Spurs ended this convoluted and at times incoherent season on a high. Harry the Hero’s diving header from Dier’s sumptuous cross gave Tottenham victory against Everton and lifted us into a delightful but improbable 5th place.
2014-15 will be remembered as the season of the Fine Young Men of Tottenham Hotspur and it was fitting that Kane, the very best of them, should seal a creditable finish with an assist from another young player who when thrown into the limelight through necessity, did not blink. Like Mason and the excellent Bentaleb, who could turn out to be the best of them all, Eric Dier made the most of his opportunity. Often these youngsters have carried their more experienced team-mates on their shoulders, too often in my view.
Fitting though this ending was, the quality of the goal was not in keeping with large chunks of Tottenham’s football over the past 9 months. We have seen such rubbish sometimes, it was a most unwelcome resurrection of long-buried memories of the mid-nineties when Spurs were devoid of teamwork, ambition and above all hope. After a bright start, autumn and spring were flat and frustrating, bookends for a winter that was anything but bleak.
I watched open-mouthed and aghast at the disjointed, inept performances against Villa and Hull away, Stoke and Newcastle at home, that became a worrying pattern. Yet away from home there was another element. Late goals against the run of play transformed the side. 3 points at Villa, Hull, Swansea, Leicester, winning this way became the norm. However undeserved these wins were, we have been lucky that so many sides have missed good chances against us this season, the players began to believe in themselves. Their manager’s fearsome fitness regime that some older heads rejected, proved its worth. Spurs were still running as opponents flagged. Injuries were at a minimum. We had skilful players who without imposing themselves on the game for 90 minutes could win the match with a moment of class, Eriksen being the prime example.
In April and May, understandably the young players who had lifted us from the doldrums were mentally weary and performances suffered. The legs were still willing but the minds were weak. This inconsistency was intensely frustrating but completely predictable given the inexperience of half the players and the lack of balance in the team. Those who have taken a heavily critical approach on social media should just consider this for a moment. More about the manager and players in a moment, but this squad was in no way equipped for success. Sides full of young players do not prosper in the Premier League. I have been critical of an apparent lack of learning-from-mistakes and apparently of effort, I’ve bitten my tongue in irritation at a succession of crass errors, I realise our high final position is in part a comment of the inadequacies of other teams in a mundane PL, but remember this season as one where a developing team over-achieved.
In the middle, remember too some glorious matches and moments made all the sweeter because they were unexpected. Kane’s emergence as a top class footballer, one of our own come to save us from mediocrity. He will have a fine career but surely never a season like this one where for a while everything worked, every shot went in, even the dodgy ones. I loved him most though over the last month or so where though he played well the goals weren’t coming, yet he worked so hard, often without any support, intelligent, constant effort shifting the defence around, making space for others, always an eye for goal. He’s forever trying to do something for the sake of the team rather than personal glory. And all this without a hair out of place.
A hard-fought, tense draw against Manchester United after Christmas was a creditable result that should not be forgotten despite what followed. My vision of the Chelsea match is a dream-like blur of white shirts sweeping at will through the Blues defence, goal upon goal but the movement was sublime. Eriksen drifting here and there, pulling defenders with him, Chadli into the space, Kane a ghost for all Cahill and Terry could lay a hand on him. Harry’s shimmy and turn for his goal in the second half, bliss.
Then Arsenal, not just north London bragging rights but a deserved win against one of the best. Kane’s winner, right behind that looping header that hung for an age before nestling softly into the corner of the net, was unforgettable. Most of all, the atmosphere was as full-bloodied and committed as anything from the 45 plus years I’ve been going, and I’ve been to every one of the glory glory days and nights in that time. Bedlam in the stands, ears ringing in time with the tuningfork girders of the grand old ground vibrating in joyous rhythm, perhaps for the very last time. Perhaps there will never be another occasion like it before the wrecking ball comes in.
A Wembley final too, disappointing outcome but at least we took the game to Chelsea in the first half before their experience and billions became too much on this occasion. A reminder of the correlation between salaries and success in the modern era, Spurs’ wage bill is the 6th or 7th highest in the PL and that’s where we usually finish. The best young player of the season gets about a quarter of what Sterling is demanding.
Mauricio Pochettino isn’t the messiah, not even a naughty little boy. He’s a hard-working, diligent manager who has done very well to get Spurs through this season, let alone finish 5th. Firmly wedded to 4-2-3-1, the players know what is expected of them, and, most importantly in terms of progress in the long run, can build on this next season because for once there will be no changes in the summer.
This focus can also be his weakness because there have been times where this set-up has been too rigid. Towards the end of the season it felt as if he was devoid of ideas and waiting for the summer where he could buy players to fit his philosophy of high-tempo, pressing and always looking to pass the ball forward. I’m trying to sidestep the word ‘transitional’ here because it applies to most of the last 20 years, but also because it’s a euphemism. Pochettino has faced up redoubtably to a legacy of gross mis-management and neglect of the playing resources. Villas-Boas did not know what to do with the post-Bale influx of players, a £100m windfall and once in a generation opportunity that has been wasted. Sherwood was merely a caretaker.
