Spurs: Anxiety Not The Crowd Are Your Enemy

“Things aren’t working as well as I had hoped and I’m worried.” That’s not what Andre Villas-Boas said after Spurs narrow win against Hull yesterday but that was what he meant. It’s not so much what he said about the atmosphere or the fans, it’s why it was on his mind in the first place.

Villas-Boas strikes me as someone whose understated manner and schoolteacherly demeanour hides a burning determination not merely to find success but to do it his way. I welcome that: Tottenham need a leader with fierce ambition. So it’s odd that for someone so single-minded, he’s allowed factors outside his control to intrude.

I’ve seen Spurs play a lot worse than they did yesterday but we certainly should have made much more of our superiority in terms of possession and territory. Not for the first time this season a debatable penalty gave us all three points in a match we dominated but where we failed to score from open play, make that seldom looked like scoring from open play. We’re fourth in the table with a squad that needs time to gel, yet something is bugging our manager when his sole focus should be on the team. The last thing Tottenham need is a distracted manager. After all, he has more than enough to occupy his mind.

The Machiavellian interpretation of Villas-Boas’s comments suggests it was a planned diversion away from questions about the quality of his team. Today’s headlines are all about the press-conference not the match, but I doubt it. In time-honoured media tradition he slammed” the fans and “lashed out” in a “post-match rant.” In fact, its tone was more considered:

“Today we played in a very difficult atmosphere – very tense, very negative. We looked like the away team…I think the stadium reflected that atmosphere – very tense, very little support and it made it very difficult. I’m very happy with the players and the way they fought against that anxiety and kept their cool to get the three points.”

At its best there’s no place like the Lane but the atmosphere is undeniably subdued at many home games. Yesterday was more raucous than many recently, not much singing or chanting but plenty of noise in the second half as Spurs upped the tempo to try to force a goal. There was tension in the air but that’s only because the crowd are genuinely anxious. It’s not so much that we expect a win, more that we know how important these home games against teams below us in the league are. The stakes are very high these days – when we are challenging for the top four there is bound to be anxiety in the air.

In an ideal world we would be carefree and happy-go-lucky. In real-life that anxiety leaks out. Most of the time I can keep a lid on it but our lack of application after we scored was infuriating. We gave away two unnecessary free-kicks in dangerous positions and could not keep the ball. Most of the time, though, I stick to a self-punitive approach. At one point I was so angry, I punched my hand in frustration, so hard that I have a bruise today. Others let it all out, and no wonder.

Yesterday I felt there were as many moments in the second half when the crowd tried to lift the team as there was negativity. I wonder if the manager was irritated by some impatience shown when we had possession but were going sideways. Patience is important – we had to move the ball around to break down the massed ranks of Hull defenders who dropped further and further back as the match wore on. There was one moment when Dawson was roundly barracked for passing the ball backwards but that was unreasonable on the part of the fans because he was under pressure and sensibly played it the way he was facing. We have to be patient.

Equally, some of the problem comes because Spurs fans know their football. For the last few games we have not played with a consistently high tempo. This makes it easy for teams to defend against us. We know the solution and have the players to put that into practice, so it’s frustrating when they don’t respond.

What I dislike about AVB’s statement is the oppositional position he takes up between team and fans. The team were battling Hull, not the anxiety in the stands. This is the reality of being contenders. Sadly it’s part of football culture these days. Manchester United supporters booed their team off the field at half-time on Saturday, Arsenal fans were apoplectic after their first home game (wonder how the guy who threw away his season ticket is feeling now?) and for many Chelsea fans last season represented abject failure.

However, regardless of this, Spurs were not playing well and they should look at their own shortcomings rather than those of the supporters if they wish to solve the problem. We put a lot into the club and chant AVB’s name. I hope he’s not creating an ‘everyone is against us’ mindset in the dressing room. Later he added that, “I represent the group and I’m speaking for them. This [anxiety] is a feeling that invades us in games like this.”

Still, hardly a rant of negativity as he went on: “I’m extremely happy with the crowd normally. Fans for me represent the essence of football. To put myself in this position is very difficult for me. The away support has been immense but the reality is we have managed to beat the record of away wins because we play comfortably away from home – we don’t find situations of pressure.”

Far be it from me to suggest the media have made too much of this. But to return to my question, if the crowd have been good normally, why did it get to him yesterday? AVB knows something is not quite right, which comes back to one of my recent themes about not knowing his best team. Our team does well away from home not primarily because of the support but because we are well placed to profit from counter-attacking. Yesterday it was no coincidence that our three best first half attacks were all on the break after a Hull set-piece.

