Spurs Are Diamond Fabulous

For something in which so many invest so much commitment and emotion, football is remarkably fickle. We fans put everything we have into supporting our team, yet they let us down more often than not. We arrive in hope, leave in disappointment. Modern football is even harder to love. The cost, the travel, the time, the distance between club and fans. Yet sometimes you remember why you do this thing you do. The game is uplifting and joyous like nothing else. Yesterday that was Tottenham Hotspur.


Spurs were diamond fabulous. Manchester City can tear apart any side in Europe. Pochettino’s Hotspur play without fear. Get at them, take them on. Play your own game, let them worry about you. Pochettino embraces the club’s heritage, he plays the Spurs Way, with a flourish, not wait for the other side to die of boredom.


Tottenham mesmerised and enthralled with their combination of movement, intensity and inspiration. Time and again they won the ball then passed their way through the league leaders’ defence. From my seat mid-Shelf, the speed and creativity took my breath away. Not just for a burst or two but for almost all of the 90 minutes, such was their focus.


When the Spurs get it right, there’s nothing to compare.  We all felt it, that thing. More than the value of 3 points, more than going second in the league. That special precious feeling when the players are as dedicated as the supporters, when they give their best, that realisation that they are capable of beating the best. This was fulfilment. People around me, punching the air. On twitter, long-term fans, Lesley and David, moved to tears not so much with winning but the manner in which we won. As good a performance as I can recall in twenty or thirty years, right up there with the best. I felt so proud of them.


In the bad old days, all of three years ago, the announcement of unexpected team changes came with a whiff of rotten eggs. Now they signal that Pochettino is up to something. Spurs lined up 4-3-3 to match City. Instead they excelled then overwhelmed them. From the kick-off the ferocity of the pressing startled City into firstly giving away the ball then a goal. Son had already tested the keeper when a fine cross by the excellent Danny Rose came to Kolorov at the far post. Nobody told him he was on his own. That’s a poor touch, hang on that’s surely not going in, it is you know.


An own goal in the first ten minutes is handy but Spurs were magnificent, rampant, unstoppable. The movement bewitched bothered and bewildered the City back four. Otamendi lost it for a time, a handball under no pressure except the terror that zinged through his overheating brain then scything down Tottenham forwards. Booked and lucky not to get sent off. Son irrepressible, Eriksen and Alli seeking space and making time where there was none, Lamela always in the game.


Several near misses then the second. An attack involving half the Spurs team broke down on the right but was resurrected by Son’s quick reactions. A five yard diagonal to Alli bursting through was all it took, Alli first time swept it into the net.


And they kept going. The tempo never dropped from off-the-scale in-the-red danger level ‘aye captain I canna hold her together’ levels, except Spurs had Wanyama to do just that. The 4-3-3 was in reality a fluid formation adjusting to whatever was going on. Wayama has the instincts of a defensive defensive midfielder. Second half, we were stretched, Wanyama pops up at left back to nonchalantly shepherd the ball to safety. Why was he there? He just knew.


After half-time we picked up where we left off, giving City no time to breathe. Their revival no doubt carefully planned in the dressing room was stillborn. Spurs’ football flowed as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and it was beautiful to see. Alli was fouled for a penalty but the move that set him up was stunning. Lamela and Son argued over who was going to take it. Unseemly – this should be done and dusted pre-match. Lamela has made great strides and played well up until this point but he does not have ice in his veins. The wrong choice and his weak shot was well saved.


The game would have been killed off then but we had to endure twenty minutes of tension and a Lloris save via the post before the celebrations could begin. When the going gets tough, Toby Alderweireld gets going. My man of the match, he is a giant. Vertonghen was solid alongside him, a formidable central pairing. Spurs even defend assertively. No sitting back, Tottenham have brought back the art of the tackle. The back four and Wanyama are not afraid to go in and get the ball. Three times Toby, three times Jan stopped attacks in their tracks to come away with possession.


Walker and Rose, on top form, the former a man transformed by his summer at the Euros. Decisive, swift, diligent – like all of them he takes responsibility and no longer leaves it to others.


At the final whistle we stood to applaud until they left the field, then looked at each other to say, this is a team. Our team. Our Tottenham. It was one of those rare games that when it finished, life was a little sweeter than when it began.


Last season we faded through lack of mental strength. That lesson has been learned. We’ve kicked up a couple of notches now. Bring them all on. We’re a match for anyone right now.  And this is the way we play now. Same in Moscow on Tuesday, take the game to our opponents. It’s a shame it took the Monaco match before they realised what they could do but there’s more than enough time to make up for that aberration.


