Same Old Tottenham

The illustrations are from The Spurs Postcard Collection, a new publication from Vision Sports and perfect for your Christmas stocking. Scroll down for more details and 25% off for Tottenham On My Mind readers.

Try as they might, the new breed at Tottenham who did so well against Everton couldn’t overcome a Chelsea side that seldom shifted out of cruise control. Instead, familiar failings returned to crush early fresh-formed hopes that emerged from our bright, bouncy start. Taking on our opponents plus the momentum of recent history is hard enough without making the sort of crass defensive errors that we have come to know and – well, just know only too well.

hugo lloris

For the much of the match, Spurs reprised Sunday’s diligent approach. Bentaleb was excellent, especially in the second half as we pressed more men forward, often leaving him as the rearmost midfielder. They earned by far the lion’s share of possession, in contrast to the Everton game where we won with around 35% of the ball.

However, beyond the opening 20 minutes there was nothing much going up on front. A few oohs and aahs, maybes and could-have-beens as Eriksen and Lamela almost but not quite played the perfect ball. Last night almost was a long way. Chelsea dispassionately despatched their opportunities, grateful no doubt for not having to work very hard to get them, whereas we huffed and puffed without making a proper chance in the second half. Add a couple of defensive implosions and we were nowhere near competing in this one.

dave mackay

Spurs opened well and as so often flattered to deceive. Harry Kane continued his one-player offensive against complacency. Playing on his own up front, from the kick-off he took the game to our opponents. A different position compared to Sunday but the same result. Chelsea backed off and chances came our way. Vertonghen headed over and Kane’s header hit the bar. Lennon’s cross was slightly behind him but he did everything in his power to twist it on target. Lennon was dangerous too – a right-footed winger on the right, taking people on. Don’t how the tactical geniuses in charge of Spurs recently missed that one.

Kane then left Cahill on his backside, cut in from the left and his shot slithered across the goal and wide as three white shirts pleaded for a cut-back. For a time Spurs had control of the game, but that was pretty much that. The Blues stretched, wiped the sleep from their eyes and awoke. Lennon tracked back on Hazard but did not get goalside. Chiriches drifted forward a couple of yards to cover space at the edge of the box. Fractional errors, put them together and suddenly a one-two opened up yards of room on our right and Hazard scores. Such are the margins. Almost is a long way.

1981 FA Cup

Our system depends on not conceding the ball as we build from deep. The fullbacks push up and the centre halves split. Off they dutifully toddled as Hugo had the ball at his feet. They could only watch as the Frenchman’s feeble kick was picked up 35 yards out by a Chelsea player. No surprise the pass was good and Drogba made it two. Again a fatal error from our best player, and sadly not for the first time. All his athleticism and commitment, which we saw on several occasions in the hour that followed, wasted if he can’t kick the ball away very far.

Second half, Lennon went left and the ineffective Lamela right, allowing Eriksen to be busy in central areas. For Mason this was one match too far. He was replaced by Paulinho early on. Chadli helped Kane out up front but as I’ve already said, plenty of ball without getting anywhere, and there’s no point in saying more about that.

Time dragged as the match reached its inevitable conclusion. Not expecting much but I would have appreciated getting a shot in. 2-0 would hardly have been a consolation but the third still hurt. With Spurs pushing forward, Vertonghen was left one on one with sub Remy. Twisting and turning, Verts tried the block, thought about the foul but opted for falling over.  An easy finish.

Chelsea are streets ahead of the opposition this year, one of the best teams in Europe. No disgrace in losing to them, we’re not the first and won’t be the last, but it would have been nice to make them at least break sweat. They won at a canter, easily absorbing our pressure despite our best efforts.

Bentaleb was our best player, keeping things moving despite it all. Pochettino has gone from suit to blazer to tracksuit and now gilet (I shuddered at the memory). Still, it seems something is getting through at last. Develop this style and shape and good things will happen. Yesterday that was nowhere near sufficient to bridge the gulf in class between the two sides but tell me something I don’t know. Eyeballs out for Palace on Saturday, put everything into that game and come away with the points.

