Mood Swings at Spurs

One of the finest Spurs strikers of modern times tips a bucket of cold water over a man in a chicken suit. Another Glory Glory night at White Hart Lane. For those of you who missed it, the half-time entertainment against Limassol was Chirpy doing the ice bucket challenge, having been nominated by Goonersauraus. People videoed it or rather videoed the video on the big screen. Not quite sure what they expected – Chirpy’s expression didn’t change, surprisingly.

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The match itself was decidedly ordinary, just the way I like it when it comes to these early rounds of the Europa League. Get through it, bit of decent football along the way, no other expectations. And that’s praise by the way – the team were confident, kept their shape and maintained the pressure throughout. Kane scored one but missed several – he seems better when he doesn’t have too much to think, his one and two touch play is better than when he has time on the ball. Developing well but not yet ready to lead the line.

Slightly bizarre to see the AVB attacking set-up with Lennon and Townsend as inverted wingers and Paulinho in the centre. Poch now knows it’s not effective but he could have asked me and saved himself the trouble. My only gripe was that this was a match crying out for width and wingers taking defenders on. In the end our goals came from exerting pressure – twice the Cypriots gave the ball away, the third a penalty – but we created that pressure and well-taken by Kane and Paulinho.

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Good to see so many children with their families, benefiting from reasonable prices in the school holidays. To me a routine win, to them a special occasion that could mean they are fans for life. Spurs are keeping prices down for the Forest cup tie too – I’d designate an area that is even cheaper, just for families. WHam get stick for not filling their ground but they do kids for a quid for some games. It’s an investment that will pay off in the long-term.

When Spurs played Keflavik in the early seventies, I bumped into several pupils from my school, not regulars like me or even Tottenham fans as far as I could tell, who had travelled from west London in the hope of a goal avalanche. No live football on TV in those days, of course, so this was the only way to see the Spurs stars and europe held some magic even if the opposition were part-timers. They weren’t disappointed – Spurs won 9-0. Times have changed. Sides with limited skills like Limassol are impressively well-drilled and dangerous from set pieces but we broke them down without being at our most fluent.

The game may linger in the memory, however, as the final time we see several players who once, not so long ago, represented our future and a healthy one at that. Sandro the beast bossing midfield and terrorising his opposite numbers into submission. He did well enough on Thursday night and let’s not be too presumptuous but the feeling persists that a succession of injuries have permanently deprived him of that precious half a yard that makes the difference between the average and the good, the good and the great. The manager has had a good look at his new charges now and placed Capoue higher up the pecking order with other more mobile players alongside him. Levy will be excited by the fee so that may be that. A shame – I really thought he could be one of our best buys, powerful, skilled and committed. DM for a decade.

We’ve barely got to know Chiriches but rumours of his departure are rife. A ball-playing defender able to turn defence into attack as well as time a tackle perfectly, centre-forwards can out-muscle him too easily when the ball is in the air. I worry though that Kaboul is not fit enough for a season. He’s lost the supple pace that made him stand out. Welcome Favio but with Daws gone we still look short there so maybe Vlad the Paler will stay.

Holtby too – he must know his time is up if he can’t get into the EL home leg starting line-up. He could do with thinking more and running around less but he’s seldom played. I’ve remarked before that in his first year with us, he played only 4 games for 90 full minutes. He came with a good reputation and looked like he had a place in the squad at least but interesting that 4 managers, including Magath at Fulham, were unimpressed. Whether there’s a place for both Lennon and Townsend I’m not sure.

Spurs have gone old school when it comes to transfers – players we know little or nothing about arriving with little or no warning. It’s refreshing to look forward to judging Stambouli, who signed today, on his merits and on the evidence of our own eyes.

It does feel as if he and Favio were not first choices, if the rumours about Schneiderlin and Musacchio have any substance. That’s no bad thing. Pochettino has a clear idea of the type of player he wants. If we can’t get our first choice, try hard then move on. It is an approach that largely seems to have been accepted by the fans and this marks a singifcant change of mood. Since Pochettino took over, I have seen very few comments from supporters along the lines of ‘where are the big signings, Levy get your cheque book out, we need stars to take us to the next level.’ In that respect I can’t recall a transfer window like it and it’s all for the good. There’s a willingness to have realistic expectations and allow an able manager to mould a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Fans are prepared to buy into that, which has not been the case recently.

