Where Has the Spurs Project Gone?

Lately, Jose Mourinho hasn’t been talking much about the project, this ghastly, emotionless term that reduces the heritage and future of a football club to the barren business-speak of a clapped-out motivational speaker.

All successful clubs need a strategy for the future, to plan ahead according to their resources and aspirations. The most effective plans incorporate an understanding of what a club stands for, what it means for supporters, with a leader able to put it all into practice.

Back in December, he was all about the project and the vision. Spurs need that sense of purpose more than many of our rivals because our chairman wants us to live within our means, therefore any manager must make the most of the finite resources available to him.

At the moment, it’s very much about the here and now with team selections and tactics defined by expediency. It’s hard to see what Mourinho’s Spurs is all about. After the Leipzig defeat, he admitted as much in one of his jokey, throwaway but carefully planted and full of meaning press conference remarks that reveal what he really thinks and sum up the state of play so far: “If I could, I would move immediately to the first of July.” It’s a resonant message, born of his frustration. This is not my Spurs. This lot can’t do what I want so I need to buy and to have a pre-season.

Throughout the life of Tottenham On My Mind, my main aspiration has remained consistent, that Spurs are contenders, that we are good enough to challenge for honours. So far, what follows from there, that we might actually win something, has not been fulfilled and I live with the pain. All part of being a Spurs fan, eh?

Leipzig are everything we once were, not so long ago, but are no longer. A well-coached side with players who have faith in their manager because he’s brought out the best in them, players comfortable in their style and shape, eager, able to improvise up front and who know what to expect from their team-mates.

I saw a stat this week, which I haven’t factchecked, saying that since Mourinho took over, only Liverpool have won more points in the PL. We’re fifth in a year when that could mean CL qualification. I’m grateful, but you know things aren’t right. Jose knows. Hence his comments. He’s not trying to sit on the problem.

Mourinho played up his excitement at the squad he inherited. He quickly found out the scale of his necessary rebuilding. His first ten or twelve games were about experimentation, trying different combinations at full-back, centreback and central midfield. He’s discovered that we are sorely lacking. That Dier, a player he coveted when at Manchester United and who he brought straight in to his Spurs, is a diminished force. That Wanyama is gone in all senses except his pay cheque. That our record signing cannot play 90 minutes and whose warm-up on Wednesday was described by my friend Russ as possessing the athleticism of a man dragging a bag of wet cement up and down the pitch. That a team with Tottenham’s resources and aspirations cannot run to a back-up central striker. And while we’ve lived with this for longer than many of what I once called long-term relationships, it is utterly scandalous that our club has left ourselves so open to injury.

Leipzig are not the best benchmark in the sense that they are a coming force in Europe.  The trouble is Norwich, Villa and Southampton exposed the same faults in our defence but failed to take their many opportunities. Last Sunday, Villa were their coach’s dream, time and again doubling up on our left with Serge a-wandering and drawing Toby out of the centre, only to fail to do anything with the space they created. Southampton ran the cup game for extended periods. So open are we at the back these days that Mourinho has almost elevated this to a footballing philosophy: we can’t defend so we’ll do what we can and aim to score one more than you. But relying on the opposition to miss chances is not a footballing philosophy, it’s an admission of failure that cannot be sustained in the long run. Or indeed as far as tomorrow lunchtime.

Leipzig are a team, we are a collection of individuals, and that sums up Mourinho’s Spurs at this point. Some of those individuals are top quality players who deserve enormous credit for their efforts on our behalf. Their goalscoring has kept us fifth in a Premier League that’s average this year with the exception of the runaway leaders. Son lately, Kane before his injury, not at their sharpest but always a goal threat. Kane the leader, his remarkable second half performance against Brighton where he took it upon himself to lift the side and win the game, first with a goal then covering every area of the pitch to compensate for his team-mates’ failings, in the process knackering himself after four or five long seasons unbroken save for his injuries. Bergwijn looks highly promising, Moura unstinting in his efforts, with Le Celso the pick, quickly adapting to the demands of this league.

While it’s legitimate to question Mourinho’s long-term fit with Spurs, it’s unfair to make any lasting judgements at present. This squad and the injuries impose limits on what he can do. A sound team selection could easily contain four or five players each of whom has fewer than 10 starts for the first team.

The above quote is of course classic Mourinho, conveying a message crushingly familiar over the years which has been, when things go wrong, it’s not his fault. However, it’s perfectly legitimate to express concerns about what he has done with the players he has available. We have lots of midfielders but cannot either dominate midfield or stop opponents from playing. If his chosen method is the low block, the problem is that it doesn’t do enough blocking. On Wednesday, there was a moment in the second half when Sacramento, the coach, urgently waved players forward to press in the Leipzig half, the players seemingly unaware that pressing was what they were supposed to do. Teams drive the press themselves.

If sides attack our flanks, e.g. when Aurier stays forward (which despite his problems with positional sense is what his manager tells him to do), we don’t cover that. If we don’t have a striker, methods other than aimless long balls are available, like passing it through midfield.

This is not Mourinho’s Spurs. We’re still passing through the debris from the trail of Pochettino’s comet. And I’ve done the thing about Levy’s transfer policy for many years now, so no more here.  JM needs time and funds to rebuild. He and the chairman have got to sort something out. On and off the pitch, Spurs have become reactive rather than assertive or proactive. That has to end. Spurs need a plan, starting now, regardless of who is fit or not. Call it a project if it makes you happy but find one soon.

 

 

 

 

 

17 thoughts on “Where Has the Spurs Project Gone?

