3 Characters In Search Of A Manager

Nine points, eight goals and fourth place. More than that, belief. The belief that comes only from winning. Beating the Whammers convincingly and brushing aside Fulham’s challenge on Saturday, a supposedly difficult place to go. Sandwiched in between, a contrast. A gutsy backs against the wall defensive display, we hold on where previous Tottenham teams would have crumbled. Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs have made an emphatic statement of intent this week.

As the drama unfolds, three different characters fight to find their true role. One has become a star, another a supporting character, the third a bit-part player desperate to show he’s worth time in the spotlight.

Jermaine Defoe is benefitting not just from playing regularly but knowing he will play regularly. He strikes me as a player who wants to succeed as an individual and who wants to prove himself despite his achievements in the league and his international caps. He’s only truly happy when the team have won and he’s scored. Not a criticism – on the contrary, all great strikers are both hungry and selfish. It has meant that he’s tried too hard in the past to make an impression.

There’s a sense he’s still the little kid in the class, always needing to prove himself. The drive to over-compensate led in the last few seasons to a great showreel with goals pinging in from outside the box but we fans saw the out-takes too. Cannonballs high over the bar or into the bodies of defenders stood right in front of him, as if he hadn’t noticed them such was his desperation to score.

He wants to be wanted, don’t we all, and he knows now he is important at Spurs. Redknapp made him welcome and dutifully JD followed him around but as it turned out his so-called mentor wasn’t always there for him. Arm round the shoulder is good for the cameras but if you don’t play him, that’s what he really thinks of you. That hurts.

Consider this from Friday’s Guardian: JD asked, should I stay or should I go? Villas-Boas replied, stay but more than that, I want you, I want you to play.

“Away from football, as a person, he is a top guy, a really nice guy. After every session he will come into the changing room or treatment room and go to every player to see if you are OK. ‘How do you feel? How’s your legs?’ General chit chat. He will do it with every player, every day,” he explains. “Even when I was away with England he will send me a message sometimes – ‘Good luck. How’s the game?’ Stuff like that.”

People in all walks of life are motivated by all sorts of things, but what matters most is what those around you think. Andre, the Andre that we were told can’t handle players, knows that. And Defoe has repaid him. At 30 he’s finally matured. Confident in his own ability and place in the team, he’s letting his talent do the talking. He times the runs to perfection rather than keeping the linesman busy. Sharp and alert in the box, he moves easily into the channels and makes opportunities rather than waiting for them to happen. His finishing is smooth and controlled. I won’t go so far as to say he’s waiting patiently as he’s constantly moaning, deeply perplexed and affronted if the ball isn’t always played to him in the box. But there’s a different air about him under Villas-Boas.

On Saturday he had few chances, indeed few touches, but took two superbly, fully exploiting the gaps in the Fulham defence created by their need to respond to Sandro’s long-range effort that opened up the game.

Stars are nothing without a good script and supporting character actors to feed them the lines. Clint Dempsey joined Spurs in search of the limelight before his career came to a close. All afternoon his former fans reminded him he might have made a mistake and until recently, many Spurs supporters thought the same. More than many, Dempsey needs direction. He can make things happen but only once he’s been given the ball. He’s not lazy and works hard for the team but he’s at his best finding space, operating in the murky haze between the back four and midfield. To score or set one up – he can do both – he needs the ball. More than one or two touches and he’s lost. More than most, he has to know where his team-mates are and they know where he should be.

This week, three decent performances and two assists, both balls made to appear effortless in their precision, one for Bale, one for Defoe. He may yearn for the top billing he had at the Cottage but for the moment he must bide his time and settle for being settled. To be part of the team. It’s a good way to be and he’s learning fast.

So that leaves one misfit from the summer signings. Gylfi Sigurdsson has yet to hit his mark, often wandering aimlessly in the background in search of direction as he too takes his shot at the big time. On Saturday he came onto the stage as substitute and ran hard to across the pitch and up and down, defending from the front.  Then, I don’t want to make too much of a single moment, he effortlessly set up Defoe with an economical, calm move in the box. Right place, looks easy but it’s not. A touch and a pass, looks easy but isn’t. He has stopped being invisible. We will need him in Bale’s absence.

And these players are playing, this team are playing, because their director is getting his message across. Afterwards Villas-Boas had the eager expectant look of a modest schoolboy at Prize Day. More challenges ahead, no doubt about it, but I hope he enjoyed his weekend. He deserves it.

14 thoughts on “3 Characters In Search Of A Manager

  1. Good post. Your insights into AVB mirror mine, Alan. Maybe that’s because we both work in the same world of social care. He is coming across as someone who not only cares for the players, but knows how to show it.

    I’m daring to hope that he will lead us to the Champions League this year. Lets see how we get on without Bale for a couple of weeks first though…


  2. AVB has shown real faith in Defoe and Dempsey and it’s starting to pay off, most recently with Deuce. I also think Lennon’s more versatile game is worth a mention too. He’s gone off the boil in recent games but has obviously benefited from being coached as opposed to just screamed at.