Perhaps it’s relief and gratitude after Sherwood’s caretakership. It’s gone well so far but the mood may darken if results turn against us. I do sense however that many are looking beyond just the next result. The problem is that with all the upheavals, yet again the manager has to rebuild the side with new players who need time to get to know each other. Let’s get the window out of the way and get on with it. I’m looking forward to it.

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A fond farewell to Michael Dawson, our warrior with a heart. Dawson was a much better defender than most give him credit for. His finest hours were in Europe, backs to the wall and penned deep inside the box versus Milan, he refused to give ground and marked Zlatan out of the game. One late late tackle saved the game.

To play to his strengths, he needed protection from the midfield that seldom came. Not an excuse, just fact. Look at how Terry and Kompany are vulnerable when deprived of a midfield shield. Coming as a makeweight in the deal to bring Andy Reid to transform our midfield, he saw his chance and took it rather than just a hefty pay packet, working hard on his game and in the process developing a genuine loyalty to the club that sadly few have matched. I couldn’t believe the criticism he has recently received from some fans because he wanted to stay and fight for his place.

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His time has come. His lack of pace on the turn left him and Spurs exposed too often, although that long cross-field pass he is derided for – 4 managers all encouraged him to do it so I reckon it can’t have been that bad. It’s a shame none of the other players appear to feel the club’s heritage and bond with supporters so deeply. When he made an error, he used to give himself a good talking to and slap his thighs in part punishment, part encouragement. I loved him, never forgotten.

For more tributes, Adam Powley’s love letter, Windy and Martin Cloake have said it more eloquently than I could.



Spurs: Change Or Continuity?

You think the game has had enough of you when you get to my age. The personnel changes, so does the kit, but they play out the same old dramas of lust, envy and disappointment, the search for trophies, bitterness towards those rivals who succeed where we have failed, the crushing burden of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. And then the next season begins.

Looks like the beautiful game is fluttering its eyelids and flashing come hither glances in our direction once again. This transfer window has been astonishing. The sound of jaws dropping and hitting the floor has been deafening. Our own Good Friday brought three high class footballers to the club, Chiriches,  Lamela and Eriksen to join Paulinho, Capoue, Soldado and Chadli. It’s likely there’s still time for a left-back. In writing that list, I had to stop and remember them all. Chadli seems so long ago now, there’s been so much change, I had to work a bit to get his name.

The Guardian tots that up as an eye-watering £110.5m but remarkably we remain in credit, or at least we will be after Bale is sold. No fairy godfathers, disgraced ex-dictators or russian/arab oligarchs, just Levy the businessman. Ten years of frustration in the market gone in the blink of an eye. Or perhaps they just repaired the fax machine and this is the backlog.

This may be our Good Friday but we may have to wait longer than three days for resurrection (apologies if I have the timescale wrong there but I’m jewish so the details never sunk in). Amidst all the changes there remains a thread of distinct continuity. Soldado aside, all the incoming players are on the make, young men who see coming to Spurs as a step up where they can prove themselves. This has been the template at Tottenham for some time now. The difference is, their baseline, their starting position, is several steps up the graph compared with the past.

They join a manager on the up too, a man who is calm on the outside but is fuelled by a inner furnace of ambition, to prove doubters wrong, to show that his methods work, to achieve through his team the success in football that a man of his meagre playing talent could never fulfil.

The manager’s most important signing is unquestionably Franco Baldini. Going about his business in an admirably low-key manner, his arrival and the influx of young talent cannot be a coincidence. Lamela especially – you wonder if the young Argentinian had ever heard of Tottenham Hotspur let alone believed he could up here, but damn right he knows Baldini.

