Spurs: A Club Without A Heart

With due respect to our next two opponents, Hull and Everton, these aren’t fixtures guaranteed to set the pulse racing. But Spurs are at a crossroads. Early season optimism has been punctured by a series of lethargic, inept performances. Defeat will push us towards the foot of the table and crank up the pressure. Their true significance however lies in the discovery of whether or not Tottenham Hotspur is a club with a heart.

For the first time in the life of Tottenham On My Mind I was glad of an international break because I did not want to see my Spurs play. Problems that have been simmering for some time, over a decade in some cases, have boiled over on and off the field of play. I have been appalled by our vapid, directionless performances over the past few weeks. Amateur defending, confusion in midfield, a great big nothing up front. More than that, too many players are not fully committed. They don’t want to put in the hard work that wins the right to play good football, and their manager does not appear to be able to change that.

Off the field, the distance between the club and supporters has become a chasm. Ticket prices, the new stadium with its threat of a move to Milton Keynes, the lack of any transparency, the absence of a coherent strategy to ensure we can compete – I could go on. The festering sore of ENIC’s chronic mismanagement of our club has burst open and only drastic surgery will staunch the pus that threatens to infect everything about the club – the team, the board and particularly the relationship between the club and its loyal supporters.

Like a celebrity in the jungle or the Labour Party in Rochester, just when you think things can’t get any worse, Spurs can find a way. Instead of taking responsibility for a diabolical performance, Adebayor, our vice-captain, criticised the crowd in the post-match interview, claiming that Spurs were scared of playing at home because the negative atmosphere adversely effected the players. Villas-Boas said the same thing last season after a home match against Hull. Blaming the fans: at least that’s one area where Spurs are consistent.

Supporters reacted with outrage. Kat Law, chair of the Supporters Trust, promptly issued a furious statement in the Mirror in response to Manu’s comments, rightly so in my view. Several good pieces in the press picked up on the effect on the club of Daniel Levy’s long-term neglect and lack of continuity, something I and many others have been saying for some time, which has now been recognised as part of the narrative about our club.

Predictably Adebayor recanted later in the week. He claims he didn’t actually mean to have a go at supporters. He tweeted: “I have NEVER [his caps] criticised Tottenham fans. I merely suggested that it would be more positive if they got behind the team more.”

We’ll never know the full truth. Certainly the author of the article, Tom Collomosse from the Standard, said Manu was talking in a concerned, reflective tone rather than ranting, although that’s not exactly clear from the final piece.

Adebayor’s comments are worth looking at but not because of the guff about the supporters. Regardless of what he meant or didn’t mean, it is indicative of a mindset that is looking outside the team for reasons for playing badly. Why was his instinctive reaction to blame the crowd?

Here is a far more significant extract from that article: “I could see that nobody wanted the ball. It’s hard for the players, it’s not their fault…we just have to find a way so that we can try to understand what he [Pochettino] wants to tell us and how he wants us to play..” This sadly confirms the suspicions I’ve shared on Tottenham On My Mind for several weeks now. Here is the truly troubling aftermath of that game – players don’t want the ball, are not responding to the manager and do not think it is their fault. As we prepare to play Hull tomorrow, I cannot conceive of a greater indictment of a football team.

That match is gone, Pochettino and his squad have to do something about it, starting with a major shift in their attitude. If Manu’s comments are in any way indicative of what’s going in the dressing-room. I don’t have the confidence that they will change.

Nobody wanted the ball at Villa where the fans sung loud and long way before the late goals rescued a dire performance. Can’t blame the supporters there. My view is that too many players do not want to take responsibility for their actions on the field. “It’s not their fault”…actually it is.

The attitude and performance level from this group of players needs a complete overhaul. “We just have to fight as a team…” says Manu. That’s right but where is that fight going to come from? It has to come from within. We will get nowhere if the knee-jerk reaction is to blame outside forces. And that’s what worries me. I don’t see leadership, resilience and sheer bloodymindedness in this squad. Let’s hope Pochettino has worked some magic over the break.

