Sherwood Goes But Levy’s Still There

A single moment in early May, east London, perfectly encapsulated Tottenham Hotspur’s entire season. Stewart Downing’s insipid free-kick from the edge of the box should have been easily blocked by Lloris’s meticulously assembled wall. Yet Paulinho and Adebayor stood aside, allowing the ball to sail into the bottom corner.

This was more than merely another of the record-breaking number of crass, unforced defensive errors that have blighted our season. They, two of our most experienced players, men we should be able to rely upon, failed to do their duty when it came to the crunch. They have not been the only ones.

This lack of responsibility has seeped into every part of the club, a gangrenous sore festering throughout the body Spurs, undermining any efforts to make concerted progress with regular stinking, slimy eruptions sadly synonymous with the way we go about our business. Risible defensive lapses, managers coming and going, fans singled out by police, comedy press conferences, over £100m on players to mount a challenge for 6th and 7th, all this and more has made Spurs a laughing stock, not least in the eyes of many of their long-suffering supporters. Some laughed, many were angry, all despaired of ever seeing the club attain the stability that is the foundation of achievement.

Amid the anger and finger-pointing that has typified Spurs’ fans on social media, nobody at the club should escape the blame. Villas-Boas’s dismissal and a change of style all created uncertainty and disruption, definitely on the field and if accounts are to be believed, in the dressing room too. Sherwood’s inexperience was laid bare so many times.

Equally, too many highly paid players did not give their best every time they pulled on the shirt. The shining exceptions of Eriksen and Lloris whose attitude and quality were impeccable in the second half of the season serve to expose those with less distinguished seasons, like Vertonghen, Rose, Naughton and Paulinho. Soldado and Lamela, £53m for the pair, not their fault that we had no idea what to do with them.

Yet this is ultimately a failure of Daniel Levy’s leadership. He takes the decisions – two managers this season, a grand total of 9 in 12 years. If I ran my organisation like this, I would be sacked. Levy continues to make the same mistakes, over and over again. In comes a Director of Football and he shuts his eyes, ears and mind to what has gone before. The first sign of pressure, Levy’s feet of clay collapse. At least Spurs’ managers have the comfort of never having to hear the dreaded vote of confidence but only because the chairman doesn’t talk in public.

Much has been said about Levy, the pivotal figure in recent Tottenham history. It’s alleged that he’s stupid, finance-driven, foolish with the backbone of a jellyfish, and far, far worse. Some, a distinct minority now, don’t see him as a failure, pointing to our sound finances, the impending new ground and the relative success of the past few years where Europe is a given. We are much better off than when he took over, so this account goes.

That’s true. The real question, however, is what we might have been. Levy is guilty of flawed leadership. Any successful leader in any organisation has a clear idea of what they want to achieve, how they do so and how they take the workforce along with them. Levy is fatally undermined because he’s torn between two competing goals, success on the field and a return on his money. Never forget the ‘I’ in ENIC stands for ‘investment’.

In an ideal world, one that Levy presumably prays for before he goes to bed, these two are perfectly compatible. We do well on the pitch with players bought at a reasonable price and not receiving inflated salaries, and the money comes rolling in. In reality, it’s much harder. Spurs strategy since Levy took over has been to buy players for whom the club is a step up and who will develop as footballers with us. Our recent history is best seen not so much in terms of the managers but in the eras of the three Directors of Football, Arnesen, Commoli and now Baldini, because they seem to be charged with finding these players. Arnesen bought a clutch of predominantly young players while as time went on we bought under the same principle but higher up the food chain. Berbatov and Modric were established but had more to give, as do Eriksen, Paulinho and Capoue. This time round, Lamela was one for the future but Soldado and Lloris were at the peak of their powers, a sign or so we thought that we were aiming for the big time.

However, Levy has never been able to implement the most significant element of any strategy, consistency. He doesn’t believe in the men he entrusts with the team. As a result, the strategy never gets beyond the drawing board, known this season as the burst of wild optimism that greeted the arrival of seven new players. This fatal weakness and vacillation dooms any plan to failure.

