Farewell 22-23 and Good Riddance

The season’s over and good riddance. Out of Europe, no manager, no director of football, no manager for the women’s team. Supporters who pay among the highest prices in Europe are angry, disillusioned or overwhelmed into apathy. I’ve been all three at various times. For now, add relief it’s over. Later, add fear, the fear that the board’s continued ineffectiveness will lead to a chaotic summer precisely at the moment where we need calm, clear thinking to lead the necessary and overdue team rebuilding.  Supporters can see what’s happening and feel our loyalty is taken for granted, exploited as a commodity the club can trade and if necessary, disposed of.

I read that Spurs are a club in crisis, that we’ve reached rock-bottom. This is patently untrue, a distorted perspective that comes from the arrogant entitlement that sadly characterises an increasing number of fans of the top PL sides. Bury, Rochdale, Scunthorpe, the fans of these clubs truly suffer, and my heart goes out to them.

But I support my team the same way they do. I go to games, my support is integral to my life, my emotions, to family, friendships, to who I am. My disappointment this season is crushing and debilitating. It hurts, and so much of it could have been avoided.

The protective gloss of big-name managers at a big club lost its sheen to lay bare the vanity that led to their appointment and the board’s incompetence when it comes to running a football team. To repeat an analysis that I first wrote about a decade ago, any football club depends on three elements, a manager/coach, recruitment and finance. Seldom in the twenty-two years he’s been in charge has Daniel Levy successfully aligned all three, and when he has, those fleeting moments now seem like outliers.

The underlying fundamental problems have become ingrained in the club’s fabric, which is motheaten and rotting away. There’s no plan, and there’s no plan because the board still do not know what they want this club to be. They want success but do not know how to create and sustain it. They do not understand how to pick the right coach or how to support their chosen man. This season, these faults have been exposed game after game, just like our defence.

To repeat, it’s not a question of throwing money at the problem and to be fair to the board money has been spent. To say that it hasn’t is an outdated narrative. It’s just that we have talent we valued at around £200m out on loan when gaping holes in the squad remain unfilled. This is a consequence of disruption and change, and comes back to the element of recruitment. Six managers in four years, each with different ideas about how to play and who to play, a squad with players from all these eras. It is also reasonable to ask at what point our much-vaunted stadium income will be used for the transfer budget.

Conte lifted the side to the fourth in his first season but could not sustain it. He was no doubt unhappy with the quality of many of his squad but appeared unwilling either to coach promising younger players to improve or to adapt an inflexible playing style that stifled creative instincts and, more significantly, opponents found straightforward ways to counteract. I wonder if the last straw for him was the ultimate for a manager of his record and for his self-image – he was unable to get through to them and to motivate them. And so he left because he had no reason to stay. Why bother, separated from his family, the loss of three dear friends and on a short-term contract. You can’t motivate your players if you can’t motivate yourself.

Contemporary football is tactically sophisticated, but I lost count of the number of times I bemoaned basic errors endlessly repeated. This was the ‘surely season’, fans saying, ‘but surely we won’t do that again?’ Outnumbered in midfield, starting games cautiously surrendering the initiative to opponents, failing to block shots from the edge of the box. My worst image of the season is that blocking move obviously coached where defenders stay static, turn sideways, put their hands behind their back with one knee high.

It was dull to watch but more than that, it was ineffective and outdated. I can’t recall the last team remotely successful in the league who did not play on the front foot. In passing, I read an astute quote from Arne Slot (whatever happened to him?) saying, I paraphrase, that he doesn’t like a consistent low block because it dulls the senses of the players. It’s boring, it doesn’t challenge them and they become worse as a result.

The Milan home leg was the low point in this respect. Champions League, the Lane packed and expectant ready to lift the boys and overcome a 1-0 first leg deficit. So we sat back for an entire first half. That’s not the Tottenham way in Europe.

Even worse was the lowest of low points this season, away to Sheffield United. Ahead of us was a game against a championship side resting several key players, only 4 PL teams left in the cup. The team selection was born of hubris, the performance complacent. It also represented the lack of connection with supporters, 5500 fans travelling hundreds of miles midweek because it’s Spurs in the cup.

