Sad Spurs Are The Ghosts Of Their Former Selves

Plenty of Spurs places on the web where you can find anger as we slip down the table. I’m fond of describing the significance not of individual matches but sequences that crop up as the season plays out. A combination of computer predetermination and evolving circumstances throws up intriguing little sets of fixtures. Take our last segment of the year and it’s relegation form. Don’t forget, after the big sides, this is our winnable run-in.

Tottenham On My Mind, however, is a site of sadness. Flashes of fury quickly passed. The team deserve it for a pallid impression of their real selves on Saturday evening. It looked the same. Same characters, same passing, same runs down either wing, the midfield dominance. But there was nothing really there. Lifeless apparitions going through the motions. I bet if you put out your hand to touch the chest of any of them, it would have gone clean through.

Sad now, because of all recent Tottenham teams, I feel so close to this one. I’ve agonised over their growing pains as they made mistakes, so many mistakes. I’ve stood up for Modric as his apparently frail frame became the target for lesser men. I knew he was tough, and so it proved. I’ve worried for Bale, youthful and timid on the wing, until suddenly he had a growing spurt and put it all together. Ledley I’ve nurtured through each  sinew sapping sprint, looked anxiously to see how he recovers following every crunching tackle, marvelled at a calm diligence and dignity that I could never have come close to in my wildest dreams.

These and others I’ve watched, wondering if they can find the answers to maturity through experience. No good telling them, they have to live it and find out for themselves. Then suddenly they were pinging the ball all over the place, pass and move, push and run. The game is easy, it’s just the players that make it difficult goes the saying and this lot made it simple. Made it heaven. Beautiful, beautiful football I’d waited a lifetime to see. Gone, all gone. So sad.

Sad that against inferior but well-drilled opponents, once again we did not have the nouse to find a way through. They did try, for the most part, they just didn’t think. Modric did many of our good things but that’s not saying much. He could and should have done more to take the midfield by the scruff of the neck and dominate. Not for 90 minutes, 20 would have done, 10 or 15 even. In that short burst we could have turned the game because Rangers had little interest in even holding the ball up front when they cleared it, preferring to sit back and wait. That would have been enough, but nothing. Parker too: plenty of effort and he does the same things as he did before Christmas. Except he does it all half a yard slower. He’s a fraction late into tackles, just one the tail of the runner into the box, a touch off-balance when he passes or shoots. So sad.

It’s wrong to invoke the spirit of Barcelona when comparing football tactics but I’ve seen them recently try to over come a packed defence. Inter did it last season at the San Siro and went four up.  They hold the ball in the middle while two, usually three forwards push up onto the opposition back four. Then either a ball is played to feet, back to goal and they look for a one two or more usually one or possibly two of them come a few yards off their marker. The defender then has an invidious choice, If he goes, then he leaves a gap. If he stays, the player is on his own in the danger area between midfield and the back four. Barca vary it by having their attacking full back join in, moving into the space that’s vacated out wide.We could have done that. Not as well as them but we could move like that. Broken things up. Shifted their centre backs out the way. Instead we aimlessly buzzed around the back four like a wasp in the autumn trying to get through a pane of glass. Sad that we bring on a winger, Lennon, who is playing well admittedly, just send over a series of crosses for defenders to head away because our forwards aren’t very big. I’m sad no one noticed that they weren’t very big because it’s clear to me.

Sad that we never learn our lessons. Once again, we begin by not playing well but managing to muddle through. For the first 20 minutes, our defence played as if they had never met before and were terrified by the presence of these strangers. Wild lunges, crazy mix-ups, yawning gaps ripe for exploitation. Yet we muddled through, until once again conceding an avoidable goal. From then on, as against Norwich, Everton, Chelsea, Stoke, it’s an uphill struggle. Once again, we were unlucky with a referee’s decision – Sandro made a brave legal tackle – but Friedel had so much time to see that leisurely freekick loop towards his goal. He seemed transfixed by its progress and his geriatric topple in the general direction of the ball was far too late. He’s been the unobtrusive foundation of our success this year. We should allow him an error becasue he’s made so few, but this one hurts.