Levy understands money, one half of being a club chairman, but not the other, football. Fairly basic in the post’s person spec but there you have it. As a result he is dependent on advice and at Spurs whoever is whispering in his ear at any one time seems to hold sway. It creates this culture of uncertainly. Poyet briefed against Ramos, to the players as well as the chairman, Jol and against Santini and now Sherwood against AVB.

CEOs prosper not because they know the nuts and bolts of a business but they know how to choose someone who does. Pfizer’s chief exec can’t invent or manufacture anti-biotics but she or he knows who can, then they don’t interfere in the lab. Author, journalist and Spurs diehard Adam Powley made a simple but telling point earlier this season that I keep returning to. Never mind ENIC out or ENIC in, what will do us nicely is if they do their job as owners properly and with responsibility. Yet this is no way to run a company.

AVB’s appointment seemed to fit the bill, an ambitious, upwardly mobile manager desperate to succeed. A theorist rather than a practitioner he may be but with the right organisation on the field we could have prospered.

He over-achieved in his first season but could not cope with the demands of integrating seven new players into the team. I have never bought the accusation that our football was dull because he was defensive. I just think we weren’t very good. More specifically, he wanted us to attack and pass the ball but our possession-based game foundered in the final third because Villas-Boas’s formation was ineffective and didn’t suit the players.

We came to a grinding halt at the edge of the opponent’s box. Too many providers and no finishers. His inverted wingers crashed into defenders standing idly by around their area. All they had to do was stand there as Townsend banged shot after shot into their bodies. He and Lennon were never going to score the goals we needed with only Soldado up front. He meanwhile waited in vain for throughballs and crosses. Criminally AVB allowed a row with Adebayor over a hat and mobile phone in a team talk to interfere with the good of the club. Manu was banished when we needed a different type of centre-forward, his type.

Overflowing with midfielders, we persisted with two wingers and played others out of position. With at least three attacking mids to chose from, Paulinho found himself played there instead, watching the ball ping around dover his head for the most part.

Crashing defeats versus Manchester City and Liverpool at home showed the gulf in class, or maybe it was the crashing boredom of the odd goal wins. Whatever, less than half of the difficult second season and Levy had had enough.

Any questions about whether this was decisive or premature paled into insignificance when we saw who replaced him. Tim Sherwood’s appointment was sold to fans and media as continuity, the promotion from within of a guy who knew the club and the players, to steady the ship. However, the reality is impossible to deny. Levy had no plan B. AVB’s sacking was a panic measure and he had no one lined up.

Sherwood was given an 18 month contract but he was always a caretaker until the end of the season. The board knew it, the fans knew it, the players knew it and even Tim knew it. Levy wanted something and someone better but had to wait until the summer to sort it out. All the 18 months meant was that the end of contract compensation would be less than the usual three years. Today, the day he was sacked, it was revealed that even this short contract had an end of season break clause.

Despite his obvious shortcomings, I don’t blame Sherwood for taking the job. I blame Levy for giving it to him. Spurs wanted to challenge for honours and the top four, this season and in those to come. At the start of the season I felt Spurs were top six not top four so my dissatisfaction is not the result of over-weaning, unrealistic expectation. Levy chose to achieve his aim in an intensely competitive league by appointing a man with absolutely no managerial experience at all. It is astounding that this could happen in a club with our ambitions, a club that has spent £100m on transfers with pretentions as a global player in the game. No experience as a manager whatsoever.

He topped this staggering negligence by re-creating the caretaker experience of 2004, the darkest days in my time as a Spurs supporter. Then, Spurs entered the season confident that a 3 man injury-prone midfield with a combined age of over 90 (Anderton, Redknapp and Poyet) would last until May. Pleat took over and we scraped through, due in no small part to unsung hero Michael Brown who popped up unexpectedly in Ledley’s testimonial last night, still running and still kicking people.

The football was dire but the atmosphere desperate. The hopelessness and lack of purpose. Everything was about muddling through until the end of the season. At least in the Second Division we were working towards something.