 

Those lovely people at Vision Sports are offering 25% discount for Tottenham On My Mind readers on the Spurs Postcard Collection. which retails at £12.99. Just use this code when you order: spursblogger

The collection comprises 50 postcards each with a painting of a Spurs legend and comes in a snazzy presentation box. Vision have a history of producing high quality books about Spurs, including the fabulous Biography of Spurs by Julie Welch and several classics by Adam Powley and Martin Cloake, all of which are warmly recommended as Christmas is coming, but they are just as good at Easter. They know the club and the fans so the images are well-chosen. Naturally enough there’s a preference for current or recent players, alongside not only stars across the years but also scenes such as the ’81 Cup win or Dave Mackay putting Bremner in his place.

All images copyright the Football Artist/Vision Sports

Reflections On A Heartwarming Victory: Spurs Fans and Players Stand Together

The search for the lost heart of Tottenham Hotspur is over. It was there all the time, waiting to be found by three young footballers, Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason. They knew all along what it means to be Spurs and their performances in Sunday’s defeat of Everton not only showed their more experienced team-mates the path to follow, they ignited and inspired the crowd. Together, as one, as it should be.

This was Spurs’ best performance of the season, superior to the big win over QPR because the Toffees are a much better side. Tottenham were disciplined, keeping a shape that ensured Everton had few opportunities but flexible enough to quickly turn defence into attack. Yet what stood out was the spirit and commitment of the whole team, playing with drive, application and purpose. Regardless almost of the result, this was a remarkable transformation compared with the festering sore of last month’s apathetic and alienating efforts.

The afternoon also revealed Adebayor’s deluded whinging about how our troubles were due to supporter negativity as the narcissistic self-indulgence it really was. The intoxicating mixture of the young men’s effort and noise from the crowd punctured once and for all the smug complacency behind his comments after the Stoke defeat. Players and managers spend their careers in crowded football grounds yet they never get it. Supporters and players aren’t different breeds. We’re inextricably linked, feeding off the emotional connection between us. This reciprocity isn’t about cause and effect: sometimes they get us going, sometimes we lift them. On the good days you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends, and this was a very good day. The alchemy created an exhilarating, emotionally charged atmosphere that lifted the spirits of player and supporter alike, in particular aiding a flagging side in the final 10 minutes to resist a series of Everton set-pieces as they searched in vain for an equaliser.

And this is what matters, truly matters, long after the final whistle. Matches, players, seasons come and go, fortune waxes and wanes, but keep the beating heart of a football club pulsing and you have the foundation of future success. The form of even the very best footballers ebbs and flows but if playing in navy blue and white means something to them, deep inside, they can find the strength to overcome adversity.

Heaven knows we’ve waited a long time for Bobby Soldado to score. We’ve gone through disappointment, frustration and anger to sympathy and condolence. Scoring goals on instinct since he was kid, once the flow dried up, he’s had no idea what to do about it. He’s like an old friend who has been through such bad times that you are compelled to look away as you wish him well because the pain in his eyes is too much to take.

So when the moment finally came, what mattered more to him, the billowing of the net or the ecstatic reception from the crowd? It was the noise, the song, the shared joy of a homecoming almost that surely will stay with him, that will mean he’ll give that little bit more when harder times come along. We had not rejected him despite it all. After the genuine celebrations in the corner, he took a long time to walk back to the centre circle, savouring each step, deep in reflection despite the elation all around him. The demons were banished. The half-time whistle blew a few seconds later and he skipped off to the dressing room.

Kane and Bentaleb were outstanding throughout. Kane has been ‘a prospect’ for a few years but I did not think he could come on so swiftly. It’s like a child’s growing spurt – you see them every day yet suddenly they physically and emotionally mature. It’s part of nature but still we are surprised. And pleased.

