Monday, 28 September 2015

Finding the Groove is one thing...

... But keeping it is another.

Spurs have shown a few times in recent years the flare of the dynamic Redknapp year(s), except on Saturday what they did was in many ways leaps and bounds ahead of what you would have expected Bale, Modric, VDV and co to have done because these were kids, products of youth academies, as are most footballers, but these are playing on one of the toughest stages in the world and beating the world beaters.

Last year, Kane and co., disposed of Chelsea in a similar cavalier fashion, but the defence last year had pockets that got picked, a lot. Against an arguably much better Man City side, Spurs came back from a seemingly desperate situation - they might have only been 1-0 down, but they were second best to City in almost every department, while, remarkably, not looking half bad - City were just up for it and if it hadn't been for Captain Marveaux Hugo Lloris, we could have been 3 or 4 down and finding out just how much character this young team has.

Instead, the rub of the green evened out and we got a goal from a position that should have been a free kick for the opposition and Eric Dier continued to silence the people who don't believe he has the ability to be a holding midfielder with a cracking, skidding, half-volley that pinged in off the post and you know what they say about a goal on the stroke of half-time?

Over the last couple of years, I hate to admit it, but this is a fixture I tend to make sure I'm out for. The number of times in recent years I've checked my phone and my heart has sunk at the amount of goals we've shipped. This year, the early kick off meant I had no real excuse, so I sat down to the second half expecting a rear-guard action and probably us losing valiantly to an injury time winner from Toure or bloody Raheem Sterling and the second half started exactly how I expected it, except... instead of sitting back, we took the game to City and started probing them with a lot of unexpected forward balls.

There was a point at 2-1 when instead of panicking I watched the dodgy feed and thought, "we're going to tear them apart; they look utterly lost." And that's what happened; the 4-1 score line actually could have been more had the linesman been consistent and allowed Son's offside goal and the hapless City keeper not actually done his job a couple of times. The other thing that made me happy was our substitutions seemed to benefit from the team playing so well, because N'Jie looks a dazzling proposition and suddenly the question marks over our goalscoring capabilities are forgotten.

The performance was stunning and now, the question a lot, if not most, of the supporters are thinking is 'can we keep it up?' This has always been the problem with Spurs, but let's just have a look at the improvement. They were the better side at Old Trafford and lost by an own goal; they ran out of steam against Stoke and Leicester were arguably the better side but they came away with a difficult point. The Sunderland and Palace victories might have been 1-0 but both of them were, shout it, victories, and as The Arse will contest, any victory is 3 points.

So far the team looked like it was in need of clicking; there were good individual performances but also mistakes and you have to expect that from any team at the start of the season and more savvy teams will benefit not just from that but also from lapses of concentration that a younger side might be more prone to do, especially when they're coasting to victory. When it has clicked the team have looked good, they just haven't finished moves and that led to the single striker furore when the transfer window closed. I think we saw as near as damn it Pochettino's starting 11 on Saturday and it's going to be tough for Mason and Bentaleb to break back into that when they're fit, because Deli Alli plays with an assurance that belies his age (he's 19) and Eric Dier looks the part more and more every game and all that must thrill Roy Hodgson.

In fact, watching Spurs must really please any advocate of playing youth and watching them succeed; because let's not dismiss this win, it was a crushing defeat for a would-be champion side and it was done with a style that would have made the casual observer think that it was Spurs who would be there in May and not City. There have been false dawns aplenty in my life as a Spurs fan, but there is something extremely likeable about this young side and something that teams are going to start fearing. A top 4 spot is a long way away, but if teams such as Liverpool and especially Chelsea don't start stringing together results and we do, then two of our rivals for that spot will be playing catch up and against this hungry and ambitious bunch of kids that's not going to be easy.

It's the 'inferior' opposition they need to worry about; because if teams don't give players like Lamela the room to prove his worth the frustrations mount again. Pochettino needs to address our weakness in being unable to consistently beat teams we should be beating, specifically at home. It would be nice to turn White Hart Lane into a fortress just once before we move to the new stadium and that will only happen if they don't get complacent against sides they think they should be beating. That's the final - missing - piece in the jigsaw and none of the previous managers have been able to find it.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


The transfer window has slammed shut again and this time around it has been more the deals that didn't happen that dominate the news headlines. There are five teams that have been highlighted for their failures in the window - Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Real Madrid. The first and the last are in the news because of the David De Gea debacle, the other three have been criticised for their lack of transfer activity. Chelsea bought a bunch of people, loaned a bunch out and not one pundit thinks they've had a good window. Arsenal bought one player - just one - a world class goalkeeper (possibly). Spurs played hardball and got shafted - karma's wheel and all that...

