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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

A Hero For Our Time

Spurs comprehensively dismantled QPR yesterday at White Hart Lane with a first half display of sustained flowing football that was delightfully easy on the eye. Everyone contributed and there’s a confidence about the way they went about taking control of the game from the kick-off that is remarkable given this is only Pochettino’s third competitive match in charge. 

From Lamela’s running with the ball through to Rose the overlapping full-back and Capoue’s purposeful graft to Eriksen cushioning a sky-high ball stone dead and thumping a free kick against the bar, the first half was pure purring pleasure. For once Tottenham could be excused easing off in the second. Let’s not get carried away – Rangers were dire – but Tottenham On My Mind’s mantra is enjoy it while you can and if my ambition for this season is to enjoy it all again, this was a great start.

“Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.” (Brecht) Football needs heroes and we’ve been looking for so long. Someone to revere, to get us excited when he’s on the ball, to boast about, to anticipate. In Erik Lamela, maybe the search is over.

There’s a theory that while coaches can make the running style of elite athletes more efficient, for most of us the body sorts out the biomechanics, which is why our gait is individual. Lamela is at his most natural with a ball at his feet. Relaxed and at ease in possession, he has to be on the move. He glides over the turf, effortless yet alert, making his own space and time, in search of an opening. Like a venus fly trap he seduces defenders into believing it’s safe. A slight figure, no outstanding pace, the temptation to tackle is overwhelming. They commit and he’s gone. 

He carries himself with the casual, oblivious insouciance that defines class. See him on the other side of the field, amidst a group of players, he stands out just by being there. He may not spend that much time on the ball but that’s not the point. His sudden bursts into space are game-changers. There’s danger for the opposition whenever he has room to breathe, even if as yet he’s not quite sure what to do with the power at his feet. Reminds me a lot of that great Spurs maverick, Alfie Conn. Yesterday he had more time in the second half as QPR vainly pushed forward and paradoxically was less effective. On one occasion in particular he dallied in the box when beautifully set up. Sometimes you just have to put your foot through the ball. We like our heroes to be fallible. 

Every time he was on the ball, there was anticipation in the air. He worked hard too – a few of his best moments came after he had won the ball in a hard challenge. On the few occasions we spotted him last season, he wandered aimlessly but Pochettino has enabled him to find a role. Capoue and Bentaleb provide a secure platform for the attacking midfield three to take the ball to our opponents. Capoue was strong throughout, although he must moderate his challenges or else he will be booked every game. Bentaleb had a good first half hour, important as we quickly established midfield superiority despite Rangers putting 9 and 10 men behind the ball. Rangers missed a great chance at 1-0 and that was that.

 

In front of them, Lamela, Chadli and Eriksen’s fluent interchanging of positions kept the opportunities flowing. Rose and Dier willingly pushed up to offer width. One big improvement with the new model Spurs is that as one element of the system moves, so the others shift around to maintain stability. Two examples. Last season Adebayor often had to be in two places at once, moving wide to create space while simultaneously being in the centre to get on the end of a pass or cross. Yesterday he missed two good chances, an early header from well within the box and a tame shot from the edge of the area, straight at keeper Green when Spurs had a 3 to 1 advantage after slicing through the Rangers defence. But later, when he pulled wide to unsettle the three centre halves, others took advantage of the space. Chadli at the far post controlled Manu’s cross on his chest and with calm delicacy touched it home for our opener.

Chadli again for the fabulous thrilling third. After a period of possession, Lamela burst diagonally leaving defenders in his wake. Chadli launched himself at the Argentinian’s cross, athletically powering home a thumping header. This was just terrific and Spurs were rampant. 

Also, Danny Rose can time his runs better and move forward knowing that Spurs won’t be exposed at the back if he does so. He’s not trotting forward to make up the numbers. He’s decisive, and his wing eforts helped dismantle the hapless QPR 3-5-2 system, exposing the full-back/midfield whatever (he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing). Three of our four goals came from crosses from the left. Our fourth, Rose belted onto a Chadli pass and crossed for Manu to slide home. Two passes, 50 yards, 5 seconds. Sitting on the Shelf I could hear Rose call for that ball from the opposite side of the field. That’s how much he wanted it.

Rose was excellent defensively too. When he said he wanted to stay and fight for his place, for once it wasn’t just an empty soundbite. 

