Ego is a powerful driver for top professional sportspeople. Not merely the desire to do your best to win but to prove to others that you are better than they are. It is the most overwhelming motivational force, better than income or power, where even victory becomes a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
The clash of egos at Tottenham is palpable right now, so much so it can be measured on the Richter scale. As we stagger from the aftershocks of Villas-Boas’ departure, Sherwood and Adebayor have come out on top. For how long we don’t know, but in the short-term at least it’s doing Spurs a lot of good.
I don’t have a problem with egotistical sportspeople. Some are unbalanced by their hubris and are lost to me but if they deliver on their promises, it can only make them better. I like the way Brits love to take down the arrogant but any sportsperson has got to have a level of confidence in their own ability that mere mortals like myself cannot comprehend. It’s like Andy Murray being criticised for not turning up for the Sports Personality of the Year presentation. Top marks to him for putting his focus on winning top of his list of priorities.
I don’t want people like me running Spurs. Too bloody reasonable, happy to toddle along, no guiding light or masterplan. Recipe for disaster, that is, but sometimes those egos put the personal before the team, and there is no excuse for that. None whatsoever.
Adebayor’s disappearance this season was puzzling but had the ring of truth because of the striker’s reputation as moody and inconsistent. Spurs gave him some time to come to terms with the death of his brother. It seemed the right thing to do and he wasn’t repaying us by getting fit. Same old same old, one season then he’s had enough. Given our goalscoring problem, that we had only two fit strikers, that he could provide a different option, that he had a strop on could be the only reason why he was seldom in consideration, surely.
Turns out Villas-Boas hadn’t learned as much about man-management from his time at Che***a as we had hoped. AVB wasn’t having him back, because AVB had a vision of the way the team was supposed to play. That’s scandalous, and that’s from someone like me who has broadly supported him. Imposing his rampant ego on the fortunes of the side may have been an attempt to look strong and decisive. In fact, it leaves behind a tarnished image of a weak man denying to himself that he fears challenge. Good managers harness challenge. Manu and Benny were just rejected. Out of sight but not out of mind because their reputations grew in their absence, just as AVB’s is diminishing by the day.
Manu’s back with a vengeance. W Ham was his warm-up. Against Southampton he was the rangy, roving leader of the line we always knew he could be and have needed so desperately this season. His movement and options would have received my gratitude but taking chances too, there’s honestly nothing I would have liked better for Christmas. His first was a delightful volley from an incisive Soldado cross, close in and shoulder high, then tucking in the winner after the ball was momentarily loose in the Saints’ box. In between he held the ball and linked surprisingly well with Soldado, given that they have never played together. In the first half, Manu stayed more central, in the second the defenders followed him out wide allowing Bobby three great chances. Our weekend would have been perfect if he had put even one of them away. A goal could change his season and ours.
Manu is no shrinking violet. Brought back into the side by Sherwood, his goal celebration versus the hammers showed he was intent on revenge, to right wrongs and injustices, and this carried on yesterday. Probably not a deliberate, extended motivational ploy, designed to release his force on an unsuspecting league for the second half of the season. Sherwood shrewdly played to his vanity, telling him he knew Adebayor was good enough, there’s nothing he could tell him, now go and play. An up-market version of Harry’s legendary, ‘go and f**king run about a bit’ speech to Pav, it did the trick and brought Manu onside as far as the new manager’s methods are concerned. If you are after the job permanently, it helps to have a centre-forward grateful to play for you.
This wasn’t the only sign that Sherwood is determined to make an impression. Going 4-4-2 brings out the creativity of a group of players who like to play as well as directly addressing the goal shortage. Soldado and Eriksen were more involved in the 90 minutes of play, which indicates that Bobby had been told by AVB to lurk moodily around the edge of the box and in the middle rather than his natural instincts.
We made width without playing a winger and the all-round abilities of that four made up for the lack of blistering pace. They got up and back, for the most part at least, and worked hard for ninety minutes. Sherwood stamped his authority on the manager’s position if not the game itself by bringing on Benteleb for his debut rather than Capoue or any other of the benchwarmers. The young Frenchman displayed that poise and confidence that we are breeding into our young midfielders at the moment.
Like the change in formation, it gave the players the message that Sherwood is loyal and will give everyone a chance, that he is able to make decisions, that he is his own man. However, it was a risk. A below strength Southampton found it too easy to operate freely between our back four and the midfield. With strikers peeling off the centrebacks, we left too much space in front of and behind our often stranded back line. Both their goals came from moves that exploited this, the second coming from yet another error by Lloris.
Still, those errors are not so significant if we are scoring, and scoring one more than you seems to be the plan at the moment. It’s refreshing but the dangers are there. A win to enjoy but before 2014 is well under way, make the same mistakes at the back and we will be punished.