Sad that if a side takes its lead from their manager, they are as bewildered and powerless as he is. “I’m not worried about the way we are playing,” says Harry. I don’t get angry with him when he talks like this. Genuinely I don’t believe he thinks through what he’s saying so it has little meaning. The media never challenge their darling so he just caries on. I think I should be angry. Anyone might think his complacency insulting to the loyal fans who can see all to clearly that we have real problems. We lack that edge, making and taking chances, being dangerous for extended periods, breaking down teams, that’s what makes the difference, that’s what he’s not giving us. Contrast the attitude of the QPR players. The manager has given them a shape, they sick to it, it works. That’s the way it should be.

Sad that this, the team that was to take us to glory in style, is falling apart as fast as my dreams. It will further disintegrate come this summer if we fail to reach the Champions League, with no prospect of decent replacements. This wasn’t the fate of this wonderful side. Sad that we’ve conformed to type and can’t hack the pressure. Sad that amongst other fans in London, we’re a laughing stock.

True story. At half-time for the first time in a while I lit our woodburning stove. Open the box with the pile of newspapers and there on the top is the Evening Standard on the day Harry was found not guilty. I screwed up the cover and it went up in smoke. You want symbolism? I’ve got it. Sad that an ordinary side could beat us to easily. Sad that we’re going down without a fight.

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Rookie Redknapp Wilts. Plus Win Exclusive T-shirt!

Unlike other games where the implications take time to sink in, losing at Wembley has its particular horrors. As the infernal shuffle towards Wembley Park tube grinds on, there’s nowhere to go. Nothing to do except look at the back of the head of the person who will be in front of you for the next half an hour (if you’re lucky) and absorb the burden of defeat. The manner and margin of Sunday’s beating only made things worse.

The wait was enlivened by cries of defiant loyalty from a few brave souls. I joined in, once. I really am  in that number but it didn’t make me feel any better. The group then struck up a chorus of ‘Thursday night, Channel 5’. I think it was directed towards a small group of Ch****a fans, so delighted with their team’s triumph that they couldn’t be bothered to hang around in the stadium to celebrate so they had become mixed up with us, those Spurs who had not fled the scene before the final whistle. Equally, it could have been a bitterly self-deprecating comment about our own season where hopes that so recently had been bright and buoyant were sinking before our very eyes. The way things are going, come mid-May we might be grateful for a place in the Europa League.

Things aren’t that bad – the 5 games remaining are an opportunity for redemption and we have the ability to get enough points to hold on to 4th at least. However, it’s not just the lingering Wembley blues that cast a gloomy shadow over our prospects. Make no mistake, despite the brave media statements this week about squad unity and determination, beatings like this affect players at the best of times, on top of which key men are off form and recent tactics have left us vulnerable. The side look knackered, overplayed, physically and mentally weary. It’s hardly the best way to approach the season’s climax but you can at least understand why the legs are aching.  Our biggest problem is why this description also applies to our manager.

Just when we need firm, decisive leadership, Harry Redknapp is left to rue the consequences of poor decision-taking in the recent past that you might expect from a rookie not a veteran. He revels in the role of wily old fox, seen it all, takes it in is stride. In reality, he’s never been in this position before. The years of experience have prepared him for most things in the game but not this. Being near the top of the league and in a cup semi-final is virgin territory for him and much of what he’s learned in the past is no preparation for the long season’s crescendo.

Like Harry, I’m not a big fan of squad rotation. However, it’s essential in today’s athletic, physically unforgiving game. I’ve been converted partly by the example of other teams – look at how Fergie makes changes for no apparent reason, until that is United come with a flourish this time every year – and partly by watching Walker and Bale at close quarters from my seat on the Shelf. Both are highly motivated and superbly fit. I can assure readers that it isn’t a question of not trying as both have played on through injuries on several occasions this year. Both would run themselves into the ground for the team, I’m convinced of that, and frequently do. Those punishing runs up and down the line are a regime that would deter the hardest 400m runner in training.  Both are exhausted.

The same goes for Scott Parker. If determination alone were sufficient, he’d run all day but he’s weak through over-work and has never been the same since his seemingly innocuous leg injury earlier this year. Redknapp has put his faith in these key men, turning to them repeatedly as every game becomes vital, but faith isn’t enough. Other teams use sophisticated technology to measure fitness levels and I assume Spurs can too, but Redknapp’s response is as about as modern as the magic sponge.

