Spurs Get Away With It. Will Harry?

Even my wife wondered why on earth Spurs were playing football on a Friday. By the end of the match I knew exactly what she meant. As it was ESPN, perhaps Spurs prepared for the Saturday evening game, because they certainly weren’t ready for this one.

This was dire, as disorganised as Harry’s tax return. Various combinations and formations were unable to create anything or prevent a keen, able Watford team from making a series of opportunities that should have dumped us out of the cup. Frankly that was what we deserved.

I was excited by the team news. I rightly suspected that Redknapp would pick a strong side and the attacking 4-3-3 should have provided both strength in the defensive midfield areas – Livermore and Parker – with the enticing prospect of Defoe, Adebayor and Van der Vaart linking up front. In fact, nobody knew what the hell they were supposed to be doing. Modric was wandering in an indeterminate fashion on the left, or not when he felt like it. Watford powered through the rolling hills and green verdant pastures that became the gap between Danny Rose and the centrebacks. From this pleasant Hertfordshire stroll, Watford made 5 chances in the first 17 minutes. Just before the last one in that series, Luka’s despondent figure could be seen belatedly trotting back to the edge of the box, as if he had suddenly realised he was supposed to be defending.

Adebayor’s movement was good in the early stages as we made pretty patterns without getting anywhere. No matter, plenty of time, just building up some momentum. And that was it, really. You might have thought he would have run around a bit just to keep to warm, but no, his undergarments and gloves did the trick. Let’s merely say he was conserving his energy for a long season ahead, then draw a veil over the rest.

We left far too much space on either wing and Watford to their great credit made full use of it, either by coming down the wing or slotting willing runners into the channels. We were all over the place: the young attack of a lowly Championship side created vast gaps in ways that we’ve not been used to this season. We were fortunate that their finishing did not match the poise of their build-up and that Cudicini was in good form, And just fortunate, really. At one point all our coaches were in the technical area, so frantic were we to sort out this mess, but nothing much got through to the players. We carried on regardless.

The goal came against the run of play. For once Watford’s defensive midfield barrier was absent as Rafa advanced towards the goal. His shot was almost indifferent, nothing else on so I may as well have a go but even so, there was no real intent. The keeper misjudged the bouncing ball and we got away with it. It shows the value, I suppose, of having individuals who can come up with something when the team’s off colour. The excellent pass that set Rafa up, from Walker I think although my stream’s not so clear and I couldn’t bear watching it all over again at half or full time, took out 4 defenders.

That’s the last time you will read the word ‘excellent’ in this report. Lennon’s arrival signalled a change of shape and some chance of a revival. We looked better without making any inroads and as the game went on, Watford went into a purple patch that left us reeling. Kaboul was made to look a mug, Dawson got in the way a few times, that’s the best I can do, I’m afraid. JD was anonymous and Parker had his most ineffective game for us. He’s lost some momentum since his injury and although his ferocious appetite for the game is welcome, if he is carrying any sort of a knock he should have been rested yesterday.

Cudicini had a fine match. He doesn’t get up to the top corners any more but like Friedel he makes the saves that are makeable, gets down quickly and caught enough in the air to steady the ship. I don’t have ESPN at home so I don’t know if the MOM vote is usually as farcical as last night. Why don’t they just go straight to a vote on which team has the most fans watching? A Watford man should have taken it but Carlo was head shoulders above any other Spur.

Small mercies – we controlled the last 5 minutes. Dismal and apathetic, this awful performance should be consigned to the recycle bin of the mind. The FA Cup is nothing if not about tradition, so in these circumstances, after playing so badly yet still winning, I believe I am duty bound to say, ‘it looks like the cup has got our name on it’. Churlish to point out that the same is also said about by teams that play really well in cup games, but I’ll leave that rubbish to Adrian Chiles.

We tried a different formation and failed miserably. The players we have are great, we need a striker and maybe a defender in the window but we knew that before last night. The one element that has changed is Harry. We fall apart for the first time this season and Redknapp’s in court all week. Coincidence? Nobody knew what they were doing and HR has not been around. I’ll reserve judgement but coincidence only takes us so far. Let’s put this one away, enjoy the cup this weekend knowing we are through and soundly beat Wigan on Tuesday. Then we’ll see about coincidence.

