Everything is Bad, Nothing is Good

At Spurs, change and uncertainty have become institutionalised. In the absence of direction and stability, the club drifts aimlessly without plan, purpose or foundation. We don’t know who we are any more. Do we stand for expansive football, or do we need to defend first and foremost? Top four or muddle along? Win something, perish the thought? Without purpose, the outcome is inevitable: we achieve nothing.

Managers come and go. Change masquerades as a solution. In reality, it leaves us trapped in a quicksand of problems of our own making. In organisations with a closed culture, nothing changes.

I described Nuno as a pragmatist. He knows he wasn’t first choice for the job, knows he only has a two-year contract (informed rumours suggest there’s a break clause after 12 months), effectively receiving the chairman’s infamous vote of confidence before he even starts the job. The players know this. Impermanence enshrined.

He took on the job of making the best of what he had been given, which is probably a key reason why he was given the job in the first place. He was willing to accept the limitations of working under Daniel Levy, as presumably was Paratici. I understand that, and therein lies the real underlying and deeply entrenched problem at Spurs.

Progress and change often comes through constructive critique and having a critical friend, somebody who knows about the organisation and, crucially, cares about it too, and because they care sees that change is required. I was involved in something a while back, work not football. Something went wrong. Managers and staff acknowledged this. We agreed to learn lessons, no blaming individuals, work together to move forward. If you don’t want to, fine, leave, goodbye and good luck.

At Spurs, Levy has created a very different environment, where he takes advice from an ever-smaller, closed coterie. There is consensus but at the expense of new ideas, new ways of approaching the same problem. As I have repeated over the years, I believe Levy when he says he sees himself as the club’s custodian and wants success through attacking football in our tradition. The problem is, he does not know how to achieve that. And if he continues to encourage a culture of groupthink, he never will.

He has enough football acumen to use the right words in the plan but not enough to know how to put it into practice, who to appoint in key positions (manager and player recruitment and retention) or how to support this in the transfer market. A victim of groupthink, he doesn’t know how to appoint someone who does and delegate to them. There is no curiosity about innovation and alternatives, only a search for voices who tell him what he wants to hear.

This is how it’s been, most of the time. I know this, but it really came home to me when writing a short ‘fan’s eye’ history of Spurs for this book of terrific interviews by Toby Benjamin with ex-players and staff. Sixty years in 20k words, so Levy needed an overview. Time and again he changes tack with short-term appointments. He’s tried ex-players, experience like Santini, so-called new breed of coaches like AVB and Ramos. He’s tried directors of football, who come in and out again without establishing roots or passing something tangible on to the next person. Pochettino becomes an outlier. Success is unusual, and even then he didn’t seem to recognise what could have been possible with a little more investment.

After a solid start, Nuno has tried different formations with different players, although he’s not opted for the 3-5-2/5-3-2 that established him at Wolves, which in passing might be a reasonable choice given that we have full-backs comfortable going forward, need strength in the centre of our defence and where cover could protect our centre backs.

My initial optimism has evaporated. Nuno has taken us from the average to awful in double quick time. Under any sort of pressure, the team folds, at the back and moving the ball forward. No shots on target in three halves of football with Kane and Son in the side is some achievement.

Yesterday saw the hallmarks of real deterioration. Giving the ball away is partly an individual fault, mainly a team problem, because players were given no passing options. They don’t know how to support each other. No pattern, little desire and few options to make any changes. Individuals have to take responsibility but professionals give their best within a system with familiar, comforting patterns in attack and defence. No evidence of that recently.

Nuno has so far not found the way to unlock the potential of players, and he may never get the chance at this rate. However, it’s not an excuse to say there are fundamental underlying problems here. As a result of managerial churn, Spurs’ squad is a mixture from three different eras, each with a different approach to building a team and to buying players, and with very different styles. Lo Celso and N’dombele were bought to rejuvenate Pochettino’s flagging side, Dele at his peak playing to his strengths in that team. Doherty bought to fill a gaping hole in the squad without any success. He made his reputation under Nuno, who sold him then doesn’t play him, which says so much. Rodon seems to be fourth choice.

