Do It Now

Do it now. Pointless waiting. Why wait, not a rhetorical question because there are no reasons.

Conte has had enough of us and we’ve had enough of him. He’s heartsore after three bereavements, plus a serious operation. Losing friends has a profound effect on any individual because while the bonds with family may run deeper, the death of a contemporary is a sharp reminder of your own mortality. It’s a time for taking stock, for stepping back to reflect on what is past and what the future might hold. He doesn’t need us. He needs his family and Italy.

Part of that mental stocktaking must be a judgement about how little he has achieved at Spurs. He has great faith in his methods and approach. He cannot remain oblivious to their failure. His failure. A proud man, he knows he cannot carry on.

His approach may be rigid and unchanging but he’s absorbed one aspect of life at Spurs, how ridiculous this club can be. Last night he’s quoted as saying, “Let’s see how the season ends. Maybe they can send me away even earlier.” We’ve heard of ‘come and get me’ pleas, this is a new one, the ‘come and get rid of me’ plea. Spurs in the vanguard of modern football once again. He’s begging to go, on his knees and pleading. He’s at Tottenham Way but not taking training, he’s digging an escape tunnel. That’s what Tottenham can do to a man.

I don’t for a moment wish to compare the pain of bereavement with that of losing a poxy football match, but our hearts are hurting too. We go to the match, loyally, 61000 despite the absence of any sniff of success, because it’s Tottenham, and they are a part of us. We go to experience the joy and pain of being a fan, to be part of something, we feel this stupid, inconsequential thing deep down in our hearts and in our souls.  

Last night, we saw many things, but above all, what we feel wasn’t matched on the pitch. I’m a Spurs fan, I can deal with losing. But not like that. Have a go. Put everything you have into it because it matters. We had, what, one shot on target plus a deflection, then Harry’s late header, well saved but actually not as far away from the keeper as it should have been. Dull, predicable build up and passing patterns that haven’t worked for much of the season and didn’t work last night, against opponents who were ordinary by the standards of the CL knock-out stages.

But just have a proper go, and that’s my point – it didn’t matter enough. Conte is going. We know it, he knows it, the players know it. When it matters, players dig deep to find something extra, just because it matters, but we had nothing. The pressure is on as time passes. So our best defender decides to get himself sent off with a tackle primed to take out not just the full-back but, apparently, the entire Milan bench. At least it shows ambition.

Then with 10 men, we bring on Sanchez. Conte’s sacrosanct system came before pressing for a late equaliser. I get it to some extent – you need some shape and Porro needed to attack, not drop back. But that was massively outweighed by the need to SCORE A BLOODY GOAL, and we had two centrebacks on the field already. Plus Sanchez is not comfortable on the ball. It’s a symbol of Conte’s refusal to let the team off his leash. What is the point?

This dreadful week laid bare the rotting innards of this club, although many of us caught a whiff of the stench a long while ago. Levy has talked of the club’s DNA – I wrote about this last week after our ignominious cup exit. His contribution is to build a culture where all our efforts are geared up to not winning anything. Wherever you turn, recruitment, choice of managers, leadership from the board, there is a total lack of understanding or strategic thinking about how to create a winning side and winning mentality. Managers who had some ambition and wanted to play good football, Jol, Redknapp, Pochettino, all gone, replaced by AVB, Nuno, JM. If I have been over and over this on Tottenham on My Mind for the last decade, imagine how often that’s run around my addled brain in a toxic mixture of fury, frustration and despair, of simply not understanding how so many decisions can be so wrong for so long. It does me no good whatsoever.

That has seeped into the hearts and minds of the players and a winner like Conte. The team selection against Sheffield told the players that we don’t want it, really. Come to Spurs because you have ambition, yet we’ll knock that out of you soon enough. It’s like Nuno’s selection of a reserve side in that European tie against, I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to look it up. You know the one, we lost and it told half the squad that the manager thought they were no good.

It’s found its way into my head too. Last night, all I could think of was, this is pointless. Levy has no emotional intelligence. He doesn’t grasp how his decisions come over to people or how it affects them, and is closed to new ideas. But the club does keep an eye on social media and blogs, so they would do well to understand that if I as a loyal fan and regular matchgoer for over 50 years, someone who is generally of a mild disposition and infuriates folk by being fair, reasonable and seeing both sides of any story, if I am mightily hacked off then something is wrong and I’m not alone. Everyone I talk with says this openly, long-standing supporters feeling alienated and disillusioned. The only difference is whether they are angry or apathetic. Both are dangerous emotions.

