In Praise of Aaron Lennon

A short celebration of Aaron Lennon’s England performance against Croatia last night. His toes have never twinkled more brightly.

After last time’s disparaging comments on the international scene, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the match, glowing with pride as Lennon justified Capello’s faith in him. The England manager is a stern judge, yet his choice over Lennon over the much more experienced Wright Phillips or indeed over another tactical option involving Beckham, says so much about the winger’s growing maturity this season. I noted in Sunday’s piece that despite the attention drawn towards him by his goal, Defoe was perhaps making less progress than Lenny, and I was especially pleased last night with the mental strength that underlies his (Lennon’s) development. He is clearly thinking harder about his game and in particualr about his role as a team player.

The Monument to Our Lenny

The Monument to Our Lenny

The Gerrard header displayed this new found maturity more so than his more eye-catching runs. Lennon did not overplay the position. Instead of setting off on a run, potentially dazzling but liable to end in a cul de sac, as we have seen so often at the Lane, these days he has another option. Running at a defender can obviously pay dividends, but also it cuts down any space that the player in possession has, and space is such a precious commodity in modern football. This is a huge problem in David Bentley’s game, by the way. Before he was ejected from the team, he would gather the ball  in space and run straight towards a defender like a moth to a flame.

Aaron used to do the same, but no longer. Instead, he picked out Gerard and delivered a perfect ball onto his head. Simple in one sense, but it was the choice that was the clever part. It also demonstrates his confidence in his final ball. I admit to despairing last season that he would never be able to cross or pass accurately, and his therefore his promise would be wasted. Now, not everything works but he’s so much better. His play has variation; we have seen him come inside to score for Spurs this season and last night he tucked in to offer a perfect through-ball for Heskey. Again, it’s the apparently simple things, allied to his pace and ability to beat a full back, that is so impressive.

Capello was brave to pick him but Redknapp and his many coaches deserve the credit for his progress. Much was made in the commentary of the lack of a proper Croatian left back (would Corluka have been detailed to mark him?!), but Lennon made room by clinging to the touchline, just as Harry encourages him to do. With good passers in the team, like Gerrard and Barry for England or Huddlestone for us, he’s not isolated. In turn, this creates more space for the rest of team and dilemmas for the opposition back four. If they spread out to mark him, there’s room for other players infield. If they leave him, havoc ensues down the right.

It was such a pleasure to see one of ours play so well. Aaron Lennon is becoming a real force in English football. One man didn’t enjoy watching the game: even as I write, Fergie is worrying about what to do on Saturday. I can’t wait.

England v Croatia

As the World Cup qualifier against Croatia looms, I confess to having little enthusiasm for the England international team. It isn’t outright antagonism (I’ll certainly watch the match), more a mild case of indifference.  Whilst I want them to win, the lack of any excitement on my part serves only to heighten my anticipation of the Manchester United game this coming Saturday, when adrenalin and the desire for victory will create an intoxicating brew.

Notice I wrote ‘them’, not ‘us’. Didn’t think about it, that’s just the way it came out. For some this admission denotes an absence of patriotism bordering on the treasonable, but I’m not alone. Several of my fellow bloggers have recorded similar feelings, and last year when the Spurs Odyssey messageboard www.spursodyssey.com discussed this, a large number of contributors clearly stated that Spurs meant more to them than England. The majority of people I know who are fervent England fans do not support a Premier League team as passionately.

The Croatian contingent at Tottenham poses another layer of varied and complex dilemmas. I really don’t want them to win, but if I am honest I would have liked our three to have all played extremely well. Maybe 4-3 to England, hat-trick for JD and Luka man of the match. No Modric of course, and Corluka obligingly managed to get sent off at the weekend so he can rest up nicely, thank you very much. Obviously he has the same focus on Saturday as I do, but am I the sole Spurs fan who would prefer Kranjcar to play better than Lampard?

This is very different from when I first started to watch England. In those days, Spurs and England both stirred the emotions equally. In my teens in the 70s I attended several internationals at Wembley. Living in West London, I just hopped on the 83 bus, tickets were cheap and plentiful, and Wembley still had that sense of mystery as a special place, kept exclusively for the biggest games, floodlights bathing the fading paint and rusting girders in a magical glow. I wore my Spurs scarf, to show where my true loyalties lay, and puffed out my chest with pride if any of our players did well. Seeing Hoddle score against Bulgaria in his debut was a great moment.

In those days it felt like the fans came together to get behind England, setting aside club rivalries and united under the banner of national pride. No one ever gave me any stick for wearing my colours. Now, club allegiances are more deeply entrenched. The all-consuming Premier League, with the media hype, the shirts, the merchandise and the international stars, dominates football.

The other major change that affects our attitude towards the national team is the way we relate to the individual players. In the 70s and 80s, visiting stars received a fair amount of stick at the Lane but it was nowhere near as strident as it is today. The worst chant I can recall was the one that pursued the Chelsea keeper Peter Bonetti for years after the Germany game at Mexico 1970. ‘Bonetti lost the World Cup, and so say all of us’ was hardly going to have Spurs fans being hauled up in court….

Much of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the players. Their enormous wealth and apparent prioritising of celebrity status over an honest performance has distanced them from the fans. If Lampard delights in displaying his life in Hello magazine, or on his own Orange channel, then dashes over to bait the Park Lane when he scores, then he should also realise the bitterness that such behaviour creates when people are paying a fortune for the privilege of watching him play football.

Ashely Cole was loudly barracked during the recent international against Kazakhstan. The media pompously castigated the fans (or ‘so-called fans’ as they became) for so doing. Supporters are always blamed as being fickle and stupid in such circumstances, but curiously we are not foolish when we turn up week in week out, or buy the shirt, or shell out half a week’s wages for tickets, food and transport. That night Cole got what was coming to him. He was not playing well but more significantly, as was missed by all the media, he had built up a huge groundswell of resentment. This loathsome oick is rich, talented and has a beautiful wife, yet he’s in and out of bed with every passing mini-skirt and chooses to remind us how shocked he was at being offered a mere 60k a week by the Arse. It’s not the money that truly irks me, rather it’s his overbearing arrogance in the fact that in his autobiography he genuinely expected us to empathise with his troubles. Poor old Ashley.

So if we do not unequivocally join hands as one to back Capello’s boys, it is the players not the fans who need to take a hard look at themselves, for it is they who have created a chasm of bitterness that cannot be spanned just by pulling on an England shirt.