Redknapp Should Keep Quiet But That Won’t Mask the Problems

In the early days of Tottenham On My Mind I wrote a piece characterising the relationship between Harry Redknapp and his chairman. The title, Levy is Redknapp’s Poodle, summed up their dealings during their first summer transfer window together. At his previous clubs, Redknapp ensured large sums of cash were at his disposal, even when at West Ham and Portsmouth that money wasn’t really there to spend. His appointment signalled a potential sea change in attitude by the cautious and parsimonious Levy and the possibility of any policy clashes further receded after Redknapp’s success in averting disaster placed even greater power in his hands. What Harry wants, Harry gets.

Over the next two years, I came to revise that assessment. Like many before, I had underestimated the quiet man’s resolution. Redknapp was clearly given boundaries for the first time in his managerial career since he left Bournemouth. He operated within a strict salary structure and transfer fee budget. Given Harry’s garrulous nature and his cosy relationship with an adoring media, his frustrations occasionally surfaced but by and large he seemed happy enough. Success on the pitch helped. Now, with a watershed season already under way but a lack of new signings, Redknapp can’t contain himself any longer. Restlessness has become thinly disguised antagonism. The tail is trying to wag the dog.

His comments yesterday are all over the media. It’s classic Harry. He’s relaxed and reflective, understanding the situation facing his best player: “…if someone comes along and offers to treble your wages..” note the use of ‘wages’ not ‘salary’, old school is Harry….” and could win the Champions League, it’s not easy….he’s had his head turned.”

Yet he “wants to see him here at the start of the year…” Harry mate, we’ve started already…”I don’t see him going.” But hang on, there’s more: …”if he goes you get three or four players…They’re your options: get the money and get four players, and in all honesty have a better team, or keep Luka who is a fantastic player.”

Harry the pundit, taking a reasonable overview of the situation. Except he’s not a pundit commenting on the state of play, he’s our manager. He has a job to do, to get the best possible team for Tottenham Hotspur. At least he said ‘we’ and ‘our’ this time.

In fact, he doesn’t want to keep Luka at all. He wants the money to buy more players and ‘have a better team’. Thus he is in direct conflict with his chairman, who some time ago said unequivocally that Modric is not for sale, then kept a dignified silence.

Not only is our club riven with conflict at the very top precisely at the time when crucial decisions are being taken at the beginning of this watershed season, it’s revealed in the media for all to see. It’s bad enough our dirty washing gets an airing in public but Redknapp is blatantly using the publicity to gain leverage over his chairman.

In my limited dealings with the club and with people who have had dealings with the club, they are intensely controlling of things like access to the staff and information about behind the scenes activity.  Yet Redknapp can say what he likes. He’s so powerful, he kept his newspaper column as well as spewing out quotes about anything going on in the game. Journalists pick over the bones of the slightest incident or event in football, yet Redknapp is not criticised and is more  untouchable even than Alex Ferguson.  Call him a ‘wheeler-dealer’ and he’s at your throat, one win in 10 and Harry’s working hard to get it right.

Levy does not want to sell Modric or he’s playing hardball to make Chelsea sweat. Redknapp says ‘sell’. Either way, keep it quiet and sort it out behind closed doors. Redknapp’s instinct to deal via the media serves his own interests more than it does those of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. His employer. As it is, he’s openly blaming Levy for not coming up with the cash for new players, cash which in passing surely does not have to come solely from the sale of one player. We have some cash from Keane plus O’Hara and deals will be done for several fringe players in the frenzied last few days of the window. Then there’s £31m from the Champions League and a well-run club.

While I’m at it, sell Luka for even £30m to bring in ‘three or four’ quality players – the sums don’t add up. It smacks of Redknapp getting his excuses in early – fail and it’s not his fault because he didn’t have the players.

I’ve been clear on the blog about my attitude towards our manager. I will always be grateful for taking us from the foot of the table to the quarter finals of the Champions League, in the process serving up scintillating football played by superb players. To say there’s more he could have done and still can do is not to diminish that achievement. I’ve never accepted his media personna as a cuddly uncle figure who just has to drape his arm round a man’s shoulders to transform him into a worldbeater. He’s crafty and shrewd, knows the game inside out and is tough as old boots. Fine by me – I don’t want a shrinking violet as manager because it’s a hard old game out there – but don’t try to fool me. Don’t like it, never have.

However, I’m tired of this game-playing in the media. It seems no one is prepared to control him so he needs to exercise some self-control for the sake of our club. Our club, Harry, our club.