It’s all square pegs in round holes. Tanguy has only just got back into the team in the only position he could possibly play in this squad. Suggesting he starts deeper neglects his inability to defend, and we don’t have cover for him. I still don’t know what Lo Celso’s best position is. Dele doesn’t fit anywhere with this set up, or he doesn’t if Tanguy plays. Bergwijn’s development has been hampered by injuries but has never had a real run in the side. Moura does his best but better defences deal with him easily enough.

Paratici comes in. We don’t know what budget he had at his disposal. We do know that we have no cover for Kane, and have to play a 17-year-old in Europe. No alternatives in defensive midfield either. Skipp is a fine prospect but no team pushing for the top should have to rely on a man just turned 21 in his first season in the PL. Many things astound me about Spurs recent performances, but I can’t get over how many times in the last six years I’ve written that we have no cover in deep midfield, the heart of any team, and up front.

Nuno stays, he’s still learning about the players. Nuno goes, more changes, more finding out. Nothing is established. Everything is always beginning again and we are as far from a solution as we ever were.

And how will Spurs respond to this defeat? Levy will meet with one or two people in the club he is close to and with Paratici. The same people who took the decisions that got us where we are, people he appointed, pass judgement on themselves. And round and round and round we go.

Thinking about this from Levy’s perspective, one changing element in this noxious, closed system is that the income generated by the stadium, money designed to fund the club’s status as a contender into the future, is beginning to flow again. Given the situation on the field, he may be emboldened or compelled to enter the transfer market in January, the worst time to buy but we are desperate, and at the same time re-evaluate decisions about which players stay or go. Kane, Dele, Winks and Roden, N’dombele perhaps, I advocated keeping all of them but they may have reached the point where they can’t improve at Spurs and are better off elsewhere for their sakes and that of the club. But that implies long-term planning.

Sack the manager, but any manager comes into the same environment that caused the problems in the first place. Same unbalanced squad, at least to begin with, same suspicions about the leadership’s questionable capacity to understand the game and the club. The same director of football who by all accounts wields considerable power within the club. To compete on a limited budget, Spurs must build over time, but we have no way of creating a long-term plan. And round and round and round we go.

I was reminded this week of a quote from the legendary Jimmy Greaves when I spoke with him several years ago. He never fancied becoming a manager when he retired, adding, “If I’d known that you could get millions for being absolutely crap and getting the sack, I’d have been in like a shot.”  There will be another manager, but Tottenham Hotspur used to be a place where managers, players and staff wanted to come to. Now, it has a bad reputation. Word is out. Nuno is the eighth or ninth choice because other thought better of entering this toxic, unsupportive place. Over the past months, several non-playing staff, loyal to the club, have moved on.

Yesterday, supporters’ frustration spilled over into vociferous, righteous anger. It’s been building, and it took the spark of a comparatively minor incident, Moura’s substitution, to light the fire. It’s not about Moura and Bergwijn, not really about Nuno as an individual. Rather, it’s an accumulation of anger at the way the club is being run, of glaring opportunities missed and the crushing sense of what might have been. Supporters deal with ups and downs, unnecessary defeats, points dropped, but when long and secretly cherished hopes and dreams are snatched away at the very point when they could have been fulfilled, the hurt is real.

Amid the justified euphoria as tickets for the new stadium first went on sale, I and others raised a note of caution. Prices were high, sustained by supply and demand, and I understand that the ground needs to be paid for. But Levy planted seeds of dissatisfaction, that loyal fans were exposed to the impact of high costs if and when the team’s performance feel away. We all make choices. Emotional commitment is the essence of being a fan, and emotion trumps logic, if the bank balance allows it. But everyone begins to question themselves when you think you’re not getting enough back. Over a hundred quid for tickets, food, travel, trip to the shop for the kids maybe, then that, then trains through the main station are cancelled, of course they are, it’s football. And these are covid times when we are all forced to re-evaluate our expenditure and indeed our life choices. Football tourists visiting football’s new destination venue won’t fill the gaps forever.

