In the aftermath of Chel**’s Champions League semi-final on Wednesday night, the cameras lingered with voyeuristic glee on John Terry as the pain of defeat caused his tears to flow. And to think that ITV’s football coverage has been criticised.
Let’s just say I’m not a fan of the alleged racist and leave it at that. Whatever my opinion of the man, there’s no doubt that he was genuinely affected by losing. Although he didn’t play in his club’s winning final and therefore missed out on a chance to win a medal by taking part rather than for bringing his kit along, this emotional reaction went beyond the personal. He deeply cared about his club and the result.
It made me wonder. Of our current squad, in the frankly preposterous eventuality that we had reached a CL semi-final, would anyone cry for Spurs?
In contemporary football discourse, any mitigating empathy is interpreted as an excuse for disreputable behaviour and in Terry’s case there’s plenty to choose from, never mind scenes at White Hart Lane where he has taken great delight in letting us know what he thinks of Spurs fans. Therefore let me say – this is not an excuse for him or his past, it has not altered my opinion of him one jot.
So this is about Spurs. Terry cares about his team – who of our lot feels the same, and does it matter? Michael Dawson comes to mind first, interestingly like Terry a tough centre half who makes up for a lack of top-level on-the-ball skill with physical presence and unswerving commitment. Daws feels like one of ours after so long at the club, although of course Terry has been with his club all his life.
He has always had something to prove. Originally the junior partner in a deal that brought Andy Reid to Tottenham, he’s had to fight hard to be first choice regardless of several managers who had notably different preconceptions of his worth. AVB, for example, nearly sold him because (again like Terry) he didn’t suit the manager’s preferred high defensive line, yet was compelled to revise his opinion.
My contact book is as thin as a sheet of rice paper rolled through a mangle but I’ve been told by journalists who have met him that his passion and honesty is completely genuine. He really feels the heritage of the white shirt with the cockerel-on-the-ball badge.
Tissues on standby for anyone else? Kyle Walker is unfairly maligned because, one, he’s better player than many give him credit for, and two, if we are behind in a game he will fight with determination to put it right. Kaboul and Lennon too for that matter. And a surprise late entry, no one has put more into the second half of this season than Adebayor. Holtby, if we ever see him again.
A caveat again – I’m not saying that they do this well every time or that it works. For example, Spurs conceded a third against West Brom a couple of weeks ago because of Kaboul’s recklessness in surging up the field. Walker was all over the place late on versus Chel**a.
All I’m saying is that I reckon they care. From a combination of what they do and looking into their eyes, they care. But to the point of being heartbroken at defeat in a big match? Not sure. Whereas Paulinho and Chadli, two skilful players, don’t feel it, and haven’t contributed enough this season.
The real question is, does it matter? Supporters and players will always be separated by this great divide. We support the shirt and expect players to do the same, but players are professionals, with professional pride but not necessarily an emotional attachment to whatever club they happen to play for.
This may not affect their performance. Lloris and latterly Eriksen are playing extremely well, giving everything, but there’s no evidence of an undying emotional commitment to the club. In response to the accusation that modern players are so cushioned and cosseted by their inflated salaries, my response is that I don’t mind provided that they give everything when they play for my club.
The Lane has felt like a passion-free zone since Sherwood was appointed. Not his fault – that’s an uncomfortable consequence of Levy’s short-termism both in dumping managers before they have a real chance and in creating his second caretaker role. We’re marking time until the summer. The players can’t play for their place or their manager because the new guy will rate them all differently.
Playing for something more than professional pride therefore does matter in my view. For a few, Ledley King being the shining light here, it means everything and sustains a level of performance and dedication against all the odds. Others come and go. For the majority, that extra commitment to the club provides just that little bit more of an incentive, and it’s that edge that makes in the difference in a league where margins between success and failure are narrow.
Good players can be made as well as born. This is yet another reason why any summer appointment must look to the medium and long term, to build continuity that includes a strong attachment with the club. Don’t just tell them their future is with Spurs, keep them and build a team where their talents can blossom. Explain the heritage. Let them come into contact with the fans regularly and in relaxed, ‘real’ situations not a Q&A, where they can absorb what it means for us.
There’s nothing of John Terry’s that I envy, he can even keep his money, but I wish for a few Tottenham players who feel the pain of defeat as much as he does.
Two intrepid Spurs fans are trekking in Wales this summer to raise funds for the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust. Go on, give them a couple of bob, good lads both. Click here for more info