To finish with, let’s talk about the team. There are serious issues here. If Levy is reluctant to release cash for transfers, even if it means paying a little over the odds, at this point in our history it could have disastrous consequences. If on the other hand he hangs on to make one of his legendary (or infamous?) late deals, he could be our saviour. Right now, all we know is that relations between manager and chairman have plummeted to a new low. After the window is over, something has to give and history suggests it won’t be Levy. The prospect of Spurs caught up in these internal conflicts is the very last scenario I had in mind as our season kicks off in a few hours time.

Tottenham Hotspur That Was The Season That Was. The Manager

Harry Redknapp has met me. Years ago my neighbour at the time organised a testimonial for one of the Charlton players against West Ham and my wife’s family are rabid Hammers, so there we were in the director’s box at the Valley. Before kick-off Peter waves to me and beckons me down to the front. I’m happy to thank him but he says, “Where are the rest of you? Come and meet Harry. Harry!” he shouts, “Someone I want you to meet.” Harry strolls over, is as pleasant as can be as we exchange a few words and the photo, once pride of place in my wife’s daughter’s living room, is now shoved behind a cupboard in their loft but I’m there, hanging back and forcing a smile.

Peter Varney and I used to work for Lewisham Council – he was something in building – and we got to know each other better during the 5 week strike over, well, I forget now but it was important. Lovely bloke and a good neighbour. He used to cut the thick hedge that divided our front gardens and it was only when he moved that I realised it was on my side of the line but he never mentioned it. A lifelong and long-suffering Charlton fan, he did a bit for the supporters club and for charity. We’d be chatting over the fence and his wife would call out, “Pete, phone. Again!!!”

“Coming. Who is it”.”

“Kevin Keegan”

“Tell Kev to hang on a minute, I’m busy.”

Although he was too modest to speak about it, he must have been good because one day it was announced that Pete was the new CEO at Charlton. From humble beginnings on the picket line, he was in the boardroom and moved away. I, um, downsized.

I never took to Harry. I wanted to, for him to be the football man with a heart of gold who brought success to clubs in the right way. Fact is, my image of him has been tainted from the start as my wife’s family chronicled his dodgy wheeler-dealing that left him in pocket (allegedly) and successive clubs in a ruinous state financially. I refused to succumb to his assiduously cultivated persona of all-round good ol’ Uncle Harry. It was none of my business, until a couple of years ago anyway, but I don’t like being manipulated. Despite his generosity towards me, perhaps I was the first of those ungrateful Spurs fans he’s told to go elsewhere.

Never mind the man. My club comes first, last and always: there’s only one question, what has he done for Tottenham Hotspur? I’m genuinely and sincerely grateful for the progress we have made since Redknapp became manager. It’s not just about the league position, although I’m convinced those advertising boards that form the post-match interview backdrop flash subliminal messages saying “2 points after 8 games”, lest we forget. For me it’s also about the pleasure of watching wonderful footballers in (almost) white shirts playing scintillating flowing football. No trophies but everlasting memories. All Spurs fans are disappointed that we failed to qualify for next season’s competition but let’s just pause and say it out loud: “In 2011 Tottenham Hotspur reached the quarter finals of the Champions League.” Enjoy the sensation. One of the problems of the modern game is that we never stop to savour the feeling, it’s all about what happens next. Relish it, taste it, roll it round your tongue and chew it over, because these moments don’t come around that often. Then think back to February or March last year and tell me you believed that was possible. Be honest.

Yet our undoubted achievements this season have been tinged with regret. It’s realistic rather than greedy to say we could have done so much more. Our woeful lack of firepower up front has been the main problem – the strikers  have been downright dreadful for much of the time. Coupled with regular disappearing acts from our defenders and keeper (where the hell did they go?), we failed to dispatch teams we should have beaten. Had just a few draws become wins then we would have overtaken Arsenal and secured 4th place.

Redknapp has to take some of the blame for this, yet he appears unwilling or unable to do so. Win and he basks in the glory. Lose and it’s down to the players. Harry has infamously been dismissive of the value of tactics in the past. He doesn’t really mean this of course, the very last thing he can be accused of is naivety, but he likes us to think he sends the players out to, well, just play. However, he has to take some greater responsibility for our performances, good and bad

The regular selection of Crouch encouraged the use of the long ball. Earlier in the season it went straight down the pitch, often too early, varied as time went on by the player pulling away to the far post, hence the long looping ball. When Pav played, we did the self-same thing. Whilst this brought some rewards, too often it negated the advantage gained from our skilful, clever midfield. Luka and Rafa don’t want to see the ball flying over their heads. Defenders have a fair idea of where the ball will go, therefore it’s easier to handle. Too frequently our strikers were ahead of the ball, stationary and waiting for the ball at the edge of the box. Problem is, the defenders are waiting too.