Then and now we were just marking time until the summer. It takes away the extra incentive, the edge that turns a decent team into a competitive one, also-rans into contenders. It’s an awful feeling that transmitted itself to the fans. Loud and raucous away, the Lane was often hushed in contemplation, or, and let’s be frank, boredom. I can’t recall a time when so many said they had had enough. Sherwood is sacked 3 days before the season ticket renewal deadline. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Tim the Temp was determined to seize his chance, the reason why he took the job in the first place. He used his time to learn about being a manager and write his CV. He started well, keeping it admirably simple. He asked players to play familiar roles and brought Adebayor back into the team, where he excelled. Even in his fine play there was the lingering stench of what might have been had AVB not been so foolish as to ostracise him.

His inexperience was revealed when he tinkered with the tactics. Over a period of time we played several different formations, including, absurdly, the same 4-3-3 with inverted wingers, players out of position and a high line that got AVB the sack. At times we were a rabble, well-beaten by the good teams, shell-shocked after Liverpool and Chelsea where the motivation was as poor as the tactics. Some of the football stank the place out.

His desire to get the ball forward and reluctance to play with a defensive midfielder left us wide open in midfield. I get the theory. I saw the evidence: us being over-run, even by some limited sides. The PL is not the place to test that theory out.

Most aggravating was his search for a role and identity. Touchline arm-waving became an undignified, comical gilet-chucking spat with the Benfica manager, who chuckled at his playground psychology that had successfully wound his victim up. He then retreated to the director’s box, playing the role of all-seeing analyst. Happily waving to the elite, his peers as he no doubt hoped, as Spurs lost the return leg went down extremely poorly. As Spurs were being taken apart by Liverpool, he remained aloof and distant. I suppose he believed he looked hard and stern, I thought he looked a prat. This plus his readiness to blame players in defeat but take credit for a win gave the impression that this was more about him and less about the club, the thing I find hardest to forgive in anyone associated with Spurs.

However, Tim was better as an attacking coach. Eriksen came into his own and we scored regularly. This got us out of trouble on several occasions. West Brom away was Sherwood’s Spurs in a nutshell. First half, the most abysmal defending I ever seen, plus a missed penalty. Lucky to concede only three. But WBA sat back and we notched three of our own, Eriksen equalising in injury time.

I think also that Tim had a bit of luck – we were awful for periods against Everton, Palace, Southampton and others, Sunderland even, but they did not press home their advantage. The fixture list was kind to him at the end of the season too.

Sherwood’s 59% win record has become the equivalent of Harry’s ‘2 points from 8 games’, a mantra of self-justification but there’s truth in both statements and I’m grateful. Try telling a non-Spurs fan what he’s like – they don’t believe us. He’s learned a lot quickly and will be successful in the job that surely will be his before the season begins, provided he gets over to the players a proper defensive formation. He seems more natural now, involved and animated on the touchline without going over the top and more considered in his post-match comments.

It’s just that I did not want him to practice football management on my team. Levy should never have allowed Spurs to be in this position in the first place. Sherwood had no incentive to plan ahead. He’s blooded a few young men but there was no sense of settling the team down to pick up in August where we left off, no continuity. Good teams benefit from their experiences together in one season to emerge stronger for the next. We start afresh. We have no settled pattern or combinations. The new guy could change everything. Not rate any or all of the £100m club. Off we go again. What a waste of a season.

It’s only football so I use the following quote with a sense of perspective. It has been said that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ The author was thinking about something more profound than the travails of a small club in north London but Daniel Levy would do well to reflect upon it. Once again we approach a new season without a plan let alone a manager. Players will leave, more will come in. More integration, more valuable time lost, more frustration in the club and certainly in the stands. The biggest problem of all is that this sentence could have been written at the end of almost any season since Levy took over.

End Of Season Farewells As Spurs Finish With A First-Half Flourish

“You’re getting sacked in the morning”. These days it’s not unusual to hear the chant, given that the tenure of the average manager is almost as short as the attention span of a goldfish. Rare however that it applies to both managers in the same game.

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This one came from the Villa fans, their rumbustious gallows humour a delight throughout the match, raising several rounds of applause from the Spurs support. Lambert was their target, a shrunken figure slumped on the bench for much of the game, once or twice absentmindedly applauding some random effort from his toiling players before slipping back inside himself. Premier League safety ended the tension and brought home the stark reality of how bad their season has been.