I wish Glenn Hoddle well in his new coaching role at QPR but this appeared to be a case of what looks good on the tactics board fails miserably when it comes to putting into practice. It was easy for Spurs to get round their flanks and the three centre halves just confused each other. It’s not that easy to leave so much room in the box but they managed it. Barton dutifully pressed then looked round in despair to see that none of his team-mates followed his example. 

The Rangers fans could not have been more let down by their side, except of course by their manager. Four down, the Spurs fans chanted, “Harry give us a wave”, and he obliged. I could feel the heat of their fans’ anger from the Shelf. There’s an article on the Four Four Two weekly online, entitled something like, Why Do Fans Hate Harry? I don’t hate him but wherever he goes, you don’t need to hand him a shovel, he can dig a hole all on his own.

Dier looks a right bargain of a prospect, a second accomplished game with a bonus goal, a near-post header from a whipped Lamela corner so firm Green got two hands to it but could not keep it out. Pochettino’s substitutions kept our momentum going, with Dembele coming on for Bentaleb and Kane too. He’s in tune with the rhythm of the game and is pro-active.  

 

Stomach Churning? Shouting At The TV? Yep, Spurs Are Back

My season starts in the same way, at the same point, every year. Take a complete break over the summer these days. No friendlies, don’t even know what the new kit looks like. Need a rest, especially after last season’s debacle. Spurs’ first game, I’m keen but slightly detached. What will be will be and all that.

We begin well enough, interesting to see how we set up, Hammers come close but I have the luxury of the TV angle via my stream and it’s going wide. Then, it begins. Our marking is poor, they have a great chance. Should have scored and my stomach turns over. The bile rises, I feel sick, churning, stamping my feet, shouting at the screen. That’s a relief. Football’s back and everything is reassuringly normal.

It’s good to win on the opening day of the season and the manner of victory with a classy goal deep into added time was sheer delight. Kane, on as sub for Adebayor, spotted the runner and slid a perfect angled ball through the hapless Wham back four. That the runner was Eric Dier, full-back, on debut, 93rd minute, was a bit of a surprise but his calm, controlled finish, rounding the keeper before stroking the ball into an empty net, was worthy of Greaves or Gilzean. If my ‘new season resolution’ is to enjoy the Spurs, that’s the way to go, gents, thank you kindly.

This came on the back of a resilient hour when we were down to 10 men after Naughton was sent off for handling a supposedly goal-bound shot. Great to win but this was a mostly ordinary match between two ordinary sides. Our goal, however excellent, was our only genuine chance in the whole game. W Ham obliged by missing theirs plus a penalty. Other sides won’t be so generous but first game, down to ten men for much of it so no real conclusions to be drawn. Like I said, let’s enjoy the moment.

The penalty incident seems the obvious turning point. After we mastered early possession, without doing anything dangerous with it, our opponents stifled us in midfield and were on top. We muddled away a couple of efforts, swarming round attackers in the box, then close to the goal Naughton hurled himself in to block a shot. It was ball to hand but those hands were held high like a goalkeeper. Penalty, I’m afraid. Cue cries of ‘unlucky’, ‘seen them not given’ but after a chat with his linesman, the ref made the right choice. Naughton saw red – blocking a goalbound shot with his hands, I guess, even though it was probably going over. Inevitable. We had a couple of ball to hand pens last season. Fine if refs are consistent with this interpretation all season. Bet they won’t be.

Bright start, no goals, opposition get back into it, cock-up. The Spurs way. New season, new manager, same old story. But wait. Fans of rival clubs have more in common than they would care to admit. The Hammers I know could describe their side in the same way. Miss a penalty, then the real turning point of this match came in the second half when Adebayor knocked the ball past centre half Collins, who duly obliged by bringing him down even though it was nearer the halfway line than the goal. Already booked, Collins was gone and if Manu did little else yesterday, he knew what he was doing right then. The man advantage tossed away.

In a match without too much goalmouth incident, the other significant moment came late on. Lloris, superb in this fixture at the fag end of 2013-4, dashed out to thwart Downing’s close-range shot as finally WHam breached our defence. It was a proper save, not just an arms-and-legs-flailing block.