Also, and as a lover of attacking style it pains me grievously to say this, we were often too open to succeed in the Premier League. Although we developed greater resilience and an ability to hang on to possession, we lost it more easily than we should have on too many occasions and the midfield did not work hard enough to tuck in and protect a lead. It’s not about outright defence, rather, it’s about adapting to the conditions on the pitch. That’s the way it is in this league. This is tactics. This is the responsibility of the manager.

Redknapp’s great strength is that he is good with players. He takes their skills, fits them into position and asks them to do what they are good at. Find a group of players whose skills dovetail and you have a fine team. That’s why players always say they like playing for him, because he plays to their strengths. Nothing wrong with that and his loyalty to some men by giving them a run in the side has meant Bale, Dawson, Assou Ekotto and latterly Sandro have developed their full potential.

He’s more shaky when there’s a gap. He doesn’t adjust or enable the whole side to be as flexible and mobile as the best teams. For example, if Bale was out or he felt compelled to squeeze Van Der Vaart into the side we struggled because we did not have another man to step in to play the same role. Square pegs in round holes. Modric shifted to the left, unaccountably taking our finest player from his best position or Rafa wandering aimlessly  from the right. Also, if he has it in for you, it’s less Uncle Harry and more evil stepfather. Bent was never played in the right way, back to goal too often when he likes it in front of him, then ridiculed and off elsewhere. What we could have done with half the goals he’s scored since he left.

Redknapp is immune from criticism and has taken umbrage recently against Spurs fans who have dared to go where the media refuse to and question his tactics, selection and status. I first commented on this a few weeks ago after the West Brom game. In an age where the media unstintingly dissect their subjects like a pathologist dragging out the innards of a corpse then examining the entrails under a microscope, his protection is a truly remarkable achievement. I can’t recall any sustained critique of his era at Tottenham from a professional pundit. Any suggestion of negativity is met with snorts of derision, not even considered but immediately and forcefully ruled out of bounds. No other manager is shielded in this way, not even Alex Ferguson. Nothing sticks.

Harry would do well to remember that we the fans were here when he came and will be here long after he’s dumped us for the England job. He can’t control us the way he looks after the media. He’s done a good job for us but should also look back to his appointment and be grateful because his record as a manager didn’t merit the role. I’m sure he’s as frustrated as we are at some of the problems, so why can’t he acknowledge that and share the pain and joy we’ve felt over the past 9 months.

Redknapp must carry on as manager. Consistency is key and the process of team building should continue. Above all, he must hang on to Modric, Van der Vaart, Sandro and Bale. Sell his grandmother and his precious Sandra if he has to, just the build the team around these gems that he did not unearth but has polished almost to perfection.

This man of the football world is still learning, even in his early sixties. He’s never been in this position before. He’s had little experience in Europe, let alone the Champions League, or at the top end of the table. Neither has he previously worked with players this good nor been in a position to buy the highest quality footballers. No more bargains or cheap but useful veterans for the short-term. Never mind the team, he has to step up in quality too, like managers with 15 or 20 years less experience in the game. I have the niggling feeling that he’s an old dog who can’t learn any new tricks and shed the underdog mid-table mentality. I desperately want him to prove me wrong.

Pouring over his individual comments has little value but over time you get a broad sense of what he’s up to. At the moment he’s gone on the defensive, talking down our ambitions and dropping hints to Levy that we need the money to buy quality this summer. It’s familiar territory, as is the rubbishing of the fans. Most of us do not have over-inflated expectations. Within our frustrations we realise both the potential of the club and the work still to be done. To fulfil that potential, Redknapp has to move out of his comfort zone in terms of the players we buy, the way we play and the manner in which he relates to the fans. He has to work hard this summer. I for one look forward to August.

We Came To Celebrate and Are Not Downhearted

We came to celebrate, and despite the result we were not downhearted.

