Spurs On the Road to Nowhere

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.

Tottenham In A Time of Covid

January 1st

New Year is a time for traditions and this household is no exception. Once more, I welcomed in the New Year by dozing off in front of Jools Holland. Unfair on Jools this year, when his band seemed to swing with more vigour and soulfulness than ever before. It’s not live but it was the closest we’ll get to live music for a while yet, and it felt good.

A quick glance at twitter on the way to bed. The first tweet I see in 2021 is from my friend Adam Nathan, reminding us that Spurs have given themselves the opportunity of losing three more semi-finals between now and May. That’s proper Spurs. Happy New Year everyone.

January 2nd

Matchday begins with pictures of three Spurs players, Lamela, Lo Celso and Reguilon, having Christmas dinner with their families. The club official statement censures them. Reguilon is named as sub. Obviously Spurs’ need for cover on the left is more important than a clear message in a pandemic.

Bless him, Reguilon would otherwise have been alone at Christmas with only a ham from Mourinho for company. I haven’t had a hug from my children since the beginning of March.

I was optimistic after beating AFC. Enjoy the win, and the fact that they barely laid a glove on us despite having all the ball. More so because, like a Spurs shaman I’ve been searching for signs that Mourinho is taking us forward. They come both in results and in the nature and quality of our performances. The players looked motivated, invested in the team and in the manager, who had finally established some order out of sometimes chaotic and frequently directionless displays over many months.

But it turned out to be a case of one step up and two steps back. On top against a Palace side known for containment rather than attack, we fall back and let them back into the game. We concede late against Liverpool too. Allow teams to come back at us and you give them a chance. Plus, our defence is good but not that good. Against Leicester, they let us have space and we do nothing with it. Can’t keep the ball or create sustained passing movements. The problem is, I’ve been writing that since Mourinho took over. After 14 months, it’s legitimate to ask what he’s doing about it.

Spurs play well to beat Leeds 3-0, although it always helps when we get a penalty at 0-0 then the keeper chucks one in, failing to stop Toby’s header at a corner even though it was straight at him. In between, Son tucks away Kane’s early near-post cross with the ease of the top class player he has become. Hojbjerg with the pass before the assist, that skill that Modric perfected, plus the Dane breaks attacks up and fills the gaps between the back four defenders. He makes it easier for every player in the team.

Enjoy the win but it doesn’t answer the questions. Leeds’ tactics suit us. Their full-on bravura style is highly watchable but on a bad day they leave space in midfield and gaps at the back, and we took full advantage.

In the evening, on BBC2, Aretha soars, swoops and the earth moves.

January 3rd

Sunday but isolating means every day is pretty much the same. I genuinely didn’t realise that the 28th was a bank holiday until the early afternoon, not that it makes any difference.

January 4th

Chat with Spurs pals via zoom and Whatsapp. Cheers me up no end.

January 5th

Spurs have reached the League Cup semi-final by winning only a single game in normal time, hardly glorious progress but here we are. Mourinho has been paid a fortune to win something, and the League Cup is something.

The league cup and I have a complicated, contradictory relationship. I propose its abolition, the least important trophy in a chronically overcrowded fixture calendar, but I want to win it. I detest the way it is talked up, then teams play as close to a reserve team as they can get away with because it symbolises the dominating force in the way football is run currently, money before quality. Ditto the two-legged semi-final, thankfully scrapped this year. Yet it’s a trophy and there to be won.

I hate how winning it immediately becomes unimportant in itself and merely a stepping stone towards another level, whatever that is, but it’s a theory I recognise and espouse, Spurs being the side for whom it may be most significant because we’ve won so little and we know JM is here to win something. Then again, if we win, then people will say it’s meaningless because it’s only the league cup. Also, Mourinho tends to move on so we lose that momentum. I hate myself for being inconsistent. I hate myself for wanting to be there, so much.

