Redknapp Wins the Tactical Battle As Dreary Spurs Draw

Harry Redknapp was always a kidder. Not interested in tactics, just go out and play, enjoy yourselves lads. Do me a favour. He came out on top in the tactical battle at Loftus Road yesterday, his QPR team retreating deep into their own half to restrict the space and deny Spurs the room to play. Dull but effective. Confronted with this problem, our feeble solutions  were as effective as a Deal Or No Deal contestant who finds themselves in an episode of Mastermind by mistake.

It began well. Cesar reached up into the top righthand corner to tip Defoe’s goalbound 20 yarder onto the post, then Adebayor was fatally tentative from the rebound and the Brazilian saved again. It was as if the team shrugged collectively, said to themselves, ‘oh well, not our day’, and went through the motions for the remainder of the 90 minutes.

Redknapp’s strikerless side smothered our passing game at source. So effective was this, we were treated as early as the 35th minute to the unedifying spectacle of Dawson shooting from 35 yards. That’s how lousy our attacking efforts were today. Buses can get closer to the target than that effort.

This past week Redknapp demonstrated once again why Spurs fans have appreciated what he’s done for the team but never taken him to our hearts. A sly dig at any Chelsea manager who couldn’t come up with goods was followed by dark hints of high-level political conspiracies to remove him as Spurs boss. Then classic Harry – in the same breath as he praises Levy for being a decent bloke and calling him to wish him luck at Rangers, he makes fun of his former chairman’s transfer policy. He may have a point but there’s no sense that anything bad is ever his responsibility, at Tottenham or elsewhere. Underneath this good ol’ Uncle ‘arry schtick lies resentment and bitterness. Other managers can sidestep these questions, Redknapp can’t resist it.

At the close his extended chat with Villas Boas was presumably to reassure him that it was nothing personal. Too late. I adored some of his football and reaching the CL quarter finals from being bottom of the league is enough to rank him as a top Spurs manager. Harry, let your achievements speak for themselves, they will always sound more eloquent than you and now you’re gone, let us get on with it.

Adebayor did not repay his manager’s faith in him. Starting up front, he offered nothing. It was easy for QPR to isolate him from Defoe and the rest of his team-mates, and he has the air of a striker who knows he is out of form, waiting for the ball instead of attacking it and wanting always to take the extra touch. When he returns, he will have to work hard to dispel the thought that when City and Ars***l fans warned us that he’s a one-season wonder, they might have been correct.

A great pity as Rangers central defence is vulnerable. However they were well protected as Redknapp threw a midfield defensive blanket over Spurs. We never once got the pass and move going. QPR made the most of their limited ambitions – to be positive it’s a compliment to our status in the game currently that they feared us to the point where players and fans alike reckon a home draw against us is a cause for celebration. However, we did precious little to unsettle them. Dembele was anonymous, while Lennon and Bale were not allowed to get up a head of steam. Only Parker provided occasional bursts into danger areas which committed defenders but we made nothing of the gaps that thus appeared.

We could have done more on the wings but never established combinations between the wide men and the full-backs, never created two against ones. This was compounded by Lennon spending much of the second half on the left, which meant that we had two right-footers out there. They turned inside where Rangers gratefully gobbled them up, rather than seeking the space by the touchlines. Also, Bale’s wandering was unpredictable for the defenders but for his team-mates too. They did not know where to find him.

Spurs have made fantastic progress in a short time under Villas Boas but we don’t have the patience, wit and invention to break down a packed, well-drilled defence. The evidence is there from Stoke, Wigan and now at Loftus Road yesterday. We have to pass, make the runs and try to draw them out. Easier said than done but the League will take notice, that this is how to play us. Launching long balls from midway through the first half onwards is raising the white flag. Back to his tactics charts for our Andre.

I kept waiting for things to improve and we perked up a bit after half-time, then gradually it dawned that we were getting nothing from this one. At least we didn’t fall for any sucker punch counter, although we were helped in that respect by Wright-Phillips ability to fall over when he’s faced with a shooting chance.

We carried on, not supporting the man on the ball, who turned into his marker and was tackled, again and again. Dempsey’s overdue arrival might have sparked something but by then, we had forgotten how to pass. At least the time passed fairly quickly to the final whistle.

Redknapp Loses His Value To Spurs

So Harry Redknapp departs with my sincere gratitude but no tears. Tottenham Hotspur goes on, first, last and everything, as ever it will be. Those good players are still Spurs players. Daniel Levy is in charge, and he always was. 

