Tottenham Hotspur Season Preview 2011/12. Now Is The Time

Football hardly seems important in N17 today. Regards to the families and good people of Tottenham.

Here’s part 1 of the season preview – an overview. More on Tuesday, earlier if I pull my finger out – the best of the rest, tactics and off the field

Season 2011-12 represents a watershed in the modern history of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Add two or three players to a squad bursting with talent and ambition, Spurs have a side that could compete with the League’s elite this season and found a modern dynasty as success breeds success. Get it wrong even by the smallest margin and the consequences will reverberate for years to come. We won’t notice anything to begin with – we’ll do all right as we are. Then, gradually, the momentum of a season in the Champions League will dissipate and some of of the brightest emerging talents in Europe will leave, disillusioned. Fade to grey.

I prefer evidence to rumour, reality to fantasy. Although there’s little transfer gossip in these pages, even I have reached the point where the next striker who arrives will receive a personal welcome upon a carpet of rose petals and garlanded with handpicked flowers. The season begins not against Everton on Saturday but when the transfer window closes. It’s not right.

Last summer’s failure to strengthen our ability to score goals was a significant moment. However, this time it’s now or never. Key players are a year older and four or five years wiser, battle hardened veterans of Europe where they earned as much in defeat as in victory. Not only that, they hunger for glory, having whetted their appetite. The difference is, now they know what to do and that they can do it. Also, all summer I have said that never mind who comes in, the absolute imperative is who stays. if we don’t make it this time, There’s no way we can resist the instable demands and unrestricted resources of top teams in this country and abroad. By the end of August, our plans could be in tatters. Now is the time.

The Core

Spurs can build the team around the sumptuous Luka Modric, a supremely skilled footballer and precious playmaker. At his feet, football becomes a thing of wonder and beauty, yet his real value to the team is as the fulcrum around which everything flows and revolves. Criticism of his lack of stature by the unseeing and unknowing is laughable. He’s fearless in the tackle, his work rate not in question.

He’s brave in another sense too. He rarely takes the easy option, making himself readily available to colleagues in all areas of the pitch and when in possession seeking the ball that means something rather than handing over responsibility to someone else to make things happen. If that should be in two or three passes time, he anticipates and moves to be in the right place at the right time. Would that his team-mates were so acute.

Alongside him we have two of the best young prospects in Europe, Gareth Bale and Sandro. The threat posed by Bale’s power and direct running first took our breath away at the Lane then was reflected in the glazed empty eyes of a succession of terrorised Premier League right-backs. Europe sat bolt upright when he destroyed the European Champions  over two games. In 40 years I’ve never seen so much skill on the ball coupled with such rampant athleticism.

Yet even he could be eclipsed by Sandro. After a hesitant start under the unaccustomed pressure of English football, he not merely found his feet, he made an exponential leap. Again Europe was his platform with performances of remarkable maturity. He’s a real defensive midfielder, mobile, physically very strong and comfortable on the ball and utterly  fearless in his challenges in his own box. The possibilities are limitless.

Step forward big Tom Huddlestone. Say that every year. His progress has been held back by injury but perhaps it’s given him time to reflect on how he can add anticipation and positional sense to his superb passing and control.

Further forward we have Rafa Van der Vaart. His late arrival surprised Redknapp to the point where he wasn’t quite sure where to play him. A central free role in front of midfield  makes the best use of his eye for an opening, speed of thought and execution plus his accurate shooting. The opposition simply cannot contain him for the whole 90 minutes.

Recently I was asked to name my best ever Spurs team from players I’ve actually seen, which in my case is 1967 onwards. Without hesitation Ledley King took precedence even over over greats like Mike England. His strength, pace and anticipation coupled with precise timing in the challenge make him the perfect centre back. His injury is tragic for a man loyal to the club and who deserves worldwide recognition. We can’t rely on him being available regularly, if at all, but I refuse to right him off until I see him trundling down the High Road in a wheelchair, and even then I’d be inclined to give him a go. He may have 15 or 20 games a season in him, but think what he could give us if Redknapp chooses the right 15 or 20.

Michael Dawson has overcome his lack of pace to become a giant of the penalty box, a true leader. he wants to win so much, his passion is infectious. He’s also a fine example to younger players hoping to break into the team. When many said he was not good enough, he was determined to prove otherwise. Out of the picture for a time, he took his opportunity a couple of years ago as if it were his last, and has never looked back even after a serious knee injury on international duty. Like he’s never been away, back he came, unflinching in the tackle and a steely glint in his eye. Our captain, our inspiration.