Spurs beat Brentford 2-0 with a decent performance, nowhere near as straightforward as the Sky commentators make out. In control for around 60 minutes, we allowed the Bees to, wait for it, come back into it. Their big centre forward Toney targeted Sanchez, sadly now an obvious weak link, and the ball whizzed around the box too often for comfort. Then, N’dombele sets up Son with a pass he made look easy yet it had perfect weight and accuracy, Son smashed it in. Sissoko getting forward and scoring, whatever next. His foot placing to keep Toney a millimetre offside and avoid an embarrassing equaliser was impeccable.  Good win but I’d prefer not to leave it to millimetres on VAR.  

And I still don’t know what Carabao is.

January 6th

There was a piece in the Guardian a while back about why our minds are programmed to not think about our mortality. It stands up if you think about it. We know we’re going to die, but if it’s constantly on our mind, we’d be permanently preoccupied and unable to function. 

I can’t tell you more as I didn’t read to the end because, well, reading about not thinking about death makes you think about death. Yet covid means thoughts of death are inescapable. I’m worrying about Spurs inability to keep possession for any length of time while my wife, who has an autoimmune condition, worries that if she catches it, she might die.

We shield and isolate to be as safe as possible. I can get out to walk the dog in the woods, whereas my wife’s only outing is once a month to Guy’s Hospital for her regular treatment. People not in this position don’t realise the trauma experienced by a couple of million people who live with this feeling every day. Trauma like this causes long-term harm. There’s little recognition of this outside families who experience it.

It’s also convenient for me to forget that I am over 60, overweight and asthmatic.

So we carry on.

January 7th

I started to read Shots in the Dark by historian David Kynaston, a diary that interweaves the nature of supporting Aldershot Town with current political and economic events. Kynaston’s considerable and justified reputation rests on forensically detailed historical research, especially about post-war Britain. However, as early as page 10 I am compelled to question these credentials as he offhandedly dismisses Spurs failure to win the 2017 title, linked to the Chelsea game.

I can’t match Kynaston’s depth and breadth but I am able to come in off an extremely long run on this pet topic. Much to say, but let’s just leave it with a reminder that Spurs were the only team who bothered to put up a fight, an away point at the Bridge would do (non Spurs always assume we lost) and it was the home draw against West Brom that set us back. Plus, if we’re talking about bottling it, who was top of the league on January 1st 2017? Answers on a postcard, and if that postcard says Arsenal, you are correct.

Still, it’s an absorbing read. He and I are pleased Trump is slipping from the mire into quicksand. Wonder if I can do anything with the concept?

January 10th

Spurs beat Marine 5-0 and win many friends in the process.

Things that cheered me up this week: Alfie Devine’s’ smile, Staged, and a pic my daughter sent me of my 5-year-old grandson’s class having a Zoom lesson. Their teacher is an angel.

January 11th

Not being able to watch football is a reminder, not that any should be needed, of how much the game means to so many people. Far from being escapism, football, life and society are inseparable. We express ourselves through the profound emotions football generates within us. Being happy or sad, being committed to your club, choosing your friends, all this and more puts us in touch with who we are.

And so football is no escape from our covid world. The Premier League has the nerve to trumpet its value to the nation in troubled times. The show must go on but only to keep the TV money coming in.

I enjoy the games, don’t get me wrong, but not nearly as much as I used to, or will do when we’re back at the Lane. My routine and emotions revolved to a large extent around the fixtures. The game itself becomes a point on an emotional timeline. Process the last game, enjoy the win or anguish over defeat, anticipate the upcoming fixture, heightened emotions and complete attention during the game, then process the game with family and friends, and so it goes on.

Now, it’s all so distant and far away. Anticipation begins about two minutes before kick-off. I celebrate good football and get over-anxious about Spurs defending, that’s thankfully normal, then switch off because no one wants to listen to Jamie Redknapp, and that’s that. I have no shared experience to recall, no ‘where were you when…’, on the sofa like the rest of you.

Numbed by the personal impact of covid and appalled by our leaders’ callous incompetence, nothing satisfies. It’s a dulling down of the emotions. It’s flight not fight. You can’t confront it without being overwhelmed. So numbness brings protection.