Mario, Arsene and Harry Are Innocent. OK?

Three days on, that stamp is still the major talking point in football, dominating the backpages and sports leads. Not that it was a stamp, of course. Poor Mario has been cruelly victimised by referees. I realise English isn’t his first language but he really has to get to grips with what ‘victimised’ actually means, as opposed to ‘stay on the pitch and score the crucial winning goal that could lead to the league title’. If it’s not Balotelli,  then it’s Wenger’s troubles and the disgust of their fans at 10 years of top four finishes. How did they cope?   

We’re grateful because it’s deflecting some of the unwanted attention directed towards another man who is as innocent as they are. It’s hardly news that Redknapp’s financial affairs may not be squeaky clean and this thankfully refers to alleged misdemeanours at another club. However, it’s a sad insight into the murky recesses of football finance. The revelation that Redknapp received commission on the profits from player sales at Portsmouth and perhaps other clubs is not new. It was mentioned in the Panorama documentary a few years ago. It’s part of his contract and is perfectly legal but that doesn’t make it right. He takes umbrage at bring called a wheeler-dealer, which is hardly the most severe insult he’s ever had to face, yet at Portsmouth it was in his interests to buy and sell players because he personally profited substantially. It’s not something that as a fan you would want or indeed expect to see in your manager’s contract as he appears in the media to say how hard he’s working for your club but funds are restricted so we have to sell before we buy. It’s legal but wrong.

There’s no suggestion that Redknapp sold players to line his pockets but it’s already apparent that he knew the personal worth of transfers, demanding 10% of Crouch’s mover, not the 5% stipulated in his new contract, which presumably he had readily agreed to. One reason why he’s done well at Spurs is that Daniel Levy will not give him his head when it comes to transfers. When Redknapp came to Spurs, I wrote a piece entitled ‘Levy is Redknapp’s Poodle’, that he had ceded control of the playing side to Harry as part of the deal to get us away from the bottom of the table. I’ve readily acknowledged on several occasions in the blog that I was wrong and that in reality Levy’s close supervision of the budgets has probably made Redknapp a better manager. It’s certainly kept Spurs on a sound financial footing and there is no way on earth that Levy would allow Redknapp to leave the club in the state he left Portsmouth and West Ham. 

Mandaric on the other hand caves in straight away. You’re not entitled, Harry, but here’s a 6 figure sum in a Swiss bank account anyway. No wonder they lost money. It’s also a telling insight into the power HR can wield at a club. I suspect Manadaric didn’t get where he is today by being soft in business yet here’s the cash if you want it.

I’m sincerely and unreservedly grateful for what Redknapp given us this season and as I’ve admitted before, he can tell us about 2 points from 8 games as often as he likes because we were in an appalling state when he took over. However, I feel attached to the club, not him. My sole concern is for the shirt. His guilt is irrelevant – what I’m concerned about is the well-being of the club. 

I knew it was coming but it was still a shock to read the twitter feed as the case opened. Twitter was riveting as the full extent of the Pakistani cricketers’’ crime were revealed, tweet by tweet, direct from the courtroom. Suddenly Redknapp was getting the same treatment. At the moment it’s a rather undignified spectacle as Harry tries to weasel out of it. First sign of a problem and it’s nothing to do with him. ‘I’ve done nothing wrong but if I did, it was all his fault’. I guess we all know the feeling of how 189k can slip our minds. Bit like that 22p in my Egg savings account. Months went by without me giving it so much as a passing thought.

Some of  it is priceless. "Redknapp told a reporter, ‘I ain’t done nothing wrong…I ain’t done nothing wrong…there aint’ nothing crooked in it…’" Was that HR;’s audition for Bill Sykes? Or today, ‘Do I need 30 f***ing grand to avoid tax Rob, I mean 30 f***ing grand. I give you 30 f***ing grand.’ Comedy gold. It’s not a problem for him to have 30k lying around, apparently.

