Spurs Serve Up a Treat

Spurs triumphed in a pulsating night at the Lane, scoring early and then withstanding a thorough going over in the second half from a rejuvenated and rampant Liverpool side. This was a full body search but after examining every nook and cranny, the Reds failed to find what they were looking for. Thrilling attacking football and redoubtable defence from two sides on top form made this a totally absorbing encounter that filled the senses.

I have this particular thing about football at the moment. I never used to have things but it comes with getting older, although if I start ranting about how it was better in the old days and policemen are getting younger, shoot me why don’t you. My thing is that I’m fed up with people moaning about football. There’s a lot wrong with the game: ludicrous prices preventing new generations from coming to grounds, the way clubs treat fans so poorly alienates their loyal support, the demands of TV, inflated expectations from fans and clubs alike, TV coverage. I fully understand why this lot puts people off and all these issues must be addressed.

Without minimising their significance for a single second, all I’d say is that all of this takes place off the pitch. On it, where things really count, football remains rich entertainment and compelling drama. Last night was a fabulous example. Both sides refused to compromise, constantly inventive and compulsively creative. Hammer and tongs for 90 minutes, there was barely time to draw breath. It had everything – pace and power, skill and dexterity under supreme pressure, mistakes and comedy, plus a couple of controversial decisions. Both sets of players and their managers should be warmly congratulated for delivering a marvellous match. Both teams wanted to remain true to their values and do it the right way.

For Tottenham, two excellent wins in four days proves we are making progress on the pitch as well as up the table. Last night, it was not all plain sailing. We gave the ball away far too frequently in the first half and sat back too much in the second. However, we were a team. The players’ confidence and comfort within the system is growing by the match. All over the pitch the combination and support play is improving. They know what they should be doing and where they should be, and, even more importantly, what their team-mates should be doing and where they should be. In two interviews over the weekend, Dempsey and Bale both referred to how meticulous the manager is and how his ideas are getting through. Last night they all gave everything so team spirit is high. Villas-Boas was the last to leave the pitch, departing only after he had thanked each one of his warriors. In both these matches we played for 90 minutes whereas until now we performed in patches. And still we are missing several of our best men.

Tottenham began at the high tempo that suits us and we launched Gareth Bale at the Liverpool defence. This young man is a world class attacker. Relish, enjoy and remember as much as you can, because nobody does it like Bale does it. The title of Welsh Wizard has already been bestowed on another Spurs wide man, Cliff Jones, but our Gareth deserves massive acclaim.

Foolishly Liverpool expected to cope without covering the full-back. Bale at full tilt is virtually unstoppable. Repeatedly he charged towards the hapless defenders, pausing only to bewilder Reina with a swerving, beguiling free-kick from miles out that the keeper nearly missed. Now he ran 50 yards, top speed throughout, weaved through three defenders and his unplayable cross between goalie and defenders left Lennon with a far post tap-in. He scored the second himself, his free kick clipping the wall. This time Reina was fatally deceived through no fault of his own.

In this twenty minute spell, Spurs won the game. While playing well throughout, they were never again on top. As the half went on, Spurs became Liverpool’s most creative asset, repeatedly conceding possession when under no pressure. Then,   Liverpool began to assert themselves and after half time, they emerged on a mission, whereupon the two sides engaged in frantic hand to hand combat deep inside the Spurs half. High speed attack v defence with Liverpool desperate to find a way through.

This was football to the power of ten. Under this magnifying glass, every run was a rich mixture of power, control and technique, each challenge a tipping point of its own, every incident worthy of a blog of its own. Win it and the equilibrium of the entire match tilted, until the next such challenge merely seconds later. For 30 minutes there was no respite for any player, save Reina the Liverpool keeper who watched from afar.

A Liverpool player, often Enrique on the left or Sterling on the right, would dart forward. The sides regrouped. Liverpool set the test, Spurs shifted around in response, the two teams as organisms, their players becoming a single whole. Liverpool probed for a breakthrough, Spurs rushed to counter like white blood cells gathering to see off an infection to the body. If one defender lost his individual battle, others moved to his aid as in the same instant our opponents already had moved to exploit any space and potential for a decisive strike.

