Monday, 9 October 2017

England are Spurs (but worse)

I recently read a rant by a QPR fan that left no doubt about his (and other QPR fans) feelings towards Harry Redknapp. While discussing this rant with my friend, an Everton supporter, I came up with a theory about Redknapp that I'm now going to extrapolate on as a way of possibly explaining why the England football team's failure is probably John Terry's fault as well.

I have often cited John Terry as being the reason why Spurs completely-unexpected title challenge in 2012 withered on the vine and died spectacularly - within weeks of punters daring to suggest that Harry's team could possibly do it. Terry's racism caused Fabio Capello to leave the England job and while I don't think he was anywhere near the best man for the job, his leaving caused the widespread expectation that Harry Redknapp would replace him and do to England what he appeared to be doing at Tottenham.

Harry, as some fans and commentators claimed, was good until 'Daniel Levy fucked him over in January 2012' and Harry has always claimed - mainly off camera - that he asked for two players to help give Spurs a chance of winning the title (they were 2nd in January 2012 and even Paul Merson was talking about them being stalking horses) and he asked for Carlos Tevez and a top class defender. He got Ryan Nelson and Louis Saha, combined age about 170. Spurs ended up finishing 5th and I think, from memory, they took about 7 points between February and May - it was heartbreaking to watch and many Spurs fans conveniently forget that not so illustrious last few months of Harry's reign.

There were many other factors at work than listed above. There was family tragedy, a fraud case, some or unfortunate bad timing with contract talks and, of course, when Capello quit and the press installed him as the 'only' replacement, it obviously went to his head. The fact that the FA, in its infinite stupidity, chose Roy Hodgson probably put paid to Harry's career and ruined the national side's chances of being something other than one of the regular teams who make numbers up at competitions.

Roy's period in charge was a strange blend of unbeatable and unwinnable. In qualifications England were dull but imperious. At the World Cup and then the Euros - even without extra pressure from the media - they were woeful and reinforced the view that whenever England does something positive, it will follow it up with something worse than ludicrous. When an England manager decides that Harry Kane should be taking corners you know that he isn't the man who should be doing the job...

What if Harry Redknapp had got the job he wanted? My belief is when he failed to get the England job it kind of killed his desire. Spurs faded badly and he's done nothing of note since. In fact, his stock fell so badly at Birmingham that it's probably a good thing he's 70 and in need of retirement. When he was being touted as Fabio's replacement, Spurs were playing some stunning football - yes, they had Bale, Modric, Van der Vaart, an almost Ledley King and players who gelled well with the stars, but Harry had brought Spurs on from an upper mid-table team to genuine top 4 challengers and while his tactical management left a lot to be desired, his man-management brought the best out of mediocre players - the perfect man for an England job, surely?

Had Daniel Levy not been a plonker - he was pretty much solely responsible for Spurs failure to do anything but become a joke in 2012 - he could have got £250,000 from the FA, got shot of a man he didn't really like and got the same end result, but maybe a year earlier. But he didn't and Roy got the job and I don't think there was one England fan in the country who looked at his appointment and got a hard on for our future prospects.

I'm not going to attempt to presume the hypothetical, but I can't help thinking that playing for England would suddenly have become important again - like it might have if Brian Clough had ever seriously been considered in the 1970s, the last time England were really awful. Reading some autobiographies and historical reports, you got the impression that under Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson, England felt like a team not a collection of individuals. Graham Taylor set us back when we should have gone forward, Venables took us forward and should never have been sacked. Hoddle might have become something special had the press not picked up on his 'eccentricities' and from that point on, we simply flattered to deceive. Apart from the 5-1 win in Germany (which was the catalyst they needed to reform their game), I can't see anything fond to look back on from Keegan onward.

I think you don't necessarily have to be a world class team to win a competition - Greece and Denmark have proved that - but you do need a coach who can look at what he's got and make them work together for the good of the team. I don't think we've had a coach since Venables who has done that. Obviously, Harry's reign would have had to have been done without wheeler-dealing; he couldn't just go and buy a journeyman Romanian to slot into left back in a crisis; but he might have taken a young English left back and slotted him into an existing set up smoothly; put an arm round his shoulders and told him that he wasn't going to be a jinx and he wouldn't have picked him if he didn't have faith... Who knows; Harry might have been worse than Roy? I doubt it, though. My mum wouldn't have been as bad as Roy and she's been dead 20 years! Sandra Redknapp would have been better than Roy and would have scored a few poacher's goals for us after picking herself over Darren Bent.