We battled through the hold-ups on the M25 and the Blackwall Tunnel, blanched at the accident on the North Circular and arrived in our seats panting from effort as well as excitement. Same old jokes, we make them, we’re told them and still we laugh as if we’ve never heard them before. ‘5-0 by halftime? Or a bit longer? No probs.’ The teams are just coming out and the sudden arrival heightens the shock. From a dowdy north London street, plunged into the glare of white light and blaring fanfare I am transformed, grinning manically. On TV this is precisely the clichéd manufactured atmosphere I abhor. Being there, I can’t quite believe this is the Champions League at White Hart Lane, a worldwide audience welcomed to our little home.  Should be used to it but I’m not, and in a way hope I never am, because this thrill should never be taken for granted. A corny soundtrack and twenty kids flapping a giant fireman’s blanket festooned with logos: somebody catch me, I’m falling.

We came to acclaim our heroes, despite the forlorn hope of victory, and my goodness how we roared them on. Those watching on TV knew what an atmosphere sounds like, real support from proper supporters, hardened over years of disappointment to the point where we know when the team needs us. The noise rolled around the old ground, tightly packed stands close to the pitch, a raucous cacophony from all sides in a proper football ground.

We got behind them and they knew. You could see it in every sprint and stride, every tackle, the grimace of challenges or the deftest of passes. It was meant for them and they knew. As with the performance against Stoke, they channelled their disappointment at the first leg result into sustained endeavour, maybe to win, there was always a chance, but mainly just to prove they could play against one of the finest European club sides, to match themselves against the best.

The first half hour flew by, almost as quickly as Bale flew past Ramos. With Modric prompting and Pav active up front, Bale took on a steady supply of long cross field passes and rose to his task. He fearlessly took them on and delivered several searching crosses under the most intense pressure that on another day with perhaps some shrewder positioning by colleagues in the box could have been converted. His touch to bring down a shoulder high pass destined for the stands and then instantly charge at them once more was nothing short of miraculous. Taking deep regenerating breaths on his way back to the halfway line, he was tired. His back ached, so he adjusted his strapping and head down, charged again.

We needed goals and came close on a few occasions, Pav missing the best chance as Lennon laid bare the defence then laid the ball back. It bounced at the crucial instant of contact, way over. Lennon attempted to make up for whatever happened in Madrid, coming into the match more as the half progressed, always  dangerous. He could have crossed it  more often rather than touch it back but he did so well. The other great opportunity was when a long Bale throw fell at Huddlestone’s feet, much to his and everyone else’s surprise. Back to goal a few yards out, there was no movement for him in the box and the chance of a simple lay-off was gone.

The imperative to attack left us stretched at the back, very much so at times but there was no alternative. We scraped by on more than a couple of occasions. Our captain had his own solution: Michael Dawson decided to take them on alone. He wanted to be first to every ball. Seemingly right across the back line, he appeared whenever danger threatened. Left, right, upfield or in the box, time and again he won the ball. Not everything worked – he overreached himself once or twice, a reminder of the player of two or three years ago – but now he has the experience to cover his lack of pace. One moment of classic defending, when Ronaldo’s shimmy left BAE face down  in the grass, Daws came smoothly across, stood tall, waited, then made the tackle. It wasn’t a night for defenders, supposedly, but his performance shone with pride and total commitment.

You may tire of reading in the blog of the wonders of Luka Modric but I’ll never tire of writing about him. Another top class performance of midfield artistry, stubby strides over the turf in search of scarps at the back and deadly passes going forward. Given some freedom by Hud’s presence and then Rafa dropping deep, he went further forward as the half progressed and almost scored or made an assist. Almost. When he came off towards the end, he looked shattered by the pain of defeat, as if it were then and only then that the possibility had crossed his mind that somehow his talent was not about to create a miracle. Arm round his manager, he went to slump on the bench.

A fine first half but no goals. Pav did well on his own up front, effort, movement and even a bit of muscle, but he lacked support. I would have liked a bold decision from Harry for this one,  have the balls to leave Rafa out and go two up front but Defoe is woefully out of sorts. I’m sure I would been grumbling if he had played. Now if Crouch were eligible and hadn’t…enough of that one already, I think. As it was, Rafa should have stayed further forward, sliding across the edge of the box and in contact with Pav and the midfield. That’s where he does his best work, as in the second half when he looked fit to me.

We didn’t quite do enough to get the ball into the crucial area in front of their back four but behind the midfield. Madrid press well upfield which makes it hard for us to play out of defence. However, this leaves space behind them. It’s difficult to put the ball there, especially as the superb Alonso was patrolling, but nevertheless there were opportunities missed. To have beaten Madrid we all had to be on top of our games, and Hud had a reasonable rather than good time, wayward with some of his passing. No real criticism but he could have been key, his passing the reason why he was preferred to Sandro.

