Everything is Bad, Nothing is Good

At Spurs, change and uncertainty have become institutionalised. In the absence of direction and stability, the club drifts aimlessly without plan, purpose or foundation. We don’t know who we are any more. Do we stand for expansive football, or do we need to defend first and foremost? Top four or muddle along? Win something, perish the thought? Without purpose, the outcome is inevitable: we achieve nothing.

Managers come and go. Change masquerades as a solution. In reality, it leaves us trapped in a quicksand of problems of our own making. In organisations with a closed culture, nothing changes.

I described Nuno as a pragmatist. He knows he wasn’t first choice for the job, knows he only has a two-year contract (informed rumours suggest there’s a break clause after 12 months), effectively receiving the chairman’s infamous vote of confidence before he even starts the job. The players know this. Impermanence enshrined.

He took on the job of making the best of what he had been given, which is probably a key reason why he was given the job in the first place. He was willing to accept the limitations of working under Daniel Levy, as presumably was Paratici. I understand that, and therein lies the real underlying and deeply entrenched problem at Spurs.

Progress and change often comes through constructive critique and having a critical friend, somebody who knows about the organisation and, crucially, cares about it too, and because they care sees that change is required. I was involved in something a while back, work not football. Something went wrong. Managers and staff acknowledged this. We agreed to learn lessons, no blaming individuals, work together to move forward. If you don’t want to, fine, leave, goodbye and good luck.

At Spurs, Levy has created a very different environment, where he takes advice from an ever-smaller, closed coterie. There is consensus but at the expense of new ideas, new ways of approaching the same problem. As I have repeated over the years, I believe Levy when he says he sees himself as the club’s custodian and wants success through attacking football in our tradition. The problem is, he does not know how to achieve that. And if he continues to encourage a culture of groupthink, he never will.

He has enough football acumen to use the right words in the plan but not enough to know how to put it into practice, who to appoint in key positions (manager and player recruitment and retention) or how to support this in the transfer market. A victim of groupthink, he doesn’t know how to appoint someone who does and delegate to them. There is no curiosity about innovation and alternatives, only a search for voices who tell him what he wants to hear.

This is how it’s been, most of the time. I know this, but it really came home to me when writing a short ‘fan’s eye’ history of Spurs for this book of terrific interviews by Toby Benjamin with ex-players and staff. Sixty years in 20k words, so Levy needed an overview. Time and again he changes tack with short-term appointments. He’s tried ex-players, experience like Santini, so-called new breed of coaches like AVB and Ramos. He’s tried directors of football, who come in and out again without establishing roots or passing something tangible on to the next person. Pochettino becomes an outlier. Success is unusual, and even then he didn’t seem to recognise what could have been possible with a little more investment.

After a solid start, Nuno has tried different formations with different players, although he’s not opted for the 3-5-2/5-3-2 that established him at Wolves, which in passing might be a reasonable choice given that we have full-backs comfortable going forward, need strength in the centre of our defence and where cover could protect our centre backs.

My initial optimism has evaporated. Nuno has taken us from the average to awful in double quick time. Under any sort of pressure, the team folds, at the back and moving the ball forward. No shots on target in three halves of football with Kane and Son in the side is some achievement.

Yesterday saw the hallmarks of real deterioration. Giving the ball away is partly an individual fault, mainly a team problem, because players were given no passing options. They don’t know how to support each other. No pattern, little desire and few options to make any changes. Individuals have to take responsibility but professionals give their best within a system with familiar, comforting patterns in attack and defence. No evidence of that recently.

Nuno has so far not found the way to unlock the potential of players, and he may never get the chance at this rate. However, it’s not an excuse to say there are fundamental underlying problems here. As a result of managerial churn, Spurs’ squad is a mixture from three different eras, each with a different approach to building a team and to buying players, and with very different styles. Lo Celso and N’dombele were bought to rejuvenate Pochettino’s flagging side, Dele at his peak playing to his strengths in that team. Doherty bought to fill a gaping hole in the squad without any success. He made his reputation under Nuno, who sold him then doesn’t play him, which says so much. Rodon seems to be fourth choice.