In such an atmosphere, mistakes were made but for me the debit/credit balance sheet for Gallas, Dawson and Lloris came out firmly in their favour. Spurs may have been stretched this way and that but we never broke. Far from it; as the pressure increased so did our committment. Under this bombardment we stood firm. The bodies flew in to tackle and block. Never once did we experience those all too familiar moments when the entire defence disappears into another dimension for no earthly reason.

Gallas and Dawson did not permit themselves to be shifted out of the middle. They didn’t have to with Walker (at last!) in fine form and Vertonghen strong in the challenge.

The influence of both managers was clear and their men responded. As I’ve said, Spurs reacted ll to some excellent Liverpool pressure but we fell back into the AVB fault of dropping too deep. This was compounded by replacing Dempsey with Sigurdsson. With only Defoe up front we never had an outlet and therefore respite from the onslaught. Adebayor would have been perfect.

Liverpool dominated long periods of the match and if I were a red, on the long journey home I’d have been a’cursing and a’muttering at the injustice of it all. Henderson shot wide of a goal left bare and unprotected by a mad Lloris dash beyond his box, Dembele’s brave tackle from behind (on Gerrard I think) could easily have been called a penalty by some referees and they had a good few chances as the game went on. However, their goal was a crazy fluke – Lennon cleared off the line but our relief lasted a millisecond only as the ball flew into Bale’s face and back into the net.

In the end, Spurs did push up. A rush of pressure led by Lennon was greeted with a standing ovation from the centre Shelf. Walker told a ball-boy to hang on to it as the lad dashed enthusiastically to give his hero the ball. Even though Azza didn’t touch the ball, the pendulum had swung back just enough to make sure we played out the last 10 minutes without any serious alarms. The crowd really got behind the team and they were lifted.

Lennon had a fine match, making a mockery of the criticism I have made of his unwillingness to defend. Great nutmeg on Gerrard too. Bale’s defending was slack in the first half but he got the message after the break. Defoe didn’t touch the ball in the second half. Sandro had his least effective game this season but did his bit at the back. Dempsey needs others to give him the ball. He finds the space, you deliver and he’ll serve it up. His work is becoming more productive with each match.

And I’m still buzzing from that sense of complete immersion in a thrilling, fizzing spectacle. Total commitment from players and fans. Wonderful.


Do New Signings Signal a Change in Policy at Spurs?

Well no one expected this. Just when you think there’s nothing left at Spurs to surprise, we begin pre-season training with signings in the bag and more to come. The man whose transfer window brinkmanship is both loathed and envied in equal measure by his fellow chairmen has bought Vertonghen and Sigurdsson, lined up Adebayor and above all enabled Bale to stay, at least for a while. Rumour has it we’re actively in the market for several other promising players. Already I’m growing nostalgic for the White Hart Lane fax machine, glowing red-hot at one minute to midnight on deadline day as the chairman frantically unblocks another paperjam. Has Daniel Levy changed his buying policy and if so, why?

Although at first sight this business appears to mark a radically different direction, there are distinct signs of consistency rather than change at work. The new boys possess the value that Levy prizes above all: if all goes well they have their best years ahead of them, Spurs represents a step up and their fees were reasonable as presumably are their salaries. It’s not about being cheap and never has been. For these reasons Levy rightly sees value in these investments, an acceptable risk in the most uncertain market of all.

Also, Levy’s best work with contracts lately has been to tie our good players to long-term deals contracts. Over the past 18 months, Lennon, Huddlestone, Walker, Modric, Sandro and Livermore have all signed up, which gives them a reward for services rendered, is a statement of intent that we are to keep our best players and it protects their price if they are sold. Win-win, just the way Levy likes it. Bale is merely the next in line.

Then there’s the new manager effect. Levy has a decidedly mixed record when it comes to picking the new guy but when they arrive, he backs them with cash. Villas-Boas appears to be happy that his boss is being so responsive. Again, nothing new here.