And now it's late 2017. We're less than nine months from the next World Cup finals, which we have qualified for, in stunningly dull fashion. The most positive thing you can say about the management is Southgate is honest enough to tell everyone we're shit before it's been proved, again. The thing is I don't actually think we are that bad, we just never pick the right man to manage us and while the incumbent is trying hard, he isn't that good.

Look at the class of 2017. I'm going to throw a few names at you, see if you can guess the link: Danny Rose (when fit), Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker, Harry Winks? With the exception of Walker, who is now at Man City, this is Spurs. This is an England squad with more Spurs players than I can ever remember. One newspaper columnist even suggested Southgate was trying to get England to play like Spurs, and wouldn't that be something worth staying in and watching games for?

Southgate's problem is his players who aren't playing for Spurs. If Mauricio Pochettino put Jordan Henderson into his team, Sissoko would look world class. If Oxtail-Chambermaid played ahead of Alli or Eriksen, Spurs would be rubbish. Poch plays the 4-2-3-1 formation that Southgate has used in his last half a dozen qualification games (discounting the final game) and frankly playing two defensive midfielders against Malta is only going to work if those players are capable of turning up and scoring the odd goal - like Dier, Wanyama and Dembele do at Spurs. Dier in an England shirt is a bit of an enigma; he comes and goes like a troublesome bout of the trots and I think this is down to whether or not England actually need two covering midfielders against opposition Germany can beat 8-0, but we struggle to get 1-0s against.

In fact, in many ways, England's biggest puzzle at the moment is Jordan Henderson. I simply cannot understand what he is doing in an England shirt. I've watched football for a long time, I like to think that, in general, my opinions gain more agreeable responses than angry ones and I can't understand why he's there in the same way I can't understand why Sissoko is so high up in the Spurs pecking order. I hear we have a dearth of decent midfielders and this might be true; England often have no left back for a generation and five vying for the same position in the next. Look at Paul Scholes, someone who should have got 150 caps, but you know... If midfielders were really the problem I could understand it, but I think this is just scapegoating before the event.

I've seen Dele Alli play in a far more defensive midfield role for Spurs. Early last season especially and whenever he got booked. Poch would bring him deeper, give him more responsibility and not only did we stay as solid, he created a lot from a deeper position and showed much more discipline. If continuous England bosses want to play all their favourites, even if that means there are five number 10s on the pitch, then you can play an attacking midfielder in a less attacking role, surely. Eriksen can do it, Dembele can and it looks like Harry Winks can also do it. I think Alli can do it, probably better than most.

If England could play the Spurs way, it would need a solid centre and two ball-playing central defenders - as far as I can see they can just about do this, but in many ways England doesn't have Vertonghen or Alderweireld because they're Belgian, both of them... But, there are some excellent central defenders playing in 2017, getting the right partnership is key but probably doable with this group of players.

The wing backs have to be Walker and Rose, if both fit and playing the way we know they can. Here is the most dynamic wing back pairing in world football from the same country and there's this myth growing about how good they are together, which gives England an unexpected psychological advantage (for a change).

England do not have Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele or Victor Wanyama - at the moment they have Jordan bloody Henderson... - but they do have Eric Dier, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, who all play together at club level. I think that's the midfield problem sorted. Up front, there is a burgeoning partnership in Kane and Rashford; they can both play off each other, drop into the number 10 position and could score goals for fun (if they had a progressive midfield behind them).

I don't care who's on the subs bench as long as they can slot into that system and they can play a high press, high tempo game easily. I would also take Jordan Henderson to one side and let him down, reasonably gently.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Pep's Most Difficult Job

I fancy tempting fate. Football fans hate to tempt fate, especially Spurs fans, because it will all go wrong and for some strange reason you will think it's your fault it all went tits up. The thing is I tempted fate with a massively proportioned sex doll at the start of the season by stating, quite emphatically, that Tottenham Hotspur would win the league and then in December, after the team suffered defeat against a poor Man Utd team, I started to think my forecast was going to go the same way as other bursts of optimism in the past.