It’s all square pegs in round holes. Tanguy has only just got back into the team in the only position he could possibly play in this squad. Suggesting he starts deeper neglects his inability to defend, and we don’t have cover for him. I still don’t know what Lo Celso’s best position is. Dele doesn’t fit anywhere with this set up, or he doesn’t if Tanguy plays. Bergwijn’s development has been hampered by injuries but has never had a real run in the side. Moura does his best but better defences deal with him easily enough.

Paratici comes in. We don’t know what budget he had at his disposal. We do know that we have no cover for Kane, and have to play a 17-year-old in Europe. No alternatives in defensive midfield either. Skipp is a fine prospect but no team pushing for the top should have to rely on a man just turned 21 in his first season in the PL. Many things astound me about Spurs recent performances, but I can’t get over how many times in the last six years I’ve written that we have no cover in deep midfield, the heart of any team, and up front.

Nuno stays, he’s still learning about the players. Nuno goes, more changes, more finding out. Nothing is established. Everything is always beginning again and we are as far from a solution as we ever were.

And how will Spurs respond to this defeat? Levy will meet with one or two people in the club he is close to and with Paratici. The same people who took the decisions that got us where we are, people he appointed, pass judgement on themselves. And round and round and round we go.

Thinking about this from Levy’s perspective, one changing element in this noxious, closed system is that the income generated by the stadium, money designed to fund the club’s status as a contender into the future, is beginning to flow again. Given the situation on the field, he may be emboldened or compelled to enter the transfer market in January, the worst time to buy but we are desperate, and at the same time re-evaluate decisions about which players stay or go. Kane, Dele, Winks and Roden, N’dombele perhaps, I advocated keeping all of them but they may have reached the point where they can’t improve at Spurs and are better off elsewhere for their sakes and that of the club. But that implies long-term planning.

Sack the manager, but any manager comes into the same environment that caused the problems in the first place. Same unbalanced squad, at least to begin with, same suspicions about the leadership’s questionable capacity to understand the game and the club. The same director of football who by all accounts wields considerable power within the club. To compete on a limited budget, Spurs must build over time, but we have no way of creating a long-term plan. And round and round and round we go.

I was reminded this week of a quote from the legendary Jimmy Greaves when I spoke with him several years ago. He never fancied becoming a manager when he retired, adding, “If I’d known that you could get millions for being absolutely crap and getting the sack, I’d have been in like a shot.”  There will be another manager, but Tottenham Hotspur used to be a place where managers, players and staff wanted to come to. Now, it has a bad reputation. Word is out. Nuno is the eighth or ninth choice because other thought better of entering this toxic, unsupportive place. Over the past months, several non-playing staff, loyal to the club, have moved on.

Yesterday, supporters’ frustration spilled over into vociferous, righteous anger. It’s been building, and it took the spark of a comparatively minor incident, Moura’s substitution, to light the fire. It’s not about Moura and Bergwijn, not really about Nuno as an individual. Rather, it’s an accumulation of anger at the way the club is being run, of glaring opportunities missed and the crushing sense of what might have been. Supporters deal with ups and downs, unnecessary defeats, points dropped, but when long and secretly cherished hopes and dreams are snatched away at the very point when they could have been fulfilled, the hurt is real.

Amid the justified euphoria as tickets for the new stadium first went on sale, I and others raised a note of caution. Prices were high, sustained by supply and demand, and I understand that the ground needs to be paid for. But Levy planted seeds of dissatisfaction, that loyal fans were exposed to the impact of high costs if and when the team’s performance feel away. We all make choices. Emotional commitment is the essence of being a fan, and emotion trumps logic, if the bank balance allows it. But everyone begins to question themselves when you think you’re not getting enough back. Over a hundred quid for tickets, food, travel, trip to the shop for the kids maybe, then that, then trains through the main station are cancelled, of course they are, it’s football. And these are covid times when we are all forced to re-evaluate our expenditure and indeed our life choices. Football tourists visiting football’s new destination venue won’t fill the gaps forever.

People are angry. Levy has publicly rejected meetings with the supporters trust, although I believe he has now relented it’s impossible to imagine that he might give any weight to supporter’s constructive criticisms, words from people who care. I hear of arguments and fighting in the bars yesterday between Spurs fans.