So it’s February, Conte’s contract is up in the summer and his disillusion with the club is becoming ever more apparent, except to Daniel Levy, who sits on his hands. The club finally make a public statement via the infamous Paratici ‘hostage’ video, shot on a mobile with lighting straight out of a low budget horror film. Paratici is banned from football because he’s dodgy, a probability known to everyone who follows football, except Daniel Levy. The club wail, ‘but, but nobody told us…’. Levy shares his thoughts not with supporters but at the Cambridge Union.

It’s tough being a leader, I understand that perfectly well, but hiding is not a good look. Such fireproof self-protection communicates weakness and indecision, as do his choices about managers. This runs right through the club, a lack of direction or plan. He has the vision and no idea how to achieve it, even after all these years. His capacity to not see what is happening around him smacks of remarkable self-delusion and lack of insight.

Then, Conte torches his bridges as well as the boardroom, the players and of course we the fans, who don’t understand him. Levy acts, and appoints Stellini on a temporary basis. When change is required, the board appoint a man so steeped in his mentor’s methods that he might as well be his shadow. Stellini’s legacy is that the defending turns from dire to embarrassing. Spurs go from conceding the initiative and the first goal to conceding the first three.

We then move to our second caretaker of the season, Ryan Mason, always one of our own and passionate and articulate about what the club needs and should be, but his inexperience shows. I prefer a back four and hoped the change would work. It’s understandable that Mason wanted to make an impression in the short time available to him but it would have been better to settle for a three with extra beef in midfield.

And so here we are. The disappointment comes not merely from a poor season but from knowing what might have been, maybe what should have been. Pochettino was by no means perfect but whatever we had then has now been thrown away with no lessons learned, except that we appear to be looking for an up-and-coming man with some experience but for whom Spurs are a step up, and who plays attacking football.

I say ‘appear to be looking’ because with this board, there’s no plan. Rather, they are rootless tumbleweed, buffeted in the breeze and blown whichever way the wind blows. Names come and go, as do the theories why we, apparently, have not appointed them. However outlandish these theories are, the past behaviour of the board gives them credence. Haggling over a release fee, not allowing them freedom to bring their own people in, pretending they haven’t spoken to candidates when it seems they have, not even ringing Poch because someone had a row with him, I have no idea what is true but all this and more is perfectly possible given their past ineptitude.

Moreover, their choices are limited as a consequence of their own behaviour. Word is out that Spurs is a toxic place to work, where promises are not kept. With all due respect to Dutch football, you’d come to the Premier League if you had the chance. You’d come to the world-famous home of the Spurs, except now, you wouldn’t. Who could blame Slot for the choice he made. It might change if Munn has some influence over the football side – it could indicate a change of tack by the board but frankly, history makes me sceptical. I hope I’m wrong, but to paraphrase the words of Logan Roy, someone also concerned about succession planning, “I love the club but you’re not serious people.”

The players need a jolt up the backside too. Some are decent footballers but jaded. They’ve been here too long, and we, and they, will do better for a change. Not to let them off the hook, but modern players expect coaching and familiar patterns. I watch games as a fan not as an analyst, but look at Villa, Newcastle and Brighton, Brentford too, all of whom achieve their potential because of good coaching that suits the players they have available.

But if we don’t have a manager, what do we need? What’s our shape, what are our tactics? Once more, we are way behind our competitors, and next season, it will be even tougher because the top six all have something to build on, whereas we have no foundations. And that’s before we think about the transfer budget.

I read we’re not far off being competitive again. I’m not so sure. We need a new goalkeeper, two centre halves and some extra creativity in midfield. Bentancur, his status enhanced by his absence, is not back at least until November. He plus Bissouma, Sarr and Skipp give us something to work with in midfield. I still see Kulu as an attacking midfielder and hopefully there’s more to come from him, that’s assuming we pay his fee as he’s still on loan. We also easily lose sight of the absence of a midfielder who is comfortable and best suited in defence, as opposed to players who can fill in.

Up front, Richarlison has more to give, Sonny’s still there and Harry, we’ll have to wait and see. Full-backs are a big problem if we go four at the back because we’re overloaded with wing-backs. To inject some optimism into what I concede is an article full of pessimism, we have the nucleus of an up and coming set of younger players, including Porro, Spence and Udogie, that a coach could work with and impose his ethos. There’s real promise there.

