Spurs Still Have Some Growing Up To Do

Spurs’ failure to close out a scratchy win on Sunday leaves an odour that will hang around for a fortnight, due to the wretched international break. This late capitulation seems to have brought comfort to many, although not to me. On the train home, a bloke who hadn’t seen the game but knew the score laughed along with the fans next to us. “I knew it, just knew it! Same old Tottenham, always rely on them to let you down!” He was relieved to be in such familiar territory, sentiments echoed in queues to get home and on social media, fans who with ten minutes to go were certain we would concede.

Except last season the Tottenham we know and love weren’t like that at all. We were scorers of late goals, miraculous at times like Swansea away. Fewest goals conceded in the PL. Unbeaten at home. Remember? Many appear to have problems coming to terms with the fact that we’re good.

Granted on Sunday it looked as if we had turned the clock back to Pochettino’s first season, at times even to AVB. However, Spurs have changed for the better and rightly we have come to expect more from this group. What is of concern is that so far we are not kicking on from last season.

Difference between old Spurs and Poch’s Spurs – goals, good football, sound defence. The real difference though is the mindset that underpins this approach. The team played like winners. They believed in themselves, as a unit able to beat the best the Premier League can offer, in team-mates who relied on each other.

For long periods on Sunday, this belief was entirely absent. Instead of going out to run the game, we sat back and fiddled around a bit. First half was entirely forgettable. The highlight was Hugo managing a kick more than 10 yards into the Burnley half.

We began the second half in the same frame of mind but Dele’s goal came early, bringing  relief rather than the anticipated confidence surge. It was only until around 70 minutes that we really imposed ourselves on the game. Sissoko was on, replacing an ineffective Son, his talents dulled by a disrupted close season. and looking good going forward. He set up Eriksen who couldn’t convert. Kane had three opportunities, Dele another one, keeper Heaton in fine form.

Meanwhile, at the other end nothing much had happened. Burnley seemed baffled by our offside trap and weren’t connecting with far-post crosses from the right. However, ominously they had three openings where they were given far too much space. On one occasion, Lloris dashed from his goal to make the tackle of the game just outside the box.

Ten minutes left, the game was ours to win but Spurs were having none of it. Our composure, so carefully nurtured over the past three seasons, deserted us. Instead of shepherding the ball to safety, Spurs felt compelled to make lousy choices and give it away. As the corner flags waved invitingly, we opted for long balls forward that the Burnley centre halves won easily. The danger came down our right as their left back piled forward but in the end, it was a cross from the right and poor marking that did for us.

The last few seasons have seen the side evolve to the point where we could control games for extended periods and deal with opponents’ inevitable good spells with few disasters. This is the hallmark of a top side, of winners. The next step was to consistently take that into the big games, the cup semi-final being an example of where we went wrong and an incentive to get it right. So far this season, we’ve not taken this forward. Early days but we’re not imposing ourselves and in the final ten minutes on Sunday, we were downright shaky. Basic lessons of keeping possession and closing a game out deserted us. With due respect to a decent Burnley side, it was not as if we lost our faculties under intense pressure either.

Pochettino didn’t have a good last quarter. While I admire his attacking instincts in bringing Sissoko on, this weakened our formation when we didn’t have possession. Poch has taught Son and Lamela when to curb their urge to get forward but Sissoko hasn’t learned the lesson. At the same time, he moved Dier in between Jan and Toby so we had basically a back five. Again, a bit of caution feels good to me, except that with Sissoko and without Dier, we surrendered too much of the midfield at a significant moment in the game.

Without much protection, Trippier’s defensive faults were exposed. This was hardly Walker’s strength but he learned to improve both his starting position and how to make lung-bursting recovery runs to get back. Burnley exploited Trippier’s positional uncertainty. He stayed tight when he had three centre halves covering him, then failed to see scorer Woods’ run.

There’s an air of uncertainty and irritability around the whole club at the moment. Wembley just makes us yearn for the Lane all the more. The transfer window is taking shape, at last. We’re buying promise and talent, fine investments on and off the pitch but it means the drive and resilience must come from within the existing squad. Buying one or two proven, experienced players would help to put right the faults I’ve talked about.

We’ve not started well but there’s still time. However, the question remains, if Poch wanted to go three at the back and Levy was prepared to spend a lot of money on Sanchez, should this deal have been done in the summer? Also, as yet no strikers on the horizon. Poch is looking for upgrades all round, surely Janssen does not meet his standards. Spurs have the cash to pay the fees but Levy’s self-imposed salary cap restricts the players willing to come to us, hence the late buying spree as players accept they won’t get better offers from elsewhere. Two days left so we’ll hold judgements for now.

I made a lame joke a couple of weeks ago on the E-Spurs podcast, something about Spurs’ poor management of the transfer window and how we could outdo ourselves by signing a player who was banned from entering the country. Until today, it looked as if I meant it. However, the man in question, fullback Serge Aurier, is about to hold up a Spurs shirt in a happy, slightly embarrassed way as befits all new signings. I know this because the man himself tweeted a series of fire emoticons. This is modern football.