As news of Harry’s dismissal leaked out last night, the social media debate raged over the rights and wrongs. Much of it focussed on the end of last season – basically, 4th/5th/4th versus ten points clear of Arsenal. Spurs fan, author Adam Powley lamented on twitter: “before theinterweb did football fans of the same club endlessly argue the same arguments over and over and over again?”

It is and always was something more fundamental. It’s about the future of our club. In this regard, Redknapp gets all the publicity, Levy holds all the cards. The two seem never to have got on especially well but I doubt that matters unduly. In football and in any business personal relationships are of secondary importance to the main goal, success. My view has always been that Levy made Redknapp a better manager because he reined in his excesses by seeking medium to long-term value in any purchases. Our success is based on a steady stream of young players and players for whom Spurs is a genuine step up the ladder. Redknapp complemented them by finding value in experience – Parker and Van der Vaart the best examples, Adebayor on loan, Pienaar at £2m – which turned us into one of the best sides in the country and for a precious, magical time title contenders. 

The media concentrates on the players wheeler-dealer ‘arry was not permitted to buy but the primary issue here is the value to the club of the manager. Redknapp took his eye off the ball at the end of last season. The England job was a profound distraction whatever Redknapp claims to the contrary and I strongly believe the court case took much more out of him than anyone is willing to acknowledge. People assumed it’s over, now he can move on: rubbish. That’s not how the human mind works. Relief is the overriding emotion. Mind and body relax and although it feels good, it dulls the senses. Football managers have to be on top form all the time. They have no chance, no room, to relax, yet this phase of letting go then rebuilding and planning ahead has to be worked through from beginning to end. Inconveniently for us, unavoidably for Redknapp, that coincided with the climax to our season. His decisions were consistently poor and by the time he was ready, our time had passed. I doubt he had a full understanding of what was happening to him. 

Now he’s looking to the future and he’s restless. He wanted assurances more permanent than either a three/four year  or 12 month rolling contract allow, the shark agent no doubt whispering in his ear how much other clubs will pay for his restorative powers. Levy however is made of different stuff. Levy sorts out the club’s future whilst sitting shiva for his late mother. He has no time for those who are distracted. He kept a grip. Eye on the ball, eye on the prize.

Levy saw weakness and fatally it tipped the balance. Redknapp has accomplished a hell of a lot for this club but that’s in the past. Levy showed sentiment as he grieved. In business, he’s as cold as ice. He calculated the future to Tottenham Hotspur of a man who inspired the side to the quarter finals of the Champions league, whose players dazzled the league. Value. Redknapp wants more money but he’s 65 and his powers may be on the wane. When the going was tough, he didn’t get going. It’s not about the odd hundred thou, it’s tying Spurs into compensation of anywhere between £4m and £12m if it doesn’t work out, never mind the cash for Harry’s pals in the dugout. Not worth it, on balance. Harsh, perhaps not fair, but on balance, correct.

My view? Covered in the post before this one. Just scroll down a bit, it’s OK. Not a Harry lover but I supported another year provided Redknapp had but a single thought on his mind – the glory of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. If he was focussed and motivated, he should carry on. I don’t think he is. If another season managing this group of wonderful players for a great club at £4m a year is not sufficient ambition, then he should go elsewhere.

He won’t care a jot but he goes with my abiding thanks. The best football for over thirty years, the shimmering brilliance of a flowing, attacking, passing game – he did that, and to me whilst I won’t forget the dross, the missed opportunities, those memories burn brighter. Praising his achievements isn’t to say that someone else won’t be able to do it better. And dross and missed opportunites I can deal with. I’m a Spurs fan.

Consistency is what we crave, a man to stick by us, maybe someone who pays more attention to the heritage of this club that is held is trust by us, the fans. Daniel, we’re looking to you, because everything at this club, you make it happen. You’re better with balance sheets than you are with managers, so be careful. Be honest, Redknapp was a short-term appointment that in fact has endured remarkably well.

Tread warily. The media will be after you, because you’ve done down their mate. Two seasons running, we collapse at the end of the season, not a murmur. The players were tired, act of god rather than being Harry’s fault. Now, one slip and they’ll be on us. A start to the season where we are, heaven forfend, outside the CL places, and it will be a crisis, mark my words. So be careful and do your best. Don’t waste this squad. We’re counting on you.


