With due respect to our next two opponents, Hull and Everton, these aren’t fixtures guaranteed to set the pulse racing. But Spurs are at a crossroads. Early season optimism has been punctured by a series of lethargic, inept performances. Defeat will push us towards the foot of the table and crank up the pressure. Their true significance however lies in the discovery of whether or not Tottenham Hotspur is a club with a heart.
For the first time in the life of Tottenham On My Mind I was glad of an international break because I did not want to see my Spurs play. Problems that have been simmering for some time, over a decade in some cases, have boiled over on and off the field of play. I have been appalled by our vapid, directionless performances over the past few weeks. Amateur defending, confusion in midfield, a great big nothing up front. More than that, too many players are not fully committed. They don’t want to put in the hard work that wins the right to play good football, and their manager does not appear to be able to change that.
Off the field, the distance between the club and supporters has become a chasm. Ticket prices, the new stadium with its threat of a move to Milton Keynes, the lack of any transparency, the absence of a coherent strategy to ensure we can compete – I could go on. The festering sore of ENIC’s chronic mismanagement of our club has burst open and only drastic surgery will staunch the pus that threatens to infect everything about the club – the team, the board and particularly the relationship between the club and its loyal supporters.
Like a celebrity in the jungle or the Labour Party in Rochester, just when you think things can’t get any worse, Spurs can find a way. Instead of taking responsibility for a diabolical performance, Adebayor, our vice-captain, criticised the crowd in the post-match interview, claiming that Spurs were scared of playing at home because the negative atmosphere adversely effected the players. Villas-Boas said the same thing last season after a home match against Hull. Blaming the fans: at least that’s one area where Spurs are consistent.
Supporters reacted with outrage. Kat Law, chair of the Supporters Trust, promptly issued a furious statement in the Mirror in response to Manu’s comments, rightly so in my view. Several good pieces in the press picked up on the effect on the club of Daniel Levy’s long-term neglect and lack of continuity, something I and many others have been saying for some time, which has now been recognised as part of the narrative about our club.
Predictably Adebayor recanted later in the week. He claims he didn’t actually mean to have a go at supporters. He tweeted: “I have NEVER [his caps] criticised Tottenham fans. I merely suggested that it would be more positive if they got behind the team more.”
We’ll never know the full truth. Certainly the author of the article, Tom Collomosse from the Standard, said Manu was talking in a concerned, reflective tone rather than ranting, although that’s not exactly clear from the final piece.
Adebayor’s comments are worth looking at but not because of the guff about the supporters. Regardless of what he meant or didn’t mean, it is indicative of a mindset that is looking outside the team for reasons for playing badly. Why was his instinctive reaction to blame the crowd?
Here is a far more significant extract from that article: “I could see that nobody wanted the ball. It’s hard for the players, it’s not their fault…we just have to find a way so that we can try to understand what he [Pochettino] wants to tell us and how he wants us to play..” This sadly confirms the suspicions I’ve shared on Tottenham On My Mind for several weeks now. Here is the truly troubling aftermath of that game – players don’t want the ball, are not responding to the manager and do not think it is their fault. As we prepare to play Hull tomorrow, I cannot conceive of a greater indictment of a football team.
That match is gone, Pochettino and his squad have to do something about it, starting with a major shift in their attitude. If Manu’s comments are in any way indicative of what’s going in the dressing-room. I don’t have the confidence that they will change.
Nobody wanted the ball at Villa where the fans sung loud and long way before the late goals rescued a dire performance. Can’t blame the supporters there. My view is that too many players do not want to take responsibility for their actions on the field. “It’s not their fault”…actually it is.
The attitude and performance level from this group of players needs a complete overhaul. “We just have to fight as a team…” says Manu. That’s right but where is that fight going to come from? It has to come from within. We will get nowhere if the knee-jerk reaction is to blame outside forces. And that’s what worries me. I don’t see leadership, resilience and sheer bloodymindedness in this squad. Let’s hope Pochettino has worked some magic over the break.
Sadly it’s no use searching for the heart of the club in the boardroom. After the defeat against Stoke, the club were accused of drowning out the boos by turning the PA up to full volume. I didn’t mention this in my article simply because I didn’t notice. Some blogger I am, missing the big story. I filter out the music at games because I find it intrusive at the best of times and anyway my mind was still very much in the misery of the game as I trudged out of the ground.
As ever, things aren’t quite so straightforward. Daniel Wynne was in charge of the PA for the Stoke game, not his usual job as he sticks to the match commentary. I’ve met Daniel a couple of times. He’s a fan who commentates, not a broadcaster who happens to be employed by Tottenham, and both occasions were at charity matches where he gave up his time for free, just to be there. He said that he did not turn up the volume intentionally and did not receive any such instructions from the club. For what it’s worth, I think he’s telling the truth.
However, that’s not the point. The accusation rang true for Spurs supporters. Judging it at face value against our experience of the way the club treats us, it sounded all too believable. Social media was in full-blown outrage and offended mode afterwards, turned up to 11. Nobody said, however tentatively, ‘surely they wouldn’t have done that…’ This is what we have come to expect, that the club will trample all over the supporter’s loyalty.
The PA is too loud, the fans not loud enough, it serves to obscure the true focus on under-performing players and a manager who is struggling to effect change. We are paying the price of the long-term instability caused by the one thing that has remained consistent, Levy’s lousy decision-taking. As have others, I have been guilty in the past of saying lazily that he’s a good businessman. He’s not. No CEO of a big company would create such instability in senior management or leave new appointments without the resources needed to to do their job. A lack of strategy leaves any company exposed. Missed opportunities in business mean progress is hampered and previous investment wasted. Even by his own benchmarks therefore Levy has failed. And that’s without mentioning football results.
Also, again regardless of accuracy the interview and the PA will form part of the narrative of the way events at Spurs will be covered in the media. Tottenham as a divided, dysfunctional club. That’s the way we will be perceived from now on. Never mind their reaction towards the crowd, the players better look out because if they falter, they will be mauled in the press. At least we can get behind them.
There are signs Levy is taking action, albeit in his usual reactive way. Paul Mitchell, Southampton’s talent-spotter, looks like he is on his way. I have no idea how good he is but it’s likely Pochettino wants him in which case he’s belatedly getting some support from the board and rightly so. However, we are faced with serious team rebuilding in the January window where we know the best quality players are not available. Never mind having to then integrate them into a team. Anyway, who wants to come to a club without a heart?
Supporters are the heart and soul of this club. ENIC, Daniel Levy and the players would do well to remember that. Instead of being defensive, they should encourage better relations and utilise our enthusiasm in the ground and in the boardroom. Bridge that chasm. Who knows, they might find what it takes to turn the club around.