Let's start with Man Utd. I'm going to buck the trend here and suggest this was possibly the best bit of transfer business done all window. Look at De Gea - he's out of contract next summer and will leave (unless he signs a new contract which is unlikely), but what was on offer was a lot of money and a keeper who isn't world class. What was also on offer was Man Utd's best player of the last two years going to one of United's main Champions League rivals - they might not win this competition but they weren't about to help the favourites for it increase their own chances. De Gea wants to be Spain's keeper in next year's Euros, to ensure that he needs to be playing and playing well, so United get their star keeper back for another season and it gives them a year to identify (and tap up) the replacement. There are lots of disgruntled people and journalists looking at the blame game and how this has been a joke; I think LVG and the United board have been shrewd - it's not like a club like Man Utd can't afford to lose a transfer fee if it means the money will come from another source.

Chelsea - apparently stole Pedro from under Man U's noses and he is likely to be a good acquisition. The rest just seemed to confirm that Chelsea want more players than they'll ever need and will loan them strategically so they barely have any impact against the main team. Chelsea are complacent and have a sense of self-belief that is being shaken by events - they will come good and shouldn't be written off. The season is only four games old.

Arsenal are coming in for more criticism than Spurs, yet on paper you wouldn't write this team off at the moment. Some major clubs stutter at the start of the season because the opposition are playing for impetus - the quality Arsenal have will shine through faster than you think and by Christmas, when the next window is about to open, Arsenal will have made light of their inactivity.

Spurs and the reasons for why they are where they are at the moment is clear - despite what has been said, Spurs are treading water and the stadium and development of Northumberland Road has now become the most important thing on Daniel Levy's mind. Had the management been clear that the next few years would be tough and depend on academy graduates there would have been a backlash but we would have known and it would have been a kick in the teeth but it would have at least given us some hope that someone in the club sees quality in the ranks and enough to ensure that a top half is ensured. But they didn't and we are short in key positions because the club wanted to get rid of all of its deadwood.

To face the next few months with what is essentially a threadbare squad is quite frightening. Spurs have had an indifferent start to the season, drawing three and losing to an own goal at Old Trafford. The next three league games could be tough - Sunderland away could be a banana skin waiting to happen because Sunderland are already fighting for their lives. Crystal Palace at home would have been considered a banker once upon a time, but Pardew has worked wonders at the club and now they're not even thought of as relegation fodder; they have also had a good start to the season and they have some momentum. Then it's Man City in Manchester and the Spurs side made up of mainly hot prospects will be pushed, pulled and possibly torn apart, especially if early goals are conceded. During this period we also start the Europa League and play Arsenal in the League Cup - it is an incredibly crucial period for this young side and if it doesn't go right for them then heads will drop. We will see whether Pochettino has what it takes to turn things around - history suggests he might struggle.

The newest additions - Clinton N'Jie and the Korean (whose name will eventually roll off my tongue and into the keyboard) are really nothing special - I say this because neither has played in the Premiership and at Spurs we know the term 'bedding in' better than most - we are the bedding club. That leaves Spurs with one recognised striker and a possible 60 odd games this season and the Euro Championship following in the summer, if Kane remains in Roy's plans.

The fact that Spurs are going into the next few months with Erik Lamela still at the club fills people with a lot of dread. His contributions to the team have been less significant than some of the club's most famous flops and the fact that Pochettino wants to keep him says more about Levy's lack of backing him than anything else. Arsenal fans are almost apoplectic about their club's inactivity, but they have a bloody decent starting XI and a fair few fringe players who would walk into most teams; Spurs have potential and little else.

As a fan I've watched clubs that historically are not serious competition to Spurs and their aspirations buy players with Champions League quality and early enough to hit the ground running. I've watched this largely inexperienced Spurs throw leads away and threaten but not score against quality teams that know how to play against predictable formations and systems.