Spurs fans are suspicious of the role of Director of Football after our experience with Damian Comolli. however, as I have said in previous posts, the main fault lay not so much with individuals but with an unclear management and accountability structure. The Levy-Jol-Comolli triumvirate failed because Levy as head of the company did not set clear demarcation lines about who took transfer decisions, so Jol was coaching with players he either didn’t want or had to fit into his tactics and Comolli took advanatge to go beyond his remit. Villas-Boas on the other hand has players who will fit his system. He coaches, Baldini gets the players. If we have any success in the coming years, that’s the foundation.

By the way, as a rule I don’t say much about players I don’t know well so I don’t pretend I have the encyclopedic knowledge of european football that everyone else in the social media has, apparently. But that you tube highlights video of Lamela…and he’s going to play in a white shirt with the cockerel badge…

Also as in previous years, this team is one for the future. It will take time for everyone to bed in, and just to repeat a simple fact that no doubt will be easily forgotten in the months to come, this is still a pretty young squad. Eriksen and Lamela are inexperienced despite their promise.

With the spending comes the pitfalls of increased expectations. Our Andre won over a media baying for his blood in August but any failings and they will scent weakness once again. The fans have to be patient.

Also, the team spirit at Spurs has been extremely good lately. Changes threaten that, as does the disappointment of not playing regularly, so we have to watch out for what could be a huge change there, especially with so many nationalities now. It may not seem much but these things matter. Villas-Boas is good at this.

However, the signs are positive so far. Thursday night’s victory over Tiblisi was a statement of intent. 8-0 on aggregate is usually described as a stroll but our attitude and performance was anything but. From first to last, we kept playing. The movement was excellent, Holtby and Carroll impressive. It showed players want to play for Villas-Boas and that our manager has his system. We don’t look like a side that is full of new players getting to know each other.

I’ve already mentioned one reason for this, that Villas-Boas has players who fit his way of playing. Another is that he is playing the new guys in roles that are familiar to them. Capoue, Paulinho, Sandro on Thursday (how good to see him back), that defensive midfield position is comfortable like an old wooly jumper. Not just sticking a foot in but starting attacks from deep and sniping in the middle of the field.

That is a key area for any side but especially for us where we have left our back four unprotected in the past, to our cost. It may be ‘one-nil to the Tottenham’ but that’s what the big boys do. United and Chelsea were lambasted for a dull midweek game but both knew the danger of giving ground at this stage in the season.

Spurs fans are long-suffering and accustomed to disappointment. What that means is that we have greeted these signings not with the triumphalism and sense of entitlement that supporters of our London rivals tend to exhibit but with grateful astonishment. No predictions from me, except that this will be one season to look forward to. The game may have given up on me but I’ve never given up on the game as so many fans seem to do these days. I might finally get some reward.

In The End, Levy.

In recent years there has been something about Spurs that causes opinions to become polarised. Harry Redknapp is the prime example of this phenomenon. It seems you can be either a Harry lover or an ‘arry ‘ater, there’s no middle ground. It’s the same for Daniel Levy. No sooner than someone dares to stammer out the merest possibility that there’s both good and bad in his reign at Tottenham, they will be shouted down and cast into one or other of the camps, Levy Luvvers or Levy Loathers. Martin Jol’s time at Spurs provoked a similar split between those who rated his achievements and wanted to give him more time and others who believed he did not have the ability to work at the highest level, although he was never surrounded by the degree of vitriol and bile attached to the Redknapp and Levy debates.

It wasn’t always this way. It makes you long for the good old days when everyone agreed that Graham, Gross and Francis were rubbish. We could all moan together, as one. There was limited acrimony around Hoddle because the realisation that he couldn’t take Spurs to the top was, and still is, mitigated by the fact that he is one of us, the finest Spurs midfielder of modern times. This affection was coupled with the almost desperate hope that he would succeed.

It’s summer and flaming June is named not after the weather but the flaming transfer window with its infernal mix of hope and frustration. We all know that even just a couple of players could enable us to become genuine contenders. The stakes are high but it’s a combustible cocktail, with emotions running high and focussed around Levy’s performance in the market.