Once again, we have not so much a distance between the club and supporters as a vast yawning chasm stretching from Everest’s peak to the permanent darkness of the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I should be furious, instead I am numb with frustration, alienated from the club I hold so dear.

And this is not a new feeling. The Pochettino era, warts, lemons and all, brought fan, team, manager and club closer than ever before. That’s not the Tottenham DNA however much I wish it were, that’s the outlier for this generation. The club’s dismissive contempt for supporters’ feelings and emotions persists.

So let him go now, with some dignity, rather than make him feel compelled to utter the patronising drivel he spouted after last night’s game. Dismissing him is an act of mercy for him and for us. It’s also essential. But this is only the next step, not the whole solution. Spurs are on the edge of a precipice. We have a decent number of good players who could improve as individuals, including several promising young players, and more could be made of their collective talents.

At the same time, we must spend to get better players, backed by an informed recruitment policy. Plus, we must reinforce in key positions notably at centre back, goalkeeper and midfield creativity. Then have Harry, nearing 30, and Son, whose form has already plunged down that cliff edge.

Money speaks louder than words, and the booing at the Lane is not going to subside if this carries on. The next date circled in red in Levy’s diary is the season ticket renewal deadline, which seems to get earlier and earlier each year. He will take action before then. But on past form, this is a huge task that the board is unable to handle.

What A Waste

Just when I thought we were getting somewhere.

Beating the Blues on Sunday felt good, not just because it is rare these days. This was a grown-up performance from a frequently immature Spurs team. Without playing at our best, we succeeded in our concerted efforts to get on top after a couple of early scares, first to loose balls and determined in countless challenges. It was a similar story against W Ham the previous weekend. We were sharp and strong, and didn’t give the ball away with unnecessary carelessness.

Well, forget all that. It’s a cup game, so add last night to the litany of failure chronicled in these pages over the past decade. Add the Blades to the list – Middlesboro, Norwich (through Vorm’s hands! Worst penalties ever! At home! A goal up!), Everton, Palace – these pathetic efforts blur into one ghastly vision, a changed team failing to be cohesive or determined. Take a match report from any of those games and copy and paste for the others, just change the names. Insipid, braindead performances by a team weakened by squad rotation. Frankly, the only surprise is that I’m surprised.

Earlier this season, our chairman was blathering on about the Spurs DNA in a ‘could do better’ message to us. Apparently, our genes have mutated in this generation to breed out the ‘winning stuff’ gene, the cup runs that I was brought up on, that tempered the frustration of never being able to be consistent enough over 42 league games to challenge for the league. So I can only conclude that Spurs don’t want to win things any more and that the messages has got through to the players.

Last night, we began well enough. The wing-backs pushed up, as did Dier into the midfield to take advantage of the space United vacated as they pulled back. The front three looked busy but the warning signs grew more pronounced as time passed. Fancy flicks intercepted, direct runs blocked by determined tackling and covering. Son, Moura and Richarlison repeatedly caught in possession.

Ten minutes into the second half and it was clear that rather than this being the base for improvement, it was actually the best we could come up with. Shots were either weak and straight at the keeper or ended up closer to the corner flag than the goal. Moura hasn’t lost his ability to run down blind alleys, and if they don’t exist, create them. Son even at his best is a receiver of passes rather than someone who can hold it and move it on, but he’s not at his best, nowhere near it, so he provided tackling practice for eager defenders. Richarlison’s mind was all over the place, as was his shooting, he had a awful match.

I suspect Spurs fans recognised this pattern before the United players, but once they caught on that we are vulnerable, they swarmed all over us, took control and deservedly won, putting us out of our misery with a late goal that Forster, who has done well so far, failed to save at his near post with an almost imperceptible but fatal shift onto his left foot milliseconds before the ball went to his right.