Sadly it’s no use searching for the heart of the club in the boardroom. After the defeat against Stoke, the club were accused of drowning out the boos by turning the PA up to full volume. I didn’t mention this in my article simply because I didn’t notice. Some blogger I am, missing the big story. I filter out the music at games because I find it intrusive at the best of times and anyway my mind was still very much in the misery of the game as I trudged out of the ground.

As ever, things aren’t quite so straightforward. Daniel Wynne was in charge of the PA for the Stoke game, not his usual job as he sticks to the match commentary. I’ve met Daniel a couple of times. He’s a fan who commentates, not a broadcaster who happens to be employed by Tottenham, and both occasions were at charity matches where he gave up his time for free, just to be there. He said that he did not turn up the volume intentionally and did not receive any such instructions from the club. For what it’s worth, I think he’s telling the truth.

However, that’s not the point. The accusation rang true for Spurs supporters. Judging it at face value against our experience of the way the club treats us, it sounded all too believable. Social media was in full-blown outrage and offended mode afterwards, turned up to 11. Nobody said, however tentatively, ‘surely they wouldn’t have done that…’  This is what we have come to expect, that the club will trample all over the supporter’s loyalty.

The PA is too loud, the fans not loud enough, it serves to obscure the true focus on under-performing players and a manager who is struggling to effect change. We are paying the price of the long-term instability caused by the one thing that has remained consistent, Levy’s lousy decision-taking. As have others, I have been guilty in the past of saying lazily that he’s a good businessman. He’s not. No CEO of a big company would create such instability in senior management or leave new appointments without the resources needed to to do their job. A lack of strategy leaves any company exposed. Missed opportunities in business mean progress is hampered and previous investment wasted. Even by his own benchmarks therefore Levy has failed. And that’s without mentioning football results.

Also, again regardless of accuracy the interview and the PA will form part of the narrative of the way events at Spurs will be covered in the media. Tottenham as a divided, dysfunctional club. That’s the way we will be perceived from now on. Never mind their reaction towards the crowd, the players better look out because if they falter, they will be mauled in the press. At least we can get behind them.

There are signs Levy is taking action, albeit in his usual reactive way. Paul Mitchell, Southampton’s talent-spotter, looks like he is on his way. I have no idea how good he is but it’s likely Pochettino wants him in which case he’s belatedly getting some support from the board and rightly so. However, we are faced with serious team rebuilding in the January window where we know the best quality players are not available. Never mind having to then integrate them into a team. Anyway, who wants to come to a club without a heart?

Supporters are the heart and soul of this club. ENIC, Daniel Levy and the players would do well to remember that. Instead of being defensive, they should encourage better relations and utilise our enthusiasm in the ground and in the boardroom. Bridge that chasm. Who knows, they might find what it takes to turn the club around.

Spineless Spurs: No Guts No Glory

The first few moments of wakefulness, befuddled your mind adjusts to consciousness and the day ahead,then BAM! It hits you. Your football team is hopeless. Wide awake now.

There are other descriptions. Rest assured they were used yesterday afternoon, frequently. I used up many last week. Stick with abject for now. Hopeless as in without hope best fits my emotional state for now. Not a literal assessment of Tottenham’s plight – it’s only early November – but sums up my feelings and those of many others, judging by the shellshocked faces in the queue at White Hart Lane station after the match.

Not everyone of course. Many were laughing, laughing at the players, the performance, the absurdity of Spurs allowing themselves to be in a position where they cannot fulfil the basic requirements of any football team, like defending, passing, trying. The absurdity of having expectations of at least some progress this season. The absurdity of paying all that money only to be catastrophically let down.