Ronaldo is a card, eh? Before kick-off he had a pleasant chat with Bale on the halfway line, all smiles. 90 seconds later he’s clutching his backside and rolling around after an innocuous challenge. A precious moment with the strutting peacock in the second half, he goes over to the bench for, apparently, the sole purpose of having a minion fall at his feet and tie his laces. Fabulous player, mind.

And so the second half is ushered in with the same gags.  ‘Don’t be late back from the bogs, you’ll miss the first of the 5″, still the same gallows humour in response. No laughs as the ball spins from Gomes’ grasp. Not only this, it taunts him by seeming to remain within reach before agonisingly creeping over the line. The balloon’s been pricked and the hissing of escaping hopes and dreams is heard from miles away.  Another one makes little difference, logically, but the whole place sags. Just something, a goal, pride, a win on the night, by now that would have been sufficient but it was gone. There were 35 minutes left but effectively that was that. Individuals tried to make up for it on their own with series of increasingly desperate runs from JD and Sandro, Modric too, but you have to pass it to get round this lot.

Harry and Jose loiter on the touchline, two blokes with long coats, hands thrust deep into pockets and idly kicking up traces of dirt with the tips of their shoes. ‘What me,  nah, just hanging around waiting for a mate.”. They cared, profoundly, and there’s no point in hiding it.

There’s a celebration of the presence of another Tottenham great, Paul Gascoigne, who doesn’t often do the rounds of the lounges and boxes (although sadly lounge bars, maybe) but you trust his mental well-being is boosted by the warmth from people who love him. The singing is still going but quieter. Then, for no obvious reason, the doldrums are lifted by a chant for Luka Modric. Then another, and another, and the Park Lane goes through as many men as they can, a touching recognition that despite defeat we are with them, for they have done us proud.

The end was sad. This is gone now. Pride in the fact that we the fans were able to participate in the Champions League quarter final, pride in the players who got us there. Chelsea are advertising on the radio for their upcoming home games, presumably because their gloryhunting fans are sick to death of a decade of unbroken success. At Spurs, we stayed behind to give them a standing ovation, long and hard. An ovation for a team that had lost 5-0. That’s what Europe meant to us, that’s how much we believe in our team. We know what has been achieved. True fans, lifelong supporters.

 

 

To ease the pain, there’s a good interview with Ricky Villa here, from Duncan Tucker: http://duncantucker.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/candela-live-interview-with-ricky-villa/

Plus more about the paperback edition of one of the best Spurs’ books ‘The Boys from White Hart Laneby Adam Powley and Martin Cloake http://martincloake.wordpress.com/

Spurs Crumble Then Capitulate

Not like this. Not this way. If we had to go, and we’ve had a miraculous tilt at this European lark, then go down with a passion, a flourish. With the style that swept Inter aside, or the courage and poise that created a victory against Milan in Italy, then the fortitude than saw us through at White Hart Lane. But not like that.

Reaching the Champions league quarter finals is a wonderful achievement, far beyond my wildest dreams when the campaign started. ‘Reaching the group stages and giving a good account of ourselves’ or some such, that’s what I wrote back then and I believed it. To be contenders, to be part of something, that would have been enough for me.

So here we are are, the heady intoxication of the CL quarter finals, and when the camera panned around the floodlit tiers of the Bernabeu, every Spurs fan in the world bit their lip and marvelled. What that, in my eye, just a speck of dust….  At the start of the season nobody expected this but here we were, on merit. We deserved to be there because we had taken on and beaten some top sides. We had done everything we needed to and no one could ask for more.

There’s disappointment but never despair in being beaten by a better team, and Madrid were far superior on the night.. This one wasn’t quite like that. Spurs have so much to be proud of but this meek capitulation means it will take a while for that positive memory to rise to the surface of my steaming and frazzled brain. To lose to a series of self-inflicted calamities hurts. However well Madrid played, however many shots on goal they racked up, all the goals were avoidable to a greater or lesser extent. Two at least made us look mugs, and that hurts badly. They pulled us this way and that, stretching our ten men until we snapped, but two of their goals were unchallenged headers from set pieces that came straight out of the Blue Square. Majestically taken but utterly preventable. An early corner and their main danger man is unmarked. All he had to do was to take a few steps forward and jump. No one was on him. No one.

In other circumstances, you couldn’t blame the team for using a corner to take a few seconds breather. Second half now, under intense pressure but surviving with two banks of four, working hard, thinking hard, still only one nil and thoughts of having something to aim for at the Lane. But against the cream, there’s no respite. Quick corner, Gallas clearly hampered all night by his injury although he did well to make light of it, nothing in his legs to jump, but still criminally isolated as another straightforward header from a quick corner.

