The meaning of a victory can often be found not in the league table but in the way it is achieved. Three points from the champions on the opening day is the best possible start for new manager Nuno and kickstarts Spurs’ campaign into life. Defeating the champions is satisfying on any day of the season.
But with this one, the feeling around a victory has a lasting significance beyond the three points. Welcome to Nuno’s Spurs, working for and off each other with purpose and intent, their motivation beyond doubt, who after a sticky start declined City’s offer to give ground and roll over.
Always try to look forward. Strive to improve. But expunge the ghosts of the past to ensure progress is possible. The crowd’s growing exuberance reflected events on the field, then as the intensity increased, so did the noise from the stands. This wasn’t just about City, it was the growing realisation that change was in the air, that a burden was lifted from our shoulders. Spurs were dragging themselves bodily out of the emotional quicksand of a horrendous 18 months and that’s cause for celebration.
There’s a skip in the step this week, a twinkle in the eye. This feels like a new beginning, fans and players closer again. It’s us not them, us not him, team not me me me. And people rediscovering how to be fans, celebrating just being there and rejoicing in the very thing that enticed us in the first place and never let us go, the collective experience of being together.
I see Tottenham’s future, and I name it Tanganga’s eyebrows. The pressure’s extreme, cauldron of noise, his expression is one of mild surprise, bordering on the ironic, with a little bemusement on the side. Man-to-man on an England star, one of the quickest and trickiest in the league, fine by him, eyebrows raised. Ref’s on at him, eyebrows raised. Pep’s having one of his passive aggressive chats, expression unmoved. Just run back and get on with the game, eh Pep.
Lot of Spurs love coming your way, Japh. Tackling – remember that? You probably don’t know what I’m talking about if you’re under 25. He won’t back down. He came with that approach in his debut against Liverpool, two early challenges on Mane, don’t let him turn, he’s mine. Taken a while but here it is again.
Nuno is Lazarus by proxy. It’s a fallacy to believe he is wedded to defensive football. Rather, he’s pragmatic and adaptable with a variety of tactical approaches to shape the players he has at his disposal. The Kane saga has gone a long way to deflect attention from the considerable task faced by our new manager, in overcoming the poisonous legacy of his predecessor. He inherits a unbalanced squad with core weaknesses in central defence and midfield and potentially no central striker. Reinforcements are on their way but he will have to make something of what we already have. He must resurrect the flagging careers of players like Dier, Sanchez and Dele, give Moura and Lo Celso some direction. Teach Reguilon defensive discipline. He’s done much already in a very short space of time. Ndombele is already beginning to feel like a lost cause.
Gollini and Romero have in common a front-foot approach to defending. They don’t sit back and wait for things to happen, and this epitomises Nuno’s strategy, at least on the evidence of Sunday’s match. We defended in depth but were never passive. Pressing and harrying were the orders of the day, including deep inside our own half. Dele led the way. While Skipp’s return from his successful loan at Norwich is rich with promise, Dele has to reinvent himself as a midfielder in deeper positions than he is used to, or indeed prefers, in this case a highly successful stint on the left of Nuno’s 4-3-3. When City did break through, Dier and Sanchez stayed in their shape, refusing to be tempted out of position.
Nuno brings us closer together. Easy to forget that not so long ago, the players skulked in the dressing room, afraid to emerge after the final game of the season. Stewards were apparently instructed to tell fans to go home, fans consigned to the top tiers, as far away as possible from the pitch and who paid ticket prices that were effectively increased. How to alienate a fanbase in one painful lesson.
There is warmth about him, a passion for the game and for doing his best that endeared him to Wolves’ supporters. More than understanding the club’s heritage, he respects it. Tottenham means something to fans who unlike the players and managers are not just passing through. Stony faced at the final whistle, head still in the game, by the time he went down the tunnel a few minutes later he had defrosted, warmly greeting the Spurs fans delightedly high fiving him.
Nuno is who we need right now. Spurs need to build again after chucking away years of hard-earned progress. Paratici is working with him, not against him, let us hope Levy understands that he too should collaborate, not go his own way. Past experience suggests he does not learn lessons, and the recent exodus of non-playing staff implies he does not work well with others but again, time will tell.
There’s something else.
There’s a noir from the forties, can’t recall the name, where a nefarious nightclub owner decides to renege on a business deal to put one over on another party. He icily dismisses the objections of the leading woman, who by this point is beginning to doubt the good intentions of her employer: “there’s profit and loss, everything else is just conversation.”
City want to buy Harry Kane. Closer to deadline day, they will make an offer closer to his market value than the £100m Spurs declined. They will try to get away with the lowest possible figure. Spurs may sell, they may not. I think they will, hope I’m wrong. They will try to get away with the highest possible figure, then decide nearer deadline day. It’s a transfer negotiation. This is what happens. Profit and loss.
All I need to know about Harry Kane is that he doesn’t want to play for Spurs. Everything else is transfer game-playing, with both parties playing the PR game. Don’t play it if they try to get you on their side, they’re just using you and me if you let them.
Charlie Kane should know better than to play transfer poker with Daniel Levy. His achievement in making Levy look the good guy is remarkable. Not easy but Charlie’s done it. Spurs knew all along how this part of the saga would play out. Saved 200k, onus back on City to bid. The rest fills airtime and the back pages but Charlie’s blundering PR makes little difference to what matters to the family in the end, the pounds, shillings and pence in the contract, whether it’s signed by Spurs or City.
Harry Kane is one of the greatest players I’ve seen in over fifty years at Spurs. The goals, the dedication, the moments, the dazzle of some of those goals, the leadership. The shiver of anticipation when the ball is passed to him, 35 or 40 yards out, around him there’s movement, something is going to happen. The possibilities.
I judge players by way of a mental balance sheet, a set of old-fashioned scales. On one side, what they have given to me and to the team, on the other, the bad days and the (almost) inevitable parting. The emotional profit and loss. The scales tip heavily in Harry’s favour and always will.
I recognise that he wants to go, understand the reasons why and don’t confuse my intense disappointment with anger or rejection. Many Spurs fans have found it too easy to reinvent the past and dismiss one of the very best. We had a whale of a time together, don’t erase that from your memory, because in the end, memories are all we have. ‘My ex was clever, funny and loving but she never put the bins out of a Thursday, so that’s it for me.’ What irritates me is the way some Spurs fans have responded by adopting facile and obtuse forms of criticism typically heard from fans of other clubs, such as the idea that he doesn’t turn up for big games. Be angry, be sad but don’t descend so low.
That said, it is right and proper to accuse Harry and his people of seriously misjudging the extent to which Spurs fans support him in the face of relentless, unjustified criticism from fans of other clubs. Because he has a place in our hearts, fans stand up for him. A few words of acknowledgement of that, now rather than later, would have gone down well. As it is, there will be only bitterness and a huge fee. You should have done better, Harry. It’s all money in the end but that’s a conversation we would have appreciated.