Spurs are not good enough to make several changes to the team and overcome determined, organised opposition. How many games do we have to lose in this country and in Europe before we learn the lesson? It is yet another downside of having so many changes of manager, as each one has to find out for themselves, then express bewilderment in post-match press conferences. Partly it’s that the squad could be deeper, but essentially this is a failure of the collective. Stellini said that a front line of Moura, Richarlison and Son should have been enough. There’s some truth in that, and as individuals they were woeful, but any Conte disciple should know better than most that it is all about the team. Those three have never played together before and their talents do not complement each other. Neither were they supported from midfield by Hojbjerg or Sarr.

Kane needs a rest, except we can’t play without him. His presence forms the shape of our attacks. Someone else could do that in theory, yet we’ve not planned for that eventuality, so there’s no alternative.

My wife’s family are Hammers, so their match was on the TV. Manchester United changed their side for this game and found themselves a goal down at half time. Even after bringing in internationals to replace other internationals, it wasn’t working. Their recent enviable development under a manger who depending on which version you believe, we didn’t want to appoint or turned us down, comes through shape and familiarity, so they made changes to bring in key players, found their balance and won the game. Even with their deep squad, right now, where they are, they depend on a few key players. They must be as tired as our key men, except they have learned how to win and want to win again, so the tiredness recedes.

As an aside, a goal down and they brought on Martinez, their Argentinian, aggressive, front foot defender whereas ours stayed on the bench. It’s not just about throwing men forward, far from it.

United have momentum. We threw ours away, what little precious little we have. We won’t ever win stuff if we make it obvious that we don’t really want it enough. Pochettino was guilty in this regard when it came to domestic cups. He said he was told that Champions League qualification was his priority, and it still seems to be the case. Try telling that to the 5000 plus who were up for the cup late on a midweek night. It won’t wash. A winning mentality comes from winning things. We looked at the great opportunity of a long cup run offered by this competition with only a few other PL sides still left, and we said, nah, not for us. Not for Tottenham. It’s in our DNA.

Reset Reboot Remodel. Spurs Find Themselves Again

The celebrations extended beyond the final whistle as people wanted to stay in that feeling, partly to honour one of our own, but before that, to savour a win for its own sake and the manner in which it was achieved. Players giving everything, digging in for the shirt, and the fans responding. It was like rekindling the pleasures of a long-term relationship with a date night. Just the two of us, fans and the team. There are other implications, for the league table, the team’s progress, but blank all that out and savour the win and the performance for its own sake. 

We needed that. Let’s be honest, many performances this season have hardly been inspiring. Yet here we were, defending that goal as if our fate depended on it, that feeling of anticipation crackling through the crowd as we broke on the counter, where all things were once again possible. That feeling near the hour mark, goal up and we’ve suppressed any post-half time City revival. The players need us so get behind the lads. The involvement, the shared passion.  I’m leaning forward (getting a foot closer will make the difference), cursing each error, sensing the judder of every challenge, cheering the slightest success. How I’ve missed that at home games this season.  

Congratulations and plaudits all around. Every individual gave everything they had. I confess I’ve not seen it when people say Emerson would be a decent full-back, as opposed to a wing-back, but he proved me wrong with a top-level performance. There’s something irradicably frantic about him, the ball’s never quite under control, but from his whirling limbs emerged a top-quality game, limiting Grealish’s effectiveness and eager to burst forward when he could, taking up some unusual positions that posed extra problems for the City defence. His work at the far post as City stretched us was potentially match-saving, in particular a header under pressure in the first half. Booed cruelly by his own fans, slated for replacement, to come out and play like that against one of Europe’s best sides deserves my utmost admiration. Praise too for Hojbjerg, born for this sort of midfield confrontation, and the underrated Davies. We need a dominant centre half, sure, but here’s Davies, toe in, tidy up, be there first.  

Romero always treads the fine line between imposing himself on his man and going too far. It’s part of his game, something we mere mortals cannot fully grasp, how he and other top defenders can get booked then back themselves to play three-quarters of a game knowing one mistake is crucial. But the first tackle was reckless and unnecessary, I said so at the time. Against City, you have to keep a booking or two in reserve for the last 10 minutes.

At the other end, we should have scored more, given a fraction more composure with the final ball. Harry always a danger, Kulu not quite at the top of his game right now but working hard to link up and Sonny finding his touch again.