Aurier is by all accounts a fine player, muscular, quick, has stamina, who will fill the fullback role crucial to Pochettino’s tactics. He’s also guilty of homophobic comments, undermining his manager and team-mates and has a conviction for assaulting a police officer.

I’m concerned that the club are prepared to consider signing a man with this record. The answer is ‘expediency’, at least on the surface. He’s good and half the price of the man he replaces. In terms of the club’s identity, I question whether that’s a sound enough reason.

Much has been said about Aurier’s off the field record. There’s the standard excuse that the only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch. That his comments indicate a misguided young man rather than a rampant homophobe. This translates as, the homophobic comments don’t matter very much, and to me that’s an unacceptable argument. And he’s been convicted of assaulting a police officer.

Levelled against this line of argument is the charge of hypocrisy. Gazza and Van der Vaart are lauded as club heroes, when both are guilty of domestic violence. I’m not excusing their behaviour but this is about the club, not the fans. We didn’t sign them knowing they were violent towards women. Also, apparently it’s ok because in a match Aurier once helped save the life a player who collapsed. Good, it shows another side of his character, although not mitigation for other behaviour.

The most ridiculous argument I read on social media was something about Steven Gerrard assaulting a young man in a nightclub and going on to play for his country. Again, we’re not signing Gerrard. All of this is irrelevant to the central issue, Tottenham’s decision to buy him.

We like to speak of the Hotspur and its fans having a distinct identity. We’re loyal, loud and proud, of our heritage, of sticking to values of playing good football, of turning up in the doldrum years when things weren’t going well, latterly of bringing our own through and not buying into the instant gratification and hubristic entitlement sadly prevalent in the modern generation of football fans.

We like to think this makes us different from the rest. Not much, we want trophies and glory after all, we want a new ground, we want Levy to spend some money, but different enough. We like to think, for instance, that we would not have defended John Terry’s or Suarez’s alleged racism, or bought players who have been in prison for certain offences. That we are a crowd where racism is not tolerated.

That the club considered Aurier’s signing shows we’re the same as all the rest, and it’s this that disappoints me. All this is meaningless because we’re desperate for a fullback. Spurs have welcomed the LGBT supporters club and valued their contribution both to combatting discrimination in football and to the atmosphere at games, yet they appear to tolerate homophobia. To them, I imagine it’s meaningless and insulting. Not words from the terrace but the attitude of the football club.

One mitigating factor is relevant, however. Aurier is a young man. He can learn, and deserves another chance. If he helped a fellow player, maybe he has a good heart, so here’s what I’d do. The club should tell him as a condition of his contract to make a public statement acknowledging that his past behaviour was wrong, that he’s learned from that and apologises. More than that, insist that he does something active to show he means it. Help out in the Spurs Foundation, who do excellent work in the community, including with people with a criminal past. Set up a meeting with LGBT supporters. Start a dialogue. Be a mensch. Grow up within this club and understand what our heritage means. THFC, you are the employer, you can say that this should be so. It’s easy if you mean it.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Spurs Still Have Some Growing Up To Do

  1. Totally agree with comments about Aurier. Poch is always banging on about signing players with the right type of character who will bond with the current squad. Yes we need players with outstanding ability but the club must maintain its integrity and the respect of people within and outside the game. We are a great club and nothing should be allowed to tarnish our good name.

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    • True, and one word from the Cheatski game: Lloris. To be fair, it’s a team breakdown, forwards didn’t keep the ball in Burnley’s half. Midfielder gave up ball before winning goal vs Blues. So not really one word. Except, maybe, more “clinical” or just “tougher!” COYMFS!

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  2. I thought that Pochettino was meant to consider a player’s character before signing them. You cannot get a character much worse than Aurier. I can think of Joey Barton, but apart from that I am not sure if there is anyone. If Pochettino really considered a person’s character, then he would go nowhere near Aurier.

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  3. Thanks for writing this, Al. Especially your comments about Aurier. I agree with you 100%. Some seem so desperate for a signing, any signing, they’ll tolerate his actions. People deserve 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th chances – so long as they are genuinely contrite and show a willingness to learn. Let’s hope he does, and let’s hope Spurs handle this one correctly.

    As for the game, again I agree with you. It felt like the transfer to Wembley was really a time-warp and we’re back to the dog days of AVB. It all feels a bit clunky and forced at the moment. Last year we were finishing teams off by half time at the Lane. Not Burnley though. They were tricky customers last year and a dodgy pen got us out of jail. No such luck this year.

    We’re going to be fine this season but we’ll likely look back on these 5 points we’ve dropped and think if only….