The very best thing about writing this blog over the past twelve years is meeting so many fans, in person or via social media. Now, I hear the grumblings from the lifers like me, loyal, core fans who speak only of disaffection and disillusionment. Giving the odd game a miss, take it or leave it. People who will support the Spurs to their dying day but who come May will think twice about expressing that support in terms of investing a grand or more in buying a season ticket. Levy would do well to take notice. Past form suggests he won’t. The few people he listens to won’t tell him the very thing he needs to hear.

We remember with pride and joy the incomparable Jimmy Greaves, the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve written an obituary in this month’s When Saturday Comes, on sale now and several years ago I was privileged to meet him for a short while, here’s the interview

Spurs Celebrate a New Beginning

The meaning of a victory can often be found not in the league table but in the way it is achieved. Three points from the champions on the opening day is the best possible start for new manager Nuno and kickstarts Spurs’ campaign into life. Defeating the champions is satisfying on any day of the season.

But with this one, the feeling around a victory has a lasting significance beyond the three points. Welcome to Nuno’s Spurs, working for and off each other with purpose and intent, their motivation beyond doubt, who after a sticky start declined City’s offer to give ground and roll over.

Always try to look forward. Strive to improve. But expunge the ghosts of the past to ensure progress is possible. The crowd’s growing exuberance reflected events on the field, then as the intensity increased, so did the noise from the stands. This wasn’t just about City, it was the growing realisation that change was in the air, that a burden was lifted from our shoulders. Spurs were dragging themselves bodily out of the emotional quicksand of a horrendous 18 months and that’s cause for celebration.

There’s a skip in the step this week, a twinkle in the eye. This feels like a new beginning, fans and players closer again.  It’s us not them, us not him, team not me me me. And people rediscovering how to be fans, celebrating just being there and rejoicing in the very thing that enticed us in the first place and never let us go, the collective experience of being together.

I see Tottenham’s future, and I name it Tanganga’s eyebrows. The pressure’s extreme, cauldron of noise, his expression is one of mild surprise, bordering on the ironic, with a little bemusement on the side. Man-to-man on an England star, one of the quickest and trickiest in the league, fine by him, eyebrows raised. Ref’s on at him, eyebrows raised. Pep’s having one of his passive aggressive chats, expression unmoved. Just run back and get on with the game, eh Pep.

Lot of Spurs love coming your way, Japh. Tackling – remember that? You probably don’t know what I’m talking about if you’re under 25. He won’t back down. He came with that approach in his debut against Liverpool, two early challenges on Mane, don’t let him turn, he’s mine. Taken a while but here it is again.

Nuno is Lazarus by proxy. It’s a fallacy to believe he is wedded to defensive football. Rather, he’s pragmatic and adaptable with a variety of tactical approaches to shape the players he has at his disposal. The Kane saga has gone a long way to deflect attention from the considerable task faced by our new manager, in overcoming the poisonous legacy of his predecessor. He inherits a unbalanced squad with core weaknesses in central defence and midfield and potentially no central striker. Reinforcements are on their way but he will have to make something of what we already have. He must resurrect the flagging careers of players like Dier, Sanchez and Dele, give Moura and Lo Celso some direction. Teach Reguilon defensive discipline. He’s done much already in a very short space of time. Ndombele is already beginning to feel like a lost cause.

Gollini and Romero have in common a front-foot approach to defending. They don’t sit back and wait for things to happen, and this epitomises Nuno’s strategy, at least on the evidence of Sunday’s match. We defended in depth but were never passive. Pressing and harrying were the orders of the day, including deep inside our own half. Dele led the way. While Skipp’s return from his successful loan at Norwich is rich with promise, Dele has to reinvent himself as a midfielder in deeper positions than he is used to, or indeed prefers, in this case a highly successful stint on the left of Nuno’s 4-3-3. When City did break through, Dier and Sanchez stayed in their shape, refusing to be tempted out of position.

Nuno brings us closer together. Easy to forget that not so long ago, the players skulked in the dressing room, afraid to emerge after the final game of the season. Stewards were apparently instructed to tell fans to go home, fans consigned to the top tiers, as far away as possible from the pitch and who paid ticket prices that were effectively increased. How to alienate a fanbase in one painful lesson.

There is warmth about him, a passion for the game and for doing his best that endeared him to Wolves’ supporters. More than understanding the club’s heritage, he respects it. Tottenham means something to fans who unlike the players and managers are not just passing through. Stony faced at the final whistle, head still in the game, by the time he went down the tunnel a few minutes later he had defrosted, warmly greeting the Spurs fans delightedly high fiving him.