This summer has created a new set of divisions, this time between those who frequent social media and those who manage to resist. The mere fact you are reading this blog online and have probably reached it via Newsnow or twitter means that you are in the former group. I think we can all agree it has been a ghastly nightmare, except that at the moment there’s no prospect of waking up and finding it was all a dream. On top of the Bale saga, we also have the bid for Soldado, the mythical striker to lead the chosen people into the promised land, come down to earth in human form. Or was that Benteke? I forget…

If you receive an unsolicited e-mail from a kindly African gentleman congratulating you on your lottery win or cutting you and you alone in on a cast-iron business deal, it’s safe to say that you don’t immediately forward your bank details as requested. So why then believe anything that an ITK says on twitter or on a messageboard. It’s just as unverifiable, yet by rapid repetition it becomes ‘fact’. Lies, misdirection, absurd over-interpretation, there’s no escape. I yearn for predictable tabloid sensationalism in the red tops and on Talksport. You know where you are with that muck. Those of you without a twitter account have missed the endless lengthy debates on the significance of Bale’s picture on the cover of FIFA 14, Soldado’s picture on the club website or the arrival of a Spurs player (Bale) at the training ground of the club he plays for.

As in previous seasons I have sworn not to get into this debate, a sort of evil footballing Seinfeld, famously the sitcom about nothing. However, bloggers write and my pages are empty. Check out Spooky’s excellent series of articles on Dear Mr Levy, a perfect take-down of the whole sorry mess in all its gory detail. The level of expressed anger does worry me. I see perfectly well the reasons for discussion and disagreement, especially in the light of Levy’s record in the market. I am not in favour of him being a spendthrift but he’s failed to bring in those couple of players that could have made (and could still make) a huge difference.

However, the way this debate has been carried on it’s set Spur against Spur. My fear is that this is a consequence of success in the modern era. Demands are stratospheric, competition has never been fiercer and it is instant gratification or nothing. I don’t want us to be like that. We’re different, better.

I don’t want us to spout the vainglorious entitlement that characterises the world-view of any Ch**sea fan who began to support the club since Roman took over, people saying they have washed their hands of the club because we’ve finished fifth and something might, repeat might, happen in the market.

The reality is more basic and familiar, which I suspect readers not hotwired to twitter might better grasp. Step away from the 140 characters, deep breath and this is what I see.

Much of what is going on in this window is normal and unavoidable. We may not like it but that’s the way it is. The most significant change is a positive one: Daniel Levy is backing his manager. Over the last year I’ve criticised Levy for not spending big to buy top quality players at market prices. I admire his prudence but felt he missed a golden opportunity last summer to invest in the team. If it’s money he’s after, the CL could have brought it. Also, with all the top earners like King and Keane having left, he had the freedom to raise the self-imposed salary cap without upsetting the good atmosphere in the squad or destroying the club’s hard-won financial stability. Yet at that crucial moment, he took the risk on Villas-Boas then adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach, in particular cruelly denying him Moutinho, AVB’s man. Our Andre has far exceeded expectations so now at last Levy is getting to work. It remains to be seen if it is too late but the support is there.

The other point I always trot out during windows is that we have competitors. Good players, especially strikers, are popular. Supply is short, demand high. I would have liked to have got the squad sorted for pre-season but these days that is impossible unless you are Manchester City who can pay what they like and chuck their bank statement in the bin without opening it. Arsenal, United, not even Chelsea have got anywhere near concluding their business.

We are no different. Shame but that’s the way it is. This isn’t Football Manager. You don’t put in a bid, have it accepted and fly home with the player. It’s a tortuous and lengthy negotiation, further complicated these days by third-party agreements, medicals and agents’ fees. If we come in with a bid, any self-respecting agent is going to tell his guy to hang on a bit and see who else might be interested. Look at Huigain: Arsenal were ready to spend over £20m, it all looked done and dusted then Napoli trumped the offer by ten or twelve million. The agent takes his cut but the Argentinian and Madrid are delighted they waited. It takes time. At least Levy has put good money on the table.

Bale has only ever been about one thing – Daniel Levy. Doesn’t matter what agents, Real Madrid, Marca say. £60m, £70m, £80m, £85m: hot air. Bid or no bid: irrelevant, we know Real want him. Doesn’t matter if Bale makes a statement or stays silent: agents, managers, chairmen and players misdirect and mislead. Statements can be retracted. We know he’s tempted and frankly who wouldn’t be, but in the end, Levy.