Football used to make me feel alive. Now, the isolation of covid football is the very antithesis of everything that draws supporters back year after year, being part of the crowd, the togetherness, friendship and camaraderie. It’s a reminder of what I no longer have.

January 13th

Spurs 1 Fulham 1. We let a bottom 3 side back into the game after scoring first. It’s not clear to me or I suspect the players what we were trying to do, because we didn’t defend or attack well. Same old problem – can’t keep the ball, can’t sustain any pressure for extended periods. Seldom look confident as we transition from defence to attack. Another set of opponents who find it straightforward to isolate our man on the ball. Mourinho blames the players. Of course he does. The pressure’s on and he reverts to type, a sign that he is perplexed. He must be worried about the way we’re playing.

Our PL run since AFC is a story of missed opportunities and weakness with Leeds the outlier. Winning mentality? The message in every opposition dressing room is keep playing because they’re soft. I don’t like our style, it’s not what Spurs fans expect and it’s dull. But more than that, it’s ineffective. It leaves us vulnerable and it won’t take us where we aspire to be over a season, although it may work in a cup run, a series of one-offs. Keeping the ball means the opposition can’t play, it keeps them on the back foot, it’s the way to create chances. Counter-attack patterns are clearly set and well-coached, the same can’t said for other ways of building from defence. And it’s a waste of our attacking talent.  

January 14th

Proud to be mocked by some on social media for advocating that children need to be properly fed and the taxpayer should get value for money from profit-making private companies. A raving commie no doubt but Never Red. More love and compassion, that’s what we need.

Spurs and the NLD: Mourinho Digs In for Victory

In the seventies during the bad old days on the terraces, one north London derby, there was the usual taunting back and forth, fingerpointing and gestures. Then a sudden surge, a scrum, a gap opens on the terrace and in the middle there’s a Spurs face leaning nonchalantly on the crushbar, alone in his donkey jacket, 501s and DMs, minding his own business. Now, Mourinho is that face. We’re Spurs, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

I’ve never seen a derby like this one. I’ve never seen a Tottenham side like this one. Whether you saw it as bravura performance or destructively nerve-wracking, it was remarkable and compelling. Two up, then absorb the pressure. By the end, two or even three centre halves were not enough, we want four. Can’t play out of defence, well sod it, just kick it out and wait. By this time, Spurs were so much in control, to seal the deal our tactic was to give AFC the ball. It’s worth repeating that. To win the north London derby, we gave our opponents the ball.

AFC were left bewildered and utterly frustrated. Torn apart by two stunning pieces of attacking football at its finest, they spent a large portion of the game confronting their own deficiencies. Unable to find a way through the outstanding Hojbjerg and the impenetrable barrier in front of our central defence, they were forced out to the wings, able to create a steady stream of crosses which the excellent Alderweireld and Dier duly headed away.

Earlier in the week, Arteta said that to get over their goalscoring problems, he wanted his players to keep the crosses coming in because that would pay off in the end. Mourinho reduced this able young coach to the percentage game. Academic articles about goals and crosses show that there are variables, but crosses have a success rate in terms of leading to goals of between 1 in 49 and 1 in 70. By the way, don’t excited about corners either: about 3.5 % lead to goals. Towards the end, Mourinho reinforced the full-backs still further. A back eight is surely the future of football tactics. How it turned the screw. Spurs had our opponents by throat and Mourinho wasn’t about to let go.

And this is what we get for our £14m or whatever he gets paid. This stuff about mind games is infuriatingly banal. Mourinho’s press conferences are knockabout pantomimes where according to his mood he plays the dashing handsome hero or the sinister melodramatic villain boo hiss. While you’re at it, stick his carefully curated reality show Instagram account where it belongs, in the recycle bin.

However, he has certainly got through to Arteta and Lampard, who last week put his array of young attacking talent back in the box to preach caution. Mourinho knows that stuff about crossing. He did his homework, and AFC were left floundering.