No pace but his close control was always a threat to an Everton defence whose weakness for backing off proved to be their undoing. Spurs began the game in good order but just as it seemed nothing was going to come from our play, and a goal down by this time, Kane took matters into his own hands and ran at them. Suddenly the back four were exposed. Howard could only push his hard shot to the feet of Eriksen who with care and precision placed the ball into the far corner.

Kane began the match on the right, helping Lennon stifle the dangerous Baines. As the half progressed it became clear Azza was doing a fine job on his own, thank you very much, so Harry could drift in and be more involved. The midfield needed assistance as Everton had the lion’s share of possession – here’s Harry back to help out. Soldado could be isolated on his own but wait, Harry’s there to lend a hand. 50-50 in midfield becomes a Spurs ball because Harry’s in. Defence is suddenly attack, on the break Harry’s set Lennon free for his only run at the defence. On the break he slips Bobby in and the finish across the keeper is just perfect. Later, Barkley’s dangerous in the centre replacing the ineffective Eto, this could be trouble -wait! Harry’s got him. Outstanding.

Bentaleb was a presence throughout. He is always available, keeps the ball moving and was instrumental in establishing and maintaining a decent tempo in our play. That’s the mark of a quality footballer. He too has matured, if not overnight then at the World Cup. In his demeanour he seems 5 years older compared with the end of last season.

Mason had less of an impact but played his part in the most solid midfield of the season. He and Bentaleb sought each other at the end and hugged, mutual congratulations for a job well done. Lennon was excellent, dutifully up and down his wing, less winging and more tackling back it has to be said but goodness knows Chiriches, a mistake waiting to happen, needs all the help he can get. Right-footer on the right, playing well – who knew?

Eriksen did well too, working hard from kick-off. Thought there was a different look in his eyes, more determination. As a unit they excelled, pressing high when required but mostly funnelling back to set up the barricades 40 yards out. Lots of calling to each other, encouragement, where to go, plug a gap. Soldado’s goal was preceded by an equally significant piece of play, where Everton had the ball for an extended period but were forced to go from side to side, unable to find a gap. Pushed back, they lost the ball and Kane did the rest.

We kept our shape and discipline throughout. This helped the back four immeasurably. Davies and Chiriches could tuck in or if they were brought out knew someone would slot in to cover. Vertonghen was clearly inspired by proceedings, visibly growing into the match and dealing with the second half pressure that came at him.

Lamela was the only problem. On for the tired Lennon and clearly given strict instructions to keep the shape, he just couldn’t resist. After a disciplined start, he left his post and charged around committing needless fouls. He could easily have been sent off rather than booked. Baines was livid with him for a couple of tackles and I don’t blame him. This weakness could end his PL career.

Much has been made of Spurs’ conspicuous lack of success on a Sunday following a Europa League fixture but the foundations for this win were laid on Thursday night. Bentaleb, Davies and Lennon had valuable game time while key pairings of Kane and Soldado up front and Fazio and Vertonghen at the back had time to get used to each other.

I’m pleased for the manager that an incredibly brave decision to play Mason and Bentaleb in the engine room came off. Also his preferred set-up needs the forward able to get into the box and drop back, a role Kane fulfilled admirably. It’s a telling indictment of Sunday’s benchwarmers and confirmed that Pochettino does not have the type of midfielder that he wants. The young players listen and respond. Not asking a lot but too much for some, apparently.

Without getting carried away – Chelsea hot favourites tomorrow – there was so much to enjoy on an afternoon that began with a conspicuous lack of optimism in the stands. They found what it takes to be a winning side. Nothing but credit all round.

Football Is Alive and Well On A Coach Trip To Wembley

Families sitting together. Parties of young people singing. Women and girls. Happy stewards laughing along with the crowd. I’m at a football match but it will never catch on.

This weekend I forsook Spurs for the Petts Wood Under 10s girls’ team. Called in as a late sub for my lovely daughter, I took my midfield schemer of a granddaughter to the women’s international between England v Germany. If nothing else, it’s most probably the only way I’ll get to Wembley this year.