As a footnote, A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is getting rave reviews from Spurs fans and football writers alike. We’ve struck a chord. You can hear Martin and I talking about it on the Spurs Show podcast (episode 51 years), thanks to host Mike Leigh for his generous comments.


And if you are in any doubt as to the significance of supporters in the heritage of the club, this is what Steve Perryman said at half-time yesterday. Steve was a fine player and holds the record appearances at Spurs but more than anything, he gave it all every time he pulled on the white shirt. Of all the games, all the memories, the one he chose first was the 84 UEFA Final, when Danny Thomas missed a penalty in the shoot-out then was given an ovation to lift him as he trudged back to the centre circle. Not a goal or a cup, not even a match that he played in, but the supporters, a moment when he realised how special club and fan are together.




A Good Week For Pochettino. And For Spurs. Same Thing These Days

Mauricio Pochettino expresses himself in the dressing room rather than in the media, then he lets his players do the talking for him. It’s an old-fashioned attitude from a thoroughly modern manager and long may it be that way. When he does speak, and he has been more forthcoming in press conferences over the past few weeks, he gives voice to the intensity and passion that fire his footballing imagination, recognising in the next breath that the club means as much to him as it does to supporters. In contrast, the borefest that is Jose Mourinho chunters on, taking sole credit for the wins and blaming everyone but himself when things go wrong. The only mind games he plays are those to massage his ego.


This has been a good week for Pochettino and for Spurs. The statements go hand in glove, such is the influence he has at Spurs. Some managers and their clubs are a snug fit, others chafe themselves red raw as they rub up against each other. I hear Mourinho is treated with disdain by many Old Trafford veterans, for example. He may bring success, or not, but somehow it’s not right. Chelsea was and is his spiritual home.


Pochettino on the other hand gets it, and we get him. He plays football the right way, the Spurs Way, with total commitment. In return he expects the same from his players. He takes personal charge of player development. This week Jack Pitt-Brooke wrote in the Independent about Harry Winks, describing how if Pochettino sees something in a young player, he does not send them out on loan but personally oversees their training and development, rather than delegating primary responsibility to a coach however trusted they may be.


Making it in Pochettino’s eyes is fast becoming the highest accolade at the club. All of this squad clearly want to play for him. They’ve been queuing up this week to sign new contracts, pictured one by one next to a beaming manager with his protective, welcoming arm round their shoulders. It’s good business too – never forget it’s a business. Those that stay are rewarded while players on the fringe like Tom Carroll come at a higher value because of a longer contract. There’s consistency and security at the Lane, and before he came it’s a long while since that could be said about any of his predecessors.


Interesting phrase, wanting to play for the manager. It should go without saying but it is far from being a given at any club. Yet this lot play to their utmost – he’s improved the performance of every single one of this squad. Dembele transformed, Rose from nowhere (Redknapp said of this former winger that he had to play him at full-back because he wasn’t good enough to play anywhere else) to a top-quality left back. Dier from prospect to international, Lamela, Walker, the list is as long as the squad numbers. Spurs don’t pay top dollar, not by any means. They are here for the club, for the man and for their team-mates.


Goal celebrations reveal a lot. Josh Onomah was delighted when he scored his debut goal on Wednesday. His team-mates rushed to congratulate him, every one of them knew what it meant, and they did so in front of the fans. None of this self-indulgent choreography that you see so often. Warm, natural, shared, together. That’s a team.


As well as the signings, this week has offered more insights into Pochettino’s thinking. The traditional fans’ pre-match pastime of predicting the team has become relatively easy over the last year, with changes made only through injury aside from the interchangeability of one of the wide forwards. A surprise then on Sunday to hear the pre-match chat was all about the manager. The back four and the shape reassuringly the same, and why not. One of the best defences last season and this, until Monaco that is. Vertonghen a sound centreback, Dier the best English defensive midfielder. Until Sunderland that is.


Sunday’s warm-up included a routine I’ve not seen before. Dier and Toby lined up in the box. The ball started with the full-backs in turn, who knocked it forward to the wide midfielder,. It was then played back to the full-back who crossed to Kane waiting in the middle. All at three-quarter pace, the drill looked as if the centrebacks were having some very late practice. Every cross was a duff one by the way, but the changes delivered a victory, the narrowest possible scoreline but Spurs were streets ahead of a dismal Sunderland side, well-organised but devoid of ambition or skill. The interest though is in the medium and long-term. Vertonghen at left back, Dier at centre half, Alderweireld on the left of the centreback pairing. The shape of things to come?


