Disorganised, demoralised and despondent. And that’s just me. Me, you and the players. When we speak of the bond between the team and the fans, this isn’t quite what we’re getting at.
Levy won’t dispose of Jose Mourinho as readily as he dumped his compatriot. However, the match showed Spurs as a team and a club adrift, with neither an anchor nor a course to set. The personnel and tactics change but the apathetic, erratic and error-strewn football leads to defeat in 5 out of the last 6 games. Worse, it’s hard to see what can change to improve matters.
With a nod to the pitfalls of oversimplification, players can’t pass the ball if there is no one to pass to. Yesterday’s debacle showed how easily City could isolate our players when they were on the ball. We were ponderous in getting the ball forward (at times I would have settled for sideways) and wasted potential openings because players did not work to make themselves available for the man in possession. This is not just about individuals, it’s about teamwork, and coaching.
Mourinho has been severely chastised for his negativity and lack of ambition. He’s tried to change that over the last 6 weeks, badly. If Spurs defend, we can’t attack, if we attack we can’t defend or attack. Enterprising, creative football is not just about style and infidelity to the Spurs Way, it’s about winning football. Mourinho isn’t and never was a defensive coach, but his teams could always defend, and there’s a difference that comes from organisation and transitioning into attack. Yet Spurs seldom look comfortable in possession for extended periods and we leave gaps at the back when we go forward. He knows it as well as we do but he’s struggling to find the solution.
Mourinho is a divisive figure, provoking strong opinions. With Mourinho, no one sits on the fence. Currently, the debate rages around whether this is his fault or the players aren’t good enough. Individuals are not up to scratch at the moment. Sanchez’s early promise, once our record signing I think, has stalled. His effort to prevent City’s third was slapstick worthy of Laurel and Hardy’s best work. Hugo has served us well and has come back from past dips in form, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that we’re witnessing a gradual permanent decline as a series of shots go through him and his decision-making is as weak as his wrists of chocolate. He’s the skipper – indecision flows from the six yard box and through the team. Dele and Winks have prodigious ability and zero confidence. Lucas searches for a blind alley, if not he’ll create one.
I take no pleasure in these descriptions. That’s not how I see Spurs players. They are my players. Our players. Get behind the team. If there was some way I could lift them, I would. They have to take some responsibility, but so does the manager, and he has a real problem with this. Right now, with Spurs in considerable trouble, he can’t resist shifting the blame away from him. If he talks about collective responsibility, as he should, he can’t stop himself from qualifying this with a dig at individuals and their errors.
The only solution is a collective effort, with the manager coaching and the players responding, as individuals and as a unit. For once, JM could say something bland to the media and go and sort the players out in the sanctity of the dressing room. But he feels compelled to put a distance between himself and his players.
I don’t care for him but that’s irrelevant. I care about my club and I want him to do his absolute, total best, but this is not effective leadership and it’s certainly not improving performances. The players appear unmotivated, nervous of taking risks, hiding on the field, unclear about how to lift themselves or change the way they are playing.
This is all about team building and coaching. Lloris has made errors, which he would readily acknowledge, but he has been exposed repeatedly by organisational failings. His defence could have done more to prevent Calvert Lewin charging forward, or could have reacted to Bernard’s late run, or filled the hole that Gundogan ran into, deep in our own box, and that’s just this week.
Over the last 6 or 7 games. Mourinho has changed formations. Against Liverpool and Chelsea we had different approaches with the same outcome, that the space vacated in front of the backline played to the strengths of those teams rather than nullifying them. We may come to look back at the first half against Chelsea as an era-defining lowpoint, except I fear things may get worse.
Lamela had a fine game versus West Brom, coming in from the right, Lucas in the middle of midfield and N’Dombele deeper, with space for the full-backs to get forward. This worked and it was good to enjoy a Spurs game. However, City exposed the inherent problems. Lamela comes inside, where City can easily deal with him. City don’t want to be stretched out wide, because it can create gaps and stop the work of their full-backs in attack. But we kept coming inside, which also left both our full-backs unprotected against one of the quickest attacks in the league.
He’s also constantly changing his central defenders, meaning a partnership can never develop. This isn’t solely about picking a side to deal with particular opponents, injuries or rotation. Rather, it shows he does not know what the best partnership is, and he’s been at Spurs for 15 months. Rotation works only when players are comfortable with the system and slot in and out.
This is Spurs. There’s no magic money tree, to coin a phrase. He chose a full-back, Doherty and a centre forward, Vinicius, who he clearly does not rate. This repeats his behaviour at United, where he spent a fortune on players only to tell them that they were not good enough, blaming them for errors. Sounds familiar. Players are grown-ups and professional football is hard, but creating a climate of criticism is not the way to get the best from the squad.
At any level, judge a manager by whether he gets the best from his players, and Mourinho isn’t. This comes back to the lack of fit between Spurs and Mourinho. These players are good. We know that because they played better in the past. They may not be up to the standards of their City defensive and midfield counterparts. That’s because we won’t spend money on that calibre of player. I know that, you know that, Mourinho says he knew that when he came, so therefore he has to work extra hard to develop the men he has, and he’s failing. On the contrary, he’s closed down the potential in Dele and Winks (I won’t have it that Winks is awful. He had an awful cameo against Everton but we and Mourinho know he can play better). Our former back-up keeper has been ostracised and we have Joe Hart with his dressing room inspiration and hands of jelly. A centre forward he simply will not play if Harry is fit enough to crawl onto the field. No effective back-up plan if Harry is absent.
Levy chose him, seduced by the shiny shiny trophies he won once upon a time. Mourinho is a born winner, so the story goes. He was and could be in the future, but that doesn’t mean he is right for Spurs. You hear this so frequently without analysis of how he wins. He is a man in a hurry. He has no need to put down roots at any club, no incentive to develop talent and tactics over time. Fine, that’s not what he does, but his skills are not what we need. We need someone able to revamp the squad, ease replacements into position and develop what we have already, all on a budget more limited than he is accustomed to.
This month has been a low point in Spurs recent history, with lacklustre, directionless performances brought into sharp focus by the efforts of other teams who now seem to feast on our weakness and discomfort. Even through those ultra-defensive games, I saw some signs of progress because the players responded and were motivated. Now, I’m pessimistic about the future.
In the short-term, if there was anything positive to take from yesterday, it was Dier’s determination and willingness to address recent mistake to take his fate into his own hands, a perfect attitude. Tanganga did enough to stay in the side, and Mourinho could stabilise the defence, using our forwards without resorting to early season negativity. And trying to be positive, all is not lost. Maybe the Europa League is a chance to build again, plus, this year’s league means any resurgence could see us moving up again.
Convince me otherwise but I can’t escape a sinking feeling about the future. Here’s a plausible summer scenario. Spurs need not a refurb but a major rebuild. Some players are disaffected, others not good enough, others past their best – Hart, Sissoko, Toby, Hugo, Bale are all in their thirties. In addition, we need different types of player, like other midfielders able to both defend and get the ball forward. Young players have promise (Skipp, Rodon, White, Scarlett later but not yet) but need more time.
Levy is not keen to spend. This is reality not parsimony, because we have the stadium debt, no crowds, no hospitality income. Our manager isn’t committed to this longer-term strategy. More disruption. Players don’t want to come to us because we’re not in the CL or in Europe, and/or Spurs are no longer the attractive step up that we were until recently. And I dare not think about Son’s and Harry’s future plans. I write a series of blogs until 2025 about how we’ve thrown it all away, then collapse in a gibbering heap on the East Stand concourse. Tell me that couldn’t happen.