    The big difference in recent games though has come at the back. Dawson moving ahead of Gallas in the pecking order means less whinging and arm flailing and more dealing with problems. Best of all though is that man Lloris. He’s quick off the line, decisive in the area and has quickly improved his distribution. I can’t wait for Kaboul and Benny to return, I think we’ll have the best back 5 in the league.


    • Right about Lennon, another player whose deficiencies, defensive mainly, I’ve pointed out over the years but working hard and at his peak.

      Regards, Al


  3. Thanks Alan. Unfortunately, I could only see highlights on MotD on Saturday, so I was looking forward to the write up even more than usual. A very good week… at a very good time.

    I liked the focus of the piece on these three players. Sigurdsson made a similar run and turn in the US this summer and curled a cracker in. He’s obviously got more than we’ve seen so far. Dempsey really is making a mark now, and some of the little through passes are of a touch, vision and quality I wasn’t expecting; if only that super diving header goal vs Lazio had been allowed.

    I read the Guardian interview with Defoe on Friday, it was very interesting. I was very pleased for him, though I admit I haven’t always been as big or sometimes even medium-sized fan of his abilities, much as I like him as a Spurs fella. He, with AVB’s help, can continue making a fool of me for as long as he likes, in lilywhite of course.

    I’m very pleased for AVB, and therefore Spurs, too, of course. Importantly, we seemed to employ the rapier fast counter attack ploy while winning to good effect rather than just sit grimly on a lead on Saturday, as we did vs West Ham but not against Liverpool. I think the message is clear there.

    Tough one at Everton at the weekend, but hopefully we can get a result there having put the EL to bed on Thursday, with the later stages to look forward to after Xmas.


    • You’ll know I’m not JD’s greatest fan either but he deserves rich credit for his chance-taking. Freely admit I did not think he was capable of playing this well. I used to hope he would score, now I believe he would score.

      Regards, Al


  4. I really hope that Dempsey, like Defoe will go from strength to strength. The reason is simply that many on-line supporters have vilified these players and the manager before they’ve had a chance to settle.
    Siggy showed signs of improvement as well, and let’s not forget CD’s better form is welcomed, as we had no other option up front with Ade being suspended. Coincidentally Ade’s ‘suspended’ himself from Togo’s ACN team, and you have to wonder if CD’s form has threatened his position in the team, and a prolonged absence could kill it totally?
    Everton would have been a tough fixture with Bale, so without him, I’d settle for a draw right now. Good read all the same Alan, but I’m still on the fence regarding the team and style, not in an anti way you understand, just in a ‘it can go your way’ and we’ve had a good run of the ball during the past few games.


    • Hmm, good theory re Manu there. That level of paranoia rings true. You’re right, it’s early days. Not getting carried away but it’s important to enjoy the good moments. Team making progress but there will be downs as well as ups. Regards, Alan


  5. Yes, it’s great to see signs of improvement from Dempsey and Siggy, because I’ve certainly been worried (I always thought Kranks a better player than Siggy and yet the former couldn’t get a look-in), but we still need a top creative midfielder to replace the increasingly annoying Modric (will he not shut the hell up about Bale? Wasn’t it enough for him to do damage to this club by sulking until he left for the bright lights of Madrid? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if he came up short in the way Real play, and became desperate to return to a place where he was fully appreciated?). Anyway, the 2 improving players, plus 1 excellent one (Demps, Sigs and Dembele) play in the hole mostly, or on the wing if Bale or Lennon is out, so we need that Modders replacement as soon as possible.
    It’s going to be interesting to see how we play without Bale for a while. Maybe Siggy will slot in well there but it’s a loss. Not seeing the hoped for improvement from Townsend either (or Livermore), and we could do with Benoit’s return as he’s always good for a decent run up the left.
    We must press high against the Toffees and put a hard shift in otherwise I fear they’ll outdo us in midfield on their own patch, and I don’t think that would have happened wth Mods and Parker. Sooner or later the ever improving Sandro’s going to need Parker cover, and I’m glad Ade’s back, although he won’t start against Everton. Wonderful form too for Defoe currently, and I’m so pleased for him, but we still need a top class all round striker next year.
    Lloris has made the goal his own but we need Brad too, so I hope he doesn’t go in January. Defenders and goalkeepers put us in good shape (nice to see AVB give Daws his trust) and we’re not short of holding midfielders and support for the forwards, but we need that spark in the middle so we don’t drift out of games and hand control to the opposition, and we need that genuine presense up front.


  6. Well said. Nine points from 3 games and with Arsenal and Chelsea faltering it doesn’t get any better than that.
    Tough game against Everton coming up but a reasonable draw after that. Third place is beckoning and with the players warming to AVB I feel it is coming together.
    I am glad Ade is back as he gives is another dimension. COYS


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  8. I watched the second half of the Liverpool game on Football First (with the comfort of knowing we had won) and I thought the players are getting it; what AVB demands in terms of tactics and stamina. Add to that the fact that the foundation to a great team is an outstanding keeper, and knowing we have BAE, Parker and Ade returning soon, I had a cheeky bet on Spurs to win the league at 200/1. Audere est Facere. COYS!


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