I have seen Spurs lose many, many matches in the fifty years I have supported them but even after all that time they can still come up with something new. 12 hours on, my jaw is still brushing the floor. Truly remarkable.
In a gloriously messy, drab first fifty minutes, Tottenham held the Blues and did some good stuff of our own. Then we imploded, and when we go, we go. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I wrote Tottenham On My Mind’s tagline but boy did we cock up in style on this one.
Tactics, formations, players’ abilities? Nah. How about falling over? First goal: Vertonghen, no pressure, nil nil, near halfway, falls over. But that’s not enough. Oh no. In recovering he passes the ball 25 yards straight to their striker at the edge of the box.
Third goal: Sandro, in the box, nobody beside him, falls over. Fourth: Walker, no pressure, the most thoughtless, mindless back header you could ever wish never to see in your life. In between, the penalty that never was. 4-0.
Time was when we contrived to find inventively different ways of losing to Ars***l. Not enough it seems. Now the indignity has stretched out to Che***a and WHam too. Only our biggest London rivals. There must be some reward for such creativity. This performance is a shoe-in for the British Comedy Awards. Best Slapstick. I didn’t watch it but for sure the MOTD closing goal montage was to the Benny Hill theme.
Sherwood’s post-match warm-down was no doubt to kick in the dressing-room door, smash everything in the physio room then head-butting a new window in the dressing-room, pausing only to toss a Molotov cocktail of abuse into the team then quickly shutting the door to emerge, both stirred and shaken, to meet the media. The worst performance of the season provoked the interview of the season. “Lack of characters…too many of them too nice to each other….need to show a bit more guts…not be someone’s mate all the time” and most tellingly “some you can rely on, some you can’t.”
Such an open and scathing indictment of his players is rare in the modern game but rather than a refreshing blast of honesty, it comes over merely as symbolic of the disarray and disharmony that characterises Tottenham Hotspur from top to bottom at the moment.
Those comments should have been kept in the dressing room. I have no doubt that some deserve a 3 stage Saturn V with extra boosters up their pampered posteriors. Doing so in public and in this manner makes things worse – if that is conceivable. He may well be right – it chimes with the lacklustre, moody recent efforts of Vertonghen and Paulinho to name but two – but he’s a manager not a pundit. His job is to get Tottenham Hotspur FC playing to the very best of their ability. His comments were more than having a go about lousy football, they were personal. The question is not whether he is right or wrong, it’s whether the players will play for him between now and the end of the season. All he’s done is tell them he doesn’t trust them, so why bother?
One answer to that is professional pride, another is you play for the shirt. Both are true. However, the reality is, most of us respond best to people not concepts. Think of your own work. No doubt you do a decent job and take pride in your work but what makes you pull out that extra bit of effort and up the quality, to go the extra mile, is the personal touch. You’re doing it for the person, not the job description, the company memo, the name on the office door or the mission statement in reception. That’s how people are motivated. If I behaved that way towards my staff, I would not expect them to respond positively.
We need a massive pick-me-up. That’s a cold shower plus a bucket of rubbish over the head. In theory it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Sherwood’s comments show his lack of leadership experience under this sort of pressure. There’s a reason why you never hear the top managers talking like that in public. Goodness knows I detest the bland platitudes we get post-match but there’s a reason for that.
This said more about Sherwood’s feelings than anything else. I’m sure he was intensely frustrated. That was nothing compared with the fury of fans. No doubt we would all have liked to give them a piece of our mind after that flailing capitulation. White shirts? White flags more like. But Sherwood is the manager, not a fan. Very different.
These comments show his frustration went from simmering to boiling point, and not just about this defeat. In yesterday’s Guardian he said he had not got the credit he deserved for Spurs’ good record since he took over. Again, it’s not about him, it’s about how well the team does. Regarding the tough month ahead, Sherwood remarked that, “We’re not frightened by it, we’re looking forward to it…we’ve got players who want to play in big games..” So yesterday morning they were ready and up for it, by yesterday evening their characters had dramatically changed apparently. Which is it?
When Sherwood signed for Spurs as a player, I was delighted because a midfield organiser was precisely what we need at the time. And that’s what he did, organise. The actual playing and influencing the game that way, not so much. His defining image for me is of a figure pointing but not doing. He was in the right, others weren’t dancing to the same tune and it’s an image that comes to mind in the aftermath of this sorry effort.