But it is early days and we were never going to threaten for the title so the setbacks and dropped points need some perspective. Two of the 'nailed on' top four teams are just above us and realistically clubs like Palace, Leicester and Swansea should start to even out and slip down the table - the natural order is expected to assert itself... but... could this season throw up some shocks for a change? Will complacency have devastating effects on some of the top clubs? The table will make interesting reading at Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Bale Legacy (A Joke That Keeps on Giving)

2012 was a horrible year in footballing terms (although it was a pretty miserable year weather-wise too). For Spurs fans it started impossibly and finished dreadfully. The 2011/12 season began with two straight defeats, Harry Rednapp's revolution had stuttered to a halt. There were problems with Luka Modric's attitude and the midfield maestro was engineering a move to Real Madrid.

By January, Spurs were 3rd and had put some distance between them and the teams challenging for a Champions League place. February saw the arrival of a much better Newcastle team than we currently see playing and any doubts Spurs fans had about the rather underwhelming signing of Louis Saha (on a free from Everton) to reinforce our chances of finishing in the top 3 were blown away as he and Emanuel Adebayor ably assisted by Gareth Bale tore Newcastle several new arseholes - five to be precise.

Match of the Day that night were seriously talking about the team challenging for the title - even perennial Spurs hater Paul Merson accepted that Rednapp's team, already playing beyond their supposed ability could upset the apple cart. Then several things happened - John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand and while you could argue that the thuggish EDL-like Chelsea captain's outburst has nothing to do at all with their North London neighbours it was the fallout that did us.

Fabio 'Beaker' Capello quit as England manager. The press installed Harry Rednapp as odds-on favourite to succeed him. There had already been problems between the genial media luvvy and his hard-nosed chairman and when 'Arry was acquitted for tax evasion, it opened the door for a departure from Spurs. Except it didn't pan out the way it should have. Daniel Levy demands something for nothing most times and despite Rednapp being at the end of a contract he had been eager to renegotiate, Levy started talking about compensation. What should have happened was Levy should have let him go for nothing with the proviso that he stayed to oversee Spurs big challenge.

That might not have changed the script. Spurs had a scant squad to rely on and the moment Capello quit and Rednapp didn't rule himself out the team dipped. They ended up turning a 9 point lead into a scramble for 4th place only to see their dream smashed by Chelsea (who finished 6th) winning the Champions League and preventing Spurs from taking the place in a competition it had earned.

Rednapp went. Spurs looked to the man responsible for first half of Chelsea's downfall season - Andre Villas Boas - as the man to rebuild Spurs into a serious challenger. The first thing AVB did was keep Gareth Bale, the second thing was to hand the Welshman a free rein - he had no specific position, he was a roaming attacking midfield-striker and this was the best and worst thing AVB did during his awful tenure at the club.

Bale had a season to remember and single-handedly helped Spurs to a 5th place finish with a record amount of points. The thing was most fans were puzzled - without Bale (through injuries mainly) Spurs were were pretty woeful and that 5th place finish was largely down to the teams under them really under-performing.

Then the inevitable happened. As Real Madrid's unofficial feeder club (we had a 'special' arrangement with them that never seemed to be reciprocated) Levy got a world record fee for the man he knew he was going to sell before the previous season ended. He sent AVB's DoF out to find not just a replacement for Bale but a new team to suited the coach's methods. In came: Erik Lamela, Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and a bunch of others who all seemed to fit with the ethos that was being adapted. However, the net spend was actually less than had been received and with the TV money, ENIC took a healthy profit to their bank account.

AVB's second season started okay, nothing spectacular but some heavy defeats to Man City and Liverpool prematurely ended his reign. There were lots of reasons given but hostility from fans and the press put too much pressure on the young man. In came Tim Sherwood from the backroom staff - he was instantly disliked, despite helping to improve the team - goals were being scored and the team played with some of the verve fans had been treated to in 2011/12. But he was always a stop gap and arguably wouldn't have kept his job if he'd won something or finished 4th.

With the exception of Eriksen, the Bale money was increasingly looking like a really bad investment. They needed a season to bed in. They needed a coach to play to their strengths. There were more excuses than there were flops.

The inevitable manager merry-go-round resulted in us reverting to the DoF model and we signed Mauricio Pochettino from Southampton - a forward thinking, less dislikeable version of AVB. He was Argentinian - which surprisingly rings good in Spurs' fans minds (Ossie, Ricky, even Tarricco who was rubbish) and he was highly regarded, despite having zero success anywhere and a really bad second season with Espanyol.

MoPo got Eriksen playing so well he became our new Modric. Chadli scored goals and ... um... er... Erik Lamela scored that fantastic rabona in the Europa League and not much else. The Bale replacements didn't come on - Soldado, as good as he was, was incapable of hitting a cow's arse with a banjo while wearing a Spurs shirt and as time dragged on we witnessed Spurs destroy the career of yet another good footballer.