What particularly interests me is why these players signed, because they must have turned down other offers. Of course it’s welcome to White Hart Lane, the world famous home of Tottenham Hotspur, with a reputation for playing good football. And for a small ground, low wages, no trophies and the Europa League. Let’s not kid ourselves: the newcomers are saying all the right things but they must have had a sweet deal. I have no problem with that, by the way. Not being critical, just reminding ourselves that N17 may be the ultimate attractive destination for us, not necessarily for anyone else.

Which begs the crucial question, has Levy shredded the hitherto sacred wage structure, the self-imposed salary cap of £70k a week? If so, it’s the most fundamental change of heart this century.

It’s likely that although the limit has been religiously adhered to over the past few years and contributed to our financial security, some players received substantial bonuses in order to either sign or keep them, for example lump sum signing on payments and/or “loyalty” bonuses after a year or so.

A couple of rumours from informed sources suggest Modric and now Bale earn 6 figure salaries. I doubt our own Siggy Stardust gets that but it’s probable we paid more than Liverpool were offering. He turned them down and the chance to work with Rodgers, the manager who developed his career enormously. Liverpool would have been favourites to beat us for his signature. No longer. Reports suggest Manu’s salary is apparently not a problem. That’s Manu accepting a pay cut of 100k a week. Just like that. I find that hard to believe. I suspect Levy has found something to bridge at least part of the gap. Either that or the lure of Sir Les as striker coach is impossible to resist. 

Although the cap was always controversial, one sound reason for keeping it has now disappeared. Give more to one or two new signings and this could unbalance the whole salary structure, causing resentment and friction in an otherwise settled squad. However, all the players likely to be at the top of the scale have now gone, bar Luka who is on his way. Keane departed long ago, King is about to retire, Pienaar to be sold. That leaves Defoe possibly but otherwise no one gets that much as far as I can gather. As ever, happy to stand corrected. The new guys are being handsomely rewarded no doubt, it’s just that everyone can move up without substantially altering the equilibrium that has underpinned excellent morale and team spirit or skewing the total budget.

Whilst there are elements of continuity in Levy’s transfer policy, his stance has shifted slightly but significantly. Learning from experience, he feels he has more budget flexibility and so can move earlier to tie up a deal without becoming a pushover as the prolonged Vertonghan deal shows. Despite the costs of the new stadium, the Premier League is awash with dosh from the new TV deal and anyway, we’re still not paying stupid money. These are good quality footballers, good value in the today’s market. In passing, it shows how far apart he and Redknapp were over transfers.

In other news, the new kit has been welcomed by most but not by me, because we play in white shirts and navy blue shorts. Not a lot to ask. Nevertheless, many have seen Under Armour’s responsiveness with fans plus a butch photoshopped team photo and 30 minutes of AVB in front of a microphone as evidence of good times to come. As for me, the mood feels fine but I’d prefer something more substantial than PR. Meanwhile, the complaints continue because it remains nigh on impossible to give Spurs money as tickets for the first game of the season go on sale to cries of frustration as the cruel mocking purple line returns to fans’ lives. Some things never change.

New Guy At Spurs But Seen It All Before

And so it goes. Managers come and go but the club goes on. At times like this, you realise it’s all froth and foment that will soon subside. Maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit now. I’m keen to see what he does and think it’s a good choice, although not without risk. It’s just that I’ve seen so many come and go that the thrill has gone. In the grand scheme of things, here’s another guy. Let’s wait until he gets on with it. When the players get the ball down on the White Hart Lane pitch and pass it. When the noise echoes around the venerable rusty stands that have seen it all before and billows up into the night along with condensing breath from the mouths of the 36,000. When white shirts and navy blue shorts take the field. That’s the club. Not the new man in a raincoat. Not even the man front row centre in the West Stand Upper, even though when the history of this decade is written it will be christened the Levy Era. Not the manager but the chairman’s time. White shirts, navy blue shorts and us. We were there before him and will be there long after he goes.