People are angry. Levy has publicly rejected meetings with the supporters trust, although I believe he has now relented it’s impossible to imagine that he might give any weight to supporter’s constructive criticisms, words from people who care. I hear of arguments and fighting in the bars yesterday between Spurs fans.

The very best thing about writing this blog over the past twelve years is meeting so many fans, in person or via social media. Now, I hear the grumblings from the lifers like me, loyal, core fans who speak only of disaffection and disillusionment. Giving the odd game a miss, take it or leave it. People who will support the Spurs to their dying day but who come May will think twice about expressing that support in terms of investing a grand or more in buying a season ticket. Levy would do well to take notice. Past form suggests he won’t. The few people he listens to won’t tell him the very thing he needs to hear.

We remember with pride and joy the incomparable Jimmy Greaves, the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve written an obituary in this month’s When Saturday Comes, on sale now and several years ago I was privileged to meet him for a short while, here’s the interview

24 thoughts on “Everything is Bad, Nothing is Good

  1. I’m 65 years of age, have supported spurs from the days of Jimmy greaves and Alan Gilzean. I can live with the ups and downs of football. It’s all part of the game; the highs, the lows, the passions. Your blog is100% spot on, sadly.

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  2. Good, balanced piece. One point lacking. The stadium was due to cost circa £600m but some of this was to be defrayed by building residential properties, a hotel and obtaining naming rights. Instead the costs spiralled out of control (and Mr Levy paid himself a bonus for this failure) and nothing appears to have been achieved in respect of any recoupment of costs. I’m just a boring Chartered accountant but if I had overseen such a financial debacle I would have expected the sack. The problem lies with the fact that Mr Levy is completely unaccountable.

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    • Thanks Jeff. In a past blog I castigated Levy for awarding himself a bonus for failure, which is all in the way any bonus structure is set out in the first place. Another example of the absence of constructive challenge in the boardroom

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  3. I’m not an especially emotional type given to flowery flourishes in print but this piece expresses everything I feel in my head and my guts about the hole the club has clambered into. One of your best pieces in a long while, Alan. I want to blame Nuno for draining the team of its mojo and if we are not as talented as other teams at least we should compete but the effort at Palace and Arsenal was a disgrace. Nuno is responsible for motivating the team but he has failed and should step aside for someone who can bring pride back into the team. This team is simply not playing for this manager any more. However, I want to blame Levy even more. I don’t think the problems can be solved in the transfer windows any longer, either. Other clubs hate Levy and refuse to do business with him because he’s such a pain in negotiations. And players and their agents avoid coming to our club because they know that they’ll get screwed about at the end of their contract. Why come to Tottenham when there are 20 equally good or better clubs who will be less a pain when it’s time to leave? We used to be a ‘destination’ for the best players but I don’t think that is the case any more and we are signing players the top clubs have passed over. Our recent midfield signings have been poor to awful. Bergwijn, N’dombele, and Lo Celso are all lacking in the necessary range of skills and guts to compete in the Prem. Lo Celso is our Ozil. Plays well for his country yet is anonymous in the league. Man City, Chelsea, and Liverpool all have a plan and an identity and every player is aware of his job and responsibilities. Yet we look like we are making it up as we go along. Time and again our forward line is static and our midfield isn’t creative enough to take the initiative. The past week has been our season in a nutshell: we are not quite good enough to turn over Wham or Man United and other European quality teams but we have just enough to see off the likes of Burnley. Whatever effort we exert is without purpose. with Liverpool every player is giving to the team and constantly offering themselves to teammates and creating problems to defences. We are statues all over the pitch, preferring the side and back pass and putting teammates in trouble. Finally, any fool with eyes can see that Kane, like Alli, is not deserving of his starting position and should be dropped. But there is no one to replace him! It’s been a serious deficiency for years and still nothing has been done! Which brings us back to the poor husbandry of the playing staff and the quality and performance of the club stewardship. And can someone please explain the strange case of Jack Clarke? How on earth did we end up in this farce?