Granted he’s been unlucky with injuries. Huddlestone has become the forgotten man while Sandro, a man to offer defensive cover and midfield momentum, has never regained match fitness. His loss has been a huge blow because then Parker and Modric could have rested. After it happened, I wrote that Dawson’s injury could be a season’s turning point. Instead of a tough leader, an international, as centreback cover, we were forced to give Gallas and Nelsen too much responsibility. With Ledley’s legs finally giving up, we looked so vulnerable. I’m afraid I was right.

What concerns me more are the problems that we created. Corluka’s move left us with no alternative for Walker. Walker is now knackered. Pienaar’s versatility and experience made him a far better option than Krancjar whose play when we don’t have the ball is shoddy. I reluctantly accepted than no one of the required standard was available to buy in January but these unnecessary departures have made the combination of squad rotation and winning impossible.

When it comes to analysing a season, it’s tempting to seek turning points. For me the best of our play, though not the best game, was encapsulated in the second half away to Manchester City where we pulled back a two goal deficit then denied them any sort of an opportunity for 15 minutes before Defoe’s boot was a millimetre away from a famous day. However, if you want a defining moment, try the announcement of the sheet for the cup-tie at Stevenage.

Three at the back to combat a Division One side. That not only sent a negative message to our players, it was also a case of over-thinking the game. Although we never repeated that formation, it was the first in a series of tinkering alterations to our set-up designed to outwit our opponents but in fact succeeded only in unsettling our own players. Comfortable with one up front, a man (usually Rafa) linking midfield with the striker and another 4 in midfield itself, it didn’t matter so much if we went for the 4-2-3-1 that I think suits us best or two wide players. The players knew what to expect and it brought the best from them. That’s Harry’s great skill. The fullbacks offered width, the front players had room to move, the tempo was bright and we passed the ball brilliantly. The man on the ball always had support, always had an option.

Yet Redknapp changed it. Two up front and taking the game to the Ars***l was a disaster for us and transformed the season of our biggest rival for third place. Modric spent time on the left when he had done so well in the centre. By Norwich at home, HR still hadn’t learned his lesson and publicly focused on his weakness in saying he knew the set-up wasn’t right but he went ahead because others said it was best for us. A slight change on Sunday with Rafa dropping deeper but we were still too open.

If it were any other manager I’d talk about naivety but this is Redknapp. Ironically our best performance lately was probably away at Ch****a, where we kept it boring but tight, and could have won on the break. That’s what you do, make sure you don’t lose ground to your close rivals. Same at Liverpool away – boring but a point.  But at Wembley that was ignored in favour of another shape.

This guff about Redknapp not being tactically astute is all part of the Uncle ‘arry myth that I have never had time for, way before he was even a gleam in Levy’s eye. His Tottenham team has evolved, perhaps not as quickly as I would have liked but he’s stabilised us then dumped the big man up front approach in favour of the pass and move sensations that we enjoyed for so many months. His team, his tactics. I’m not up for this Redknapp is rubbish business that’s going around. This blog has unfailingly but constructively pointed out his failings but  he got us to where we are and we should not forget that.  Redknapp made all that happen and he deserves full credit, the best side since the Double it was said, but recent changes have undermined all that. Forgive me if I remain bewildered as to why he made them.

Twelve points from 15 may be a realistic target. Of the remaining games, Saturday’s is the most tricky. Rangers have some decent players, a reason to play and a manager who will tell his men to knock us about just like his  Blackburn used to. There may be no way back, however, because the players have picked up their manager’s lack of resolution and confidence is draining.

I doubt that the England business has affected Redknapp as much as the aftermath of the court case. Although he won, we can barely imagine the strain. After the case, I wrote about how people under great stress use it to keep to themselves going but when it goes, they find it much harder to stay focussed. Relief is a less powerful motivating force than the determination to prevail.

I hope Harry rediscovers his mojo. The signs are not good. Today he’s said something about hoping Chels get through because it means another game for them. Doesn’t he know that if they win the Champions League, 4th place does not qualify us. These 5 games are amongst the biggest challenges of his career.

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Who is this former Spur? His job before he joined Spurs gave a big clue to his playing style – what was it?