As a rule, the best players should play in their best position, so Dier and Toby should stay where they were. Jan doesn’t like full-back, apparently, but plays there for Belgium and will presumably do as he is told for Pochettino because that’s the way he stays in the first team. What Poch wants, he gets, and that too is the way it should be.


It’s hard to imagine he did this to counter anything the Sunderland attack might do. Suffice to say that when Januzaj was sent off late on, no one noticed he had gone. Against Monaco our left side of Lamela and Davies were exposed. Vertonghen hung back and allowed Son the freedom to move forward. He rewarded us with his best game for Spurs, consistently involved in the action and always a threat. Not a natural winger, as the second half progressed he stayed wide and both took on defenders and cut inside. On the other side, Sissoko gave the right midfield more stability, perhaps at the cost of his enterprise in attack but Walker could get forward and wide at will. The selection looks ominous for Davies’ long-term future but that’s one for the future.


Still musing on his intentions, maybe he thinks Dier’s best long-term position is at centreback, or he just wants some options. Whatever, he clearly has faith in Wanyama as a DM, and with Dembele back that’s a solid defensive spine to enable him to do his thing further forward. He’s a colossus in the middle. No one player in the league makes such a difference to his team’s play as Dembele does to ours.


One small but important point. Spurs made many chances versus Sunderland and missed a fair few good ones, but that’s not the only way to win matches, Sometimes persistence pays off. We kept pressurising their defence and in the end their centre half made the mistake. One was enough.

It’s going to be a long, tough season. Rotation, plan B (or C or D), whatever you call it, here’s another one from Pochettino’s fertile tactical mind. His ingenuity will be further tested by Kane’s injury. Janssen has a different style but judging by the promise he showed against Gillingham, he can provide the goals we crave if not the same link-up play. Watching him from a different vantage point at Wembley, in line with the penalty box, he pushes up tight on the back four, right on their shoulders. Fine margins and he needs the right service to make that work.


Versus the Gills, lower league maybe but they packed the defence yet he always found space. He’s restless, constantly on the move, hustling and bustling to make something happen. Ball played to him, body position ready, one touch then shoot. Just what you want and need in a striker. Like him, like him a lot.


Many changes for Gillingham, Winks and Carter Vickers first starts, Gills had everyone back. Spurs sides of old would have faltered, this lot weren’t hesitant in the slightest. Pochettino has hem playing the same way, right through the club. Lamela and Eriksen took on the role of older pros. They could have taken it easy – neither took that option, not for a moment. Movement, pace, creating space, all outstanding. It was a real pleasure to watch. Special note about Winks. First time I have seen him play a full match in the flesh, impressed. Takes responsibility as the team played through him, upright, looking for the pass, short and long within his range. Ran the midfield at 20 and looked as if he was born to it. You could see why Bentaleb, a player I really like, was let go. Right now I wouldn’t swap Pochettino for any manager in Europe.




Spurs Drag Their Heels On The Long Walk To Wembley

Reaction to Spurs defeat by Monaco in the Champions League has been mixed. For supporters, it quickly became one of those signpost matches, not just an uneven performance but one that pointed towards deeper issues faced by the club both on and off the pitch.

Cogitating on the way home – pleeeeenty of time for that in the queue for the tube – and on social media is an exercise in understanding loss. Reactions cover the whole spectrum of football analysis, from being outclassed through to being unlucky or inept, whichever you prefer. From being not good enough to not trying hard enough, from being inspired by the occasion to being over-awed.

I’ve heard them all and there’s truth in most, although truth is hard to find because it feels like many are coping with defeat by projecting existing views onto this one game. If you believe the players are soft then you said they did not try and were over-awed. If you like Spurs being at Wembley, you were moved by the record crowd, if you don’t then the antiseptic bowl sucked the life out of the occasion.

I was moved by it all. Can’t fail but have a lump in the throat at kick-off choking back a few of the words of ‘Oh when the Spurs…’. But that feeling of anti-climax has only just disappeared 36 hours on. So…

Team selection was a bigger hindrance than the venue. I admire the attacking approach but for me, Lamela and Son don’t belong in the same starting line-up. Both can change the game, win it sometimes, both do not make enough of an impact enough of the time. In a game that was always going to be tight and where a solid start to the group was important, too often they were peripheral.

I don’t buy the ‘not trying’ argument. This lot try harder than any team in my fifty years at the Lane. What they lacked was authority. They did not impose themselves on proceedings until the start of the second half, by which time it was too late. Monaco had their lead and were supremely well prepared to keep it. We made and missed chances but for the most part it still looked as our opponents had a better sense of what they were about.

