author, fan and all round seer Martin Cloake who wrote last week:
“I’d stick with Redknapp – if I could sit down with him and be sure he was fully focussed on Spurs. There’s one more year on his contract, and unless he wants his legacy to be ‘Almost there’ he needs to win a major trophy with Spurs in what could be his last year in the job. So there’s certainly incentive there.”
To me that’s sufficient motive for Redknapp. It’s highly unlikely that he will ever find a better job than Spurs at his age and this informed piece from the Guardian suggested that last season he was keen to ‘retire’ to a cushy job in Dubai. If it’s not, and maybe Levy should make that judgement rather than HR himself, he should go straight away.
That seems about right to me. I have an ambivalent relationship towards Harry Redknapp, which mirrors the behaviour and performance of a man portrayed in the media as a known, consistent quantity but who in reality is riven with contradictions. The so-called great motivator is popular with many players but there have been other occasions where the players have dead eyes and he’s an impotent mess of frustration on the touchline. Bale, Walker, Assou Ekotto, Kaboul and others have flourished under his guidance whereas Pienaar, Pav, Bentley and Bent have shrivelled to almost nothing. For extended periods last season we played breathtaking football that stunned the league, by far the best to watch and the best for thirty or more years for Spurs fans starved of glory. Redknapp deserves full credit – don’t give me this nonsense about no tactics, it was his team, but that same team was virtually unrecogniseable against Villa and Norwich, a hollow shell of what had been.
I don’t warm to him but he’s ours, and I’d give him another year. Arguably Redknapp has helped us over-achieve. He’s managed that on tiny resources compared with his rivals. These figures did the rounds on twitter last week. I haven’t checked them but they have the ring of truth: Spurs have spent £16m since last top 4 finish in 09/10. Arsenal £64.7m, United £80.3m, Chelsea £160.4m, City £212.7m. He was fortunate that Modric, Bale and Assou Ekotto were here when he arrived but he’s helped make them what they are. Also, the harm caused by yet another change of direction with no chosen successor in sight is a major factor. Like I say, I want a plan, I want what’s best for us and I’d back him with a generous budget, but see ‘value’ above. Our immediate prospects hinge on the dynamic between the two of them.
This piece isn’t about tactics but there’s one thing I am compelled to add. Football is extremely complex but whoever makes up the team, whatever the formation, we have to get more men back behind the ball when we lose possession. It is a huge problem and leaves us exposed. No other team in the league is as open as we are. It’s why I like the two defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1. If it means more cautious approach, so be it. A price worth paying.
Mind you, who cares about tactics? It’s all down to fate. Written in the stars. I don’t believe in that twaddle. All we have is us, and we should look after our world and our fellow human beings to the best of our very considerable abilities. After the season’s end we’ve had, it’s enough to make me recant this heresy, fall to my knees and shout a few hosannas. The Pentecostal Church of the Sacred Cockerel. Glory glory hallelujah, sisters and brothers, let’s pray for future success…
Meh, maybe not. My faith in Levy’s plan is not unshakable but it’s the best thing I’ve got so I’ll go with that. It has the long-term interests of the club at heart, and that’s the only thing on my mind.