Spurs and Wembley. Nice Day, Shame About The Football

I’ve known worse times as a Spurs fan. Forgive me if for the moment I can’t quite name them. An afternoon so utterly dispiriting, the fans, the decisions, the outcome, that heart and soul are thoroughly drained. Not anger, though there’s just cause – the referee, the way we just slipped away without enough of a fight. Instead, a cloud of gloom and doom that like a moorland mist seeps through the layers and into the marrow, leaving aching bones and weary muscle.

A feeble attempt at coherence in this particular post. I hope the points make sense even if they don’t exactly fit together. It’s not a good morning, and anyway I still have a headache from the man behind me banging his crutch on the metal roof of the stand.

As ever the comedown is worse when the expectations are raised. Not so much a heightened anticipation that we would win, I hoped we would and believed we certainly could, but any day at Wembley starts off being a good day. Never take for granted the walk up Wembley Way, the childlike thrill as you exit the station. I used to watch the Cup Final as a kid and dream of being able to make that walk, to be part of it, part of history, and despite the dampening effect of this ludicrous kick-off time, as soon as the stadium came into view I was grinning absurdly. We took the photos, even though we’ve taken them before. I saw Jackie who sits in front of us and her brother and wanted to say hallo but lost them in the crowd, wanted to share my joy at just being there.

As the players gathered in the centre circle, people around me were still singing. I and many others asked for quiet, and quiet we had. Many of us remember the Leppings Lane crush at the 1981 semi-final when better crowd control and allowing people onto the pitch prevented a tragedy. In the event, it was only postponed and Liverpool fans lost their lives, not us. By the end of that semi, I had been pushed down to below pitch level. If the police had dealt with this as they did for Liverpool fans, there’s a high probability that I would have been killed.

So when a substantial group of Ch****a fans sing through a commemorative silence, deliberately provocatively sing, it’s deeply personal. It’s beyond me. It’s not the majority of their fans, who are decent people. Rather, it’s a group who feel that because their club buys success, because the club defends its captain’s actions regardless, because their club’s preferred option when confronting alleged racism is to delay the judicial process so he may fulfil fixtures, they themselves are not bound by the unspoken but powerful values of other fans. Shameful.

The expectations of a good day out were further dulled by a stilted opening from both sides. Each made and missed chances, each had their fair share of possession without being able to take control. We were a side searching for shape and pattern and never established that natural rhythm and tempo that has characterised much of our season. For every good move. Luka’s pass inside the full-back to a rampaging Bale, Lennon underused but bright, there was an untidy unnecessary loss of possession. Bale on Bosingwa could have swung the match our way but there weren’t enough bodies in the box to get on the end of the crosses. Adebayor couldn’t hold it and Walker’s error nearly let in Mata. He lost the ball but Cudicini, who had a good game, did well to stand up rather than commit as many keepers would have done.

It’s difficult to have a balanced view of a performance in such a highly charged atmosphere. What I’m really saying is that my emotions were all over the place. Anyway, knowing we now know, there’s nothing but doom but actually, that’s not accurate. Although we never played to our potential, we had two cracking chances. I’ve not seen any replays, but the slightest touch from Manu could have converted Rafa’s ball that hit the post, then Rafa’s header that was cleared off the line. John Terry’s knee has a lot to answer for this season. It saved a certain goal both here and in the league fixture at the Lane.

Then goals that were and goals that weren’t. Credit where it’s due – Gallas may have been able to do more before Drogba’s shot but in truth I’m not sure what. Sometimes you have to say that the forward is better than the defender. A fine goal, damn him. Gallas should not have been left isolated, however.

And then the goal that wasn’t. Again I’ve not seen a replay but have seen a photo. At the time, and I’m right up the other end of course, it looked implausible as there was a scrum of bodies, so why should they be behind the line. I saw the ref pointing and said out loud, “Our free-kick.”

A Blues fan from another office just happened to be in reception this morning. Coincidence, it works in strange ways… I made him a cup of tea and placed it 2 foot away from him. “There you are, mate, it’s in your hand. Looks that way…”

Then Manu is through, a rare moment when he looked threatening. A clear foul in my eyes (I’m happy to be corrected). The keeper should have gone despite Bale being on hand to touch it in. The keeper prevented a goal-scoring opportunity. the fact that the ball rolled loose is immaterial. Anyway, even so Cech should have been booked.