I regret being unable to write more frequently, partly because I don’t have time, mainly because I expend so much emotional energy surviving life under covid, unable to get to the Lane. But when I get time to think and reflect, it highlights how much has happened in a relatively short space of time. After months of uncertainty, Mourinho has got it together. He’s not only found a formula that works, he’s convinced the players that it works.

Recently I’ve been putting a little something together about Spurs in the past 60 years. What comes over is the fundamental difference between the years when we had a sense of direction and those where we drifted into football doldrums, players coming and going while the club stagnated, Alan Sugar’s era being one example. Using these terms, for several months Mourinho was as directionless as Graham, Francis or Terry Neill.  Now, he deserves credit in finally putting a few things together.

One, a few new players make this feel more like his own squad rather than one he inherited. One purchase, Hojbjerg, was inspired. I’m not aware of a player who has made more of an impact on his team in such a short period of time.

Just as important is the way he has turned deficiencies into virtues. Sissoko was becoming a hard-working player whose passing, dribbling and shooting were lousy, so what did he have left to offer? Stick him in front of the back four and tell him to fall into the gap between right-back and right centre back, it strengthens the whole defence. Aurier is a man transformed because he has fewer decisions to make per game. He stays at home, knowing he has cover. No more wandering into gaps. His far-post header to take the ball way from Aub, caught outside the line then comes between ball and attacker to head it away. Not so long ago, he would have had the best view in the stadium as the goal went in. Plus, Dier can be a box centre half, rather than risk being exposed.

If the benchmark of a good manager is getting the best from his players, then Mourinho is doing just fine, at last. His players have clearly bought into his methods.  The same goes for N’Dombele, still a relatively young player learning his trade at the top level, and I need hardly point out, for Son and Kane up front. The devasting duo are a marvel. Kane never ceases to amaze me, one of the finest Spurs forwards of all time, and getting better. For his second, 4 v 2 is not enough, to make sure he drifts inside as Spurs approach the goal to occupy the centre half and give the player on the ball a fraction more time. Son’s goal goes up there with the best NLD goals.

The derby is all about character, who can cut it under pressure, a stress ramped up as the weight of expectation fills the stands while the fans can’t. It’s a captivating watch. Hardly the Spurs Way and all that I hold dear, but I can’t look away. It’s entirely absorbing to see the complete and total commitment the players give to the cause, and what else can we ask for but total commitment and a manager who gets the best from his players. Love the shirt, that’s what it’s all about.

Plus, we’ve seen unforgettable moments of breathtaking brilliance, from Kane and Son especially. Even waiting for these to come brings its own special thrill. And stat fans, I’m indebted to James Maw on twitter who points out that Spurs have not scored more goals in this many games at the start of the season since the sixties.

As the season goes on, if we get back Coytey will have to lead community mindfulness at half time to help us stay calm. I find it easier at home, either squirming with anxiety on the sofa or, in games less significant than the derby, slipping into a zen trance, what will be will be and there is no need to worry (BUT GET IT AWAY!!!!!). I fear it will be far worse for me in the ground, although friends have said that will be better for them because it feels as if we have some influence over the outcome. I’d be interested to know how the crowd who were there on Sunday responded. On TV, the noise was great but the anxiety of levels of 60k fans will transmit to the players.

More to do. The next step comes against Palace, another team who sit back and counter, so we have to find a way through with more possession. Also, we can’t away with Sunday’s tactics indefinitely. In the second half, the gunners clustered players around our man as we tried to get out, hence the number of turnovers. More able opponents will exploit that.

This was a proper derby in its all gut-wrenching, stomach-somersaulting glory, and where would I be without it. A reminder that the Hotspur alone stirs the emotions so, for me a precious reminder of normal life in case I lose sight of who I am. The TOMM mantra: enjoy the good times. Top of the league. Tottenham Hotspur are top of the league. For now, that’s all that needs to be said.

Spurs Collapse So We’re Rebuilding Again

It’s official – Tottenham have ruined football forever. Sunday’s unforgivable late collapse not only lost two valuable points in this open league, it blighted the memory of some uplifting attacking football (and in these troubled times I need uplifting) and will forever undermine supporters’ confidence whenever we are ahead.

