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.