We would do well to remember that context when the season begins, for the club, our club, will be under intense pressure to succeed. And to think journalists call Tottenham fans fickle, accuse us of easily turning on the team. The tabloid media are not so much sharpening their knives, they’re arming the flame-throwers, polishing the bed of nails and shouldering bazookas, all with their sights keenly focussed on Spurs. They’ve decided that AVB is not the man for us. He comes with several disadvantages. He’s foreign and an intellectual who has never played the game at any level. Any one of those reasons would be sufficient but all three? He doesn’t help himself by being a bit cocky, as well as having a wider vocabulary than many of those who thrust mics in his face. Most TV pundits lack the emotional intelligence to perceive what a threat he is to them, or rather to their smug self-satisfied absence of analysis. They played it and that’s all we the viewers and listeners need to know in order to realise they are RIGHT. Then a guy comes along with other credentials. Fluke. Lucky. Got the breaks. Doesn’t deserve it. Can’t say it openly but you know what they are thinking. Out of his depth. Won’t research or find out what happened at Porto. As the season goes on, listen to how many times the word ‘Porto’ will be followed by ‘but’.

Above all, he’s not Harry Redknapp. Media darling, friend to all, can do no wrong. Sacked by Tottenham Hotspur, the ultimate sin, for which in the eyes of the tabloid media there is no possible absolution. But this isn’t about AVB or any manager. It’s our club they are having a go at. It’s hard to see what will please them; if Spurs won the World Cup it would be down to the players not the manager. We must get behind everyone at the club, more than ever before. Close ranks, they shall not pass. AVB is one of us now. We were there before and we’ll be there after he and the journos have gone.

Me? I haven’t changed. Different guy, same expectations. I’d like good football that wins something. I really want to win something. But above all, I want us to be contenders. I want to challenge in the league and cups, to have a real go at Europe. For teams to be afraid when the fixture against THFC comes around. To take on the big sides. Let’s have a real go at it, and if we fail, so be it. It’s what I said last year, and the one before, and the one before that.

Villas Boas and Spurs should fit like a Saville Row suit. We have some cracking young players who still have something to learn as opposed to the entrenched attitudes he encountered at Chelsea. There he took them on with the absolute conviction of a true believer, whereas a more varied approach that bulldozed through some issues but went the long way round for others might have paid better dividends. He would be well advised to learn from that, but one key difference then and now is that Levy will back him if he sticks to the plan. Abramovich asked AVB to change the team but pulled the rug out from under him when he tried to follow orders.

At Spurs there is a plan. Money is available for the right players, players with value for whom the club is a step up. AVB can identify with that because that’s who he is. That’s the precise reason why Spurs are so attractive to him. He positively burns with ambition and Spurs is the place where three players, the right players, will turn a good team into something special. He may look like the book-carrying guys who turn up unwanted on your doorstep, all scrubbed faces and sinister kindness, but AVB is a man with a mission, zealous like only a convert who has seen the light can be. He’s an evangelist for coaching and his style of play who will find redemption only through his team. Unlike Redknapp, whose reputation remains untarnished if his sides falter, Villas Boas must prove himself through the team he manages. He has no medals or past glories to fall back on. All he has is the future.

I can’t claim to know much about what he did at Porto. However, I get the sense that above all, he made the players believe in him and his methods, and that when they did, they not only became better individuals, their whole became more than the sum of their parts. Sounds promising. His first act as Spurs boss was to examine the training pitches. I like that.

Can’t lay claim to a detailed understanding of his tactical approach either. I don’t pay that much attention to Chelsea. But from what I saw against us in particular, seeing teams in the flesh is the best way of understanding them for me – he has a system and fits the players into it rather than creating a formation that suits the squad at his disposal. His sides are a very active and busy 4-3-3, compressing space when they don’t have the ball and pressing the opposition. This means a high defensive line, and we have quick defenders to suit that. Vertonghen will help here; surely he’s about due his testimonial, feels like he’s been with us for so long. With the ball, movement and creativity are encouraged. Again, we have that precious commodity, pace, throughout and his system allows for considerable flexibility, adapting to circumstances and to opponents’ different styles without the need for radical changes.

