Pre-season previews used to be easy. Analyse the players, add the manager’s likely tactics, stir in a liberal dose of unsubstantiated optimism masquerading as hitherto unfilled potential and there you have it. Swift appraisal of a few rivals, think of a possible final finishing position then go two places higher and pretend you know what you are talking about.
These days, you can’t even work out when the season starts, let alone predict what will happen when it does. The fixture list says it’s this coming Saturday but a more accurate date is when the transfer window closes, because it’s then and only then that Spurs will begin to build a team in earnest. As for the manager, we know more about his inability to handle an aging and vindictive squad minus any support from the club owner than we do about his prospects for our team. Indications are that he gets on with the players and comes over well at press conferences. Frankly not the most solid foundation for this crucial season to come.
So all I feel able to predict with any confidence, and this blog is nothing if not honest with my small but gallant band of readers, is that the opening weeks of the season will be fraught with tension on and off the pitch. Villas Boas has a good number of fine footballers at his disposal and it will be fascinating to see what he does with them. Expect retaining possession as an absolute imperative and demands for more effort to ensure we have ample protection when we lose it. There’s pace throughout the side to plug any gaps and swiftly turn defence into attack. Anticipate counter-attacking and goals from midfield. What the hell, let’s go all the whole hog and add goals from set-pieces too. Eye-witness accounts on the US tour suggest we’ve been practicing but this may be a rumour on a par with sightings of a yeti in Bruce Grove.
However, carelessly we approach the season with only a single striker, one who can’t play on his own up front. Injury and Olympic duty deprive us of the core of our midfield even without filling that Modric-sized hole. Don’t get too close to the edge – last time I looked it goes almost to the earth’s core. Our goalie appears indestructible but can’t go on forever. Then there’s the need for back-up in several positions, notably full-back and striker, as we must rotate during a long and busy season. Our first match is away to Newcastle, settled and ready to develop last season’s success. Harry’s media are waiting to pounce. They sense weakness like hyenas pursuing a wounded wildebeest – a hair out of place in Scott Parker’s immaculate 50s coiffure and Spurs become a Crisis Club, let alone two defeats before August is out.
Earlier this summer I wondered if the purchases of Sigurdsson and Vertonghen signalled a significant policy change, not just in terms of buying players before 23.59.59 on deadline day but also a greater flexibility in our prudent but constraining salary structure. Siggy spurned Liverpool and his managerial mentor, whilst Bale signed without the dreaded protracted and public negotiation period. I even broke my golden rule on TOMM and accepted information about a player signing in advance of an offical announcement. Levy had somehow managed to sort out Abebayor… we’re still waiting.
Whilst Levy and AVB seek long-term value, we must brace ourselves for our traditional early season curtain-raiser – a frantic search for quality players set against a backdrop of ITK-fuelled fan apoplexy. I’m sure that substantial funds are available – Levy must surely be willing to back his new manager to a considerable extent if not quite to the hilt – and the marketplace is tough, but we should be more prepared by now. In Levy’s defence, the men we chase are much in demand. Top-class strikers and central midfielders are in short supply and come at a real premium. No wonder they, their agents and their current employers wait to see if a better offer comes in. Higher salary, higher percentage cut, higher transfer fee. No Champions League for them if they choose N17. Don’t forget it’s often the player and the selling club who wait until the window is about to close rather than Levy playing poker for the sake of it.
That said, for the right player if 10k a week and a few million over the top is the price to pay to pull out a plum, then it’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned. Push the boat out, Dan. Think of the TV money. Luka’s lucre. Think what a difference a few good men will make.
The Bleedin’ Obvious
Last month I was optimistic that AVB represented a good fit with Tottenham Hotspur. He’s ambitious, clear-thinking and will provide that extra touch of organisation that would have given us the edge at the end of last season. But in the end it’s down to players and we have some very good ones, who like our boss are on the up and determined to succeed. Young, with no entrenched ideas or notions above their station, I trust they will be biddable to the gaffer’s ideas.
That’s why I believe that we can look forward to a decent season after a stuttering start. We’ve changed the manager but can build on what we already have rather than undertake time-consuming and expensive team rebuilding. Bale, Walker, Sandro and Kaboul are top quality players with plenty still to come. Parker and Van der Vaart are top quality who despite their success what more. Lennon, Huddlestone and Assou Ekotto will do for me, while Vertonghen and Sigurdsson are good buys. Then we’re back to signings and strikers again.
Livermore is Our Leader?