It comes on the back of two less spectacular but important wins against Preston and Fulham, where we successfully defended a one goal lead without playing noticeably well. We stifled Fulham, a well-organised, front-foot side, and made sure they never got going.  After the crushing defeats versus AFC and City away, Conte and the players met to get a few things out in the open, notably a search for our lost defensive form and questioning our sluggish efforts of late. Yesterday’s match is a sign the reboot is effective. We were determined in every challenge. The back three stayed tight, whereas in the away fixture, we were easily distracted by Alvarez‘s movement and the gaps opened up. The wingbacks were fearless in attack, while Harry was able to drop deeper when needed (he’s been staying further forward lately). We played as a team, a team that wanted to win rather than one that hoped to win.

Perhaps Conte took his own words to heart. His fierce ebullience has been noticeably absent from the touchline of late and like our defence, his press conferences have been all over the place. He’s had a hard time of it personally with the loss of two close friends and contemporaries, and now his operation. We need him to return refreshed and reinvigorated. I wouldn’t wish his condition on anyone, but the enforced peace of bedrest may help his healing process and refocus on the future

This augers well for the future but a note of caution. City’s style suits us because they leave space to play in midfield and they get men forward so the counterattack, one of our strengths when Son is on it, becomes a potent weapon. Our problem lies with teams that close us down and outnumber us in midfield. Also, in these three games, we went a goal up and fought to keep that lead. Will we continue with the tactic of hanging back early on? I hope not. None of the other top sides do, after all. We look like a team ready to defend a lead to the last, rather than one better at fighting to chase.

Harry’s wonderful. I haven’t said so enough lately, but never take him for granted. His true greatness will be evident only with the passing of time and the perspective of history, but stay in the present and relish every moment.

All great players have something special and unique about them. Harry’s isn’t immediately apparent. He lacks the grace, style and presence of other top-class footballers. But watch as he contorts his entire body to get the optimal point of contact with the ball, head or foot. You may not notice because he makes it appear straightforward, but watch. It’s born from a total focus on doing it right and being the best he can be.

Without question he has a place in the best Spurs XI of my lifetime, ahead of the revered Gilzean and Chivers, and alongside the finest of them all, Jimmy Greaves. Close your eyes and imagine that partnership up front, Kane and Greaves. I am blessed to have seen them both. The roar from all round the ground as he trotted back to the centre circle after scoring, that was something to treasure. Time for a considered appraisal when he retires. For now, I think of the goals still to be scored.

I’m drawn to the words of the great Francesco Totti, another one-club man: “I definitely could have won more trophies elsewhere but my greatest triumph is my loyalty to Roma.” An entire generation of younger fans have no idea what that means, but we do. We are Spurs, we feel it, and so does Harry.

The Gloom Gathers at the Lane

Last season’s home north London derby was a triumph, and not just because of the 3-0 scoreline. Driven on by relentless fervour from the stands, Spurs matched the supporters’ passion to blow our rivals away. Under pressure, we flourished as they wilted before our eyes, a spirit and confidence we then took into the next couple of games, thumping wins, exuberant football and a place in the Champions League. It was a corner turned: our manager’s ferocious will to win was now part of the team’s collective psyche too. 

How times have changed. In the space of not more than 25 league games, the red side of north London have become utterly dominant. In the first half, yesterday, Spurs were pitiful. It was nothing short of humiliating. Harsh words but that’s what it was, and I say this advisedly as a fan whose loyalty over 55 years remains cast iron and who has seen Spurs lose 5-0 at the Lane and was there as they sealed two league titles. 

Under pressure, we produced gutless, banal and inept football, riddled with unforced errors. For extended periods, we were barely able to get the ball into our opponents’ half, let alone mount a challenge on goal. At times, it reminded me of a cup game between an elite team and a League 2 side, aimless long balls that were easily and gratefully gobbled up by quick defenders, and that may be an insult to League 2 sides. I’d say we were fighting for the scraps of second balls, except we weren’t fighting. 

The foundation of their win was pressure, the very quality we learned to overcome not so long ago. We simply could not play out of their press. Time and again, they won the ball through our errors.  

Hugo, there was a time when I admired you with warmth and affection, one of ours. And no doubt that’s how I’ll feel when you return in 5 years, rounded out a little but looking well, to have a cosy pitchside chat with Coytey. Right now, I think of you and slump in my seat. Say nothing, that doesn’t help the team and that’s what matters most, but his jitters vibrate through the whole side. Clearances put teammates in trouble and the ball’s coming back our way again. 