Authority is about presence. A midfield with Dembele and Sissoko has that, plus more experience. Neither were fully fit. Dembele made a huge difference in the second half, promise in the games to come and Tottenham deserve credit for lifting ourselves in a rousing twenty minutes in the middle of that period. Plus we needed some nouse, players who had been there before, to dictate the tempo and take control. Spurs went at the game with the naïve enthusiasm of kids when some caution and stability was required. Spurs play well when they keep the tempo high yet the first half was decidedly flat, the early goal puncturing our balloon.

Our game going forward is founded on the attacking axis of Kane, Alli and Eriksen. For different reasons this functioned only sporadically. Alli is needed further forward, not lying deeper. Eriksen found plenty of space but his passing let him and us down, three occasions in the first half passing to the opposition when he could see the openings perfectly well.

But in the end, two mistakes, two goals given away. Lamela taking insufficient care as we moved out of defence, everyone therefore in the wrong place when he gave the ball away. A cross not won fell straight to a French player. Could have gone anywhere.

Above all, despite it all, chances made and missed. Son early on, Lamela half a chance, Alli inches way first from a through-ball then with a shot well saved. And Harry, straight at the keeper. What were you thinking? In the media he is convincing himself that nothing is wrong, but there is tell-tale hesitation in everything he does. We know you, H, we can see it and feel your pain, but oh Harry, we’ll take care of you.

And the future? It doesn’t show Spurs are not good enough. It shows we have to learn to adapt our game to this level, and manager and players have lessons to absorb. This is the elite. For long periods we weren’t up to it, yet one less mistake, one taken chance and the outcome would have been different.

Spurs did everything possible to make Wembley feel like if not home then a place where we were more than just passing through. For the players, the home dressing room looked very familiar, while in the build-up the team trained on a Wembley replica pitch and on matchday their routine was identical to that of a home match. This is what Pochettino’s fabled attention to detail looks like in reality, and there’s no doubt his attitude filtered through to board level too in their negotiations with Wembley.

The banners and the ‘game is about glory’ message around the top tier were appreciated by everyone I spoke to but in the end it is the supporters that make a ground home. The pre-match buzz became a crescendo at kick-off. The noise was deafening. The passion must have conveyed itself to the team. For us, we told ourselves that we were there, we are Tottenham, that Tottenham had come to Wembley and the Champions League and we would make this place ours.

That many have dismissed the record attendance figure says more about modern cynicism and over-weening expectations that anything that took place at Wembley. Sure we all would have preferred to have been at the Lane but this was something special in itself. To forget our history is to lose a huge chunk of our identity, of ourselves.  Even the glory days of swaying flat-capped terracing couldn’t match these numbers. Never. Ever. And the Spurs did it.

Any Spurs fan not moved by the torrent of white streaming back to Wembley Park after the game must have a heart of stone. It flowed endlessly, that all-time attendance record brought to life more than filling the ground did. Scaling the stairs to the station entrance and turning to gaze back at the throng became a ritual for successive waves of fans and will be the memory that many will share in years to come, rather than the game itself sadly.

Trouble is, it was a Herculean effort to get to that point in the first place. Defeat, rain and the Wembley tube queue equal one of the Twelve Labours. It stayed dry but problems with the Met line – of course there were – came on as a late substitute. It takes time to shift 85,000 people and I’m used to the wait but don’t recall comparable delays in the station itself waiting to get on to the platform.

It will never be as good as White Hart Lane because it isn’t White Hart Lane. The old ground means so much, the heritage, the ghosts of victories past, the tight enclosed stands. More than anything, it is ours and nothing will be the same. Supporters self-regulate over time to sit where they feel comfortable with, by and large, the people they feel comfortable with. It creates a culture that does not transfer well to a bigger stadium with a different shape, as West Ham fans are finding to their cost. Those things we take for granted, friendships, pre-match drinking holes, the fans who start the chants sitting together, all split up. We’re beginning to learn the lessons of moving to the new ground already.

You can hear Martin Cloake and I talking about A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur here on the Tottenham Way podcast with Tom and Dan, or me flying solo on the BBC London Radio sports show for Wednesday, recorded by the Bobby Moore statue no less, here around 7.20 pm

Thoroughbred Spurs Ease Into Top Gear

Games such as this give context to progress. Tottenham battled through a tight opening quarter then turned on the style to dominate as Stoke were routed. Spurs’ stuttering start becomes a gradual progression through the gears. Unbeaten after four games, chances now being made and taken, players easing their way into the groove. Kane breaks his duck, Alli on song, Sissoko almost scores with his first touch as a Tottenham man, Eriksen’s serious loss of form consigned to the past. Now for Janssen to score his first and we’re well and truly away. Plus, I’m really not the sort of fan who studies these things but I read that Spurs are the only side in the league not to have conceded from open play.