Look – I’m under no illusions. We never imposed ourselves on this match and after a brief period of hope we melted away, tired and listless. Neither is this blog in the habit of banging on about poor refereeing. However, these were two crucial match-turning moments.

I’d say this took the stuffing from us but twenty minutes from the end we looked dog tired. It’s been a long season. Key men have been out of shape since around the Stevenage game and even the incentive of a cup final couldn’t enliven them. Parker was late for 4 tackles before being booked and substituted. Rafa never got on the ball often enough. Usually he rises to the pressure, yesterday he disappointed. As I commented for the Norwich game, Modric looked decent on the ball but didn’t work to get on it as often as he should.

In my preview for When Saturday Comes  I felt certain that we would revert to 4-2-3-1 after the Norwich debacle. Redknapp himself acknowledged it was wrong. Yesterday was 4-4-1-1 but the significant problems caused by that midfield four remained. We were too open. Bale and Lennon did not work back enough to cover and when they did, they did not pick up the opponents. On two occasions Bale stood 2 yards from an unmarked Lampard, loitering at the edge of our box, but did not move to mark him. Parker and Modric had to both defend and attack.

As a result our creaking back four was unprotected. As the game went on, our opponents took grateful advantage. Gallas had his worst match for us, left cruelly exposed with no cover and nothing in his locker. King was pulled out of defence because there was no one in front of him and the ball was popped into the resulting gap for at least one goal and there could have been more.

Both Gallas and King made goal-saving challenges but they are not fully fit and Redknapp knows that. He should have nurtured them and allowed them to  defend where they do their best work, in the box itself rather than being stranded.

Similar comments for the midfield. He asked too much of Parker and Modric, knowing that neither is as bouncy as earlier in the season. Livermore or Sandro’s legs could have helped out. As it was, as mind and legs went, we were cut to shreds. As Lampard shaped to take his free kick, the 5 year old boy near me covered his eyes with his hands, hardly daring to peek. That sums it up, from those of us who were left by then. It was a defeat that’s hard to take but the swathes of empty seats with ten minutes left paints a picture of Spurs fans to the watching TV audience that is at odds with our loyalty. I understand the emotions but it looked bad.

Redknapp’s a vastly experienced manager but this is virgin territory for him. He’s never before been challenging at the top of the league and for a cup. He’s not managing this well. More on this for another day, but he’s placed too much faith in certain players who are crucial to the side but have not been looked after properly. Parker, Walker, Modric, Bale, the season’s caught up with them. Redknapp doesn’t know about how to save players as does Ferguson the master. His famed powers of motivation will be needed more than ever as the season slips away, but they weren’t in evidence yesterday evening. He’s made some poor choices lately.

On the train home we got seats. Chels still in the ground celebrating, most Spurs had gone already. The modern marvel of twitter brought up a photo of the goal that never was. I showed it around the carriage, incredulity all round. Nearly home and we consoled ourselves with other tales of semi-final gloom. Everton, Newcastle. The 22 hour round trip to Old Trafford, outclassed by Arse**l, the last coach in the car park after two people didn’t come back after the match. I knew there were worst times. Were there?

Tottenham Hotspur: Football The Way It Should Be Played

We were in our places a few minutes earlier than usual, standing not sitting, hopping around not so much to stave off the bitter cold, more in excited anticipation. Even the veterans haven’t seen anything like this.

The players had a prematch kickabout, the mascot’s nervous pride shone through as they found a hero to play with, but all eyes were on the tunnel. Harry scuttled to his seat, eyes down, surrounded by his loyal lieutenants. A few short paces, but the march of an ancient Roman Emperor returning to the city from a successful campaign could not have been greeted as a greater triumph.

The ground sang his name from beginning to end, ‘one Harry Redknapp’, ‘we want you to stay’.  Pause for breath and it was ‘Pardew for England’. As if determined not to be overshadowed, the players proceeded to rip their hapless opponents to shreds. Inspired by a tidal-wave of goodwill, they swamped Newcastle in a breathtaking display of bewilderingly complex movement, stunning pace and ice-cold finishing.