The other reason is that teams do not put ten men behind the ball at home. As I predicted, the West Ham performance has become a template for how to play against us. We still lack the wherewithal to prise open a packed defence. Two things from yesterday. Much as I love seeing a winger in full flight, two wingers means we have width but no one in the middle to give the ball to, or with the inverted wingers, they come inside and are gobbled up by opponents grateful that they are not being torn apart out wide. Also, however quick they are, wingers aren’t as fast as the speed of a moving ball being passed at speed. When defenders are packed deep, it’s easier for them to recover when faced with a man running with the ball.

Connected with this, yesterday we were trying one-twos through the eye of a needle. None came off. It’s more than one or two men, we failed to involve three, four or more men in the moves. Contrast that with Liverpool and Arsenal who at their best involve several players with purposeful movement at pace off the ball.

Spurs have put in more shots on goal than almost any other side but have a low percentage of chances and converted chances. Soldado missed our only genuine chance in the box, shooting tamely for Harper to save. We have to get the ball in the box more often and have more players to compete there. Pointless having Eriksen or Holtby as the number 10 if there is no one to pass to.

Time. Time and patience. Time and patience to find a good blend and the right balance. We are fourth with another clean sheet so that’s a good place to be even knowing that it could be better. In that respect, it’s something the crowd, the players and the manager should have in common.

12 thoughts on “Spurs: Anxiety Not The Crowd Are Your Enemy

  1. Hello Alan.
    I’ve always been a supporter of AVB and am happy to have a manager who wants to win.
    But his comments yesterday showed that he still has a lot to learn not only about his role as a manager but also the recent history of our team.
    Of course the fans are jittery because they’ve seen their side defeated so often in the past in this type of match, and yesterday’s performance did nothing to alleviate their concerns.
    The players seem to be afraid of making an error. Is that the crowd’s fault?
    Spurs supporters appreciate that endeavour can come at a price, a misplaced pass god forbid.
    Yesterday’s match had plenty of misplaced passes, few of which would have resulted in anything other than a return pass.
    It can’t be ignored the we’ve had our fair share of luck with refereeing decisions, I believe that we’re currently in a false position.
    This good fortune wont last forever however so what then?
    Only time will tell if the side will gel and fourth place is hardly a disaster.
    But for the first time since AVB took over my optimism is being dulled, simply because of the football we’re playing.
    1 – 0 to the referee never rang truer than at the lane yesterday. It was a depleted Hull side.
    It would be silly not to be a little concerned.

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    • I agree that the team was off the boil yesterday, but the home crowd’s negativity helps none but the opposition. The team looked lethargic (Europa league?), but we should realise that this team needs time to gel. Historically, a Tottenham team, especially at home feeds off the spectators and vice versa. So to those negative supporters, who claim they want to see Spurs playing at their entertaining best, keep on dragging your team down. COYS

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    • If we have problems, let’s have them while we are fourth not fourth from bottom. We are not the fourth best side in the league, unfortunately, so will struggle to hang on to that until AVB gets more from the squad. One difference for me is that this is the sort of thing I expected – a variety of performances and performance quality. Frustrating but necessary. It is a revamped squad and it takes. Impatience elsewhere on the net or in the ground is misplaced.

      That said, AVb has to take a hard look at the inverted wingers – see the blog above and other peieces this season – and must rest players after midweek games, Vertonghen’s workload in particular is too heavy.

      Regards, Al

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  2. Yesterday was a grim affair just like West Ham but with a better result. I wasn’t negative as such, the team does need time to gel, but it was tedious to watch and it was hard to raise much enthusiasm. No one booed the team where I sit but for large periods of time, I just stared out onto the pitch as our players took turns to do a Vinnie Samways impersonation before trying to pass the ball through 3 Hull players.
    In short, I was off form, the team were and AVB was too. The main thing is that we won whereas, a few years ago, we’d have thrown at least a point away so let’s be thankful for small mercies.

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    • Little booing but much frustration around me. A very frustrating performance but I console myself with the knowledge that you and I have seen much worse.

      We’ll see. Playing poorly, winning, fourth. How we’ve dreamed of that combination….

      Regards, Alan

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  3. If AVB thought the crowd was negative yesterday he should have been at some of the games i have seen over the years when the supporters have actively been calling for the heads of everyone from the chairman down to the tea-lady. However, it does lead to the question, “should the supporters gee up the team or the team fire up the supporters”. In my opinion, as we, in some small part. pay the players and managers wages, they have a responsibility to us to inspire the crowd.