So Mr Poch, what do you have in store for us? W Ham’s first attack didn’t amount to anything but our response was indicative of the shape of things to come. Bentaleb and Capoue, our two defensive midfielders, dropped back straight away, taking up deep positions a few yards in front of the back four and in the gaps between them. The midfield three of Lamela, Lennon and Eriksen fell back behind the ball, leaving centre forward Adebayor up front. That DM positioning is key if we are to overcome the huge problems of last season when the back four were unprotected and therefore vulnerable.

When we had the ball, the three interchanged positions, they seemed to know what was going on and filled the space left as their team-mates moved around. The full-backs came forward to help out and Bentaleb joined them, staying deeper than the three but involved while Capoue hangs further back.

They looked comfortable and Capoue was our best player until he dropped back to centre half. However, it was all a bit cluttered – they were too close to each other – and we didn’t have a shot on goal in this early period despite being on top. Possession is important as they shifted the ball from side to side. Repeatedly we tried lofted passes in Adebayor’s direction, which seemed to me to be tactics not desperation. What’s certain is that they didn’t work. Like all our work on the ball in the first twenty minutes, it was overly deliberate and the big Hammers defenders easily dealt with them.

Eriksen and Lamela showed glimpses of promise on the ball but faded all too easily when Wham flooded the midfield and made things difficult. They tossed a few balls into the box from deep but we did little to stop them and looked unnecessarily shaky in the box. Dier’s selection shows Pochettino is looking to the future – if ever there is a match for Dawson it’s this one as we know the ball is going to ping in repeatedly. Dier is promising but the opposition forwards got in between the centre halves and missed a couple of good opportunities.

Despite the sending off, Pochettino remained resolutely positive. Capoue was our best player at this juncture. I would have brought Dawson on and kept Capoue where he was as DM. However, the Argentinian did not want to waste a substitution, so Capoue became centre half and Dier right back.

It looked as if it was only a matter of time before the Hammers scored. After half time we were pushed back. Adebayor was isolated and detached from the midfield up front, so we had no outlet. But we discovered another feature of Pochettino’s approach, his brave, attacking use of subs, which turned the match in our favour. Holtby and Townsend for Lennon and Lamela gave us renewed industry and, in Townsend the ability to take the game to our opponents. At this stage in his development, Townsend needs a yard or two to look dangerous. Close him down and he’s not learned effective options. Yesterday he posed problems every time he took the defence on. It felt as if our manager would have made the same changes regardless of W Ham’s carelessness in dropping to 10 men.

And make no mistake, the players were encouraged to get forward. Dier’s willingness to get into opposition half seemed reckless as the minutes ticked away and we were on for a decent away point. Stay back, let someone else make the runs…hah!

Early days, 10 men, no time for judgements. However: Bentaleb had a good game and a man who did not appear in any of the papers’ ‘best Spurs team’ has caught the new manager’s eye. He keeps the ball moving and finds space wherever he goes. I wonder if Kane may have to adapt to a role similar to that of Rodriguez at Southampton, a forward able to drop back when needed. Kaboul was poor outside the box – as captain he should have set a better example.

Steffen Freund: Spurs Become A Player in the Global Game

Steffen Freund’s appointment this week as International Technical Co-Ordinator at Tottenham Hotspur has been greeted by Spurs fans, including me initially, with a mixture of derision and apathy. The job title is classic corporate goobledygook, intending to be self-important and serious but in reality a string of buzzwords devoid of substance or meaning.

For a great example of the art of managementspeak, look no further than Spurs itself and our “strategic partnership” with Real Madrid. This one is a classic of the genre, though. “Co-ordinator” – busy but not actually doing anything. “Technical” is anything you want it to be, something to do with football presumably, that the Technical Director Franco Baldini doesn’t do. Reassuring to know that when it comes to all things technical, Tottenham have it covered.

Strip away the jargon, however, and this role points the way towards a significant development in club strategy. Freund will help develop young players on loan abroad, support partnerships at youth level with foreign clubs and scout young players. He has a decent reputation by all accounts as a coach of young German players before he returned to Spurs. More than that, alongside other developments this signals clearly that Tottenham are broadening their horizons. New club sponsors AIA are an Asian insurance corporation. Their logo is red allegedly because this is considered a lucky colour in the Far East. Spurs’ US tour was a foot in the door to the huge potential of the lucrative American market. Football is a global game and Spurs have come to play.