MoPo's first season was a success. He took the team to 5th, but largely because neither Liverpool nor Southampton (MoPo's old club, now playing even better despite half the team and coaching staff having been sold and replaced - thus proving you can bring a bunch of players in and integrate them quickly) could be arsed. Despite only being 6 points behind 4th the gulf had widened, especially now that Man Utd had returned from their year off and Liverpool sold Luis Suarez, their own version of Gareth Bale.

MoPo brought kids in and they looked like good prospects. Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason and especially Harry Kane were first choices ahead of all those expensive Bale replacements. However, it didn't disguise the fact that for all the better football they were playing they were still fragile, mentally incapable of taking their game up to a level that makes a top 4 team. The team won or drew games from losing positions so often that it became clear that fitness and determination were much improved, but they also capitulated a number of times and lost or drew games they really shouldn't have. The problems weren't just the top 4 teams, but relegation threatened and mid-table teams; it was like the team went into these games expecting to win and we, as viewers, soon discovered that any team deciding to 'have a go' could disrupt MoPo's system and unsettle the team enough to make them ... not pushovers, but an easy lay (perhaps).

Season over, Spurs still had the same manager and now MoPo had his own scouting guru. Baldini's tenure is drawing to a close and five of the seven Bale replacements have been sold and the club didn't lose its shirt on them either. Spurs also got rid of some more deadwood and now the squad had a lean and youthful feel to it. By June they had already signed another defender - Kevin Wimmer from Austria - a prospect surely as he had a lot of people in front of him to play centre back. Then Toby Alderwiereld, the Belgian utility defender, joined and we also signed Keiron Trippier from Burnley, a reasonably nippy right back to join the growing ranks of right backs at the club. I remember AVB/Baldini seemingly signing a host of defensive midfielders, MoPo has a thing for right backs it seems. Andre DeYedlin seems like he was bought to appease the US market, whether he'll ever play for the team again is a doubt, especially as Kyle Walker appears to have been given a kick up the arse.

On paper the club appears to have a lot of midfield players, but of the 13 listed, one hasn't got a squad number (Aaron Lennon) and five are new academy graduates who have spent a lot of time on loan in lower leagues. Half of those that remain do not appear to be in MoPo's starting XI plans - this includes the mind-boggling Erik Lamela, a man who is one of MoPo's most consistent players - he is consistently rubbish.

The season started and there was a dearth of quality in the ranks and an obvious huge hole up front. With Soldado released from his personal hell and Adebayor without a squad number, the only striker on the books was Harry Kane, who this time last year was almost sent on loan, again.

This MoPo team instigated its high pressing game and at times looked quite comfortable. Man Utd at Old Trafford for the opener was possibly a blessing - Van Gaal's team misfired a lot in his first year and early doors they were a team to get something from - as Swansea found out last year. The opening 20 minutes showed a lot of promise, despite alarm bells ringing all around as Spurs fans scrutinised our squad and saw it wanting. Then they scored against the run of play and it was game over. We never really looked like scoring, even in the last few minutes when they seemed to wake up and realise they still could salvage something.

There were bad reactions from some fans; The Guardian and Independent web sites were littered with doom-sayers and people questioning everything. Calm was called for; it was far too early to be condemning the side. And it was Man Utd, after all.

Stoke arrived with its growing list of ex-Barcelona players and footballers that no one in the Spurs crowd would have turned their nose up at. By half-time Spurs were 2-0 up. They weren't cruising by any stretch of the imagination, but if you get a second goal on the stroke of half-time after soaking up Stoke pressure for ten minutes, you expect to come out in the second half facing a team that half thinks it's already beaten. So, it was no surprise it ended 2-2 and to a chorus of boos from the fickle home crowd.

There have been some glaring 'problems' staring at us. Eric Dier, a hot defending prospect, has been played at right back - he didn't like it - and now as the holding midfielder in what appears to be a sort of rotating 4-1-1-3-1 that transforms into a 3-5-1-1 on the offence. Dier drops back to cover for the roving full backs. Dier isn't a ball player compared to any of the people Spurs sold who could play in that position. In fact they sold their best defensive midfielder when AVB arrived and replaced him with rubbish. Tom Huddlestone might not be a contender now, but he had a season at Hull that got people talking about him playing for England again - Steve Bruce brought the brilliant player we saw when we bought him from Derby.