Spurs could not have made it any easier for Stoke to win yesterday. They did so without breaking sweat. For the third time this season, under no pressure, Spurs allowed an opponent to run unchallenged from halfway to score. This was after 5 minutes. Someone trying to get in the way would be nice, never mind a tackle. Not asking too much, surely. Hardly a supporter with an unrealistic expectation. Apparently it is. Second, give the ball away under little pressure, cross to a man unmarked, unnoticed. Chadli’s stunning late volley provided no consolation, only turned the knife. A reminder that it’s the hope that gets you.

Analysis of tactics and individual performance yesterday is immaterial if players can’t control the ball, pass it or move around so someone can pass the ball to them. No one emerged with any credit from an unremittingly dismal afternoon where performances differed only in the degree of negligence.

There are more fundamental questions to trouble us. The players are disorganised and lack commitment. They are not responding to their manager who appears powerless but recent shabby efforts have demonstrated that like his predecessors, he’s been left exposed and unsupported by his chairman. Supporters remain loyal but are increasingly distanced from a club that cold-bloodedly refuses to engage or respond. To repeat something from our previous home defeat to Newcastle, the resignation of the homeward-bound crowd speaks volumes. People have not been given a reason to care.

This is a spineless team in more ways than one. Every decent side has a strong spine. We have Hugo Lloris, not only top class but currently one of the very few who looks hurt by what goes on in front of him. Pochettino’s decision to have faith in Kaboul was always questionable given his injury record and now looks downright incompetent. No questions about his motivation – he’s just playing terribly. This week another potential stalwart, Jan Vertonghen, has been talking a good game in the media. Put things right, determined to turn the corner etc. Most publicity like this is not worth the effort of a single finger hitting the keyboard but ok, it was positive from a quality player who has to do the business for us. Come matchday, he’s not even in the side. Perish the thought that we paired Fazio with Kaboul to deal with crosses to Crouch only to find the ex-Spur was on the bench. Surely not….

Eriksen was substituted at half-time, such was his lack of impact. Capoue’s early season solidity has long since faded. The game passed him by, as can be said for his last five appearances. Up front the striking options are scandalously bare. Therefore we can’t rely on any of our experienced key outfield players.

I’ve seen worse Spurs sides but I can’t recall any as unmotivated or lacking commitment. Ostentatious fist-pumping and shouting is over-rated in my view but when we concede, there’s nothing. No arguments or fingerpointing, however misjudged. From where I sit I can look into their eyes and all I see is blank acceptance of the inevitable.

Motivation comes from a variety of sources. The right values offer inner drive and purpose, to be the best you can because that’s the way to be. Motivation has external stimuli too, a goal, something to aim for, or sometimes ‘away from’ motivation from the fear of the consequences of failure. In teams it comes from collective responses, do it for your team-mates, help them and they’ll help you. I see nothing except apathy and resignation.

Three reasons. One, too many of the signings don’t come with a built-in winning mentality. They want to stay within their comfort zone, play at their own pace and not impose themselves or change up if the game requires it. Chadli, Eriksen, Lamela to an extent, that’s our attacking midfield for most of the season.

Two, and related, many of these players didn’t sign up for a battle. They expected some success, progress in their own careers. Irrespective of whether they wanted it enough to work for it, they are not motivated for a fight. We learned from the World Cup that the best teams in the world work like stink, it’s nothing to do with the demands of the Premier League or the traditional virtues of British hard work.Too many of this shower want success without paying their dues and don’t want to fight for the right to play.

Three, they are not responding to the manager. I don’t know why. Pochettino’s pressing game is a distant memory – they won’t do it. If you need something else to worry about, this has become worse as the season has gone on. Too early to say if he has lost it with the players but he too talked this week about putting things right only for the message to fall on deaf ears.

For his part, Pochettino has to address a problem he’s not come across before, motivating and changing players who appear to be disaffected and who certainly aren’t responding. He knows from Southampton that he can motivate but with a squad that came with different expectations.