The general consensus on social media affirmed this gently eased Freund out of Pochettino’s way and rewarded a Spurs stalwart. However, Levy’s hardly renowned for sentiment when it comes to cold hard cash and it’s safe to assume Freund’s not in it just for the air miles. Granted Ledley King is now club ambassador but given his history and status within the club, no one begrudges him the role of Looking Slightly Ill-at-Ease in Tottenham Photos. I’m sure Freund’s passion for the club is authentic but in a ruthless commercial environment running around a lot for a few years is no qualification for job security. Levy could have sacked him in the blink of an eye. The fact he chose not to indicates there’s something going on.

The market for young footballing talent is international and Tottenham have recognised this by investing new resources, in the shape of Steffen Freund. We have already exploited it to some extent. Our development squad contains young men from Serbia, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Ivory Coast.  It’s a far cry from Spurs’ traditional links with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The arrival of 18 year old Belgian Jonathan Blondel  in 2002 caused a flurry of interest because it was so unusual for such a young foreign player to come to an English club. Around that time, Iceland’s youth team captain was also on the books. I can’t recall his name: neither player made it at Spurs.

These days, however, there’s more to it than scouting. The stakes are high. For top clubs, their development policy could be the key to financial survival as well as trophies. Needless to say, in England Chelsea are the club who have taken this to extremes. A quick Google revealed that in February this year, that is after the transfer window had closed, the Blues had so many players out on loan, nobody seemed quite sure about the exact figure. Estimates range between 22 and 27.

Football writer Rory Smith provides a devastating critique into the story beneath the figures. It’s strictly business. One or two of these young players may eventually make it to the first team squad, keeper Courtois being the best current example. But to the Blues, it doesn’t matter. These kids are commodities, buy low, sell high. If they make it, fine, if not, just as good, and the key to this is the new rules on Financial Fair Play. Investment in youth development doesn’t count in FFP but transfer income from the products of that system does. Clubs need to generate income from player sales in order to allow them to keep within the FFP rules, even if they spend large amounts on transfers. Smith states:

“This is because player development, at the world’s largest clubs, is no longer about football. It is about business. It is not about honing talent. It is about making profits. It is run according to the rules of the hedge fund — spread your risk to ensure your reward — with a mindset borrowed from property development. Nurturing young players is not a team’s primary concern, just as a developer does not refit houses to live in them. Chelsea and their peers are not crafting young players. They are flipping them.”

Spurs have dipped their toes in the water. With all respect to the player, I don’t think this is Jon Obika’s breakthrough season. 11 spells on loan, yet to start for the first team, turns 24 next month. Yet we resigned him. I predict a transfer to a lower league side and if not a profit then at the very least a return on our investment. This is typically small-scale but Freund’s appointment indicates the club are significantly upping their game.

A healthy youth policy will do Spurs a lot of good but if first team chances for young players are as limited as they have been in recent years, they will become balance sheet statistics not the home-grown heroes supporters hold so dear. Pochettino has a reputation for bringing them through but as I said last week, he was forced into that position at Saints because of budget restrictions that will not be so stringent at White Hart Lane.

Also, I remain distinctly uncomfortable at the notion of young footballers as commodities. At 16 I was used to the tube but a trip from west to southeast London one day made me feel like a stranger in a strange land. What can it feel like for a teenager coming to a new country, different language, knowing nobody and having to perform at a peak level. It’s not right.

Yet it seems the entire game is moving in that direction. The PL sells passion and atmosphere, Sky sell more satellite dishes but the supporters who generate that emotion face exorbitant prices, bizarre kick-off times and have no say in the way the game is run. My 50 year loyalty is reduced to a customer reference number as far as the club is concerned, or so it appears. Under Armour and AIA are doing their thing but come August 24th I guarantee no one will have cleaned the birdscrap off Jackie’s seat. She sits in front of us – it’s our pre-season ritual. Fans and passion commodified too.

There is something positive here. Freund’s role gives him the opportunity to keep an eye on these players. Let them know someone cares about their progress, a watchful benevolent figure, and if this is part of the investment, credit is due to all concerned. Rumours, always rumours, but it has been said that Spurs do make an effort to look after their foreign players and men like Lloris respect that.

In the summer Nigerian starlet Musa Yahaya signed a pre-contract agreement at the tender age of 16. He’s hot property apparently. Maybe he came to us because we offered to care for him and to give him a better chance of getting near the first team than if he were at Stamford Bridge. I like to think that’s the way we should behave. I hope he gets further than a Youtube showreel.