Sherwood meanwhile was far more chipper, approaching his impending P45 as a man with a plan. He’s spent half a season crafting his CV. The fine attacking football in the first half that won us this game was as good an advert as he could hope for. I didn’t see the much publicised incident where he invited a critical fan down to the bench for the last 5 minutes but that’s the man of the people tag right there, plus a little dig post-match at the lack of English managers in the game. The Villa support chanted, ‘give us a wave’. Perhaps his job application is on the hall table waiting to be posted.

The Villa defence

The Villa defence

He’s learnt a lot since he took over. I just wish that Levy had not decided to give him the chance to practice being a manager with my team. He played with Sandro as a defensive-minded midfielder. Afterwards he said this change of tactic was to break up opposition attacks but it’s puzzling to see why yesterday, given that the Villa fans dressed in traffic cones could have done better than their hopelessly ineffective team, as opposed to most matches in the last few months where for extended periods we were over-run centrally.

 

Sandro’s presence plus Villa’s lack of resilience gave the rest license to push forward. We quickly got right on top, with both full-backs pushing up, Adebayor running wide to create space for Siggy, Paulinho and Kane while Eriksen tucked to be at his creative best. Even Naughton made a run into the box from deep, that’s how much freedom we had.

 

The interplay was a pleasure to watch. Paulinho scored our first, on the end of a quick move involving several players, a blur of swift passing putting him in on goal. Before you could blink, a sharp cross from Rose on the left was turned in by the Villa centre half then Adebayor’s shot hit a hand. He must have something on several of his team-mates because after his last two efforts from the spot he still was the choice for this one, but well-taken.

 

We cheered the Spurs under 8s at half-time. We have a player called Magic Smalls, and that’s good. Villa fans kept singing but their fancy-dress conga was broken up by stewards. No fun allowed in a football ground.

 

Nothing much happened in the second half as Ledley’s XI tonight will probably provide sterner opposition than Villa. The subs board broke – who would have thought they had back-up numbers just in case? The match clicked to 91, yes 91 – usually stops at 90 however long the added time! Such was the drama of the final 45 minutes of the season.

 

We stayed for the lap of appreciation. The season highlights played out on dim jumbotron screens so they were barely visible. Metaphors wherever you look. Noticeably fewer other souls hung around, compared with previous seasons. I’m never quite sure if we are supposed to be appreciating them or they appreciate us. The Belgian players chatted amongst themselves – they could at least pretend. All they have to do is walk around a bit and wave, but no.

 

Gomes and Lamela exist! Lloris was engaged with the stragglers in the stands, perhaps his way of saying goodbye.

Season’s review to come later this week.

Spurs Fans Who Go Way Back – We Want To Hear From You

Do you know any fans who actively supported Spurs in the 1930s, 40s and 50s? Or are you one of those fans?

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The famous cockerel before it went up onto the new stand in 1934

If so, Martin Cloake and I would like to hear from you. I’m working with Martin on something that’s aiming to gather first hand memories of supporting the club from all those years ago. Martin is author and co-author of the essential library for every Spurs fan including with Adam Powley We Are Tottenham, the Glory Glory Nights and The Boys From White Hart Lane.

We’re interested in the day to day experiences of being a fan, in what the club meant to people and symbolised in those days, in why it attracted the support it did, where from and how.

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And if there’s anyone who goes back further than the 1930s, we’d certainly like to hear from you.

If you want to know more, please get in touch with me at tottenhamonmymind@gmx.co.uk or Martin on martincloake@mac.com we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Lloris and Eriksen Play Them On Their Own

If Spurs’ scabby season is remembered for anything, it will be for the anger and despondency generated as raised expectations were crushed by profligate ineptitude. Its symbolic moment, the peg on which we can hang our memories, took place yesterday just before half time.

Stewart Downing’s free kick was heading plumb for the centre of Tottenham’s wall. Paulinho and Adebayor moved out of the way and the Whammers had won the match. When it came to it, two of our most experienced players avoided their responsibilities. It wasn’t a powerful shot. All they had to do was stand there but they couldn’t even be bothered to do that. Any semblance of organisation fell apart at the slightest pressure.

As he left the field a minute or so later, Hugo Lloris shook his head slowly and puffed out his cheeks. Paulinho and Adebayor’s instinctive reaction was to turn their backs on their ball and in so doing on their team-mates.  They had let him and their team-mates down. You may be playing well or badly, in our case very badly, but you stick together. Apparently not at Tottenham Hotspur.