The fact that there is no recognised striker after Kane seems to be reason people are blaming on the points thrown away against Stoke, but I think (having watched the game) that once Kane and then Mason went, the two most passionate players in our team, on the day, were taken off and that took the fight out of the team and put it on the bench. If the game had been five minutes longer we would have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, again.

The same frailties are there - the ones we complain about every bloody year, the capitulations, the failure to see a game out, the introduction of subs who are to the detriment of the team at that moment rather than slotting in seamlessly. The football is a bit more attractive, but the more cavalier the team get, the greater the chance of the opposition scoring. The team's heads drop if things don't go according to plan and that has been a fault for as long as I've watched this team. The problem is having a plan is great, but you need other, back-up, plans if the one you choose is being turned over. MoPo hasn't got a Plan B that doesn't plunge the team into calamity.

Clinton N'Jie (pronounced Jai - No N) has been brought from Lyon. He's 22 and another hot prospect. He can play on the wings, is fast and can double up as a striker - but it isn't his natural position as his 9 goals for Lyon last season proved - 7 of them were scored when he was played wide right or left. He is very quick, but he fits in with the inverted winger system that MoPo still hasn't realised is utterly predictable and easy to defend. He has youth on his side - but so does Erik Lamela - and yet I wouldn't be at all surprised if he doesn't start for a few weeks, if at all; after all, we've only played one of our new signings so far.

Talk is of buying Saido Berahino from WBA. He is Kane's strike partner for the England U21 team and he scores goals, but in reality this is a guy who wants £100k a week and Kane is on £65k and he's vice captain, I thought this was the press who are driving this story, but apparently we've made a bid for him.

Rumours did have us buying Juventus's Fernando Llorente, except he's 30, no longer first choice at the Old Lady; Spanish and Opta ratings put him way behind Soldado. Charlie Austin appears to be too expensive (and I think he's a step back; not as good as people think and is injury prone) and then there's a desert of nothing. We can't go to some clubs because they want something more in return - if Man Utd sold Hernandez to us, who I believe would do a job, they'd want some kind of deal in place for Hugo Lloris or even Harry Kane. Others wouldn't come to us because the reality of Champions League football grows dimmer with each passing day and will disappear if money isn't spent between now and the end of the window. but that begs the question WHY are we doing business so late again? Why wasn't the manager given the players he needed for pre-season; why does Levy always leave us to play catch up?

Next up is Leicester City, a team who were written off pre-season because of their lack of ambition in hiring Claudio Ranieri and the loss of Estaban Cambiasso - the ageing midfield general Spurs could probably do with. Yet Leicester sit joint top - two wins from two and brimming with confidence. They are at home and will be looking to continue the rich vein of form that saw them easily escape relegation and now look like a genuine top half of the table team (plus they have money - lots of money). What fans would have believed was at least a narrow win has now become a 'let's hope we get a point' and what makes it worse is if Spurs do lose it plunges the team into a confidence crisis, because so many of them are so young.

It was an unbelievably poor start to the season that saw the end of Juande Ramos - he had taken Martin Jol's sturdy and dependable team and turned it into spineless walkovers. This is only MoPo's second second-season club and all the promise he showed in Spain was undone by an unscrupulous chairman; Espanyol flirted with the drop and he was sacked. Had he not had friends on the South Coast, the Southampton job might never have happened. The similarities - on paper - with Espanyol cannot be ignored even if there isn't the tension or lack of patience for him at the moment, but if Leicester turn us over and the in-form Everton continue their impressive run of form against us then we could go into the International break with just one point from a possible 12 and could be 11 points behind the leading pack, who we have aspirations to be among.

MoPo complains about consistency but with that he just joins a club of previous managers who have failed to understand why Spurs are just so ... Spursy. I also think he plays with fire a lot - showing Levy on the pitch that he needs more: playing the kids over the expensive signings; playing Kane and substituting him when there was absolutely no replacement; refusing to work with Lennon or Adebayor (two of the older regime's lads) and making thinly-veiled remarks about the need to recruit while complaining about the transfer window closing almost a month into the season. I heard an alternative take on this, but whether it's clever PR or a genuine bit of covert wheeling and dealing it smacks of experimentation at a time when experiments are for teams that face oblivion.

MoPo's pre-season press conference emphasised the need to finish top 4 and the intention of using the Europa League as a bedding in ground for his younger players. Half of that assertion is already looking forlorn and desperate.