The End of The World But Nothing’s Changed

The dread anticipation of the Doomsday Scenario was hideous, elongated as it was over several weeks as first the semi-final and then the season’s final day played out. Goals and sendings-off that weren’t, the bitter tease of a former Spurs keeper throwing three goals into his net, yet another rearguard action, all of this involving not just any club, not just one rival but both of our bitterest enemies. Bad enough, or so you would think. Not so: fate was having a ball so why stop there. The way things were panning out, being outplayed and snatching a winner on the break was all too predictable but a late equaliser, missed extra-time penalty and the last-kick shoot out never crossed my mind. Simply could not happen.

The consequences for Tottenham Hotspur didn’t bear thinking about, yet over the weekend I could think of nothing else. However, in the cold light of day, which for Spurs fans admittedly felt arctic, nothing has significantly changed. Planning for next season and the longer-term future is the key issue and always has been. Recent events have had little effect on the context.

What I want for Spurs more than anything else is a plan. I need to know that we have a long-term strategy to keep the club at the very top of the English game. Chucking money on a few marquee signings will keep most fans happy but it has to be part of something wider, stronger, more permanent. Change for change sake is a recipe for disaster. We can’t control the efforts of our rivals but we can be contenders, competing on merit with the very best.

While fans and the media focus inexorably and, frankly, tediously on Redknapp, Daniel Levy remains the pivotal figure at Tottenham Hotspur. The cornerstone of our present development is financial prudence. It’s been that way for many years and because of the impending costs of the new stadium that would not alter even if we were in the Champions League. Granted a season will produce a windfall that could go on players but Levy does not include such revenue in his budget calculations. He won’t overturn his principles and throw money at the problem, or as he sees it throw money down the drain in the pursuit of short-term success without any guarantees and which is unsustainable in the long run.

I firmly believe this team is hesitating on the threshold of glory. Whether it takes a step into the unknown depends on keeping our best players and adding top quality new recruits, two strikers and a mobile centre half being the priorities. Levy is not going to radically change our salary structure, therefore regardless of where we play our european football next season we will be pursuing players on the up rather than established stars. It’s no bad thing – give me players with the right ability and mental attitude, men who want to better themselves and who focus on the game not celebrity status and I’ll show you a club with a future.

I’m not sure that we have scouts any more. They probably have a business-speak title like ‘Talent Development Analyst” or some such bollo, heading a department composed of statisticians pouring over facts and figures rather than standing on exposed touchlines searching for the next big thing. Whoever they are, they hold the club’s future in their hands: we rely on them totally.

They have to be psychologists too – motivation and a determination to be the best convert ability into class. We’ve done well in that respect lately – Walker, Kaboul, Sandro, all are good footballers united by a desire to play, and a total cost of what, £15m?

It’s the same with transfer fees. Levy the ruthless negotiator looks for value, not just at the bottom line. To him, paying a large sum for a youngish player with a bright future is an investment. Everything’s risky in this game but a fat insurance policy, long-term contract to maximise any future transfer price and payments to former clubs spread over several years all significantly decrease the uncertainty. Over the years he’s learned the price of experience too, about £4m and 70k a week for Parker or Adebayor on loan. Spurs have to pay for that knowledge and that time in the game but Levy won’t go over the odds.

Our salary structure is well set, with a maximum of around £70k a week, although that is extended by various means including lump-sum loyalty bonuses. It should be extended upwards but it won’t approach the double or triple that is commonplace elsewhere. Our stars are therefore vulnerable and being in the CL would help player retention but nothing can outweigh the pull of big bucks if a man is that way inclined. Again, no CL is not a major determinant of our future.

Our chairman is in the box seat when it comes to our manager too. Levy’s last gamble with the precious jewel that is our club was dismissing the popular and comparatively successful Martin Jol in favour of Juande Ramos. When Redknapp arrived amidst relegation panic, all thoughts of any strategic approach had gone, or so it seemed. In fact, contrary to my initial expectations, Levy has reined in Harry’s worst excesses in the transfer market. Also, whilst Redknapp is one of the world’s best paid bosses, there’s value to be found. He’s not only saved us (you probably know how many points we had when he arrived…) but he’s taken us to the CL quarter-final and our highest sequence of finishes for donkeys’ years. Also, Levy has refused so far to extend his 4 year contact beyond the end of this coming season. He doesn’t want to get caught with huge severance payments should manager and staff be sacked. Doing everything he can to keep the odds stacked in our favour.