Since then Spurs have strung seven straight wins - six in the league and a rare emphatic win in the FA Cup - and each game we win the better we look. At times last weekend, against one of my club's bogey teams, we played like Brazil circa 1970 with Dele Alli as Pele and Harry Kane as Jairzinho. At times the football we play makes Barcelona look, you know, a bit, okay but nothing special. On a couple of occasions on Saturday I felt like a child being subjected to some ultimate glee-inducing fun. At one point, after one stunning move resulted in a simply wondrous disallowed goal, I clapped my hands together like a child seeing Father Christmas for the first time. There is something remarkable about the feeling you get from watching your football team play with such confidence it's almost scary - it transcends sex and just condenses into an ecstatic joy that I can only imagine my friends, who support teams that have won things, have felt.

This Spurs team scares me as much as it delights me. There is almost an entire team of potential world class footballers on display. At this moment in time I'm struggling to see a weak link in the side when it's on the same wavelength. That alone is some kind of surreal reality matched only by the weird shit that is going on in the world, add to that the first manager we have had who looks both happy and determined to do better and is doing it in a way that must give Daniel Levy almost unbearable erections of joy. I'm struggling to find any other negative than we're going to end up being much richer than we are now when all of them and the manager are bought for £1billion by another 'bigger' team.

Remember the Harlem Globetrotters - a team who, legend has it, were so good they gave up competitive basketball and just played exhibition matches against top teams they then proceeded to demolish. That's my Spurs at the moment (maybe not in Europe, but certainly within these more isolated shores).

Yet, ironically, I find myself feeling slightly sorry for one of my team's rivals and opponents this coming Saturday. Frankly, I couldn't care less if Man City crash and burn and lose their Arab owners lots of money and I, on the surface, find it hilarious that the media-proclaimed 'best manager in the world' is struggling to turn his team of expensive class into a unit that will challenge for the title.

Any harsh critic of Pep Guardiola will point out that the two teams he has managed so far, both only really had one or two serious rivals and if you need evidence that anyone can win a league in a division of one just look at Brendan Rogers at Celtic. Most people who manage Celtic get to add trophies to their CVs and act like priapic porn stars because in their league there is no competition. What Pep possibly did realise is while the Premier League has four, maybe six, likely winners, he probably didn't think the other 14 pesky teams are more than capable of upsetting the odds and beating your side. Pep probably suffered some slightly embarrassing losses in his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but English football has a tendency to throw up unexpected results and City's 4-0 thumping by 'average' Everton made me feel a little sorry for him.

It really isn't his fault he's been so successful at two of the world's richest and most successful clubs. His style of football isn't bad and he's proved that with world class footballers at his disposal he can do good things; but he's never really tried to manage at a slightly lower level, where you have to show your adaptability rather than just bring on a £50m player from the bench. This is why Mauricio Pochettino is likely to end up managing one of the world's richest clubs and why he might even get something others aren't often afforded - time. This is also why Spurs' visit to Man City this weekend is so significant. First off, it's a game neither side can afford to draw or lose because with Chelsea playing easier opposition the odds are they will pull even further ahead. Secondly, and more long game, is the stock of each manager. Mauricio looks happy, relaxed and his team are playing in a way that would make any manager happy (and secure). Pep on the other hand looks like a man who has been presented with his first real problem - plucky opposition - and he's not sure what to do. The pressure is really beginning to show on him and while I don't think his job is at risk, it would be if he, as I sometimes think he might, just resigns in the middle of press conference, storming out and never seen again outside of Spain.

The third and, at present, least important thing about the game will be how many of the Spurs side will the Sheikhs be eyeing up a transfer deal for? And from a personal position, the fourth thing is can we continue our current upper hand over City? I hope we can because even 7 points behind Chelsea is a big gap, but one I think we can overcome in the next five months; 10 points might be enough to put a dent in our chrome. The loss of Jan Vertonghen is a worry, but we have able cover and usually players who come in at the back retain the rhythm. We're the better side at the moment, the mark of true champions is whether they can overcome these kind of obstacles.