Some of us are perpetually anxious, having lived through Man City at home, 3-0 at half time against 10 men, lost 4-3, and Man Utd, at home, 3-0 up, lose 5-3. When the angst becomes overbearing, I start watching the clock. I’ve even created a hierarchy of times to match anxiety levels, a sort of league table of misery.

35 minutes isn’t up to much (you can see on bad days I begin this early) whereas 40 is getting to half time- either ahead or don’t concede, my system works either way.

Second half timings are naturally of a different degree entirely. 55 minutes, not much of a moment but we’ve got through the first ten minutes since half time. I have mixed feelings about the hour mark, initial relief that a substantial portion of the match has elapsed giving way to concern that fate still has 30 whole minutes to do its worst. 65 means nothing to me, neither here nor there, we can rule that one out completely. 70 is important as the time to avoid dangerous complacency because we’ve gone a long way but there’s still 20 to go but 75, more promising and 80, well 80 is significant because the next ten go past at half the speed of the rest, so in my head that can be twenty.

When it gets really tense, when time passes but the clock doesn’t move, I ascribe undue significance to the numbers in between, 73 is better than 72, 77 a step forward from 75. Curiously, around the 80 mark rather than levels increasing, I’ve taken lately to finding myself on another mental plane, where destiny will decide the outcome so there’s no point in worrying. What will be will be. But even I, at 82, 3-0 up, WHam have missed their golden chance early in the second half and while playing well aren’t making any impression on Hugo’s goal, even I…

We were even deprived of one of the classic moments of football crowd behaviour, late equaliser greeted with shared silent disgust so dense you couldn’t cut it with a sharp knife, the banging of seats as we rise en masse and jostle around the exit in a desperate rush to get away from it all. Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t work in a football context.

Most football fans have a healthy fatalism about their team’s prospects. It’s something that binds us, an antidote to contemporary tiresome tribalism, but we don’t think it will really happen, because actually, it doesn’t, at least not very often. But now here’s proof. It’s real, the Spurs of hardnosed serial winner Mourinho really can concede 3 in the last 8 mins. We can never enjoy football again.

Despite the ruthless destruction of the Saints and Man United defence, that feeling that Spurs have a soft centre never quite goes away. We’ll use these goals to blame whoever we usually blame when things go wrong. My hobby horse is conceding needless free-kicks, I’m looking at you Lamela even though you weren’t in the ground, but Sissoko then Aurier stepped up. It’s infuriating to give teams a free hit because it undoes all the hard defensive work and reveals a weakness embedded deep in the mindset. They just couldn’t stop themselves.

Marginal gains is a popular theory in sports these days where in an intensely competitive field, small advantages add up and make all the difference to the outcome. Spurs demonstrated the art of marginal losses. Moura has added hard work to his game but doesn’t have a defender’s mindset so he’s back to help out but doesn’t read the run outside him, leading to the second goal. Sissoko and Aurier challenges a touch too heavy. Spurs adopt zonal for the free kick but don’t respond to WHam overloading the far post with big blokes.

Where were you when Bale trotted on to the pitch? Er, making my wife a cup of tea, actually. One for the treasure house of memories there. One of my favourite Spurs players, straight into my ‘best ever’ team of the fifty plus years I’ve been going, alongside the other greats. Let’s be patient as he gets back to fitness, his body is not as robust as it once was. A tantalising glimpse on Sunday, the way he shifted that ball from one foot to the other at top speed, only to shoot wide.  

As to where we go from here, Spurs remain one big contradiction. Capable of dazzling attacking brilliance to cower hapless defences, dominating the game then folding at the slightest pressure like a house of cards in the breeze.

These contradictions are a stage in normal team development. Progress is never a smooth and steady upward curve. Hindsight smooths out the undulations and bumps that are all too jarring when you’re in the moment and don’t know the outcome, where the curve ends. Since Mourinho took over, my main concern has been an apparent lack of direction. What he wants to achieve on the pitch wasn’t clear and, worse, the players did not seem to grasp what was required of them either. Transition from defence to attack was a particular problem.