Nuno is who we need right now. Spurs need to build again after chucking away years of hard-earned progress. Paratici is working with him, not against him, let us hope Levy understands that he too should collaborate, not go his own way. Past experience suggests he does not learn lessons, and the recent exodus of non-playing staff implies he does not work well with others but again, time will tell.

There’s something else.

There’s a noir from the forties, can’t recall the name, where a nefarious nightclub owner decides to renege on a business deal to put one over on another party.  He icily dismisses the objections of the leading woman, who by this point is beginning to doubt the good intentions of her employer: “there’s profit and loss, everything else is just conversation.”

City want to buy Harry Kane. Closer to deadline day, they will make an offer closer to his market value than the £100m Spurs declined. They will try to get away with the lowest possible figure. Spurs may sell, they may not. I think they will, hope I’m wrong. They will try to get away with the highest possible figure, then decide nearer deadline day. It’s a transfer negotiation. This is what happens. Profit and loss.

All I need to know about Harry Kane is that he doesn’t want to play for Spurs. Everything else is transfer game-playing, with both parties playing the PR game. Don’t play it if they try to get you on their side, they’re just using you and me if you let them.

Charlie Kane should know better than to play transfer poker with Daniel Levy. His achievement in making Levy look the good guy is remarkable. Not easy but Charlie’s done it. Spurs knew all along how this part of the saga would play out. Saved 200k, onus back on City to bid. The rest fills airtime and the back pages but Charlie’s blundering PR makes little difference to what matters to the family in the end, the pounds, shillings and pence in the contract, whether it’s signed by Spurs or City.

Harry Kane is one of the greatest players I’ve seen in over fifty years at Spurs. The goals, the dedication, the moments, the dazzle of some of those goals, the leadership. The shiver of anticipation when the ball is passed to him, 35 or 40 yards out, around him there’s movement, something is going to happen. The possibilities.

I judge players by way of a mental balance sheet, a set of old-fashioned scales. On one side, what they have given to me and to the team, on the other, the bad days and the (almost) inevitable parting. The emotional profit and loss. The scales tip heavily in Harry’s favour and always will.

I recognise that he wants to go, understand the reasons why and don’t confuse my intense disappointment with anger or rejection. Many Spurs fans have found it too easy to reinvent the past and dismiss one of the very best. We had a whale of a time together, don’t erase that from your memory, because in the end, memories are all we have. ‘My ex was clever, funny and loving but she never put the bins out of a Thursday, so that’s it for me.’ What irritates me is the way some Spurs fans have responded by adopting facile and obtuse forms of criticism typically heard from fans of other clubs, such as the idea that he doesn’t turn up for big games. Be angry, be sad but don’t descend so low.

That said, it is right and proper to accuse Harry and his people of seriously misjudging the extent to which Spurs fans support him in the face of relentless, unjustified criticism from fans of other clubs. Because he has a place in our hearts, fans stand up for him. A few words of acknowledgement of that, now rather than later, would have gone down well. As it is, there will be only bitterness and a huge fee. You should have done better, Harry. It’s all money in the end but that’s a conversation we would have appreciated.

Spurs Plumb the Depths

Two years ago almost to the day, was one of the absolute best days in my fifty years of being a Spurs fan. I travelled to the ground to collect my tickets for the Champions League final. The air around the ground crackled with anticipation. Everyone was smiling as we stood in the queue. The senior steward said in forty years, he had never seen people so happy. We shared our stories of the scramble to make travel arrangements, where we were when Moura’s goal went in and most of all, our sheer surprise and delight at being there. We couldn’t find the right words. We shook our heads and gazed into the middle distance in disbelief and wonder.

This fan reaction transcends league position, top four and the pursuit of trophies. It’s the manner in which this had been achieved. Fans, team and manager never closer. They had given their all and surpassed all our expectations. One of our own is more than a chant, it’s an expression of faith.

And so to last night, a sour, bitter occasion, fans in the top tiers a physical representation of the abyss that now separates the club and disillusioned, disassociated supporters. Last night’s performance was appalling. Beyond blaming individuals, the interim manager, the end of season, it was simply beyond belief, one of those games where you can’t comprehend why and how professional players should all play so badly. Some of our defending was astonishingly poor, as if these were, say, individuals from another culture with a notion of how football works but who have never actually played it before.