Modric dominated the centre, sinew and artistry in contrast to his team-mate Bale, pace and muscle

Harry waves at me

rampaging through the defence. He and Krancjar swapped sides, Saha became 10 years younger in an instant. Throwing off all those injuries and scars as he drank deep from an elixir of youth. Assou Ekotto strolled up and down the left and was both playmaker and unlikely scorer. And through it all Emmanuel Adebayor provided the focus and vision around which every attack revolved.

Beforehand Redknapp tried to pretend this was business as usual but as the goals went in one by one he was as thrilled by his marvellous side as any fan in the land. He’d created this, a team of all talents that swept away a rival for the coveted top four. Harry’s a tough old bird but he’s seldom seen football this good, and he made it happen. This was beauty, the way the game is supposed to be played. He punched the air after the first goal then quickly sat down to regain his composure. Less than twenty minutes later, number four and he punched the air, a little dad at a wedding dance, part joy, part incredulity, much relief. After a week like he’s had, everything had come right and the expelled tension flowed into the night air. The Lane is home now. He’ll never feel safer.

Everything happened around and because of Adebayor. Four assists plus a sweet delicate chest high volley, it’s hard to believe he’s been out of sorts lately even though his most disappointing game was only 6 days ago. Maybe that’s the sign of a quality professional, that he decided to do something about it. Drifting wide he took the defence with him, leaving the keeper cruelly exposed, as for the opener when Benny had enough room to throw down a picnic blanket and open the hamper at the far post. More central, he held on to it under pressure or toppled sideways, in the act of falling touching back to a team-mate, eye on the ball, mind on the half chance.

His work for the first two goals was masterful, an irresistible combination of skill, pace and precision. He’s top dog here if he plays like this. He has no rival for that position. Rather than making him complacent, that’s where he wants to be, on the pitch and in the dressing room. That’s why we don’t get any disruption from him. This was the definitive modern lone striker and the first half should be used in traingn videos.

We prospered from the stream of crosses and neat balls into channels that came from all sides. Walker, Modric, Bale, Benny, Niko, a few from Parker who for the most part stayed in the background and made sure nothing much happened at the other end. Although Saha was playing off Manu, his instincts take him into the box. Recently I’ve mentioned that if I do have a niggle, it’s about scoring more goals from inside the area and noticeably we had a couple more bodies in there last night. Our second showed the value of how an ageing striker may not have the legs but he has the instinct. Right place right time, only the finest goal scorers make it look that easy. I’ll leave you to the blockbusting blasters from 25 yards. This is my kind of goal. I’ve watched it 20 times on ESPN goals and you now what, I’m pausing for a second to have another look. Oh Harry, you’ve done it again.

Manu and Louis again for the third, back to the goal touch this time, Saha close by. They say it takes time for partnerships to build and develop, but 20 minutes?

Newcastle are shattered and there’s still three-quarters of the game to go.

HR looks worried. This wasn't taken yesterday

Adebayor has pulled them all over the place. Like an old woollen jumper after a downpour, they are sagging and out of shape. Collocinni has no idea what to do but he makes a better effort than the rest of his defence. Our opponents had injuries but no pattern or organisation. Their midfield offered no protection whatsoever and their fullbacks will have nightmares for years to come, in the depths of the night a vision of blurry white shirts rushing past them from all angles. Make it stop, in heaven’s name stop, have mercy! You don’t have to be a first-teamer to stand in the right position but they failed to do even that.

The gaps opened and e filled them, piling into the space at lightening speed from all directions. Saha almost with a hat-trick then Niko followed up.

We drew breath and the second half was bound to be an anti-climax after that. We strolled, largely untroubled although Friedel made one good save, as attentive to his duties as ever. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him on the end of one of those first half crosses, such was our superiority.

I love Harry Redknapp, Harry Redknapp loves me. I think he’ll go but if anything keeps him here, it will be nights like these. The Lane is rocking, the football is delightful and Harry’s heart was pounding. He’s one of us now, and he likes that feeling. He’ll forever be associated with West Ham but Harry, be honest, you never had a night like this one at the Boleyn, now did you?

On a day when the headlines have been dominated by the wretched Suarez and a minority of apologist Liverpool fans who seek to justify his foul, base attitudes, this was the perfect antidote. Football as it is supposed to be. An outstanding, stunning performance.