What can happen?

The realist in me knows the decline started in 2012 - I had never seen a Spurs side play like world beaters before and I doubt I will again in my life. That's a sad forecast given that I'm only 53, but there are circumstances that many fans refuse to accept. The new stadium is costing a fortune; FFP means that even if ENIC could throw money at the club we'd struggle to justify it; Levy has been burnt so often in the past, I don't think he trusts the judgement of anyone but himself and naturally (and not a criticism) he needs to think about balancing the books especially when £100 million worth of 'talent' doesn't deliver and the new boss wants shot of them.

I think MoPo is safe for the time being despite the fact that I don't believe Spurs now believe that a top four spot is remotely achievable. They haven't got the quality (nor the depth) to seriously challenge and a top 6 spot would suffice because even if the Europa League is nothing but a burden for the club it does pay its way even if it is totally detrimental to the team's domestic season.

Only a catastrophic run of form would start Levy panicking - such as Juande Ramos had - or a couple of 4 or 5 goal thrashings when the fans who haven't already made up their minds come off the fence and call for the manager's head - which, of course, would just lead to the same thing happening again (and probably again). Whether MoPo is the right man for the job isn't really an issue at the moment (unless they fall apart), what is is keeping the bills down while ensuring that a top half finish is achieved between now and moving into the new stadium and then waiting around for enough money to come in to up the wages bill accordingly.

The Europa League hasn't yet started for Spurs and most fans who still look at us being able to break into the top 4 will be hoping that all those 'extra' players in the first team squad play to leave the first team fresh for the following Sunday's exertions. It depends on the kind of group we're drawn into - as top seeds we should get at least two 'easy' clubs, sides capable of being beaten by a team of academy graduates and squad players. The problems start if MoPo does play the squad players and they fail to make any impression, requiring him to bring in the first team squad to try and qualify for the knockout stages. And what of the striker? Do we really expect Harry Kane to play 60 odd matches this season - with the Euros at the end of it? With no other 'proper' striker on the books, scoring goals against inferior Albanian opposition might become tough.

There's this joke that surfaces whenever Spurs lose to an 'inferior' side. You see it appear on noticeboards and blogs - Spurs in Crisis - and I am beginning to believe that is exactly where the club is at the moment. I think there are question marks beginning to appear over the head coach; I think Levy's patience is getting shorter despite the five year contract and his reluctance to do much in the transfer market isn't because he's scared of spending money, it's because there are no obvious cheap alternatives and spending in excess of £20million is asking for another Roberto Soldado. Worst of all, I think there are all kinds of existential problems within the squad. There is another joke that does the rounds - 'It's only Spurs, lads' suggesting they have no spine, no steel and will capitulate if you hit them hard enough and that assertion isn't there unless there's some truth in it and if there is truth in it then it will get to the players.

I can imagine the captain of a side 2-0 down at half-time to Spurs just casually mentioning to certain Spurs players in the tunnel about their propensity for throwing away leads when they should kill games off and it sows the seed.

I also think the team has bags of confidence but can't hold it when faced by a team that fight for every ball. For a while we looked like we had adapted the ethos of the relegation battlers when they play us - harry them until they break, but faced with resilient opposition confidence turns to self-doubt and 30% of their game is lost. AVB questioned the team's mentality and was castigated for it. MoPo did the same after a couple of pathetic performances last season and this time people nodded sagely. This has made the team targets, even more so than ever before, because every Premier league manager will be saying to their team ten minutes before kick off, "It's just Spurs." He doesn't need to say anything else. Losing 2-0 at half time his message is the same.

Spurs haven't gone a season in the Premier League where they haven't lost at least one game to a team that gets relegated. Martin Jol's famous Lasagne-gate team didn't throw 4th away because of a last day defeat at Upton Park, they lost it by dropping 11 points to teams that were relegated. I have a long enough memory to remember the season where Nottm Forest did the double over Spurs in a season when they finished bottom with just a handful of wins. Capitulating to 'rubbish' teams isn't exclusive to Spurs, but no other team make such a consistent habit of it.

MoPo bemoans a lack of consistency, but he's not looking at it from the right perspective. Spurs are probably the most consistent team outside of the top 4 - they consistently confound. They are consistent at being inconsistent and when they do get some consistency Levy comes along and changes everything again. You cannot deny what this man has done for the club, you also can't deny that there are aspects of his style that infuriate and cause nothing but head scratching and anger. The alternative is Arab or Oligarch and the jury is out whether Spurs' fans really want that.