Also, there’s an argument to say that his players did play for him until Vertonghen’s catastrophic error. Players were out of position playing in yet another formation, yet they responded willingly, keeping Chelsea bogged down in a turgid slow-motion swamp of a first half. It was dull but valuable, especially after two errors by Dawson, presumably one of the men Sherwood can trust, in the first four minutes, one an intercepted long ball, another being stranded out of position, let the Blues in. Luckily they missed, Hazard turning the ball high and wide with the goal open.
The formation felt like it was the product of the tactics board. Walker at right midfield in front of Naughton, Lennon in the middle (where under Jol he surprised Chelsea once upon a time. We went 3-1 up, he scored, we drew 3-3. Inevitably). and the link with Adebayor. However ill at ease they sometimes appeared, it largely worked and credit to Sherwood for that. Predictably Walker, whose positional sense is all over the place at the best of times, was, well, all over the place but he and Naughton made our right-hand side secure. The plan was to stop Chelsea’s through balls at source and we pressed hard and tangled them up.
We managed some decent possession too and pushed men into the box in good numbers as the half went on without creating many clear-cut chances. Bentaleb made then wasted the best of them, shooting wide when three begged for the cross. Kaboul headed over and Sandro’s well-taken first time shot momentarily conjured memories of his piledriver a couple of years ago, but Cech saved well.
The neutrals could either bemoan the quality of the PL or have a pre-dinner snooze but so far so good as far as I was concerned. The second half began in the same vein. Then oh calamity. Vertonghen had space and time, hesitated, turned and fell over. Eto was alert and scored efficiently as Lloris came out. Not an excuse but it seemed as if there was no forward ball on for Verts as he looked up when he first got possession therefore he turned back in on himself.
Almost straight away, Eto spun to the floor in the box with Kaboul just behind him at an awkward angle. Kaboul was saying ‘I didn’t touch him’ as the ref raised red and for once a player may have had a point. Harsh and hard to take but the cross would not have come in if Naughton had not, for once, missed the run of the attacker who got in behind him. Suddenly it had all turned spursy.
Again to our credit, we pulled ourselves together to some extent, helped by the Blues’ plan to keep the game quiet and win that way. No doubt still anxious about the threat of men coming off wide positions, Sherwood kept the full-backs the same rather than dropping Walker back right and switching Naughton left. Sandro became the makeshift centre-half. Chelsea were strolling but it looked like we could limit the damage.
Instead, we took our capacity for self-inflicted punishment to new heights. A ball into the box, Sandro running towards his own goal as he has done successfully so many times as a DM, with no one on him, just fell over. Ba tucked in the gift. Straight away, Walker headed towards his own goal from miles out. Demba Ba looked almost embarrassed to touch it in. Not even top of the table in the pub league. Thus the comedy of errors denied us even the self-righteous comfort of being hard-done by in defeat. Little comfort in being a laughing stock.
Sherwood is learning fast. He has some good ideas and I’m sure he will be a successful manager in the future. This ghastly dark comedy in fact tells us only what we already know. A manager with absolutely no experience in the role is not able to handle the pressure of being near the top of the Premier League. Daniel Levy should not have given him the job. Once offered, who could blame him for accepting but that’s irrelevant.
Also, everyone knows his is a caretaker role only. The players therefore lack the long-term desire to play for him because regardless of what Tim does and does not do, someone else will along in the summer. Not Sherwood’s fault either. The most gaping self-inflicted wound of all is allowing ourselves to be in this mess in the first place, and that is the fault of the chairman, not the manager.
My sincere condolences to the family and friends of Darren Alexander, the joint chair of the Supporters Trust, who died suddenly on Friday. I met Darren a few times and chatted via e-mail and social media for several years. Writing the blog I have met a fair few Spurs fans, and that description I’ve given seems to apply to most of them. So many people knew him and everyone who did has a kind word to say about him.
Along with a couple of other like-minded souls, he resucitated the Trust not to seek attention or personal influence but because he wanted the very best for Spurs fans, who he felt have been treated poorly over the years. The club give the Trust little breathing space over major issues but Darren achieved a lot and never lived to know that the prosecutions of Spurs fans over the Y word were dropped, after he worked tirelessly for justice.
Loyal to the core, Darren was proper Spurs. RIP.