Tactics schmatics. In the end, it’s all about players and the manager’s ability to pick the right ones. Pochettino was left with a poor squad unfit for purpose. One reason he’s been unable to change things around too much is simply that he does not have the options. The young players have prospered because they were prepared to buy into the approach of a manager who told them he could make them better players. Remember too they had to play because Pochettino quickly discovered the paucity of his inheritance.
Several apparently were not able or willing to follow their manager. Chiriches is a walking mistake, neat in the tackle but holds onto the ball in dangerous situations and easily beaten in physical aerial challenges. Capoue is too slow and one-dimensional for this manager, whose biggest mistake was entrusting Kaboul with the role of first-pick centrehalf. Injuries have deprived the Frenchman of the supple athleticism and power that made him so promising. The risk of giving such prominence to an injury-prone player was too much. I would not have sold Dawson, whose leadership and determination was surely an asset during times of change. Fazio, presumably signed with Pochettino’s agreement, does not look like an upgrade as he lumbers in and out of the side. Tough and clever enough to compensate for his limitations, he’s a barrier in the box but outside he has all the mobility of a tower block. Dier as I’ve said shows promise at centreback. He was fearless up against Costa in the League Cup final.
Vertonghen appears distant and aloof sometimes yet remains our best centreback despite being caught square one on one too often. In one match, Leicester home I think it was, he was inexcusably arm-waving and moaning at the problems around him instead of taking responsiblity to do something about them as senior defender. I suspect he would go if made a good offer.
Perhaps the season should be characterised not so much about the youth of the players who have done well but by those willing to take their opportunity. Ryan Mason said recently that he finally feels like a proper footballer. He’s taken his chance magnificently. From nowhere to the England team via a good summer tour in America that was the start of it all. I like his committment and ability to move the ball forward and he does not seem like a natural defensive midfielder so maybe all of this and playing out of position. We would have done less without him yet can’t rely on him to be the heart of the defensive midfield. His partner Bentaleb often gives him encouragement and an arm round the shoulders in solidarity. Spurs have taught this group togetherness and to take responsibility. Always available, he has an eye for the pass and keeps the ball moving. Highly impressive, he really could be something in the future.
If we’re talking about taking chances, Danny Rose comes out on top. He’s fought off the promising Ben Davies and looks every inch the attacking full-back. He deserves fulsome praise.
Our biggest problem has been the players wide in the ‘3’ of the 4-2-3-1. None of them suit the set-up because they are defensively weak. Chadli and Lamela are best when freed of any defensive responsibilities. I have been critical of the Belgian for his lack of work-rate. Lamela has learned to put in the yards but not that in the PL he’s going to get tackled before he can get up a head of steam. Both are effective when allowed to drift into the middle. Chadli has scored some fine goals and Lamela’s perfectly weighted angled through-balls from 25 yards are a delight. However, the gaps they leave behind have repeatedly left a fragile back four exposed, which some opponents have ruthlessly exploited.
Townsend is the Spurs youngster who has failed to grasp the nettle. He’s best flying down the left wing, powerful and direct. He’s not a great thinker on the pitch and the inverted winger role gives him too many choices. Come inside, go outside on the weaker foot, lay it off – too much for him, slows him down for a vital, fatal second.
Inside, Eriksen’s season has tailed away. He will never be a player who dominates a midfield. Rather, he needs someone else to win that battle, then he could win the match for you. Some fine goals and free-kicks will linger, none more so than his cool finish up at Brammal Lane when the defence fell apart late on. Spurs need more through-balls – we made chances from these and Eriksen can deliver. Trouble is, and this sounds crass I know, but he and Lamela have to have someone to pass to. So often this term, Kane has either been on his own up front or has gone out of the box in order to set something up. Poor Bobby Soldado is shot to pieces, a troubled soul who has scored goals by instinct since he was a boy and so has no idea how to make it better now they have dried up. Beyond redemption in north London, I can’t bear to see him suffer any more and wish him goals wherever he goes. Adebayor has been invisible, a troubled soul and out of contention. So no one to pass to.
Dembele holds on the ball and so does not seem to fit, but he has so much ability and strength, surely we can do something. He’s never been a DM and should play further forward. I’m surprised Stambouli has not been given more of a chance, especially as he was bought under Pochettino’s watch. Paulinho needs some sun on his back, once a good player who looks a long way from home. Nothing left in north London for him.
Last but not least, Hugo Lloris has been outstanding this year. I feel for him playing behind a dreadful back four. He looks so crestfallen when we concede as if it hurts him personally. His saves have earned us a good few points this season. I assume he will go in the summer, why would he stay if an offer from a better team in Europe comes along, and good luck to him, I will really miss him.
After the League Cup Final, it was easy to get swept away in a tide of optimism. The many pieces saying we had a spine of young players to rely on to secure future success were sweet but naive. My view is unchanged from well before Christmas. This summer requires a major overhaul of the squad and that’s without departures of the players like Lloris, Vertonghen and Eriksen who might be in demand. More about the future plus reflections on where the club is right now later in the week.