Simply put, fans who expect top four football are going to have a long season, punctuated by the inevitable defeat of Chelsea or Arsenal to rekindle those beliefs until the following week when Bournemouth or Sunderland turn us over. It's an up and down trip and will remain that way for at least three more years. MoPo is now a caretaker manager, he's running a team that won't be ambitious in the transfer market and will not seriously challenge in the league and it will probably stay that way until we move into the new stadium and start generating more money. This is the reality. Top four will always be just out of our reach, post mortems will point to dropped points, probably at home, to teams who didn't roll over and the same questions, fears and anger will rise again.

Welcome to mediocrity and mid-table safety again. If you can you need to move on or wait for the future to eventually arrive, then you have to give it another three years before you start seeing big changes and if ENIC are still in charge there could be 15 clubs ahead of us, with more spending power, that we need to overhaul. It could be ten years before Spurs fans can realistically think about being top 4 challengers again, but if things don't change in the areas that are obviously problems, it could be another 54 years before they win anything meaningful.

Further reading:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

End of Season Report Card

The least obvious talking point of this Premier League season, from my POV, is why the press hasn’t had the knives out for Mauricio Pochettino the way they did for AVB and Tim Sherwood, his two predecessors at Tottenham Hotspur.

I suppose a League Cup Final appearance kept the dogs at bay and the fact that Spurs have been there or thereabouts for most of the less important part of the season. Not that they weren’t when AVB was at the helm or when loudmouth Tim was caretaker; it’s like the press gave Daniel Levy their approval and have held off of the speculation even if they haven’t the criticism.

Reading press reports of the season so far suggests a Jekyll and Hyde team that has been capable of, finally, beating some of the big boys, but has been sadly lacking at times, offering poor displays and leaving a lot of fans scratching their heads. We have again been suffering from targeting all the cups with the same intent as the highest league finish – and why shouldn’t they; it’s not just for a pay cheque but for glory, especially when you play for a team that has a reasonable chance of some minor success.

For all the manager’s sometimes baffling selections and faith in kids, many Spurs fans will feel the team has arguably fallen short of some their expectations. It needs to be pointed out that however vehement or ridiculous an expectation is, it is just passion that dictates it. It’s the hope that kills us is a term often used by Spurs fans.

So, what did I make of a season that has yielded Europa League football yet again and what did I make of the players and how they rated.

Hugo Lloris – doesn’t ever get the recognition he deserves because of the younger De Gea, Courtois and Hart, but he’s almost the star performer in a team that needed his consistency. He saved a great number of points and has been the rock in a fragile defence, which until recently doesn’t seem to have found the right combination. 8/10

Michel Vorm – did what was required when needed. Fills me with the kind of dread that Gomez did. I hope he isn’t the designated replacement should Lloris go for glory, next season, which is earlier than I expect. 5/10

Kyle Walker – has always worked well with Aaron Lennon and the work they did on the right was never reflected in assists or goals, but they did so much more to give the team balance. Lennon’s isolation has been to the detriment of Walker and the fact he’s played while not fully fit and injured suggests that right back is a problem position for us. 5/10

Vlad Chiriches – plays like he thinks he’s a cross between Davids Bentley and Beckham; reminds me of the former much more in terms of impact. The way he plays it’s like he’s angling for a defensive midfielder role but has far too many basic errors in his armoury to be anything other than a desperate measure. 3/10

Eric Dier – shows his age but has been a plus. Reminds me of John Terry, but his lack of experience and wisdom suggests he has untimely errors in him and needs to be played sensibly; injuries and inconsistency of others have propelled him into the team faster than I would have expected. Much promise. 7/10

Younis Kaboul – club captain and now nothing more than a fringe player. Hasn’t come back from bad injuries the way you would have hoped and while he has the enthusiasm, I don’t think the body is willing any longer. Would do a good job for a Championship team. 3/10

Jan Vertonghen – if there are confidence players then there are happiness players and Jan is this to a tee. He is a world class defender when he is happy and he’s a liability and a bad influence on the dressing room when he isn’t. He needs to play and he could be a leader. The manager made a mistake not making him captain. 6/10

Freddy Fazio – is the curate’s egg of our defence; he is both excellent and rubbish in equal measure. I can’t make my mind up; he has no pace but he reads a game well; if he had both he’d be a great defender. 4/10