Begins and ends here. Get it right and everything spins smoothly on its axis. A decent centre midfielder has to tackle hard, get forward into the box to shoot before dropping back to shore up the back four. They must have the touch of an angel to keep possession, the hide of an ox to fend off the elbows-out late challenges. Run all day yet maintain a clear head. Anticipate the danger and be there before it happens. We don’t ask for much.
This is Sandro’s year, when he becomes a world-renowned defensive midfielder. He really does have the lot. Maybe we should be grateful that he was injured for much of last term because it’s prevented clubs from seeing just how could he can be, so no transfer bids. And while we’re talking about injuries, Parker needs a rest. It’s a shame it’s imposed on us but last season his performances tailed away a little, so come March we might be grateful that his season begins in late September.
Meanwhile, with Sandro still playing for Brazil and having never trained with AVB, we have a problem. Hud is a fine player but I suspect he’s too slow for his manager’s liking, especially as he’s still getting match fit after almost a year out. He may well have to adapt or be on his way out. So how about Jenas as our saviour? Give him one job to do in front of the back four rather than expect him to get into the box as well and we might get more from him. Now who would have thought it possible? On his side is the fact that he’s fit and still here.
Livermore was a great success last season and he will look forward to the extra responsibility that will surely be thrust upon him in the next month or so. He works hard, looks for the ball constantly and has feet quick enough to keep the ball circulating. Above all, he will not shirk his duties. I’m so out of touch, I did not realise until today that he could play for England this week. Good luck to him.
Kaboul and Vertonghen could develop into an excellent partnership in the centre of our defence. Kaboul was many fans’ player of the season last time around – cut out some impetuous challenges and not get caught going too tight on his marker and he’s ready for the big time. From what little I’ve seen of Vertonghen, he’s fast and can cover well. He’s also burning to play for Spurs.
Also, Dawson will fit alongside both these men, their pace and that of our full-backs making up for the problem he has in that respect. He’s learned to cope with that well but defending is a team responsibility and if he plays, others can work with him. He’s wonderful in the box and a real leader. My only doubt is whether he will be able to come back from two serious leg injuries in a relatively short space of time. Caulker makes four. Gallas if fit is back-up but they may well let him go.
Without becoming a negative team, I wonder if Spurs’ defence may be our making this season. Certainly we will be better organised and less cavalier, with the midfield dropping back more readily than under Harry.
Going into the season with our current goalkeeping line-up is fraught with peril. Friedel was a rock last term, an inspired piece of business from HR. However, he can’t keep that bounce in his legs forever and injuries take longer to heal as you get on a bit (ain’t that the truth!). Cudicini was an able deputy but also has time against him, and goodness knows how Gomes’ fragile mental state has coped with a year of being humiliatingly ignored. Sometimes the new guy means a fresh start but surely for Gomes that has to be at another club.
Goals From Midfield
Bale could be the perfect left-sided player for AVB. Maybe he’ll find a home further forward. I’m not sure how VDV and Siggy will fit together but I’m looking forward to finding out. Certainly we should expect double figures from all of them. Have to, really – no strikers you see. Lennon has worked hard on his game but he’s not an all-rounder and may struggle with extra defensive work.
JD is no all-rounder either and again may suffer if he’s expected to hold up the ball and bring others into the game as well as score a few. Chances will come his way, however, with not only such attacking talents but also BAE and Walker flying forward.
Best of the Rest
Spurs’ policy of loaning out young players is paying dividends. Caulker returns a seasoned pro at Premier League and Olympic level. Kane has promise, perhaps better as coming from deep not the 40s centre forward he resembles. However, otherwise it’s hard to see the young men stepping into battle just yet. I was impressed with Tom Carroll and we should see him in the Europa League. Naughton and Rose will offer much-needed back-up at full-back where Benny and Walker were played into the ground last time but Rose still can’t find a position that truly suits him and in places the cover is as thin as the hair on my head.
I can’t see a future here for Bentley, Bassong or Dos Santos.
Refreshed after the break, I’ve paid frankly no attention to the friendlies but I’m looking forward to the new season as always. And as always, my hopes for the season are that we are contenders. That big teams worry about playing us. That we have a real go at every competition, including the Europa League. It’s essential that we reinforce that spine with strikers and a centre midfielder as a priority, or else it will all go to waste. You want a number? You do? OK then – 5th.
More of the same from me this coming season – impassioned, reasoned debate about all aspects of the club and reflections on every match. I’ll also begin a series looking back at some of the significant moments and turning points in our recent history plus some profiles on players who served the club well but do not get the attention they deserve, true Unsung Heroes.
Look forward to your company.