The club have supported him – executives have been conspicuous in court but the chairman has kept his distance, just in case – and of course this happened elsewhere. On the pitch, there was no hint of a problem on Sunday. In fact, Redknapp and his team were at their peak. We managed when he was in hospital recently but to be serious he must be under intense pressure. He can’t hide that. In the dressing room the professionals that they are will ignore and perhaps secretly admire his alleged ability to make the most of his cash. I doubt this bothers them. Perhaps he’s a figure of aspiration.

Whatever the outcome, it may remain novelty value. The public don’t see this as a potential crime as in stealing a substantial sum because it’s tax, and people somehow see that differently. Same for the jury – loveable cockney geezer or cold exploiter of tax loopholes, the very ones that have received so much negative coverage lately.

Also, Harry is the media’s darling. He’s always up for a quote, in return they protect their asset. I have no contacts in the know but someone who does told me that this perception is entirely accurate – basically he’s such good value they don’t want to turn against him. This may be tested if he’s found guilty. Also, Spurs are getting some fantastically positive publicity lately, rightly so. People who aren’t that keen on football want to talk to me about the team and how well we are playing. The media are raving about us. We’ve made a huge impression, breaking out of the stereotype of predictable Premier League football. We’ve earned it because of the way we have played and carried ourselves as a well-run club. It would be a shame if the trial took that away from us, just at the moment when so much is going right.

The real test could be the one element no one can control – opposition fans. If they get stuck in, whatever the result of the case, it will be directed at Redknapp but will follow us around for as long as he’s manager. Pleat was probably on his way out after his indiscretions, which were committed while he was at Spurs, but the taunts of the opposition fans hastened the process. We’ll see. I’m always proud of the shirt but now more than ever. I hope Harry doesn’t bring us down.

It’s Cruel At The Top

So many times he’s saved us. The forward bursts through, draws back the hammer and pulls the trigger, eyes not on the ball but on the expectant net only to find that in a whirl the object of his desire has disappeared, swept away by the sweetest of tackles. No bone or muscle, it’s the timing that has defeated him.  Didn’t feel a thing.

Or maybe it’s pace that will take him goalwards. There’s space to sprint into, aching aging sinew the only barrier. Yet here he is, at his shoulder, past him now as the speed of the turn and four or five strides takes the ball away. The legs are weak but that mind, that mind is as sharp as diamond-tip. This mind outwits his foe again and again.

So many times. But this time, this once, now at the crescendo of a pulsating, heart-warming second half performance, a top of the table performance, there’s the turn, the strides, the tackle. Our hero, our saviour, but no ball. Never mind the points, I wanted to spare this master of unobtrusive excellence the indignity of the moment. After 93 minutes of understated assurance and a footballing lifetime of superlatives, this one horrendous split-second. Don’t let me hear it’s over. This the finest British centre back of his generation, loyal and fine, you owe us nothing, Ledley, nothing.

He watches as the long ball curls high in the air. In the previous three minutes, City threw everyone forward but there was no way through. This way and that, they passed and probed but found nothing. Back and forth, fast and slow. Nothing. This long ball was born of frustration, yet it cut into the heart of the defence as for once we failed to protect the back four. Just once in that magnificent second half. Just once but that was enough.

And this long ball, this hopeless effort, all from a hack by the one man who guards possession like a man shielding his children’s photos from a housefire. Who will take outrageous risks to make sure the other lot don’t get that precious football. Who scowls if a clearance goes safely into touch but not to a team-mate, admonishing himself because he should have done better. yet here, just this once, Benny took the easy option. Just once.

And why now, after the steamtrain careered through the most parsimonious defence and set us one stretching  centimetre from the goal and glory. After 30 minutes when, groggy on the ropes, we pick ourselves up and the City allstars are second best. When the going gets tough, this new Spurs starts to play. Not everything worked. Rafa in particular was unusually wasteful with several long-range efforts when he should have paused and passed it again. But this is a team, our team. Bale lifted us from the canvas to the heavens with a goal of power and beauty. If life could be an endless loop-tape of Hart horizontal and flailing  in mid-air as the ball arcs and dips into the corner. A stupendous goal at any time or place but at this time and this place, wondrous.