Alongside him he has the canny Gallas, another man who could have allowed his career to slip away in comfortable well-paid security but who took on the challenge of not only the Premier League but also of playing for the bitter rivals of his previous teams. His commitment and experience won over even the greatest cynic, culminating in a defensive masterclass at the Emirates.

He may look at times like a labrador puppy, long-limbed and unco-ordinated, but Younis Kaboul is proving to be one of Harry’s shrewdest signings. Another man anxious to take his chance, he has the pace, power and touch to become a top quality centre half. i expect much from him in the months and years to come.

The Problems

So that’s what we’ve got, and it’s a lot. The main problem is, there’s no mention of a striker so far. Pointless if we don’t have anyone to make and score goals on a regular basis. Last season we were embarrassingly lacking in this respect and all this prodigious talent will be criminally wasted if we don’t right that wrong.

Best of the bunch was Pavlyuchenko. Scorned by a manager supposedly famous for his man-management skills, Pav was toddling along, not doing much and apparently not too bothered, oblivious of what was going around him and of haircuts post 1971. Through  clenched teeth Redknapp was forced to name him because the others were so bad. Pav blew hot and cold. I’m sure his YouTube showreel makes him look like a world-beater as the shots thumped in from range towards the close of least season, yet on other occasions his amateurish control and poor link-up play made one despair. Give him a yard to move onto the ball – look at those goals again, see what I mean – he’s a world beater but that’s the yard you don’t get that often in the Premier League.

Defoe’s work rate improved in inverse proportion to his ability to create danger in the box. A couple of piledrivers show his talent but we need him in the box. Too often he hung back in the comfort zone rather than hammer to the edge of the 6 yard box. In so doing he often bumped into Crouch, ambling towards the back post. It’s a refrain familiar to readers of this blog over the last 12 months. Play Crouch and sure, you will always get something. The point is, we could get something more from the players at our disposal. His presence encourages the long ball, as did sadly the coaches’ tactical talks towards the end of last season. At a stroke the advantages of our passing game are largely nullified. Opponents know where the ball is going to go and anticipation is two thirds of the battle. A nudge in the back and he’s out of the game.

Redknapp’s quintessentially British big man/little man up front is outmoded in the modern game. We need two pacy, mobile strikers able to bring others into the game. If they do so, we can improve on the goals from midfield total, an area where we’ve been lacking of late. If the man can poach 20 goals a season, so much the better, but he doesn’t have to be a high scorer provided he makes the team play. VDV and Luka are desperate to slide balls into  the space or to pick up a late runner from midfield. 

At the other end, Gomes proved the doubters wrong once before, now he has to do so all over again. The occasional ricket from this likeable, agile keeper was outweighed tenfold by fabulous full-stretch saves but just as his confidence off his line increased, the mistakes became a habit. Friedel is a sound signing, both as back-up and to give the Brazilian a nudge without undermining him. His opening month will be crucial for him and the team.

High Stakes

Without raising ridiculous expectations, there’s potential busting out of N17 0AP. I’m convinced Levy has money available for transfers and does not have to rely on sales to fund incoming players. The men we want are much in demand and his legendary bargaining qualities will be fully stretched over the next two weeks.

Keep what we have. Adding a couple of strikers plus a centre half will work wonders to a quality squad all set to achieve. Players are maturing. They’ve learned to be resilient in Europe, a quality they must take to every single league game. Redknapp has to stir it all together, it’s a tasty future. Fail this time around and it will all fall apart.

More next week – the squad, the tactics, off the field

14 comments

  1. DAVSPURS

    You have a lot od good points but you do not have all the facts that will explain why we failed to score enough Goals if you want to see why just look at Utd second half tempo and the frenetic defending and attacking will give you a clue. When Huddlestone and other players got injured we could not field a settled side and yes Crouch at 6ft7 is a way out of defence and when our team where getting pressed by energised players this was the only way to get out of defence the problem was Dawson and our others players except Ekotto cross field pass could not find Crouch or when they did the defender was in his back elbowing him and with a 4411 turning into 451 and Crouch isolated we had no attack because Van got deeper when Hudds was out for four months. We drawn 14 games and in those games we where leading if we had won them games we would have finished 2nd Gomes without KING he is not the same secure keeper.. The simple truth is our strikers never played two games running in a 422 formation to play 451 you need high tempo defending and attacking for the whole or the second half of games to get a result and what i discovered its not legal is dangerous and worst of all cheating and City captain was not alone WOLF. Like i say watch today’s game in the charity shield and the Tempo because its not real and the last time these met 2.1 to Utd Toure failed a drug test when Rooney stole all three points with his overhead kick and Nani fled the World Cup because his manager got sacked for stopping testers from getting samples . He later starred for Utd in pre season in America Utd won the league Qeuros ex utd and Portugal manager got sacked even though Ferguson flew to his aid with a reference he was anti drugs yet he was coach when Ferdinand legged it .