Our manager has had time to assess the squad. Almost certainly these are not the type of players he wants, especially for a high tempo, pressing, forward looking midfield that was the key to Southampton’s progress. That’s not his fault – probably. Levy true to form hasn’t backed him heavily in the market. I can’t believe it was Pochettino’s choice to have the three strikers now in the squad. However, we have no idea how Spurs’ buying policy works. It looks as if Baldini as Director of Football or whatever pseudo-management title he possesses buys them and then the coach gets on with it, fraught with danger at the best of times and fatal if you appoint a guy with a distinct philosophy.

In the end, there’s Levy, always Levy. His lack of a long-term plan for the club and an inability to judge a manager or to know what he wants from a manager and his staff have blighted our progress. He fires, hires then fails to give his man effective support. He knew what Pochettino wanted when appointing him. Or that’s what you would do if you were a diligent CEO of any other company in appointing your senior operational manger and leader. They come with a package, with demands. Not Levy.

I take no pleasure in this analysis. There’s no agenda here, just a supporter for half a century who still feels the pain despite the passing years and their seemingly inevitable disappointments. Supporters aren’t moaning for the sake of it. It is because we understand the heritage that we see the damage being done to our proud club. The problems on the field are profound but pale into insignificance compared with the distance between the club and alienated fans, precisely at the time when the club need us most.

Maybe all or some of this is accurate. Whatever goes on behind the scenes, everyone is culpable to some extent but 75% of the players need to take responsibility for diabolical personal performances over the past few weeks. What’s certain is that the consequences of any explanation are distinctly unpalatable. Players not responding to the manager. Chairman with a track record of lousy decision-making. The stench of decay and neglect hangs like a toxic cloud over N17.

Kane Rescues Sorry Spurs

At the end, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason embraced in victory. Kane pinched it for Spurs at the death, insisting on taking a late free-kick that clipped the wall and the deflection won the game. Mason played at pace throughout, playing it quickly, playing it forward. He also got right in the faces of the Villa team, clipping heels and giving not an inch.

These two want to play for the shirt. After this shabby effort, I’m not sure how many of the others want to. Always enjoy a win but make no mistake, this performance was rotten to the core. If this carries on, look down not up. The three points are only respite from hard times to come unless the entire squad change their attitude, never mind finding some form, and follow the example of these young homegrown players.

I enjoy debate about tactics and talk a bit about it here without going into minuscule detail. Tottenham On My Mind is a heat-map free zone. I’m no expert, I just watch other teams. Last week I watched Southampton and West Ham. Both hurl themselves into the fray and run with determination into space, to make chances when they have the ball and to cut out the opposition’s space when they lose it. Most of this Spurs midfield wouldn’t move themselves if you stuck a Saturn 5 up their backsides.

I’m past understanding. It is inexcusable. Just run back, the rest we can sort out. This afternoon, Eriksen and Chadli could not be bothered. Erisken, a real talent that I have talked up and who we should rely on during a difficult patch, was substituted at half time, although it could have been any one of 7 or 8 of them. I cannot abide professionals with this sort of attitude. “Fackin’ run around a bit” – it really has come to this. Capoue, a player I like, had his worst game this season, seldom near the action. Soldado was invisible for most of the time.

They looked on as our defence was cut to pieces in the first half by a side that hasn’t scored since the Coronation, apparently. Defending is a team affair. The back four deserve some protection. Every other team does it. Mind you, the back four did a fine job of imploding without any assistance. Kaboul was all over the place up against Benteke, who fortunately was rusty in front of goal and missed chances that he would normally take. As I said last week, Pochettino’s judgement to have such faith in him looks increasingly suspect. Vertonghen was anonymous. The gaps between the four of them were as wide as the Grand Canyon. The first half was the DVD of How Not To Defend.

Better teams than Villa would have scored more than one. Of course Spurs allowed Villa to break their duck. How can everyone be in the wrong place at the same time? We can. Weimann turned the ball in.