    We have to remember that football is part of the entertainment industry and therefore we,as in the film and theatre industry, pay to be entertained. You don’t often hear an actor complain that he put in a poor performance because the audience didn’t cheer his every move. This just goes to show me that footballers are now so far removed from he normal working man that they have NO concept of what the paying public expect.

    The Spurs way is that of glorious failure. So near yet so far. I expected nothing different this year. What I did expect was to see was chances being wasted, open goals missed, shots flying in from all angles and free kicks being consistantly aimed at the guy behind the goal in row Z. Not 28 passes across the back 4 before we even try to get out of our own half. Possession is nothing without an end product.

    So come on Andre, give us something to cheer about and you’ll find the crowd will rise to you and give you the support you want

    COYS

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    • The ground has been much quieter in the past so it was an odd choice for AVB to pick this game as the one where his feelings spilled over, or perhaps as I said in the article, it was a way of projecting his anxieties about the development of the team elsewhere.

      The relationship between crowd and team is and always has been interactive, far more complex than just crowd lifts players or players lift crowd. Always a little of both. The reasons why the modern Spurs crowd is quiet are complex too – maybe we want more entertaining football, we want to win and become tense when things go badly, the crowd are older by and large (ST holders an average age of 42), seats, prices, moving first the Park Lane and then replacing the Shelf with exec boxes. We are not unique – as I mentioned in the piece.

      Agree re end product – possession is good and I’ll accept that patiently but we do not seem confident in searching for that final ball, upping the pace when we get near the box, getting several players moving off the ball at once rather than silly flicky one-twos. I’m a patient man but it is becoming clear that this could escalate into a major problem.

      Regards, Alan

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  4. It’s a poor analogy. Going to football matches is nothing like going to the theatre or the movies. We have a deep love (ingrained and without reservation) of our clubs, and our trips to football matches reflect that, whether the football is dire or Barca-like. Whether top of the PL, or bottom of the Conference, our love for our football clubs transcends entertainment, and anticipates personal and group excitement/joy, whereas we will also tolerate crushing disappointment, still returning again and again. I know little beforehand of any production or film I’m going to see (even if I’m familiar with the book or play itself). I will simply go ‘hoping’ to be entertained, but will put it down to taste or other factors if I’m not. If I’m ecstatic during, or after watching, a play/film, I’ll talk of it later and remember it for a while, but probably won’t venture to see the same production/film again at the same venue. I’ll also neither cheer or heckle, maintaining a respectful silence, unless the production welcomes interactivity, responding generally and only at the end.
    An actor doesn’t want noise while he is working, naturally, but a footballer wants and needs bucket loads! We are not an audience, we are a crowd, and a fully interactive one. As much as I feel AVB must learn adaptability and has been slow to respond appropriately in matches (think Chelsea 2nd half, and West Ham throughout ..plus he got away with it yesterday), he is right about our silence and negativity yesterday. We need to be cheering and encouraging our players more, not simply watching them quietly with nail biting hope. Maybe it’s down to the fair weather fans or corporate lot buying tickets off genuine fans for the lesser games (money winning out over emotions?), or maybe our expectations now fully outweigh our tolerance of disappointment. Either way, eliminating the fickleness of Spurs crowds over the decades, the players NEED the atmosphere and noise in which to perform and compete. Let the fans always inspire the players whenever the players are struggling, and let the players inspire the crowd when they hit top form. That is the circle in which we should all be doing our bit.

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    • Right about that ‘circle’, Chris. See above comment for some reasons why vocal support is dropping, sadly. The 1882 movement is doing a great job and to be fair, the club are willing to work with them where tickets are available. The new ground will make a difference if managed properly.

      Regards, Al

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  5. If fans are so important to the success of the team in what is now a multi billion pound industry, shouldn’t we get a slice of the pie? The players, managers and TV companies clean up in what is now nothing more than a capitalist enterprise to rid fans of their cash. AVB has shown that he’s a naive mumbling little twit with his comments. This is only going to end one way. Bye bye AVB, you never really had a clue.

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    • Good use of twit. An under-used expression that you have rightly brought back to describe how these comments can come over. But he’s not naive – something else going on here, more worrying in fact than pronouncements about the crowd noise. If he starts to blame problems and forces outside the team for the issues on the pitch, that shows a paranoia that won’t solve the problems re team selection and tactics.

      Cheers, Al

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