  2. Albert Swash

    What a pleasant change to get an intelligent reply to an article as opposed to the garbage that is usually posted regarding our team. I live in Canada and have followed the Spurs since the days I cycled from Chelmsford to watch them every other week at the age of 12. The additions your writer deals with are exactly what is needed. Particularly strikers and a center half. My only regret now is I am only able to watch the games occasion depending on my satellite selection of games. Thank you for your comments I will watch out for you as often as I see you on my computer.
    Best of luck to you and our team.

    • Lettermen1

      Albert, you can rely on Alan -he always puts his points across very well with no BS…. I’ve supported Spurs since 1959 and he is the best when it comes to discussing our team

    • Alan

      Thanks Albert. It’s all like that. Bores people rigid….

      Drop by this season, y’hear.

      Don’t know I suddenly became sort of Beverley Hillbillies there. One for the kids, that one.

      Look forward to hearing from you again,

      Regards,

      Alan

  3. Alee

    Yes, good article. My thoughts generated from what I’v seen and read here and elsewhere; I think that the big elephant in the room is VDV. His skill is immeasurable no doubt, but I don’t think he should play on the same pitch with Modric. They’re both play-makers who need to orchestrate the offensive play themselves, with their immediate team mates around them working around them and their respective play-making endeavours. To use a turn of phrase: ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’.

    So if VDV is on the pitch, being so orientated towards offence it seems logical to pair him with our most defensive midfielder of Sandro ideall; That would facilitate a 442 which, looking at the current squad alone, would allow Defoe, who looks the most potent of the three strikers in my opinion to play regularly with either of the other two, preferably Pav. (give Crouch the Euros. He’s good in Europe) because ideally I just think he needs another player up there with him, instead of someone who scampers off to fetch the ball back towards the half way line, ala VDV. Alternatively if you want to fit Huddlestone in the midfield then I think he may mesh in better with VDV up front with maybe Defoe or Crouch, but only with Hudd’s distributing skills will VDV feel that he can get the supply he demands up front, and latch on to Crouchy’s knockdowns etc. instead of leaving the front man isolated. (Crouch is even worse than Defoe when left alone up front)

    Note, If it sounds like I’d prefer VDV in the playmaking role with either Sandy or Hudd instead of Modric, I’m not. More likely the opposite, It depends on who we’re facing, VDV for the more flamboyant opposition, perhaps. I’m only trying to make the point that there’s space for only one playmaker in this team because VDV does only what he wants, and usually does it very well but only meshes with certain players in order to get the best out of the whole offensive play.

    I’m also bearing in mind I haven’t really considered Kranky in the whole equation although I really like him. Would like him on the wing with Bale as full back frankly, but that’ll never happen. Well he’ll get to stretch his legs like the rest of the spares in the Europa/Cups; What, with that and our usual train wreck injury list they’ll have to like what they get, alternatively they can play their socks off and give harry no choices in the team selections by forcing their way into the room, winning vital games in the process! lol

    I also haven’t considered who will come in by the end of August as pondering that is futile isn’t it? I’ll leave that to someone else.

    • Alan

      The Modric/VDV is fascinating, I’ll try to cover that when I do the tactics preview. I had raved about both of them and thought Rafa could be player of the season because everything will go through him. However, if you have good DMs, including Diarra if he arrives, and Luka must play, then one of Diarra, Sandro and Hud will sit it out each game. That’s supposing Bale and Lennon play, but then are we too attacking with two wide men, in which case is VDV the luxury?

      I’ll have a ponder.

      Regards,

      Al

      • Alee

        Modric won’t be sold. With his contract, the cost of a remotely comparable replacement, His market sell on value, with (so far) only one season out of the Champs League, and with sufficient professionalism not to do a Berbatov we definitely can afford to ask for no less than 45 million – minimum. He’s not going anywhere.

        Next season is another matter again however.

  4. Sam-I-Am

    A watershed season indeed. Two huge steps forward followed by last season’s step backward. The next step, forward or backward (or indeed not taking a step at all), will as you correctly point out, define what Spurs are about for the foreseeable future.

    As for me, after such a long time of crushed hopes and expectations for our beloved Spurs, I think my heart will explode if the current bunch of talented players, real momentum and wonderful style is allowed to peter out. Especially when Glory was – is well within reach!

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