At the other end, Kaboul fumbled from close range and Soldado looked wistfully at the ball as he propelled it into Row Z, wondering how on earth it got there. He then set up Adebayor, clean through but his weak shot was saved by the excellent Guzan. Pochettino, Wengeresque, threw his water bottle feebly to the ground. He looked awful, I assume it was a virus rather than the effect Spurs is having on him but then again, perhaps Spurs has become a virus, sucking away the ability to manage a football team. Once again he did not get through to his players although his substitutions eventually turned it around.

It was embarrassing, you get the picture. At half-time the commentators suggested Pochettino would lay into his men. Almost certainly no one was listening. We were getting nowhere fast then Benteke was sent of for pushing Mason in the face after a few tackles flew in on the touchline. It was a way back into the match for Spurs that we had not earned and it looked as though we would not take advantage because we played the same way against 10 as we did against 11. Villa kept us very quiet, then Kane came on to brighten the day. I would have started him. His energy lifted everyone, his runs and angled passes posing problems.

I would not have played Chadli but Chadli it was at the far post to volley home a corner. Then Kane had the nerve to insist that the late free-kick was his and his alone. A most unlikely win, welcome though it was. I feel for Villa fans: when you are down, you are down.

Kane and Mason aside, there were no other positives in this grisly tale of woe. Enjoy the points but tremble at the thought we might play like this again next week. I really thought we had gone past this. Long season….

Spurs Wave The White Flag For Bill

The day began basking in the warm glow of the celebration of the life of Bill Nicholson, the greatest figure in the long and distinguished history of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. It ended in ignominy as Spurs folded the moment the slightest pressure was applied to their fragile egos.

I’m still struggling to wash away the stench of complacency that lingers like the odour of smoke and stale beer from a night out in a 70s pub. This shower are happy to strut and showboat against inferior opposition in midweek but disappear as soon as they are required to step out of their comfort zone. The intelligence and effort required to hold onto a lead or fight back is apparently beneath them. When they said ‘wear white for Bill’, I didn’t think waving the white flag was what the club had in mind.

Spurs eased into control early on and maintained it throughout an undistinguished first half without playing especially well. They didn’t have to. An injury-hit Newcastle side low on morale and points offered little resistance. We made fewer chances than we should have – Chadli missed the best of them – but had the comfort of Adebayor’s far post header from a carefully considered cross by Ryan Mason.

Oblivious to the big bloke on the left who came on for the second half, Spurs were undone by the cunning ploy of him getting the ball and running towards our goal. Unchallenged, unnoticed by some defenders, Ameobi scored, the only dispute being whether it was after 7 or 8 seconds. Utterly inexcusable. The whistle had gone but really, the cheek of starting a game before we were ready. At least for their second we tried to get in the way, another run down the left, Sissoko bulldozed  through puny challenges before a cross found the smallest guy on the pitch, far too good in the air for our international centre halves.

From then on, Spurs had no idea of how to score. Eriksen briefly flattered to deceive then faded into the morass with the rest of this sorry bunch. We shuttled the ball back and forth across the edge of the box, with each man holding on to the ball just long enough for them to be tackled. Could not keep the ball. I’ll excuse Rose, always available on the left even if not every cross was accurate, and Mason, who seems to be the only one who’s read the memo about playing the ball quickly and forward. Lennon came on to add pace and width, and resolutely kept as far away from the touchline as possible. This was beyond tactics, it was just stupid.

Last weekend I tried to pick the bones from a performance of contradictions. There was good and bad, progress since Pochettino took and regression. Now I think we have a clearer idea of where we stand.