Before then, Walker’s defensive shortcomings had exposed us on two occasions and two goals followed. However, for the first the real culprit was Kaboul who was drawn too far forward. Out of position, he left a huge gap for Nasri. In the first half it had been too easy for City to put the ball into those channels between full-back and centre back or between the two centre halves but they didn’t take advantage, so it seemed like the opportunity had gone as we rectified this problem in the second half by taking closer order and protecting the back four better.

Earlier we had worked hard but looked predictably weak in the final third. Bale and Lennon came inside to help the tireless Defoe with Walker and Assou Ekotto offering width. However the link-up with VDV and Modric never quite clicked. Satisfied though after the first half.

In the second, we grew in adversity. This was a top class display from a side that despite the result fully deserves to slug it out with the big boys. Defoe pinched one from a mistake but we could not have asked more from a perfect first touch and measured finish. No one individual stood out, except perhaps for Bale who was always a danger although he should have worked back harder in the first half when City were on top for a period. Modric is playing well but not at his masterly best. He was busy without ever running the game. Parker was better in the second half. No drive from him but he tucked in effectively to the back four just when needed. Kaboul was at fault for the goal as I’ve said but he made several strong challenges. Lennon worked so well, a good game. Not so for Benny who has been off since he was kicked last week. Defoe also deserves credit for his efforts in an unfamiliar role.

Redknapp’s substitution was inspired. We look better against the best teams with a tighter midfield and Parker/Modric/Livermore was a powerful axis as we tied up the game and kept possession, masterly football under intense pressure.

I was so proud. This blog has focussed, as have others over the years, on key moments upon which the match turns. For me this was also the time when we became true contenders. We matched and bettered the title favourites on their ground, after going two goals down. Sadly, the outcome only heightened the shock and disappointment, bad enough at the final whistle but worse as the evening progresses and the adrenalin rush subsides.

If another theme of this season’s blog is what success feels like, then it comes with excruciating gut-churning tension. And to think I was writing about the pressure in the West Brom game. That was like walking across the road compared with Sunday’s walking across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. And I wouldn’t be without it. Give me more, and after yesterday, bring them on, bring them all on. We’re ready. Top quality, top class.

And that’s one ending to the piece. The eagle eyed amongst you, which I believe is 100% of my readers, will notice I’ve not mentioned the ‘B’ word.  Today I’ve been busy, at a funeral in fact, but all the discussion has not been about a dramatic game or superb Spurs’ display. It’s about Balotelli, so I wanted to balance things up a little, in a tiny way, because that’s what the game is about. However, there is no escaping the fact that Coty should have finished that match with 9 men. The goalscorer should have been in the bath or setting off fireworks in the shower after a blatant, vindictive and pointless stamp on Parker’s head. Lescott’s elbow in Kaboul’s face was astonishing. No excuse for using his arms to lever a header or good body position, just blatant. The Webb factor again. I don’t think for a second that he has anything against us but you can’t escape his influence. This time, it really mattered.

The wife of a friend and colleague died last week. She left us as she lived, content and calm, surrounded by her loving family. John and Steph gave up a large part of their lives to care for children less fortunate than their own. They gave them love and security, keeping them safe and enriching their lives. John is a diehard Spurs fan. He and Steph met in the Royal in the High Road. My thoughts are with his family. With Steph, nothing but good memories. Rest in peace.

Just Like The Old Days. Except We Won

Spurs away and just like the old days. An inferior side produces their best because we let them play. Shaky at the back, vulnerable to the simplest long ball. Can’t keep hold of the ball or close down our opponents. One difference, mind – we won.

The familiar 4-4-2 created plenty of opportunities early on. We used the width this formation offers to good effect, trying to pull Blackburn’s central defence out of position through a combination of searing runs from deep and beautiful long passes sweeping across the field. Adebayor was under orders to pull out wide too, although given the space on offer I would have preferred him to remain more central, but every time the ball came into their box there was no shortage of willing recipients.