If by this time you are remotely interested, I would keep Bale, at least for another season. Don’t sell your best players. Always been that way, always will, this is no different whatever cash is on the table. If we had the money, we would still have to spend it. We need to avoid the slow starts of recent seasons and get going from the kick-off at Palace and this would delay team-building for another year.

Finally, Bale is no different from any world-class footballer. Transfer gossip will dog his entire career from now on. I intensely dislike the income-generating fabrication and sensationalism that surrounds all this but even without that it would still be in the papers because it’s a real story. One of the world’s best clubs is interested in one of the world’s best players. Unavoidable, especially as he plays for a team outside the Champions League. Even that would make little difference, given his age and that talent. There was talk of PSG putting in a bid for Messi, for goodness sake. Don’t like but that’s the way of the world. It’s in the papers because it is a real story.

New Year, I’m Happy

Domination so complete, I have a crick in my neck from facing in the same direction for too long. Then, finally, Lloris’s bank holiday stroll around his green and pleasant area is rudely interrupted. He saves well, low to his right, two hands. Being alert after long periods of inactivity is another of his many attributes. The reading centre forward has a gaping net but heads the rebound wide. Pressure now, unexpected, unknown since the third minute when he put another bouncing rebound into the net. From the second corner, there’s an almighty schmozzle on the goal line. Legs, bodies, arms raised, accusing glances towards referee and linesman, but play on. A little while later, Dempsey’s celebration is indecently joyful as his deflected shot spirals over a stranded keeper. Spurs’ win is safe, 3-1 now and no way back.

Seasons turn on such short passages of play. Off the line at one end, a lucky goal at the other. If Spurs had dropped any points, it would have been a gross injustice in a match we dominated totally, but whoever said anything about football being fair? For Spurs, not pressing home an advantage and conceding late is not something that could happen, it’s something that does happen. From now until the end of the season, every point will be vital. The pursuit of 3rd and 4th will go the wire. Yet over a successful holiday period, 10 points out of 12 will do and in each of our three wins, we played well in the first half but better in the second, scoring eight second half goals and conceding none.

Our new year is a time to look forward. Without getting carried away on the back of three victories against frankly poor oppositionSpurs blog 88 – Sunderland were limited up front, Reading limited everywhere, Villa just arouse pathos – the signs are all positive. Bearing in mind the fact this team needed major rebuilding over the summer with the loss of both manager and its creative heart, we are moving ahead far more quickly than could be expected. The players are comfortable with each other and with their style of play that at its best offers an outlet for their attacking instincts and at its worst provides a fall-back position of solidity based on hard work. It’s pass and move in the Spurs tradition, easy on the eye and a possession game that’s entirely modern. The proviso is, we keep the tempo high, it’s what suits us best.

It’s significant that almost all of the players have improved in some way since Andre Villas-Boas took over. Fans never truly know what influence coaches have over their charges. However, something’s working. In no particular order, Sandro is a beast of a defensive midfielder who has responded to being his manager’s first choice by becoming an absolute rock. Lennon is having his best season, excellent yesterday. Defoe is scoring, Caulker has stepped easily into this side – I keep reminding myself he only turned 21 last month – while Bale is reaching stratospheric heights as the most dangerous midfielder in the league.

New comers Vertonghen and Dembele look as if they were born to play at the Lane. Their class was evident to whoever scouted them but the way they combine with their team-mates, that’s Villas-Boas again. The Dembele-Sandro axis could be as good a midfield paring as any in the Premier League. Dawson could have been transferred but wants to play and gives everything he has for the team, as does Gallas although his powers are waning not for  want of trying but through the passage of time. Naughton has benefitted from having a few matches in a row, which also means we can rotate at the back. Dempsey has finally found his place after a sticky start, hence his celebration yesterday. All this without Parker and Kaboul, our best centre half.

