The sole advantage of writing this blog infrequently is a sense of perspective. I’m not compelled to respond to the latest piece of gossip, Emerson falling over as he attempts a tackle or analysing Conte’s latest stream of consciousness news conference. Big picture stuff, an overview. A thousand yard stare into the recent past.
There’s no plan here. There never has been really, come to think of it, not for Tottenham On My Mind. Life gets in the way, you know how it is. Obscures the real plan, if I’m honest, that life should never get in the way of football, of being there. The contorted logic and twisted priorities of a football fan. You’re reading this, you understand.
Perspective provides invaluable insight, but, and this is a warning to all my readers, it can be dull. Here’s one for you: building a team takes time. I know!
Who knew? We all did, but still we banged on about a lack of progress, one step forward, two steps back. I would have, if I had written more often. Conte’s a football coach, not a magician. The touchline flamboyance, bordering on hysteria sometimes, is only a part of this complex character, the 10% of the iceberg visible, out of sight is the 90% of relentless graft on the training pitch.
And he’s getting through to the players in a way we’ve not seen since Pochettino left. There’s togetherness to overcome the disunity he inherited, motivation instead of apathy. Above all, there’s teamwork, a shape and pattern that strengthens the team as whole and brings out the best in each individual.
Here’s another dazzling observation for you: the players know what they are doing. They understand what is expected of them in key situations in the play. For instance, the first half against Newcastle was a little dull, especially compared with the deluge of exhilaration that was to follow. And that’s the evidence of true progress. We kept the ball for extended periods, probing to find ways of breaking down a 10 man defence. No panic. Players were seldom caught on the ball because a teammate was always available, and that is a big difference compared with the last few years. Ben Davies’ post-match comments on Sky were interesting. He phrased them not in the usual ‘we got stuck in after half-time Geoff’ mode, referring instead to how they altered their approach from control to overcoming the low block. Like I said, they know what they are doing.
Wingbacks are self-evidently important to Conte’s formation. I had given up on Doherty, so I’m delighted he’s found a way to release himself from the constricting fear that inhibited his play under all four of his managers. Sessegnon has potential but rather than developing his huge teenage talent, it feels starting from scratch, Sess turns 18 again. At least he no longer looks like a kid who has wandered by mistake into an adults’ game. Reguillon flatters to deceive in my view but there’s something there if only he would learn to calm down at key moments. But I forget how young these men are. Time is on their side.
However, the key lies in the Conte’s core. Spurs have a backbone at last. For example, the wingbacks can make better choices about when to go forward because they have confidence in the back three. Dier is by no means the perfect centre half but this back three revolves around him at its hub. Over the last few matches, we’ve given up less space in front of the penalty box. This is not just down to the efforts of Bentancur and Hojbjerg but also because Romero and Davies know when to come out and intervene. That’s made a significant improvement to our defence and in our ability to play our way out from the back. Son’s goal on Sunday is a masterpiece, beginning in our area and ending with Son having time and space to pick his spot.
And then there’s the Paratici perspective. The man with a contact list longer than the Yellow Pages ended up with a couple of castoffs and two players unwanted by his old club. Or so the story went. Yet in a comparatively short period of time, Bentancur is shaping up as a high class midfield stroller, unhurried, exuding a sense of control that has become contagious. Unobtrusive, he makes others around him better players, linking with Kane and releasing Hojbjerg from his self-imposed burden of being two midfielders at once, thus trying to be everywhere and being less effective for it. It will be fascinating to see if Conte pairs Bentancur with Skipp when the latter is fit again, which should be imminent.
With Romero at the back, everyone is better. We have a proper defender here. He appears calm and unruffled, his expression an inscrutable mask of concentration. He looks the same if we’ve had the ball for 20 minutes or if he’s been under intense pressure. Like Bentancur, he is unhurried, then bursts into action when he sees danger. Dynamite over 5 yards. His tackling of Saint-Maximin was a throwback to football’s bygone age, one on one, the defender coming away with the ball. It was good to see him (mostly) standing up rather than going to ground. He can’t defend corners, so we’ve got to sort something out there.
Kulusevski solves a problem we’ve had for years. Changes of manager led to changes of tactics and recruitment, leading to square pegs in round holes, leading to forwards playing as midfielders. No matter how much tracking back Moura and Bergwijn offer, they don’t have defensive instincts, yet Kulusevski is comfortable as a multi-faceted midfielder, highly skilful on the ball, physical and with good positioning.
So Paratici is doing ok, as it turns out. Scouts, directors of football, whatever we call talent-spotters, never have a perfect strike-rate. It’s not a numbers game. Quality not quantity. Two or three players who make a real impact is good going. If some fall by the wayside (Emerson has a lot of improving to do), so be it.
And so to the bleedin’ obvious. Let Conte get on with it. No need to pour over the implications of every news conference seeking portents for his future. Put aside the media campaign to sell Harry because we’re not worth it. Instead, relish every touch from a remarkable, single-minded footballer who gives everything, every time. It is a privilege to watch him, even at this stage in his career adapting his game for the team’s sake and just getting better and better.
Conte has got something going here, a vision for the future that his players have clearly bought into. Let’s pause in this age of overbearing expectation and instant gratification to recognise the scale of this achievement, especially as he’s not been as well supported in the transfer market as he would have liked. Spurs looking to the future – now that is something out of the ordinary.