Step out of our Tottenham bubble for a moment. Football welcomed back the fans. Watching games this week, you could see the pleasure it gave supporters, just to be back, to be back home. But Spurs are having none of this. Pre-match reading from the chairman, a series of bland platitudes about “the values of our great club”, dripping with contempt and hypocrisy from someone who has consistently claimed to the custodian of our heritage, and just as consistently fails to graps what this means for fans and for the team.

Clubs across the PL reduce prices as a small gesture of gratitude, in Burnley’s case it was free. Not much, but it’s something, it’s recognition that it’s been hard for fans, that there is a relationship. That fans exist. But Spurs charge the most, £60 which for seats behind the goal represents an increase. Free food, and they seemed surprised when fans actually ate it and it ran out. Fans in the top tier, as far away from the players as possible, thereby chucking away the value of home support for the team, relegated to TV background noise. Players scuttling off the pitch at the final whistle, their only thought to get away as quickly as they could. An apparent refusal to emerge for the traditional lap of appreciation (doesn’t matter what you think of it, it always happens, it’s recognition, it’s a relationship), only to appear 30 minutes later when a mere few hundred stubborn die-hards were scattered around the cavernous stands. Harry stayed, in tears.

This all takes place in a context, where the club’s botched attempt to play with the big boys exposed their misdirection and untruths, which served to create unity among usually partisan football fans in their derision for the project. And this is how Spurs chose to respond. A group of senior officials and board members presumably sat down and decided this was how to do it. This was their considered response.

Fans enter willingly into an unholy, unbalanced relationship with the club they decide to support. Fans take the vicissitudes of football fortune in their stride. We don’t expect too much from a club. It can be a real slog but that becomes a badge of honour, of fidelity and commitment. We don’t expect much but want something back. Occasional recognition of what that devotion means in our everyday lives. Being treated as an individual, not a customer number, and all that relationship implies. On the field, success helps but players who are fully committed matter more. For what it’s worth, I study this stuff as well as live it at Tottenham, and pretty much all fans across the leagues have this in common. We don’t expect much but we do want something back. The Tottenham board would do well to reflect on their recent actions in this light. Start with not taking us for granted.

Tottenham fans of successive generations can deal with the average and the mediocre. We’ve had some practice after all. It’s been embraced as a sign of a deep loyalty and commitment that goes beyond on field success, in contrast to the excruciating entitlement of younger fans of some of our rivals. But has there ever been a time when we have wilfully thrown away so much in so short a period?

Chatting about this on twitter last night, fellow supporters came up with a few rivals, the Graham and Francis years, the early nineties, failure to capitalise on Pleat’s groundbreaking 1987 team, or my lowest point, Pleat’s caretaker spell after Hoddle was sacked when Levy was prepared to mark time near the bottom of the table for several months with a midfield of a combined age approaching a hundred and no permanent manager.

But this is dereliction of duty on another level. I hesitate to use the word achievement to describe this potentially catastrophic shambles, but it is a remarkable series of decisions to dispose of an unprecedented level of goodwill, a fine manager playing in our club tradition, the buzz of the new stadium, umpteen seasons of top six finisishes, alienated Kane and leave a team denuded of quality with no manager.

Any analysis of how we have fallen has no neatly delineated starting point, no big bang. Levy’s failure to fully support Pochettino in the market, which I wrote about at the time rather in retrospect, is a tipping point in the club’s history. Levy compounded his gross error with the vanity appointment of Jose Mourinho, again covered in past pieces, a manager and club that was always an ill-fitting match. Spurs needed a manager who could rebuild an ailing squad over time on a limited budget, with the patience to bring players through and find value in the market. Everything that Mourinho is not in other words, and to be fair to him, has never pretended to be.

His legacy is a divided, fractured squad, mentally and physically unfit, ill-coached and drained of confidence. If you think this is bad, remember that there could be worse to come. Spurs are, I assume, short of money, the team needs major rebuilding and rejuvenation, with the deficiencies of individual players ruthlessly exposed over the last few months. This is urgent but we have no manager. When an international tournament takes place, little transfer business gets done until it is over.