  1. Thankyou Alan. Since JM took over I’ve read so many Spurs articles and listened to so many podcasts that I wasn’t sure what I thought any more. But you’ve said it: “we have become reactive”. That comet’s debris is buffeting us and we don’t have a direction. So ‘yes’ to a plan, even if it is a ‘new project’. And, for me, yes to July 1st and some more shifting in and out…

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    • Thanks Joe, I too have had so many conflicting thoughts. I said when he was given the job that he’s not the right choice for Spurs and I’m trying to avoid confirmation bias here, but I simply don’t grasp what he is trying to achieve at the moment, and judging by their performances. neither do the players. He has a lot of work to do to reshape the squad and that’s not his fault, however. He can talk about July as long at he wants, but he knows Levy’s reputation in the market, doesn’t he?

      Regards, Alan

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  2. Thank you Alan; I wish I was still sitting up front on that great man’s comet, watching the exciting future rushing towards us, though.

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  3. Spot on with that analysis, Alan, and it reflects my own thinking re this season.
    It was inevitable that Poch’s and Spurs’ five year run of success (OK, no trophies very sadly,
    but certainly the longest sustainable ‘eye appeal’ memory of Spurs since the 1960s) would come to an end with a bit of a whimper. No main fault, really. Key players got older (eg Verts/Toby) with many perhaps disillusioned that such a glorious period produced no medals/silverware. Some left (Walker a season too soon, Eriksen and Rose a season too late, while Tripps didn’t have to leave at all). Some didn’t arrive; ie that long hoped for cover for Kane (criminal omission) and quality full back replacements (equally criminal).
    Blimey, I really wish now that Llorente had been given a further 12 month contract!
    Others regressed for no particular reason, Wanyama, Sanchez, while some stalled, Foyth, KWP etc..
    Injuries/illnesses have hugely affected Dier’s performances, and even Alli has looked a pale imitation of his former self occasionally, but at least he has a chance of getting back into the England set-up. The loss of Dembele hurt us more than we knew (that wonderful slow turning battleship who fended off all opposition in central midfield, thus allowing teammates to run free) and because he was unique, we couldn’t replace him! Kane and Son’s injuries/absences, at vital times in past seasons, we managed to get through (although it possibly cost us the odd trophy).
    But today, with all these culminating factors, we stand exposed, certainly on team performance, as a mid table ‘team’.
    Leipzig are a good side, no doubt, and each player clearly knows his job and his link-up with teammates, but they are no better than the Dortmund sides we’ve put to the sword with panache over recent years!
    Not to mention the lower PL sides you’ve mentioned, that we’ve struggled against.
    Yes, Spurs still have many good, and hard working, players, but we no longer look like a team. We look like strangers playing in a strange land.
    Part of this is down to slowly adapting to Mourinho’s new tactics, and transfer dealings in the past two years, but for the greater part, Poch, like many of his players, became a victim of disillusionment and changes he couldn’t address, let alone arrest.
    Alli must have wondered who he was playing for on Wednesday, following (at their best) the world class axis of him, Kane and Eriksen (ably supported by the likes of Son, Moura or Lamela) floating like butterflies and stinging like bees. Alli, also unique, is the type of player that needs the understanding of teammates to dictate how well he plays! He’s the ghost who makes space for himself and those around him, and his ‘telepathic’ links with Kane and one or two others has been crucial to past results. On Wednesday he looked like, well, just a ghost full stop ..but he was still one of our best players on the night.
    We look horribly imbalanced, Alan. It took many years to find our balance again, through the unfulfilled promise of the Bale/Modric years etc., to when we finally got there in the fluke Leicester season. For four years we flirted with greatness and glory, almost reaching the summit by sheer will last season, even when the all-important balance was fading. Now it’s dissipated rapidly, and despite the efforts of individual players, and the rise/promise of Lo Celso, Berjwyn and other new boys, it’s going to take a heck of a lot from the special one to get that balance back (and certainly not this season).

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    • Thanks as always for your thoughts CB. Agree with that – regenerating is an ongoing process, buy when things are going well and buy for the future. We didn’t and that’s not JM’s fault. That and his appointment is however a sign of a club who has lost its sense of direction and doesn’t have a coherent plan in place. Cue Mourinho panic buys in the summer, meanwhile, his current players are being undermined by being the manager doesn’t reckon they’re any good.

      All the best, Alan

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  4. Allow me to offer another more sinister (or depressing) angle on ‘the project’. There have been two, exclusive, projects at this club for years. It was a handy badge for Poch to hang his media duties on -to describe his efforts to be given time to build a dynasty. It’s what all new managers say when they arrive: “give me time to bring you success”. But there has only been one true project at the club and that is Levy’s masterplan to build a new stadium for the future, at the expense of investment in the team and Poch’s project. CBW above starts the list of how the squad became a shell. Add to this the disgraceful decision to sell Dembele (regarded by many as the most skillful player in the club), without replacing him and putting the team’s European status at risk, plus the lack of transfer activity in two windows and you have a tragi-comedy of errors and an almost obscene abuse of the manager and fans. I don’t think Poch is blameless in this. This boardroom contempt of the ‘talent’ doused the fire in Poch and the players can smell trouble at t’mill from miles away. It all spiralled down to the humiliation of the Munich games and the inevitable words of regret. You reap what you sow, etc.
    Enter Mourinho: I had to chuckle at one fans description of him: The genius of Mourinho is that he succeeds only in fiddling about and making the team worse even as he accumulates unexpected points and creates confusion with his mind games and faux psycho-ramblings. But he can’t be blamed for inheriting such a poor squad nor the injuries that seem to mock him. What a long strange trip we’ve been on: we were grateful, now we’re dead.

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    • You have to laugh or else you cry, David. Except I’m not laughing. I think we’re in a mess, the FA cup with success through 4 good performances could be our only hope. Saturday was dire and things won’t get better in the short run.
      All the best, Alan

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