Ben Davies – has suffered from the positive form of Danny Rose. Looks solid and a good buy which confounds the reasons for giving Rose a new 5-year contract, unless the plan is to move Rose into midfield/wing.  One for the next few seasons and could be as important for us as Leighton Baines is for Everton. 6/10

Danny Rose – offers a lot of what BAE offered but is error prone and finds himself out of position a lot. He’s been reasonably consistent and grew into his role until injury hit him. 6/10

Paulinho – I have never rated him and I struggle to see what he brings to a side – a very unBrazilian player who simply disappears in matches and even his work off the ball has to be questioned. A real enigma, but equally a player who, like Roberto Soldado, is in a team that doesn’t play to his strengths. An awful signing. 1/10

Etienne Capoue – is a good player, he’s not for us. Bad signing. Doesn’t work for the team and that showed by his disappearance from the match squad. 1/10

Ryan Mason – there’s no disputing his heart, but technically he simply isn’t top class – a good squad player but nothing more and his failings are often highlighted but hidden by his willingness and work rate. He’s the weak link in the midfield that has been favoured by the manager largely since the New Year. I don’t rate him; I hope I’m wrong. 5/10

Nabil Bentaleb – could be our Patrick Vierra and is improving all the time. He’s young, he’s entitled to some mistakes and he works his arse up to make up for them. One of the bright future stars of Spurs, especially if he continues to develop. 7/10

Nacer Chadli – the stats don’t lie, but is he really all he’s cracked up to be? Is his form too inconsistent and does he offer enough? I struggle to see him as more than a squad player, but who am I? Needs to show more grit and steel in midfield. 5/10

Benjamin Stambouli – who? Going? 2/10

Christian Eriksen – brilliant and average; game-changer and invisible man. Where would we be if he hadn’t fired at times? Used too much, looked tired and devoid of ideas at the arse end of the season. Needs cosseting and protecting – he loves playing, but not too much, eh? 8/10

Erik Lamela – a bit of a cheat, a bit nasty and for all his brilliance at times, he’s looked lost and out of his depth at others. I don’t know how he fits into a cohesive side that isn’t built around him and he’s no Ronaldo or Messi. Difficult to assess; much better than last season but that wasn’t hard. 5/10

Moussa Dembele – so much promise, so much running about, nothing really forthcoming. He’s a great player and will flourish somewhere else that plays to his strengths. 4/10

Andros Townsend – runs around a lot. One dimensional. Able to turn games on a sixpence; but is he worth keeping? Impact sub at best, I like his loyalty and drive but he lacks in good judgement. 5/10

Emma Adebayor – why (I know why)? Is capable of being brilliant, you just never know when that might happen. 1/10

Roberto Soldado – what a great player in a side completely out of tune with what he needs; has been destroyed by his time here and I feel sorry for him. Works really hard and does the job of a #10 very well, but he’s never been played there. 3/10

Harry Kane – many years ago there was talk of this lad; he was going to be the next best thing and arguably the best thing the manager has done is to allow the boy to flourish; what he lacks in pace he makes up for it in guile. People have been waiting for his obvious fall from grace, it might happen next season, but pundits know how good he is and quality – if unhindered – will out. 10/10

Mauricio Pochettino – the manager has been protected from the worst of the bad reactions; Spurs fans have accepted that stability needs to be considered this time around because the quick fixes, multiple players, plus the chopping and changing of managers has really pushed the team backwards. The jury is out – everywhere – as to whether Pochettino is a brilliant new manager or is one-dimensional, devoid of a plan B and is prone to the same failures that many of his predecessors had.
I wasn’t a fan of the Argentinian's appointment, but then again I have struggled to find favour with any manager since Harry Redknapp – who I also feel had gone as far as he could with the team. As for the new man’s ability – when we play well we play excellently; when we play poor we look devoid of ideas and drive – he doesn’t appear to be able to counter this when it happens. There is a feeling he sets his teams up badly and doesn’t give them enough freedom. There is also the argument he hasn’t got his players yet; but there have been players who have arrived since he arrived – Stambouli and Yedlin that have had less than a handful of appearances since Christmas.
Not in any imminent danger of the sack, because the board realise that stability might be just as productive as not having a clue, but next season needs to show a team challenging, not making up the numbers and anything but a top 4 spot will probably spell the end of the manager. 6/10

Already a new defender has been signed - another youngster with potential - this doesn't bother me because it is an area that needs work on. I expect business to be done early this year; if it isn't then we might see deja vu all over again...