The goal from one such moment, keeper and two men on the near post, easy to block, then there’s the ball, dropping into the net like a table tennis ball bobbling onto the floor. The Park Lane was stunned into silence. No howls of anger, just disbelief. The bloke in front turned round to me. I told him ‘it’s gone in’. He saw it but didn’t believe his eyes. It took another moment for the away fans to react, like the delayed sound from an event miles away, light travels faster than sound. They couldn’t believe their good fortune. 

When Conte tells them to create space, he doesn’t mean for our opponents. The second, their best player, again stemming from a turnover, proverbial acres at the edge of our box. Partey had earlier hit the woodwork from a similar position, and of course he scored from there in the game at their place. We don’t learn our lessons.  

The players were all found wanting, save for Harry who was head, shoulders, knees and toes above the rest of that shower. Sarr has real potential but this was not a day about potential, while Kulu was dangerous in the second half when allowed to come forward. 

Conte had a terrible game yesterday. These problems stem from tactics and shape that allow teams into the game. AFC do their business at the edge of the area – we leave it wide open. Teams create ways of beating a press and Conte is known for inculcating set patterns into his side to move from defence to attack, yet time and again those patterns failed and we were trapped. Conte is known to like a week to prepare for games. And this is what we came up with. Subs in the last 5 minutes usually come on to waste time, not attempt to win a north London derby.  

I say this without excusing the players. There were several occasions at the end of the first half when a player tried to play out from deep and his 10 teammates were virtually standing still. And Son, dear Sonny, have you ever seen a player so out of touch for so long? Even his teammates moan at him.  

To make things worse, as I write this I’ve discovered hope in Spurs’ second half revival. The pessimism I carried with me as I left the ground remains, but we really had opportunities to score without playing especially well. We pushed Kulu further up and immediately made chances. So it didn’t take much, and that’s the point, do that earlier why don’t we, but we couldn’t score. Their keeper was on good form but a couple were bad misses. So actually, we could have got something from this. Just makes it worse.

The muted reaction in the Park Lane felt at odds with the stakes of the NLD. There was no concerted uplifting let’s get at ‘em come on! that typically goes with games like this. We were only two down, after all. Maybe it was louder elsewhere but the resignation and hopelessness born of despondency spoke volumes.  

I’m proud of being a Spurs fan but there are times when that cast iron loyalty is a dead weight pulling me down. Where to from here? Losing the derby is bad enough, but that despondency is more than just about this match. As I touched on in my last piece, it’s the cumulative effect of years of permanent transition without ever reaching our destination. Hopes raised then dashed again as we discover that we have changes without any club strategy, where the fit between manager, recruitment and finance is always, always found wanting. Of high seat prices with diminishing returns. I am weary with it all, this state of institutional disfunction.  

And – we have to face up to this however unpalatable it may be, because it is real – look at them lot. Appoint a club man but one without any experience as a manager. He’s paid a fortune to essentially learn on the job. He makes mistakes, money wasted in the transfer market, there are grumbles but he’s given time, as are the talented young players he’s brought on or bought. Maybe it was because they couldn’t spend that much, but he and they had time. Turns out, last year’s derby was their turning point, where in their reaction to adversity, they got it all together. 

This is the point where I should insist the manager shakes things up, tries something different. Except that’s not the Conte way. Past experience suggests he sticks with his formation and tries different players. Except we’ve run out of options. He’s tried everyone and this is where we are.  

These problems won’t be solved by a better right wing back. Having a fully fit squad will help – Bentacur’s return is much anticipated. Given this long-term gloom, our fanbase, I suspect, will not have the patience to wait two or three years for a younger guy to learn the ropes. One vital difference between our experience and theirs is the context. Arteta comes in with twenty-odd unbroken years of success integral to recent collective memory, including titles and cups. That gives him some leeway, however much some of their fans complained. Anyone coming to us carries the burden of unfulfilled promise as well as that of a board who don’t know what they are doing.  

So support the manager in this window, let’s see what happens. Hardly a ringing endorsement but it’s all I can muster right now. It’s irrelevant, Conte will walk in the summer if this carries on, he’s got a reputation to think of. There may be trouble ahead.