This counterattacking at pace took the breath away at times. My kind of football, and although Manu had a quiet game, movement of this nature would have been impossible with Crouch leading the line. It culminated in a fine opening goal. Walker picked up the ball near halfway, kept going, and going, and going…then a neat ball, even though he was moving at a rate of knots he had the presence of mind to not only pick out his man but also to use the ball with delicacy and precision. Rafa stroked it home, a top class piece of football all round. We should have had more to show for our dominance in this period of the game.

I thought Blackburn were supposed to be rubbish and their manager out of his depth. No one told their players. Most managers in the country would envy their application and energy and they forced their way back into the game as the first half wore on. No wonder Spurs have looking at Hoilett. he impressed me last season and with some coaching on his final ball is a genuine prospect.

Credit to them therefore but old faults reappeared in our play that worsened as the match went on and made the last half hour a nail-biting stomach churning 30 minutes of anguish, on my sofa at least. Like I said, just like the old days.

Lennon’s selection was in part down to the problems experienced last week when we failed to handle Newcastle’s width because the full-backs were left exposed. He did some decent chasing back but not enough and was hesitant coming forward. Also, the whole midfield four at times did not work back hard enough, Bale being particularly guilty, and there were big gaps between our back and middle fours. Too much space, not enough pressing. The marking for the equaliser was crazy – from a set piece we were outnumbered in our own box – and throughout the second half the crosses rained in without us making any appreciable effort to stem the flow.

Once the ball got into our box, there was trouble. Too much room between the defenders and too heavy a reliance on Blackburn’s ability to provide a wayward final ball. Set pieces were a nightmare as Kaboul and Bassong struggled. When we won the ball, too frequently we gave it away again. Unlike us this season – this is an aspect of our play that has improved massively.

I feared we would concede. Sure, I wanted the three points but there was something daft going on in my head about not wanting to tarnish the memory of Rafa’s two goals, as we did when JD scored a blinder at Wolves but we drew. His second was a sumptuous thing of understated beauty, an effortless arc inside the post, struck first time at pace. VDV had a fine game. My criticism at the break was that he should have dropped back more to help out the midfield. However, what do I know? I’m not a great one for stats but in the first half he ran further than every other Spurs player. So much for those who say he’s unfit and lazy. Done properly, that free role takes a lot of effort but it paid off yesterday. A class act.

On the balance of play and chances, Blackburn earned at least a point. However, they suffered the fate familiar to many teams at the bottom of the Premier League – they weren’t sharp enough in front of goal and wasted what came their way. I admire Redknapp for wanting to keep the the team’s shape but I was crying out for Sandro or Livermore long before the end. Boy is he stubborn. In the end, the last ten or fifteen minutes were our best defensively and Blackburn’s effort petered away feebly.

Walker had another fine game. he’s majestic coming forward and as I noted in my description of the goal, he has considerable presence of mind in addition to his power. Defensively his positioning needs work but he has the pace to get out of trouble, with time to spare to come across the box and help out his team-mates, as he did on several  occasions. Who scouted him at age 18 or 19? Give that man the freedom of the borough.

Neither Parker nor Modric imposed themselves on the game, without playing badly. Bale was great going forward but poor defensively. He must work on this.

And we won. Win when not at your best, that’s the measure of a good side. You’ve heard that one before, but certainly there is a resilience about Spurs that has come from our European exploits last season. Also, today notwithstanding, we keep possession better and Freidel provides steadiness at the back. Maybe he can’t get up into the top corners any more but he marshals his defenders and cuts out the errors. Most importantly, away from home we are scoring more readily than last year, which gives us something to protect and makes it much more of a challenge to beat us.

Some anxiety and fear, but this is Spurs. The magnificence of those two goals will be the memory marker for this game, and 5 wins in 6, 5th in the league, I’m really not complaining. In fact, couldn’t be happier.

Coming up: stay tuned for a review of Gazza’s new book and a chance to win a copy. Oooh.