The manager is back on song too. Against Liverpool, Pochettino’s re-organisation after Walker went off crucially weakened our midfield in a hitherto tight game. Yesterday, Kane was restored up front but Mauricio’s masterstroke was as unexpected as it proved to be effective. I can’t imagine that Son was in anybody’s predicted team line-up, least of all that of the player himself, but he took full advantage, breaking the deadlock with a precise finish before half time then slamming home an outstanding second to set Spurs on course for a rampant victory.

The appeal of blogging for reader and author is that it’s a fan’s perspective, a different viewpoint with the personal touch. So it was that sadly I can’t give you a detailed dissection of the opening quarter of an hour because our puppy was in the living room repeatedly being sick then eating it. What can I say? Priorities. You won’t get this in the Observer.

I saw enough to see that this was the toughest period of the game for Spurs with Stoke pressing early on and causing problems in our box for the only time in the match. There followed a tight, untidy midfield battle with Spurs struggling to hold on to the ball for any length of time. Stoke deserve credit here for stifling space and time.

Gradually, Spurs broke out of this stranglehold and never looked back. Son showed both why he was picked, with willing movement into space on our left and a couple of purposeful 40 yard runs with the ball at his feet, and why he can be frustrating, because each time he feebly turned into a defender and lost the ball.

Then the chances started to appear. Alli, left unchallenged outside the box, casually chipped it in for Given to save, then he dragged our best chance wide, having been put completely clear in by a ricochet off a Stoke player. Eriksen then cleaned up the attack, placing the ball to Son who had come across from the left. Unencumbered by any challenge, he sidefooted a volley into the net. Spurs never looked back.

Eriksen, ball at his feet and head up is a fine sight, brimming with anticipation and expectation. In a flash, he takes in the moment and, above all, what could be in a few seconds’ time. In the corresponding fixture last season he was at the heart of one of the finest Tottenham performances of recent times. This time round, there’s been no hint of a repeat in his frankly poor outings so far. He signed a new contract this week – maybe he feels that has sorted a few things and his mind is settled. A bit of paper shouldn’t make any difference, it’s pulling on the shirt that matters, but fact is, it does.

Perhaps this game was his celebration. After half time he took the ball on in midfield and under pressure chipped the ball over an opponent – to himself. He laid it off to Son on the left. We waited for a touch and a turn, perhaps into a defender. Son was having none of that. First time, early, right foot, top of the net. Thrilling. I commented last season on how stiff Son becomes when faced with too many choices in the final third, that he’s trying too hard to make a telling impact every time. Maybe there’s a message here for him, just relax and let it flow.

Straight away, Stoke attacked. How many times over the years have we seen Tottenham waste hard-earned goals by conceding quickly but this Tottenham do things differently. Alderweireld came across to decisively intercept a cross bound for Bony, reacting quicker than the centre forward as he did all afternoon.

Then the third and best, a fabulous flowing move started by Wanyama from the edge of our box and finished by Alli via Lamela, Eriksen and Walker. It was a breakaway but rather than lung-busting improvisation, this was an effortlessly constructed gem of attacking football. In a few seconds, Spurs had five players forward, each in space, each in the right place to offer options to the man on the ball. It was a measured, unhurried move, born of confidence as team-mates.

Kane took the fourth, his first of the season, with exaggerated care, controlling a far post cross and tucking it in, suppressing his glee and not taking it first time. You could hear him thinking, ‘I am going to make sure, I am going to make sure.’ It’s a much-needed boost.

Stoke gave him the time to think it over. In truth Spurs will have tougher challenges ahead. Bony’s arrival did not give them any focus up front and once the game settled down, they gave us far too much room all over the field. Toby and Jan dealt impeccably with everything that came their way. Most of it was played in front of them – Stoke seldom got behind the back four – meat and drink. In my cameo on BBC Radio Stoke this week – don’t worry, it’s not changed my life – I confidently predicted a close match with Stoke more dangerous up front and certainly no repeat of last season. What do I know?

Stoke may point to the dismissal of their manager halfway through the first half for abusing the fourth official. As a player Hughes was fierce and competitive, as a manager this comes over as angry for angry’s sake, a mess of seething injustice on the bench. Players have been told not to abuse officials and managers are responsible. His actions harmed his side’s chances and his reaction to the crowd as he left, geeing them up to complain and protest, merits further punishment. The only saving grace was the comedy value of Hughes’ inability to use first a radio then a phone to communicate with the bench. At one point it looked as if he was texting his assistant. Wouldn’t work at Spurs, never a bloody signal. Imagine his reaction to that.