My last Tottenham On My Mind piece characterised Spurs as a club without a heart, the Tin Man of football. I found the heart of football beating hard not in the Premier League, the supposed pinnacle of the British game, but at a women’s football match.

You probably know this was a record crowd for women’s football in this country, over 50,000 in the bottom two tiers at Wembley, despite the FA and Transport for London predictably conspiring to make it as difficult as possible to get there by choosing to hold the game on a day of a planned closure of Wembley Park station.

That was the only thing that was typical of a big football match in the capital. The ground was full of families and children. It was hard to see who was more excited, the children or their parents. 99% of them would not be able to identify any of the players if they sat next to them on the team coach, including me. But that didn’t matter. They were here to watch a football match, together, for its own sake.

My granddaughter doesn’t take outings and treats for granted but being part of an extended family who love the game, she’s been to Wembley three times already, once for the Olympic football and for two internationals. Even she was impressed though by the historic nature of this fixture, the first ever England women’s international at the new Wembley. She and her friends wanted to be part of something. They didn’t know the players or the tactics, they didn’t care it was a friendly or even who won, but they knew it was a good place to be on a Sunday afternoon. It was important and they were there.

What it must be to discover the enthralling, compelling fascination of football for the first time. The ebb and flow of the game, the welcoming comfort of the crowd. These days it’s hard to find that at a Premier League match, a league which sometimes feels as if they make it as difficult as possible to enjoy a day out. You want to secure the involvement of another generation in the game we love? Group discount for football clubs, adults £7.50, children £1.

A different experience in many ways. We went by coach and parked about 6 feet from the ground, under cover. I pined for the 45 minute queue for Wembley Park, well almost. Dutifully in full school trip mode we followed our group leader off the coach. It took 10 minutes to realise that he had no intention of going in the ground but was looking for a leisurely meal in the shopping centre. It had never occurred to me that Wembley had a shopping centre, let alone eat beforehand.

We turned round and went in to watch and feel the crowd build up. I’m proud to say my granddaughter has been well taught in the ways of being a proper supporter. She knows that the most memorable aspect of her last Wembley trip, for the international versus Peru, was the paper plane thrown from the top tier that hit a player on the head. Regarding half and half scarves, she’s as disapproving as only a 9 year old can be. But nobody cared this time. Kids wanted souvenir of the match and wore their scarves proudly. Things were so different, I even joined in the Mexican wave.

Back in the coach, radio on, second half from Hull and I’m back to normal, hunched in my seat, stomach turning over, gloomy then relieved. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but then again I learned to love the club game from an early age whereas I can’t help feeling Spurs sometimes make themselves hard to love.

No detailed match discussion this week. It was the first game this season I’ve not seen as it happened, no chance to write in the middle of a 14 hour day yesterday and anyway the time is past. Maybe just re-read the Villa piece. I’ve seen it now and relief rather than elation sums it up. Credit to the fightback and to the way the side kept pushing for the winner. Delighted that Eriksen was prominent in that resurgence, taking command and using the extra space very well. The late winner was a re-resurgence because Hull had successfully broken the play up to take away our momentum.

I’m conscious of being critical of the team recently. Honest is another word for it. I take no pleasure in pointing out how poorly we have played and the total absence of leadership from anyone within the club, on or off the field. Regular readers will know how much it hurts.

So enjoy the win, always, and the Spurs away support came through loud and clear on the radio, which is never taken for granted even though it happens every away match. Credit must go to Pochettino, who has given several players a run in the side but rightly made changes for this one, including changes in the spine of the side where he seemed to have settled on his best options.

But we were awful, simply awful, for much of the first half. I was open-mouthed at times even though I knew what to expect. Harking back to my last piece, this didn’t answer the question of heart, of being able to find the strength from within to make progress rather than expecting something outside our power to lift us. We had to wait for a red card again. Let’s leave it there with the comforting thought that if an infinite number of monkeys at typewriters for an infinite amount of time can produce the complete works of Shakespeare, surely Soldado is bound to score this century.

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.