The manager has sorted that now. Low block, everybody behind the ball, absorb the pressure and move it quickly when we get the ball. Players know what is expected of them. Kane, already a titan, is getting better. He drops deep, Son and Bergwijn or Moura, soon to be Bale, go wide. If the centre half comes out, they leave a gap, if they stay put then there’s space. Defences can’t cope and it brings the very best from Son and Harry, our two best players, and Bale will gorge himself on service like this. 

Moreover, Levy has supported his manager’s efforts to strengthen the squad. Doherty and Reguilon give us pace and width. While some talk of needing more creativity in midfield, this means we can build attacking play in a variety of ways. Plus, the rehabilitation of N’Dombele continues. His ability to hold the ball in central midfield and to pick out a player with precision can unlock any defence. We’re impatient because we can see his untold potential, and so forget he’s young, relatively inexperienced as a late developer and he’s getting accustomed to a different culture. He’s never going to be box-to-box, covering the runners then hurling himself forward, so we need to accommodate that in the system, and Hojbjerg is the foundation upon which we can build all this. Highly impressive, he is alert, strong, mobile and a leader. We even have another centre forward, who can either replace Harry or play with him.

Above all, this looks like Mourinho’s squad, where he can take ownership. He has the players he wants, I say that, what he really wants are the players Frank Lampard can play fantasy football with at the Bridge, but at least Levy has sprung for new blood. Hojbjerg, Reguilon and Doherty look to be good value. Rodon I don’t know, he’s one for the future and at that price we can’t go far wrong.

So with time, let’s see where this takes us. Meanwhile, Mourinho has three problems to address, as highlighted by the WHam feels-like-a-defeat-but-remember-we-didn’t-lose. The first one is pretty basic – are the defenders good enough? Sanchez had a wretched afternoon, although admittedly he was out of position on the left side. Hesitant throughout, WH targeted him from the beginning. Misjudgements are a fact of any defender’s life and can be forgiven but his effort to head that ball was indecisive. Toby has lost that spark that made him one of the very best, while Dier does not yet convince as the dominant centre back we need. Tanganga is highly promising but needs time and his injuries are a worry. On the right, Aurier does good work but a mistake is never far away. With the proviso that Dier has room to grow because he remains relatively inexperienced as a centre half, this area is a problem. Also, we still don’t seem to have a natural partner for Hojbjerg in front of the back four.

The second problem was identified post-match by Declan Rice who said he was surprised that Spurs stood off in the second half. The interviewer then asked Mourinho if this was deliberate, he replied, ‘not really’. He’s being disingenuous because we always play like this. There’s an inherent problem with it, which is that it cedes the initiative to the opposition. It allows them to come forward and gives hope that they can get back into the game. It leaves Spurs vulnerable, however well it is put into practice, to a deflection, worldie or mistake. We can’t sit back as we did on Sunday. You can be more aggressive in that formation, looking for the ball, rather than being passive.

Finally, the speed in which confidence evaporated after WHam’s first goal revealed collective mental weakness. After the game, when Mourinho had pulled himself together (he was visibly shocked at the final whistle), he said again that his team were not psychologically strong enough. True, the football world now knows it and every opponent between now and the end of the season is going to bust their gut for 90 minutes because of it.

It’s legitimate to ask again what he is going to do about it. Mourinho the winner has been here for almost a year. He wants us to be a bunch of c***s. Fine, and Lamela and Lo Celso have taken that on board, but mental strength is about clear thinking under pressure and building resilience, and the manager has to do something about this.

I thought he was getting somewhere, that the penalty shoot-out versus CFC and, lest we forget, scoring twice late on to beat Plovdiv marked the turning points that build confidence in adversity. Now it’s one step back again. In his first match as Spurs manager, Mourinho saw us go three up against Wham only to concede two late goals. 11 months later, it’s three late goals. Mourinho the motivator has to get through to them.