So Levy finds himself in the place that all CEOs or businesspeople want to be – he has options. I completely agree with Spurs author, fan and all round seer Martin Cloake who wrote last week:

“I’d stick with Redknapp – if I could sit down with him and be sure he was fully focussed on Spurs. There’s one more year on his contract, and unless he wants his legacy to be ‘Almost there’ he needs to win a major trophy with Spurs in what could be his last year in the job. So there’s certainly incentive there.”

To me that’s sufficient motive for Redknapp. It’s highly unlikely that he will ever find a better job than Spurs at his age and this informed piece from the Guardian suggested that last season he was keen to ‘retire’ to a cushy job in Dubai. If it’s not, and maybe Levy should make that judgement rather than HR himself, he should go straight away.

That seems about right to me. I have an ambivalent relationship towards Harry Redknapp, which mirrors the behaviour and performance of a man portrayed in the media as a known, consistent quantity but who in reality is riven with contradictions. The so-called great motivator is popular with many players but there have been other occasions where the players have dead eyes and he’s an impotent mess of frustration on the touchline. Bale, Walker, Assou Ekotto, Kaboul and others have flourished under his guidance whereas Pienaar, Pav, Bentley and Bent have shrivelled to almost nothing.  For extended periods last season we played breathtaking football that stunned the league, by far the best to watch and the best for thirty or more years for Spurs fans starved of glory. Redknapp deserves full credit – don’t give me this nonsense about no tactics, it was his team, but that same team was virtually unrecogniseable against Villa and Norwich, a hollow shell of what had been.

I don’t warm to him but he’s ours, and I’d give him another year. Arguably Redknapp has helped us over-achieve. He’s managed that on tiny resources compared with his rivals. These figures did the rounds on twitter last week. I haven’t checked them but they have the ring of truth: Spurs have spent £16m since last top 4 finish in 09/10. Arsenal £64.7m, United £80.3m, Chelsea £160.4m, City £212.7m. He was fortunate that Modric, Bale and Assou Ekotto were here when he arrived but he’s helped make them what they are. Also, the harm caused by yet another change of direction with no chosen successor in sight is a major factor. Like I say, I want a plan, I want what’s best for us and I’d back him with a generous budget, but see ‘value’ above. Our immediate prospects hinge on the dynamic between the two of them.

This piece isn’t about tactics but there’s one thing I am compelled to add. Football is extremely complex but whoever makes up the team, whatever the formation, we have to get more men back behind the ball when we lose possession. It is a huge problem and leaves us exposed. No other team in the league is as open as we are. It’s why I like the two defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1. If it means more cautious approach, so be it. A price worth paying.

Mind you, who cares about tactics? It’s all down to fate. Written in the stars. I don’t believe in that twaddle. All we have is us, and we should look after our world and our fellow human beings to the best of our very considerable abilities. After the season’s end we’ve had, it’s enough to make me recant this heresy, fall to my knees and shout a few hosannas. The Pentecostal Church of the Sacred Cockerel. Glory glory hallelujah, sisters and brothers, let’s pray for future success…

Meh, maybe not. My faith in Levy’s plan is not unshakable but it’s the best thing I’ve got so I’ll go with that. It has the long-term interests of the club at heart, and that’s the only thing on my mind.

Spurs Are A’Coming! Circle The Wagons!

Tottenham Hotspur’s spring tour of the lower regions of the Premier League finished in the Midlands on a frustrating note as we hammered away at Villa’s massed ranks for 90 minutes without scoring from open play. Going down to ten men early in the second made only a momentary difference to the pattern of a game where we had all the ball, plenty of shots, countless corners but were unable to find that single moment of finesse to create a golden chance. As it was, we bludgeoned away at the one place where our opponents were strong, the centre of their defence, with a predictable lack of success.

It’s set up a cataclysmic final day at the Lane this coming Sunday that epitomises the contradictory nature of being a fan: we could well do without it but are desperately compelled to be there. Last August, the promise of the chance to take third place would have been enticing. Now, it’s laced with fear and dread, a threatening reminder of the devastating emptiness of failure rather than the prospect of joyous glory just 6 days away.

This of all seasons, where we have at times played the best football in a Spurs generation, will generate more debate than any other. Look back for a turning point and there’s something in most of the last twenty-odd games, ranging from the whole tactical and motivational approach at the club through the capitulation at the Emirates, refereeing decisions at Stoke, the January window and the width of the lace of Defoe’s boot away at City.