Of the rest, none has been a disaster. Sigurdsson has taken time to settle, a better game yesterday but best as an impact sub to ensure the tempo stays high towards the end of games. Huddlestone has not picked up the pace that’s required. Walker needs guidance and perhaps some firm words about how to defend, while Adebayor, once the missing link up front, has become the weak link with a series of ineffective performances.

Again, his manager has kept faith in him, seeing the value of giving his choices several games to find their feet rather than chopping and changing every weekend. His patience was rewarded with a classic far post headed goal yesterday. In the first half Manu walked back to the halfway line bewildered after weakly heading wide. This time, he tucked Lennon’s glorious cross into the narrow gap between keeper and post. Strikers thrive on goals and the match was delayed as Manu milked it, eventually emerging from a heap of celebrating team-mates who also realised the value of that goal went way beyond putting Spurs 2-1 up. He looked to the heavens and crossed himself. This has got to be the way forward for religion too. Perhaps after a particularly good service the pope and his cardinals could spontaneously pile on top of each other in front of the altar.

Time rushes by as it does for older people like me but it doesn’t seem that long ago since the season began. Yet the media coverage at the time feels like ancient history. Villas-Boas was incompetent. Couldn’t handle players. Creates an atmosphere. Disharmony among the players was rife according to several tabloid journalists. They could not be more wrong. The players clearly want to play for him, for Spurs.

I’ve deliberately not mentioned Hugo Lloris, destined to be one of the finest Tottenham goalkeepers in modern times. Then, the papers had a hotline to Didier Deschamps and printed how unsettled he was even before he was actually fit to play. Now, his gradual introduction into the side appears a masterstroke of man-management and he’s been able to extend the redoubtable Brad Friedel’s contract. Lloris is sharp and agile on his line and seeks to dominate his area, which in turn means we play a back five, him included.

Yesterday we were unperturbed after that early setback, settled into our rhythm, kept the ball and kept probing. Dembele was back on top form after a few quiet games. The way he drops his shoulder and is gone is a sight of subtle beauty. This big man can disappear, at least as far as his marker is concerned. Sandro’s strength and Reading’s inability to get the ball forward – it seemed like they went for half an hour without holding onto the ball in our half and Lloris did not have a save to make until late in the second half – gave him the freedom to stay forward where he is dangerous.

Without Bale, suspended for the new offence of being too quick and too good, we lacked width. Naughton did well throughout but is very right-footed so we were narrow at times. As the half ended, we gave the Reading keeper shooting practice with a succession of efforts from too far out but come the second we upped the pace and put more balls into the box.

We begin the new year in 3rd place, albeit having played two more games than Chelsea, but the optimism is real. There’s plenty more work to do. Although we have beaten United we have lost to all the teams in top four contention bar West Brom, who I think will not quite keep up. It’s not so long ago when we were conceding stupid late goals and we still can’t defend a lead with total confidence. Nor do we convert our many chances as often as we should. We get more men into the box these days, finally answering my whinging about this problem that has gone on over the life of this blog, but on crosses especially we should pile into the six yard box not hang back.

In the window, Tottenham On My Mind will do everything in its power to retain the status of The Blog That Knows Nothing (TKN) and will stay resolutely ITK free. But we need a striker from somewhere. If Adebayor goes to Africa and Defoe is injured, that’s it! If Moutinho is available, I would buy him even if we pay over the odds. Buy two players and it will make all the difference.

We have to take the long view. An interesting piece in the papers recently suggested that Levy did not fully back his new manager in the market in the summer, preferring to wait and see how he does. Whilst I’m not entirely sure that is a ringing vote of confidence exactly, Villas-Boas has shown more than enough potential to be worthy of greater investment. He deserves the backing of his chairman. Looking ahead, this summer we will be again be vulnerable to bids for Bale, Sandro and others if we are not in the Champions League or have not won anything.  The squad is young and like its manager still developing. The potential is rich and we must do all we can to see it fulfilled.

Happy New Year to everyone who takes the time and trouble to read this old-fashioned one-man no ads labour of love blog, especially those of you who add to the rich debate in the excellent comments section. You are a select bunch but I’m genuinely touched by the number of regular readers from all over the world who come back every week. I’m deeply grateful.