I didn’t go last night, so it is a sobering thought that I may never see Harry Kane play in a Spurs shirt ever again. He may or may not go, but that’s not the point. Our main man, our goalscorer, provider, our inspiration, our own, wants to leave. It is utterly dispiriting that it has come to this, that our club stretches the loyalty of such a dedicated man to snapping point. It’s also a message to any player who Spurs want to buy – you really don’t want to be here.

If there is a productive way forward, supporters have to be at the very least involved, and may well take the lead. The outpouring of fury at the superleague proposals has led to several positive outcomes. Football supporters have been reminded of the connections between us, that what we have in common is greater than that which divides us, and the inestimable significance of the history of the English football pyramid. The government is involved. Meaningful proposals regarding an independent regulator are on the table.

There is a long way to go and much to be done, but these debates take place in a changed atmosphere, where those that run the game are compelled to take their responsibilities to supporters and to the English game more seriously. This is no revolution – we understand that clubs are businesses too – but the difference is, there should be limits to how far they can go, where fans are a factor and where large investment entities cannot exploit clubs without boundaries and limits being in place.

This is about supporters understanding what makes an impact. It is an understanding of what hurts people who run football clubs and run the game, and using that power for constructive change. I don’t condone any violence to individuals at the Old Trafford protest, but it made football sit up and take notice. Fans have been driven away from United by the actions of their owners, not by those protestors.

The Spurs board’s decision to enable fan representation on the board is a major concession in response to concerted pressure from the Trust, angry fans and sustained, organised co-operation between representatives of supporters’ groups, where our Trust has been extremely active. I’m a member of the Trust and voted for the motion for directors to step down. It brought home to board members the anger of supporters, that they bear personal responsibility for where we are and that there are potential consequences, in case for their status. It also offered a way forward in the form of fan representation.

Regular readers of Tottenham On My Mind know that I blog as myself, openly. My life’s work as a social worker is fundamentally about mediation and talking problems through to find a mutually beneficial outcome. So I do not come lightly to such action. But sometimes, and only after all other opportunities have been exhausted, you have to draw a line. In this case, the Trust despite their scepticism, regularly discussed these matters with the board, and the board lied over an extended period. So draw a line, and then talk about that.

Anyone who has been part of trade union negotiation knows this. Draw the line, keep talking and it focusses minds, from which change emerges. I strongly suspect the club did not expect this reaction. In their statement, they say they did not realise the ESL plans were so far advanced. This is entirely implausible. This is Daniel Levy. Financially prudent, cautious and risk-averse.

I believe Spurs were part of the ESL Sordid Six from early days. Derided because of our lack of success on the field, this in fact makes us prime candidates. We desperately need to be part of the ESL precisely because we’re not doing well on the pitch. This is the only way we could guarantee the promised riches, and we needed it now for fear of falling behind. We’re good for the others because we have big crowds, loyal fans, and are 10th in the money league. Plus, our bargaining position is not strong. Weak, willing and wealthy, to the ESL members we were the perfect partners.  

Their idea of calling for compromise is to have a dig at the Trust. Thus they reveal their tactics, divide and rule. Undermine the Trust because they are the best representatives of supporter interests that we have. The club scrutinize social media. They know many do not support the Trust actions for various reasons. Fine, fans express their support in different ways but let’s be clear – in this instance this are tactics to divide and rule, as is the undecided method of electing the board member, so progress but beware.  

Last week, you may have seen Ajax’s gesture to their fans, where they melted down one of their trophies into a star for every one of their season ticket holders. Not possible at Spurs because our only silverware is a couple of chocolate coins down the back of the boardroom sofa after the kids Christmas party. It’s also not possible because the board would never think of anything like that. Ajax, another multimillion-pound company, have a different concept of their relationship with supporters. It’s a symbol of something different, something meaningful, of giving something back. At Tottenham, we get a free burger, provided they haven’t run out.

This has become, without me trying, an end of season appraisal before the season has finished. Perhaps this is me wishing it would all go away, where the final league position becomes a secondary consideration as supporters reel from the damage inflicted on our club. Where good judges suggest a lower league position is something to be thankful for because we miss out on a third tier European competition.

Worst for me, I realise I have to end with something I never thought I would have to say. Spurs are part of my life, but I’m glad I didn’t go last night.

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.