We need to move players on. I wish Sanchez, Hugo, Moura and Tanganga well. I would keep Davies – he’s underrated, covers centre back in a three and full-back and is loyal to the club. Hojbjerg has been poor lately and there is apparent interest in him so he could be sold to generate transfer income, as could Sessegnon, who has not progressed significantly and we have alternatives, although to be fair the same could have been said before Christmas for Emerson. Dier has been injured – while he could one of those who has gone stale, I wouldn’t sell until we had a replacement, and keep him if not. Same goes for Perisic, who I doubt would move anyway given his salary.

N’Dombele, Reguilon, Winks, Rodon, Gil and Lo Celso are all talented players with a future elsewhere They don’t feel part of the club and I can’t see how motivated any of them will be, given their experiences with us.

And so like our season, this piece drifts away into oblivion. Sincere thanks to everyone who has read TOMM this season and who has commented, apologies for not replying to you all. I’ll be back at the Lane and in these pages next season. Where else would I rather be?

Lots of love and good vibes to my good friend Pete Haine and to Jilly. Pete, I’m sure you won’t mind if I end with a word about Harry Kane. Harry is a marvel. Watching greatness is hard to judge at the time, without the perspective of history, but he is a true Tottenham great, a wonder, a marvel, a delight, one of our own. This is arguably his best season. 30 PL goals in an average side, time and again lifting us bodily from the floor, rising above the chaos. Arguably our best midfielder too, best at heading corners away.  All this after virtually a year of non-stop football including the pressures of being England captain at the World Cup, bearing in mind those dodgy ankles and the number of times he gets kicked.

On no account sell him. I don’t care about cashing in with one season to go, anything he gives us outweighs that a hundredfold. Pay him a fortune – he is the marquee signing we need, a message to football that Tottenham matter and are worth playing for.

Beyond Anger

The opening twenty minutes were a dereliction of responsibility, a trashing of everything supporters hold dear. I’ve never seen anything like it since I started going to White Hart Lane in 1967. Bad football I can deal with, the same goes for opponents being excellent, as Newcastle were. I am profoundly shocked that professional footballers can defend so ineptly, not just for one or two goals, we’ve seen that enough times this season, but for five. I’m not prone to hyperbole or rash statements, but this was an utter disgrace and the players should hang their heads in shame.

The frisson of anticipation when a 4-3-3 was announced (trying something different!) dissipated after a few moments thought. Playing a good, organised side, away from home, with a lucrative top four place at stake, so we go into it with two young midfielders, a defence that have never played in that formation before and no full-backs, because Porro and Perisic are wingbacks, a very different role.

So tactics and team selection naive and misguided, but international players watching, and that’s how ineffective they were, watching opponents waltz through, without closing down or even the bare minimum of getting in the way, that’s beyond me and it’s down to the players. Get in the way is not asking too much. Is it? Hojbjerg waving them through, Romero dreaming he was in Argentina, Porro ball-watching, I had no idea what Hugo was doing and neither did he. On the touchline Mason all urgency and agitation, Stellini, in charge, with a death mask for a face, his mind as blank as his gaze.

Credit where it’s due. Forster has been impressive in the way he’s stepped up (Hugo’s muscle injury – yeah right) and Sanchez too. I wonder if the shameful booing at the last home game – never abuse an individual Spurs player in the ground – was a factor in team selection. We always play 3 at the back, he was fit but maybe they thought he wasn’t in the right frame of mind. If so, that’s down to the booboys.

The worst thing of all? We knew something like this was coming. Fans could see it, smell it, even if the media and pundits did not. Like a pear that’s been sitting in the fruit bowl for too long, Spurs are rotten to the core. Looks good enough to eat but pick it up and your hand is a mess of pulp.

I’m beyond angry. I’ve been angry so often this season, the match to match grind of predictable, avoidable and repeated mistakes, dull, cautious football and the sense of marking time until Conte left. Such a waste. Now, I’m numb with the futility of it all.