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    • Thanks as always David. In a short space of time we have now moved on from Nuno, allowing writers to share stuff they have obviously sat on for a while. The Athletic in particular ran a long piece revealing that the club is even more of a shambles than I supposed. Basically, no one wanted Nuno yet he was given the job. Nuno is probably glad to get out of it. The players are unfit. Nuno never really got through to them. Nuno gets a side office! I still cannot understand how a guy with 20 years experience of running a club and dealing in billions gets to this point.

      Jack Clarke and others like him are easier to understand. Players are scouted, the fee was not that big, we bought potential and he’s not up to it, so better scouts in future. Although nobody truly knows how any player will progress if they are honest.

      Regards, Al

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  4. Annoys me when I read DL runs Spurs like a business and not a football club …..I don`t think he runs it at all like a business! at least not a successful one.

    I run a small company and if any of my employees made the same mistakes again and again, they would be called to account.

    Steve (Hitchen)…can you tell me why we paid £25 million for Ryan Sessignon after a disastrous season in the premiership with Fulham, can you tell me what you saw in Jack Clarke that justified us spending £12 million, can you explain why after 2 seasons we still haven`t replaced Christian Eriksen
    Fabio (Paratici) ….can you explain why you recommended a manger to me who had some moderate success playing 3/5 at the back but has come here and insists on 4/3/3 every week which clearly doesn`t work, can you explain why teams like Leicester and West Ham have a decent recruitment policy but we seem to failing on new staff probably 70% of the time

    We are buying players who are not ready for the Premiership, can`t adapt, have attitude issues, have fitness problems and sometimes a combination of some or all of those things. We have replaced a negative Portuguese manager playing 4/3/3 who seemed inflexible and couldn`t fit any of our players into that system with someone who is a carbon copy only worse.

    We are making the same mistakes again and again and again. We got lucky with Poch who in turn got lucky with the players he adopted as the nucleus of the team (Eriksen / Ali / Dembele / Kane) but apart from that purple patch 2016-2019 it`s been the same.

    I`m no Levy fan either, but even if he decided to sell, I worry about who the new owners would be. The adage that anything is better than what we have is simply not true (a whole new discussion if we would want to sell our souls and heritage for a Newcastle style takeover)

    Worrying times!!

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    • Thanks for your comments. Agree. It’s a point I’ve made before – Levy would never run his business the way he runs the club, so why does he do so?

      All the best, Alan

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  5. 69 year old Spurs supporter since 1963. This is the worst Spurs team since the days when we were relegated. You are clearly analysising the quality of what we have at the moment with an open and polite approach, let’s not kid ourselves. All those who played for England a few years ago (Ali, Dier, Winks, we had 5, I can’t remember the 5th) were overrated and time has proved this. Harry is the only one who has maintained a high standard. We have spent millions on substandard players who belong in the championship. We need to let go/get rid of Ali, Dier, Lo Celso, Berg…, Ndombele , Davies, Sanchez, Winks , Robin, it would be easier to name who we should keep…… The problem is Daniel Levy has built an ’empire’ of straw, he will not accept this because it smacks of failure. Here is a question I would like him to answer ‘How much are these players worth today and how many serious clubs will make a bid for any of them?’ Remember Serge Aurier !!
    I really am annoyed that I have to point out the financial disaster that is happening now to our club and is only going to go in one direction….straight to the championship in 1-2 seasons.

