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.
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.
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.
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