So the signs are good. We can retain our attacking inclinations whilst adding shape and organisation that was missing at crucial moments last season, especially at the back. Any Spurs manager has inherited problems that in some cases have been handed down through the generations like an ugly unwanted family heirloom. I said in a recent blog that, at the risk of sounding crass, our main problem last season was that the midfield did not drop back and cover enough. Too often we had too many players drifting back when they should have been hammering hell for leather to get behind the ball. That and keep the ball, AVB will sort that out. The other problem is that teams have sussed us out. Everton, QPR, Norwich, Villa all massed ranks behind the ball and Redknapp wasn’t cute enough to find a way round it. Our propensity to concede early meant it was uphill all the way.

In the end, it comes down to the players so AVB needs to pick some good ones. You may have spotted that we could do with a striker or three.  Levy has already achieved one of the transfer coups of the summer in signing Bale to a long term contract, which sent out a message of intent that we are worth joining, that there is continuity despite the change in manager. I’m resigned to losing my lovely Luka, my one and only, my soulmate…perhaps we’ll meet again someday. I don’t blame him, much. Just so he knows I’m heartbroken…

So it goes. We move on. Fulfil Sandro’s potential and I’ll have a new guy to cuddle up to. he’s fabulous – get him to play, Andre.


Can’t wait for the start of the new season, but then nothing changes, even after all these years. Even though I’m getting on a bit now.




Spurs Future – A Leap Of Faith?

Spurs are interviewing for a manager. It’s hardly a level playing field – not as if the vacancy has been advertised down at the Job Centre. We’ll find out soon enough, next week in all probability but in the meantime we are left to consider the absurdity of the process upon which the short, medium and possibly long-term future of our club depends. The single most significant decision in the life cycle of any football club is based on hearsay, conjecture and rumour. It’s made by people unqualified and ill-equipped to do so who remain at the mercy of forces that have little to do with the matter at hand, leading a disparate group of football players and forming a team challenging at the peak of their sport, the English Premier League.

Years ago I used to work for local authorities in London. In the laudable interests of equal opportunities, job candidates firstly have to respond to a person specification, a series of abilities and attributes that are required to do the job. Demonstrate these and you are shortlisted. Then, each candidate is asked exactly the same set of questions. These responses are scored, winner takes all.

All in the name of fairness, the idea being that you remove any subjectivity or preconceptions on the part of the panel. One council went as far as to prohibit any discussion between panel members until they had given in their scores. In practice it makes it harder to discern the qualities in the best applicants that marks them out as better than the rest. In reality everyone completes the form in the same way, unless they are truly clueless (and it never ceases to amaze me how many experienced professionals don’t get it). Produce what is essentially a list: ‘I have worked with blah blah’, ‘I have experience in the law for blah blah..’ and you’re through.

Not that I’m one to talk. I’m fairly calm, given to careful, thought-out judgements, used to public speaking, but there’s something about an interview that turns us into gibbering wrecks. It’s like an invisible sci-fi operation takes place as you enter the room, removing that part of the brain that allows coherence. I can think of at least three interviews where I left puzzled as to who precisely was present. Certainly wasn’t me. Those things that person was saying, I don’t think that, I think the opposite. I once stumbled over my own name.

The worst was at the end of a good interview. Determined to finish on a high note, I shook the chair’s hand firmly whilst fixing him with a steady grin. Confident, I turned, decisively gripped the door handle and strode straight into the cleaner’s cupboard. The rejection letter arrived the next morning.

My phobias aside, I’d question how effective a method it is of appointing the manager of a Premier League team. You wonder how coaches might fare with some of our standard approaches. “First question, just to settle you down – how do your skills and experience fit this post?”