I have to make a concerted effort to remind myself that it is only a few years since Spurs were one of the most admired teams in the Premier League, albeit grudgingly by our rivals. Dashing football in front of packed houses, English record crowds sustained through all that time at Wembley, then back home to our new stadium, all done without breaking the bank.  That was what, four or five years ago, yet I see through a misty-eyed haze of nostalgia, a different era.

We might be rotten inside but the blight spread from the top down. Countless times I’ve written the same story. I shy away from simplistic explanations but at the heart of it is a chairman who has been in football for over twenty years and knows nothing about the game. He talks sincerely about the club DNA without having any sense of our identity, of what he wants the club to be. Be prudent with transfer funds, I get it, so find a manager and recruitment team who can operate under those circumstances and build a team, rather than appoint vanity celebrity managers who will swiftly move on if conditions aren’t right for them. And right for them says it all, they didn’t have the club’s interests front and centre.

Complete due diligence on a director of football, rather than being the only person in football who was surprised that Paratici was facing charges. Don’t keep changing the manager, and the playing style, and the transfer targets, so we have squad made of choices of what, 5 managers? Apologies but I may have missed one along the way, easily done at Spurs. Don’t sack the manager then appoint his disciple as caretaker, because, you’ll never guess, nothing will change. Or why not speak to the fans, not the Cambridge Union?

Not that this is new. Santini couldn’t speak English, let alone communicate his tactics to players. Redknapp needed a striker when we really only had one, so we ended up with Frazier Campbell on loan, then Saha up front and Nelson at the back. This is the culture at the club. Any football club at any level has three essential elements in the way it is run – coaching, recruitment and finance. The board have hardly ever aligned the three in the last 22 years. They are incompetent and negligent, and the stench runs through the entire club, including Sunday’s unmotivated, passionless players. 

Plus, don’t charge the highest prices in Europe then be surprised that the fans are restless. When the prices for the new ground were announced, I wrote that this was all well and good, riding the good vibes of Poch and the new place, but it stored up problems for the future if the team should be less successful. When we become fans, there’s an unspoken but tangible bargain between the club and supporters. We will take the bad times, we’ll stay through thick and thin, just give us something back. A trophy would be nice, but if, not, play with some pride and acknowledge our presence and our value. It’s an emotional rather than a financial transaction. It is natural that fans ask, as so many diehards say to me, what are we getting back? And at these prices, money enters the equation. It jacks up resentment just at the time when the team need a boost from the stands. Again, that’s an consequence of board decisions.

So it all came to a head in 20 minutes at St James’s Park, not just a humiliating team performance but years of neglect and missed opportunities. Another aspect of being a Spurs fan that I wrote about pre-Poch was the alienation many supporters felt, that the club and fans were disconnected and far apart. I read some stuff last week questioning whether this had any meaning. I think only a non-fan could seriously sustain that argument but here is the evidence. Spurs fans travel hundreds of miles at great expense. Away tickets always sold out. Delays of over an hour coming back, another hour of your head and heart full of that wretched performance. There’s no respect for fans, although they’re happy to take our money. Give us a plan, pretend you know what you’re doing (and remember we can see right through you if you don’t), respect us and respect the shirt. Be honest. Play honest.

For now, understand how hacked off we are and do something about it. The atmosphere on Thursday is likely to be toxic, and frankly the board need to be faced with the consequences of their actions in really the only way fans can be heard, voices raised at the ground.

Sack Stellini and appoint Mason. Oh hang on, they just have. Signed by Daniel. Mr chairman, you’re not my mate. You can’t get round me by using your first name.

Here’s a novel thought – choose a manager that suits us. You know those dull job descriptions us mere working mortals have, essential this, desirable that. But why not write one? A manager for whom Tottenham is a step up, not a consolation prize or a stop en route to another job. Able to build teams over time. Bring on young players (we’ve got some talent). Front foot tactics. Then go and choose a bloke who fits. Radical I know. Wait til I tell you that I also want the coach to choose a DoF who he can work with. Right now, though, the media are full of names but it ignores one question – if you were any good, why on earth would you want to manage Spurs?

Reset Reboot Remodel. Spurs Find Themselves Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gloom Gathers at the Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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