    COYS

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  4. I don’t know about Aurier’s personality, and I reserve judgement. What I do know, however, it that he
    is 3rd choice at PSG. So, as Spurs fans crow about paying £23m for a 24 year old 3rd choice full back at another club, and believing it to be ‘good business’, along with the £50m sale of Walker, I hope they remember that the only reason we’re in this fix is because we sold that perfectly good (no, better ..’world class’) full back/wing back who was a key player in our otherwise finely tuned and balanced squad, and, to compound things, sold him to a major rival! So not good business Mr Levy, and on a par with the panic buying of Sissoko last season. No point harping on about the Walker mistake AGAIN, I know ..but it still rankles as we embark on a season where all our rivals have strengthened even more in most departments. While we’ve had another ‘key’ player (Rose) upsetting the apple cart with his tabloid public greedy & disloyal moaning, all this despite having drawn about £2m in wages for doing nothing in the past 8 months! But I’ve no doubt he wouldn’t have done any of this, if Walker had remained at the club.
    Whatever Walker did to upset Poch, however, at least he maintained his dignity and kept his own counsel throughout this unnecessary move, while I have a feeling that Rose’s actions will reverberate around our squad for some time to come. I’m not saying the sale of Walker and Rose’s utterings are the reason for our poor start at Wembley but, despite our good play at times, something doesn’t feel right.

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  5. My view is that all 3 league games have seen the team look as if they’re playing with the handbrake on, and it could be argued that given the supposed calibre of opponent, the best performance of all was against Chelsea. And Chelsea were of course beaten by Burnley. At home. Comfortably. Each season sees some teams start off on fire (it was Manchester City had supposedly won the league by August’s end last season) , but Spurs, for whatever reason, start slowly. It is frustrating but I see no reason why the team won’t pick up as the season kicks in. All that said, while a team wins or loses together, very basic errors by Lloris & Trippier have been costly in the two Wembley games.

    The topic of Aurier is more difficult. I’d heard rumours but this is the first time I’ve read something dedicated to his actions, and it doesn’t make pretty reading. One hopes ones chosen club will rise above signing unethical characters but money, availability and need trump all in the world of football. That said, I’m uncomfortable with the hysterical witch hunts we have sometimes, though only seemingly for some people. Everyone says and does things they regret, and if people weren’t given second (and third and fourth and fifth ) chances, we’d have to throw the key away each time someone enters prison.

    It seems in the media those that shout loudest (rightly) for prisoners & offenders to be rehabilitated seem to howl with indignation when the same opportunity is offered to a footballer (The Guardian & Observer lead the way here , though the Daily Mail and the tabloids are just outraged by everything. Obviously). There are definitely people I’d despair of Spurs signing, but surely these people need to be rehabilitated too if one has liberal values? Your solution seems perfect to me and is very well thought out. I’m ignorant as to whether Aurier has expressed remorse, or done his penance etc. for his crimes. In truth Id never heard of him before he was linked with Spurs. Unrepentant bigots of any type though, in truth I’d prefer they were not even considered by Tottenham, no matter how good they are, or how much they need rehabilitated.

    I’m sure plenty will disagree with my thoughts on Aurier , but your article was very interesting and thought provoking. Certainly more challenging than discussing Trippier’s inability to cover his centre backs – something on the first page of a full backs coaching manual!

    Thank you

    DB

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  6. I guess none of you have never said anything that you’ve regretted saying? Everyone deserves a 2nd chance no matter what your profession is, who are we to judge??

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  7. Thanks Alan,

    While not firing on all cylinders, we had enough good chances to put stoic Burnley to bed well before their late rally.

    If we don’t sign a forward for the 3-man band behind Kane, I’d try Dier or Wanyama with Winks in CM and push Moussa on.

    Sage words on Aurier and the significance of his signing for Spurs as a club/fan base.

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  8. Held my piece until the deadline passed: this was almost a perfect week of business by Levy and Poch. All we needed further was another midfielder to gee up the others and give us more substance in reserve (pun intended) and we almost had it with Barkley. But compared with this time last week it’s hard to complain. I’ll admit that I’m not that much a student of other European teams to immediately applaud the Sanchez or Aurier additions. But I am more relieved and intrigued by the addition of Llorente. Up until now we’ve only had a “Plan A” in attack. Vinny unfortunately provided just more of the same when we needed to freshen things up or were forced into a different approach. Llorente provides a true “Plan B” and gives us badly needed height and presence. I’d love to seem him and Harry start a game and it would give even the best defences fits. But I suspect we’ll need to manage his appearances to make sure his 32 year old legs can keep going in all competitions over the next eight months. After all the fretting of the past couple of months when it appeared everyone else was just running past us, this news makes it almost worthwhile. But as my former union boss (remember them?) used to say, “Never make a decision until you have to.”

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    • Usual slow start. Frustrating, although we have to remember how our expectations have been recalibrated.

      Not a bad transfer window if we accept that we can’t pay the crazy wages that we would have to to get a pacy proven striker who wouldn’t mind being behind Kane.

      On Serge Aurier everyone is of course right, but note the reference in his statement on joining to the diverse fanbase. Of course this was probably drafted for him, but it shows intent at least.

      Hard on Trippier, but the motivation to keep improving of course.

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