The striker problem has been done to death. Levy has left us ludicrously short of options. Thursday night was part of Kane’s development not a sign that he’s a matchwinning Premier League striker, although I’m delighted with his progress. Other things that in the recent past I have noted but left as asides or footnotes have come centre stage. Kaboul’s heroic performance at the Emirates could, should have been a sign of much needed resilience. Instead that good game is the blip amidst a mediocre run. I read about his inability to motivate as captain – that’s not the problem. He needs to play better, especially alongside Vertonghen who’s just coasting. And if the mananger’s key job is to judge players, I question the wisdom of putting so much store in a man who has lost the spring and suppleness that made him stand out, or for that matter selling Dawson when there’s no effective back-up.

After the QPR game I characterised Lamela as our hero in waiting, and supporters have waited so long for such a figure. He doesn’t seem to want it. Rabonas are for the hipsters and the showreel. Easily crowded out by defenders when he has the ball, off it he doesn’t cover. No coincidence Newcastle put that big bloke on our right. Dier was exposed: suddenly he looked so young, the aura of strength and promise slipping away. Mason screamed at Lamela, “F**king get back”. He didn’t.

Eriksen unable to control a midfield. Chadli happy when he can play the game at his own pace but unwilling to graft when that’s required. He was not alone. Our hopes for goals largely rest on that midfield three but all they gave us was indifference.

Most worrying of all, we do not have the players to suit Pochettino’s style. A pressing game, early forward passes, high tempo – if these are his trademarks this group of players are not responding. It’s noticeable that Mason, the player who does, is young, new and so presumably willing to listen and learn. Lamela, Chadli and Eriksen remain resistant. Yesterday Poch was unable to influence matters on the pitch. This unresponsiveness from the players does not auger well for the future and is of grievous concern, given that by and large this squad will take us through to the end of the season.

No doubt you’ll read invocations of the spirit of Billy Nick in stark contrast to the lack of commitment and application of yesterday’s team. There’s a great deal of truth in that. Nicholson would indeed have been furious at the sight of such a sorry spectacle but it’s not as if he would have been unduly surprised. On plenty of occasions during his reign, Spurs’ soft centre was laid bare and the slow handclap echoed round the Lane. He may have set the standards but many times the players failed to achieve them and not in the ‘defeat has echoes of glory’ sense either. I’m talking about inconsistency and defensive openness.

There are differences though that the players, manager and board would do well to reflect upon this week as they try to turn things around. In the current climate, Nicholson would have faced persistent calls for his dismissal in the media and from supporters on social media. Spurs finished 7th, 6th and 11th in the 3 seasons following the ’67 Cup win. After the glorious Cup Winners Cup victory in 1963, league form was patchy – 6th and 8th in the next two seasons. The League Cup wins in 71 and 73 would have been adversely compared with the Double and Europe – ‘only’ the League Cup.

In fact, these seasons demonstrate Nicholson’s great strength as a manager – he rebuilt teams, twice, going on to success each time. He wasn’t dismissed. He was allowed to choose his own players, albeit within a constrained budget. He was given time.

The other difference is Nicholson’s personal committment. This was no golden age of unbroken glory. He watched many poor performances and it hurt him, deep inside. I doubt very much if anyone at the club felt that pain this morning.

To celebrate his life, I did exactly what I normally do at every home game. I think that’s what he would have wanted. ‘Wearing white for Bill’ is OK as it goes. I’m not sure signing the wall in the club shop is quite the appropriate tribute but if people want to sign, why not.

Yet on the same day, there are more stories in the papers about a possible move to Milton Keynes while the new ground is built, something that supporters in the recent Trust survey overwhelmingly opposed. I don’t know anyone who understands why the club would consider this even for a millisecond, let alone be in favour of a move.

Once again it was left to supporters to say the one thing that truly matters right now. A flag in the north west corner displayed another quote from the great man: “We must always consider our supporters for without them there would be no professional football.”

Signing a wall or buying a shirt with Nicholson’s name inside the collar is marketing, not involvement or a tribute. To me, it’s an insult. Yesterday the stands, the trains home, the burger queues, all were filled not with anger but with apathy. The distance between club and supporter inches ever wider. It’s no way to run a football team.