Scenarios are popular: “You’re a goal down at home to Norwich. They are on top in a game you must win. The opposition manager has outmanoeuvred you, your tactics have failed, the crowd are restless and your striker’s got the hump because he’s discovered the full-back is earning more from his boot contract. What would you do? Use this flip-chart with a football pitch to illustrate your response.”

Not going to happen. Maybe they could try the classic ‘Coffee? OOPS, I seem to have spilt  it on your lap, SILLY ME’ ploy designed to take interviewees out of their comfort zone.

Imagine how Roy Keane’s interview at Ipswich went. “Mr Keane performed more poorly than any of the other candidates. His psychometric testing revealed he was self-centred, unable to communicate with those he considered inferior to the point of borderline psychopath. His unfortunate parting shot of screwing up the test paper and shoving down the throat of the psychologist merely confirmed this.”

“Just what we’re looking for! Sign here.”

No way to run a football club, yet it is no more ridiculous than the process Spurs are currently undertaking. Levy and the board are ‘taking meetings’ with and interviewing a few chosen candidates. I say chosen: Levy’s mobile is presumably burnt out with calls from agents touting their man. There was the lovely story on the night Redknapp’s sacking was announced of Rafa Benitez who cancelled his scheduled appearance on 5Live at the last moment because “something had unexpectedly cropped up.” I think we know the answer to that one. Goodness who is calling Levy – if Sam Allardyce can apply for the Inter Milan job, as supposedly was the case a few years ago, then the Welling United reserve team coach must think he’s in with a chance at Spurs.

These interviews: just what can take place at them to make the difference, to give one top quality candidate the edge over another? Tactics? The board is full of businesspeople more comfortable with balance sheets than a coaching manual. Any advice they take will come from whispers, someone else’s opinion. Anyone with Levy’s ear, in fact, and hardly scientific. Football is what counts but it’s entirely subjective.

The new breed of manager like Rodgers and Martinez are fond of talking about their vision for their clubs. This has value for, with all due respect, sides who are less successful but anyone managing Spurs knows what is expected. What are they going to say? “I’m firmly convinced that the way forward is to overhaul the squad and replace them with hard-running hulks who lump the ball upfield at the earliest possible opportunity in the hope of reaching the quarter finals of the Capital One Cup?”

Also, if the chairman has a vision and appoints his man to see it to fruition, it’s as important for the board to stick to it as the manager. Witness Chels where AVB was asked to do a specific job then sacked when he tried to get on with it.

The people taking this momentous decision are perhaps those least equipped to do so. They will go on advice from others re the football side of things, so let’s hope Levy is talking to the right people. They meet and they get on. Or they don’t. Won’t affect their job prospects. You don’t get the impression that Levy cares overmuch about personal working relationships. He want to get the job done. The characters he’s appointed are very different – Jol v Santini, Ramos v Redknapp. Smacks of blowing with the wind, That the interview process is not helping one bit. Good forward planning would suggest you wouldn’t dismiss your man unless you had a fair idea of a replacement.

My person spec would require someone who could use the current squad as the basis for an attractive passing game, played at a high tempo and could bring in a greater degree of organisation than was the case last season. If that means more caution, so be it.

This blog deliberately leaves to others the analysis of hypothetical scenarios regarding players or, in this case, managers who might or might not be joining us – plenty of that elsewhere on the net, plenty of pondering to be done when they arrive. But AVB has been interviewed by Spurs. He meets the spec on many levels- motivated, encourages decent football, plays to a system, massively over-achieved at a club with finite resources. However, there’s other evidence to hand – dismissed after less than a season at Chelsea, rumblings about alienating players, certainly did not get the best from that squad.

There’s a debate to be had about what happened at the Bridge  – he was fatally undermined by a combination of the owner and senior players in my view – but that’s a debate for another time. My point here is – we don’t know and neither does Levy. In the end, he’s going to take a calculated risk that’s subjective and not fully based on the evidence. In so doing he’s no different from other chairmen from Dover, Darlington to Donesk. It’s part of the crazy world of football, where astute businesspeople like Levy will stake the club’s future on a leap of faith.