I’ve left the worst until now because I don’t even want to think about it, let alone write a couple of vaguely coherent paragraphs. This blog makes a determined effort not to blame individuals but the utterly inexcusable actions of Peter Crouch delivered a body blow that left us doubled up. It was as if you were cornered by a gang of bullies in the park then one of your mates turns round and whacks you. The physical pain will pass but the sense of being let down lingers on.

In my more philosophical moments, of which there are many,  secretly I like it when sportsmen at the top of their profession do something stupid under pressure, because it shows that actually they’re human, they are like you and me. This is not one of those moments. Lumbering in for challenges that he was never going to win, not once but twice, the yellow card warning totally ignored. Lanky leg off the ground, not once but twice. Them’s the rules, Peter, have been all season. To compound the madness, two completely unnecessary challenges, 70, 80 yards from our goal. No despairing last ditch heroic efforts here.

Time and again we’ve stressed the value of experience in Europe and how this team has had to learn so quickly, on the hoof. Yet this is not the case for a 30 year old veteran of World Cups and of European competition. No callow youth this, tanked up on adrenalin and speeding the night away.

This destroyed us. Bizarre though it seems in the cold light of day, Crouch was arguably the single most important player in our formation. His height has troubled other European defences and so Harry teamed him with Rafa, the latter searching for crumbs as the long far post balls not only might have created something up front, they also provided a precious lifeline to relieve pressure on the defence. He might have helped out at corners too…

His absence meant we were under pressure throughout. Rafa lost his role and was taken off as the game passed him by. Ten against eleven would bend us out of shape. No out ball meant we could not shift the ball out of our half. No one to hold it up, back it came almost before we had time to catch a lungful of air. Pressed back, time and again our midfield, harassed and harried, looked up desperately for something ahead of them. However slim a chance of getting it forward at least with Crouch there would be something, but they searched in vain.

Mouriniho needs no second bidding. He pushed his men up to hold a high line. The back four could play it out with impunity. Marcello could get forward, freed from the pressure of having to care about what he had left behind at the back. No Lennon to worry about either. Very odd that, by the way. I’ve not seen the media since the final whistle. I wonder if he complained about something before kickoff and they were forced into making a sudden ‘should he shouldn’t he’ decision. Whatever, his threat was important tactically in keeping the rading Madrid full back occupied. Madird could therefore press high up in midfield, just as Barca do. We were never going to get behind their defence and Bale and then Rafa from the cheekiest of throws, were dealt with by Carvaliho. JD coming on was pointless.

Spurs passing and movement was poor and we gave away the ball so many, many times. Luka was unexpectedly at fault. I looked to him for something different. However, Madrid gave them absolutely no room to move and any team in the world bar Barca would have struggled in those circumstances.

After the early disruption caused first by Lennon’s sudden withdrawal then Crouch’s brainstorm, we regrouped and defended well for long periods by conceding territory and crowding the space in front of our back four. Jenas and Sandro worked hard, the latter dropping back to central defence to limit the room Madrid wanted to play those little angled passes. Dawson was the pick of our defenders, determined and strong. Not sure where he was for the second goal, though, and at times Madrid pulled him out of the comfort of the middle. He seldom missed a tackle. Gomes was admirably decisive and his clean handling would have inspired an increasingly desperate rearguard effort. Then an error at the near post. Those shots are harder to save than they appear on TV. It came from behind a defender and was swerving, but he still should have got a stronger hand to it to save.

Ultimately it was too much. Ten men plus wave upon wave of eager  attackers, probing away. Bale not fit enough to both attack and drop back to defend, three men on him instantly he received the ball. There was room on our right. Corluka was often left unprotected too, then injured. We’ve run out of right backs for the league now. Gallas couldn’t jump. The pressure told as we tired, giving the ball away more and more, unable to close down every forward.

Not the end of our European adventure but an ignominious night none the less. 4-0 is a sound beating. Given the  nature of the defeat, it will be so hard to be inspired by adversity to league success. Self-inflicted wounds take an age to heal. Stoke will be looking to steamroller us on Saturday, knackered, injuries and depressed. Never mind the top four, the struggle to hold on to the top four will test Harry’s powers of motivation to the limit.

 

No Wigan report this week. New piece of software, pressed the wrong button when in the final paragraph, no time to re-write it. You were mortified, weren’t you. Regards, Al