The impact on Hugo was greater than on any other Spurs player. Leading from the back, he was outstanding throughout, giving his all in a game that to most of his colleagues appeared meaningless, judging by their lack of effort or application. He threw himself to all four corners of his net and of his area, fingertipping low shots round the post, holding the straight ones and fearlessly venturing into the muscle and elbows of a packed penalty box to punch the danger away. If he is planning to leave it didn’t show but frankly after this, who can blame him.

The turning point was Kaboul’s dismissal on 25 minutes. After a sedate opening when Spurs played some decent football, it all fell apart when the centre half pulled Downing down as he rushed towards our box. Last man so was gone. Personally I would have backed Hugo against Downing so Kaboul was at best clumsy, reckless more like. Lloris saved Carroll’s thundering free-kick, of course he did, but Carroll headed in from the resultant corner via a deflection off the top of Harry Kane’s head.

In a season where we’ve seen some rubbish, Spurs formed a rabble and stank the place out to high heaven. Having no idea is bad enough, they had no inclination to do anything about it. Paulinho, such a disappointment, sauntered around. I swear he kept looking at his watch to see how long he had to put up with it, or maybe he was checking the times of the planes to Rio. He certainly wasn’t interested in playing for Tottenham. Dawson tried his best, Siggy was in headless chicken mode and Eriksen tried to make sense of how professionals could play this poorly. I couldn’t work it out and neither could he, but at least he did something about it. Otherwise, I would rather be locked in a broomcupboard with Piers Morgan, John Terry and a box of two-week old rotting fish than watch this.

In contrast, Wham were totally committed. I’ve seen them a lot this season and despite their muscular approach they can be vulnerable. Instead, they were first to every tackle and loose ball, although they didn’t have to work that hard because we gave the ball away so frequently. Bear in mind they have had their troubles too, with the added pressure of being sucked into the relegation places, yet they took on their challenge rather than run away from it as we did.

Sherwood’s half-time talk had a marginally beneficial effect although it’s hard to imagine how we could have played any worse. He moved us more centrally, sacrificing width for more bodies in the middle. Lennon stayed busy. Eriksen stood out with hard work and a couple of superb runs but his skills provoked a feeble response from the rest. He was excellent, while Lloris continued to excel too. 10 v 11 is hard enough but this was 2 v 11.

Couple more things to make you feel even worse, if that’s possible. Carroll is Wham’s dangerman. Kaboul was marking him at set-pieces. When he was sent off, Spurs failed to react quickly enough. Kane seemed to be marking him for the corner that followed the free-kick. That was a mistake that led to the goal. Daws tried to get to him but too late. It was always a mis-match. No one on the field or on the bench reacted quickly enough. There was time to bring Chiriches on after the free-kick but before the corner. Sherwood was too slow and by such margins games are won and lost.

And then there’s Danny Rose. While the focus was on Kaboul’s foul, moments before Spurs’ back line pushed right up to the halfway line. As Downing ran through, Rose let him go. Before Downing’s free-kick, Rose gave the ball away when under little pressure in his own half, misdirecting a simple pass. Inexcusable on both counts.

On Friday I questioned the emotional commitment of the current squad. I doubt that playing for Spurs means as much as it should, therefore when it comes to giving that little extra, they are found wanting and that the way forward is to build regular, personal links between supporters and players so they understand the heritage and meaning of being Spurs.

This game exposed the yawning chasm between fan and player. This may be the end of the season but it’s a derby, it means something. Because of this, the fans give more but most of the players couldn’t give a hoot. The supporters who went not only paid a lot of money but took some massive stick. That’s what happens at a derby. The players could at least give something back. Disgraceful. No wonder we get angry.

It comes from the top. Levy’s appointment of a caretaker signalled that we had limited ambitions for this season but this blog has effectively been about that dereliction of duty and nothing else for the past few months so no more about it now. A few paragraphs above, without thinking about it, I wrote ‘they’ not ‘we’ when talking about the club. Slip of the keyboard maybe but it’s a small but telling example of how many supporters feel about the current situation. We’re not all in this together.