Some questions deserve more than a straightforward answer, but working out where to begin and what to include can be a complicated business for me. So when our friendly builder casually mentions that he’s none too enamoured with the rail strike, immediately this creates a dilemma for me. They have a legal right to strike but, in my head, that sounds inadequate. I want to say, well, they are working people trying as a last resort to protect their income as living standards fall, that the right to strike goes back to the nineteenth century and working people had to fight every step of the way to earn the basic rights that you and I take for granted. Would my finely honed and tellingly evidenced analysis of class conflict grounded in history and political theory be a bit much at this point, especially as he’s just come over to put up the shed?
In the end, I paused, said that I hoped the government would settle it soon and we both got on with our respective jobs, suitably unenlightened. And it’s the same with regard to Spurs. The reason many Tottenham fans are frustrated and angry with the manager, the board and some players is about tactics, or underperformance, losing comprehensively against a Villa side who defended stoutly (the nerve!) and who capitalised on two pieces of atrocious defending. But that doesn’t seem enough either. It’s not about that really. Fundamentally, it’s something only a Spurs fan would understand, that this failure to achieve our potential is yet another in a long line of disappointment, a never ending cycle of hopes raised then expectations dashed and opportunities squandered. New manager, new players, same outcome.
In the mid and late nineties, it was frustrating but easier to deal with. We weren’t getting any anywhere much because the players weren’t good enough. Now, to my mind at least, it’s about potential unfulfilled, watching Spurs a series of brutal reminders that we are never going to be as good as we could be. Some fans’ booing of Emerson has become audible. Is he as good as we want him to be? No. Will booing make him play better? No (because he tries hard already). Will booing him make the chairman transform his transfer buying policy? No, so why do it? I don’t and I don’t condone it but it is also true that through this scapegoating fans are projecting a broader, deeper frustration onto someone who to me is an honest player who tries but is not what we need. The scapegoating of any player is wrong but the underlying exasperation and anger is real.
There’s a huge problem at the heart of everything that happens at Spurs. The club does not know what it wants to be, a success or an also ran, and Levy is the only Spurs fan who hasn’t worked it out by now. It’s not about throwing money around. It’s about planning and leadership, and our chairman provides neither.
Success in any organisation needs a vision that is shared and is achievable. Levy is by all accounts a successful businessman. As CEO, he’ll set that philosophy out and choose key staff to carry it out. He will take enormous care in getting the right people, but he appears unable to do that at a football club. At no point have Spurs created the lasting alignment between manager, recruitment and finance that is the foundation for success. There have been moments but one of those three elements is almost always out of sync.
Succession planning is non-existent, especially so with Levy’s vanity project choices of big name short-termists like JM and Conte. Constant changes undermine continuity so we end up with mismatched squads made up of players bought by different managers for different reasons and for different tactics. This is not the first time I’ve written that in this blog and it probably won’t be the last.
Conte doesn’t want the long, complete answer. He won’t be around for that long, whatever happens in the next year or two. He just wants to know if he can get what he wants, now. I was unable to get to the Villa game, but television revealed the most significant concerning aspect of that dreadful game, Conte’s face after the second goal. The blank expression, eyes staring into space. He did not know what to do. Powerless in the face of his team’s ineptitude.
His reaction fanned the flames of supporters’ anger, already white-hot. Searching for coherence within the verbal quagmire that is a Conte press conference is a futile exercise, and it’s best to sidestep his tedious posturing. The content is all about his anxiety, projected onto the board and lack of transfers. It’s a message to the board that he wants better players, and only that. He is not speaking to us even when he mentions the fans. He cares about us or the club only if it reflects his own glory. That’s ok, provided that you know where we stand with that.
We back Antonio from the South Stand and I join in, it’s a message he needs to hear. Managers and players for that matter can give their all without being emotionally attached. Professional football, the clue’s in the name. But maybe we get more if players do value our heritage. Kulu and Bentancur have clearly bought into the pride and passion we as supporters express and both have raised their games accordingly. Kulusevski has listened to the long answer and taken to heart our history and what the club means to supporters. Conte probably hasn’t but success will come because of his ego, just don’t expect anything more. He never stays around, we knew that when we appointed him.
I hope the board give him enough of what he wants and of the players we need. I think they plan to respond, although it may not be enough. At some point, the financial stability offered by income from the stadium and the CL must give us more to spend. Conte has said it will take three windows – we know he could have 23 available without getting who he needs if history is our guide – and he may not have the patience to wait until next autumn, which even if we buy the players he wants is the earliest they can be fully integrated into the system.
Spirits rose after thumping Palace, led by Harry as his most magnificent. I was delighted for Gil. His positional play has developed, evidence that coaching does exist at Spurs after all and hopefully his headless chicken routine is a thing of the past. Getting used to the PL is not just about the physicality, it’s also about passing quickly and decisively rather than holding on the ball.
The derby is a chance for a new beginning but I’m a realist too. If we defend versus our north London neighbours like we did against Palace, we’ll get slaughtered. Fans are running out of patience. The mood could turn ugly. There may be trouble ahead.