Yesterday was no exception. This tour has not shown the best side of scenic England. At least Bolton were brave enough to play some football and take the game to us. If you want another turning point to add to the lengthy list, Boyata’s miss just before half-time tipped the balance of that match at least. Blackburn and Villa were both awful but whereas the former lacked motivation and resolve, Villa seemed hamstrung with nerves and fearful of their own lack of ability to create any sort of attack. By the finish, their manager was slumped in his seat sharing dark jokes with a coach, the result in the hands of fate. There was nothing more he could do as his eleven were swamped by our ten.

Yet by then they had managed to score from open play, something we conspicuously failed to do. Granted it was courtesy of a giant deflection – I don’t see how Friedel could have reached it – but it was another crucial moment. We should have closed down the scorer but by then had already established the pattern, pushing forward from all sides and angles. We should and could have more alert to the basics at the back.

You want turning points? As if that wasn’t enough for one match, how about an inexperienced full-back charging in for a loose ball in a relatively safe area with his foot off the ground? Rose was a little unfortunate – the ball was off the turf but he caught Hutton with his follow through. However, he had to go. Whilst I admire his commitment to go wholeheartedly for that ball, a calmer head would have shown the discretion that was required at that point. As it was, chasing the game and down to ten men.

Our panic was comical. Having totally dominated, we then madly kicked the ball backwards high towards the goal, fell over and generally went barmy. Soon it became apparent that it really didn’t make much difference. Villa had no idea what to do with the ball so allowed us to re-establish control. For the rest of the match we huffed and puffed, forcing our opponents back into their box as they threw the wagons into a circle for a last ditch rearguard action.

In the end, it was an old failing that did for us. Despite being gifted an opening when the otherwise inspiring Dunne fouled Sandro in the box, we failed to capitalise. Early in the season we could break down defences through movement, pace and patience. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost that ability. Once again we could not find a way through the massed ranks. Bolton win friends because they want to play but we ruthlessly exploited the gaps that they left behind. When Villa had no inclination or apparent understanding of how to keep the ball in our half of the field even though they had an extra man, it’s a very different matter.

I’m not inclined to be too harsh. If you had joined the game for the last 25 minutes, there was no way to tell we were a man down. However, although we kept plugging away, we could never produce the width or the extra man to make the breakthrough. In the first half, our moves broke down late on as we got near their box through lack of a decent final ball. Modric disappointingly never found his range, while Bale and Lennon came inside too frequently where the ponderous but stout Villa back four were ready for them. Not a great one for stats, nevertheless at half time my stream showed that only 6% of our attacks came down the left. With Bale and Rose, we needed more but the latter’s dismissal scuppered the half-time tactics talk to give us more width.

As it was, we repeated past patterns of failure. A stream of crosses into the box that the Villa centrebacks headed away. They did it extremely well, all credit to them, but as I’ve said before in these cyberpages, I’ve spotted that we only have one big striker, Spurs still haven’t picked that up. Villa wouldn’t budge and we did not demonstrate the patience or wit to hold onto the ball and try to shift them from their entrenched positions. Back to the ten men again, back to the might have beens.

Nobody played particularly badly. Rose’s positional play was dodgy again and Luka’s passing was way off. No one had an especially good game. Kaboul made some fine tackles but at other times was wayward and impetuous. Sandro was strong and mobile, Lennon was bright and Manu’s movement was decent. Redknapp dithered over substitutions but I’m feeling unduly sympathetic. I would have brought on Defoe and gone for the win – even allowing for the remote possibility of Villa scoring, a draw doesn’t do us much good. Parker on earlier and three at the back could have calmed us down but to be fair we were well on top and I can see the argument not to change anything. I did enjoy the moment when JD nearly came on. HR gave him an unusually long set of instructions whilst Defoe took not a blind bit of notice.

Win against Fulham, that’s fourth and then see what happens at the Hawthorns. Rest well this week then give it everything. If we do, we will win. The stomach-churning, gut-wrenching nausea is already making me giddy and weak. Yesterday I made the mistake of eating lunch at half-time. I nearly threw up later as the tension cranked up to ridiculous levels. Goodness what Sunday will be like but the prospect of redemption will lift me to the heights. I trust the team feel similarly inspired.