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    • Yes James, same here …since 1963, the night I watched these magicians in all white destroy Athletico Madrid.
      But I disagree with you about the team being the worst since relegation in 1977/8. There have been many poor and mediocre teams since, particularly in the first 10 years of the PL. Levy and Enic have done us proud in a lot of ways since 2004, and we’ve seen some great football as well as the infrastructure to improve further. No, the fact is we have not addressed the departure of Eriksen. If there’s one player that would link all the rest at Spurs it’s a top central or final third midfielder in the famous Tottenham mould. Many of our players are very good but they’re off-kilter, out of balance, unsure of their roles and/or those of their teammates. That saps confidence, kills energy and enthusiasm and all that combines to make the team look poor.
      But those who played for England ..Ali, Dier, Winks, Tripps, Rose, Walker et al ..did deserve their place at the time, James, although (with the exception of Walker, Rose and Tripps ..the latter leaving far too soon) it’s not time that’s found them all out, but what’s been going on at our club! You say a lot of our squad are Championship level, but I’m afraid we’ll certainly end up there if we get rid of them all, as you suggest.
      However, I understand where you’re coming from.
      Some terrible transfer decisions have been made over recent years (Aurier cost us more to buy than Tripps to sell), and I agree with Peter about the Sessegnon, Rodon and Clarke conundrum. We have Lo Celso and Ndombele who might be brilliant in a balanced side (who knows?), then there’s Romero? Gil? Emerson Royal? The signs really aren’t great on whether these players are actually cut out for the PL.
      I mean, Sanchez still isn’t!
      Whoever thought it would be that hard to replace Rose/Verts/Toby/Walker? For a while Winks looked the answer to Dembele’s departure, but he too is lost now without a creator in front of him or a good defence behind him, while Alli and Kane are lost without a creator behind them! And what of that next great forward ..Parrot? Still on loan for another 5 years? Where exactly are the young players supposedly coming through? And now another manager leaves. Another scapegoat for all that is rotten in the State of Denmark! er sorry, Tottenham.

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      • Good to read these views. What is missing, and I know you know this, is the structure and planning to pull this altogether. Rodon has alreadly had four managers. Different regimes look for different qualities. I’m most sad about players like Winks and Dele. We know they are good because we’ve seen it, now they look as if all the life and spark has been drained out of them. Playing out of position and/or with a blend around them that does not suit their talents.The problem is, we buy these players and 2,3 years on we still don’t know how good they might be – Lo Celso, Sess, Bergwijn are 3 who have a CV with good performances elsewhere.

        All the best, Al

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  6. Do you really think Levy is actually a football man?
    I don’t.
    Money man
    Accountant
    Property man
    Clothing dealer

    Football man ?
    Never

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    • He’s still as much a Spurs fan as you and I, Ron, and I think it’s wrong to decry him as some kind of greedy opportunist with a finger in many pies. Levy and Enic have done much for this club, dragging us into the top 10 world’s richest clubs, with a worldwide profile to match, and with unprecedented stadium/facilities – all in the face of rich rival clubs getting richer through ‘other’ means; while it’s not his fault we were trophy less over those great 2015-2019 Pochettino years, or even Redknapp’s entertaining 2009-2012 period. The finances and stadium-build, along with playing no matches at home (ie Wembley), definitely disadvantaged us in our search for trophies. Yes, we’ve invested in too many poor players, missed out on better buys, and sold other fine players before their time (not Bale and Modric who wanted the RM move, and for whom we got top dollar). Levy probably made a mistake over Kane moving this summer, and letting Eriksen wind his contract down, but he’s always tried to do things that would excite Spurs fans, sometimes ending well, sometimes not, eg Bale’s return. But the man is trying, and has tried, in the face of huge stadium expenses and pandemic-affecting finances. Jose mucked a good squad up, not Levy, and Poch looked like he’d lost the plot after the CL Final anyway. Nuno was knee jerk, admittedly, but don’t doubt Levy’s continuing ambition for our club. If I ask him to do one thing, however, is buy the best playmaker we can in January, because not addressing The Eriksen dilemma has messed up Alli and Kane.

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  7. We have the best football ground in the world and one of the richest clubs in the world.
    Why is our football side so poor?????
    We must immediately employ an experienced and winning manager and give him a cheque book to completely overhaul our squad.
    If something is not done soon we will be a club with heaps of money and a great ground playing in the Championship.
    Alan, well written and I can sense your disappointment in your words!!!

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  8. “Worrying times” is losing a family member or friend. Everything else, including Spurs after my decades long support, is small spuds, no? So, I’m gonna have a little whistle, as I chew on life’s gristle! COYS!

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