Tagged: Champions League

The Glory Glory Nights by Martin Cloake and Adam Powley

Order this book. As a Spurs fan, you must, or else drop so many hints to your loved ones that you wake up on Christmas morn to find ten coffee-table book sized parcels under the tree. Between now and then, listen to the radio, read the blogs, watch TV and make a note of how many callers and pundits say either that the Champions League is vital for financial survival or that finishing fourth defines success.

Then read the Glory Glory Nights. Take a quiet moment, all to yourself. Turn the pages slowly. Take in every detail of the photographs that cover every page. Read the text that describes the exploits of bygone times, of heroes whose time has passed but who will never be forgotten by those of us who ever seen the all-white strip with the proud cockerel.

Now close your eyes. Under lights, your world is spread before you. Nothing exists beyond the shimmering bright rim, not for 90 minutes at least.  Close your eyes and feel the chill in your lungs, the breath billowing steam from 50,000 pairs of lungs rising high into the dark north London sky. Feel the Lane shaking beneath your feet. This is what Europe means to Tottenham Hotspur. Glory. It’s what football means. Read and marvel at the glory of those european nights and anticipate nights to come.

This loving history takes its title from a book written in the mid 1980s and commissioned by Irving Scholar, which co-author Spurs blog 87Martin Cloake wryly describes as the best thing he ever did for the club. It keeps two key elements of the style too, the liberal use of photos and incorporating quotes and headlines from the following morning’s backpages, which gives a sense of time and place. As Martin says,  until comparatively recently fans relied on the papers for an account of the match because there was no other way of finding out what happened. Even the radio was confined to the bigger ties.

However, this is no mere revamp. It stands up in its own right as a tender tribute to a glorious past and brings out the enticing beauty and wonder of this entralling, all-consuming passion. The unobtrusive but insightful text sets the match reports, one for every single game, in context. Then, it allows the reader to explore the story for themselves as it unfolds. The images are stunning, chosen with care by Doug Cheeseman with an eye for the drama and passion the glory glory nights inspire. While the book rightly gives due regard to our modern successes, the black and white images are irresistibly evocative. Fans with rattles and cut-out cups gathering at the gates, players celebrating together and plenty of goals frozen in time. Mixed in is the surreal too; the Double team on an open-top bus with a man dressed as a clown clutching a stuffed monkey toy, Peters leading out the team past a row of giant Romanian urns in the tunnel or a man dressed as an ‘Aspurnaut’ parading round the pitch in the early 70s.

As a kid I had no doubt as to the meaning and significance of Spurs in Europe. My glory years began in the early seventies. We may have put 9 past Icelandic part-timers Keflavik but I knew I was part of a great tradition, the first British side to win a European trophy. Erratic and underachieving in the league (nothing changes…), play in all-white under the lights and we were transformed, a team that could beat any side in the competition. Frequently the glory glory lifted us to new heights, and to see Spurs win the UEFA Cup on our own ground not once but twice will live with me forever.

The book does my memories justice. There are extensive interviews with managers and players. In an age when we tend to think of players as primarily motivated by personal glory and vast wads of cash, it’s refreshing to see that they too bought into the myth. Europe was special to them and still is. The book avoids falling into the trap of becoming just a nostalgia-fest by giving due prominence to our remarkable Champions League run. Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson both fully recognise the magic of the Glory Glory Nights and were inspired by them. Make no mistake: those games away and home versus Inter or the astounding away victory at Milan rank up there with the best of the best.

European ties were magical affairs in far-off, mysterious places. It’s not that long ago, for example, when Spurs would kick-off not having seen their opponents play before. They had to think on their feet, changing tactics at half-time in order to cope with the unknown.  And Spurs were pioneers; the Cup-Winners Cup in 1963, the first to win two trophies, the first fans to fly abroad to watch their team. It tells the story of why Spurs and Europe have a special relationship, the tale of what it means to be a Spurs fan. Simply wonderful.

The Glory Glory Nights: The Official History of Tottenham Hotspur in Europe by Martin Cloake and Adam Powley published by Vision Sports. Click here for a special site to see inside the book

Look out for an interview with Martin Cloake, coming soon.

The End of The World But Nothing’s Changed

The dread anticipation of the Doomsday Scenario was hideous, elongated as it was over several weeks as first the semi-final and then the season’s final day played out. Goals and sendings-off that weren’t, the bitter tease of a former Spurs keeper throwing three goals into his net, yet another rearguard action, all of this involving not just any club, not just one rival but both of our bitterest enemies. Bad enough, or so you would think. Not so: fate was having a ball so why stop there. The way things were panning out, being outplayed and snatching a winner on the break was all too predictable but a late equaliser, missed extra-time penalty and the last-kick shoot out never crossed my mind. Simply could not happen.

The consequences for Tottenham Hotspur didn’t bear thinking about, yet over the weekend I could think of nothing else. However, in the cold light of day, which for Spurs fans admittedly felt arctic, nothing has significantly changed. Planning for next season and the longer-term future is the key issue and always has been. Recent events have had little effect on the context.

What I want for Spurs more than anything else is a plan. I need to know that we have a long-term strategy to keep the club at the very top of the English game. Chucking money on a few marquee signings will keep most fans happy but it has to be part of something wider, stronger, more permanent. Change for change sake is a recipe for disaster. We can’t control the efforts of our rivals but we can be contenders, competing on merit with the very best.

While fans and the media focus inexorably and, frankly, tediously on Redknapp, Daniel Levy remains the pivotal figure at Tottenham Hotspur. The cornerstone of our present development is financial prudence. It’s been that way for many years and because of the impending costs of the new stadium that would not alter even if we were in the Champions League. Granted a season will produce a windfall that could go on players but Levy does not include such revenue in his budget calculations. He won’t overturn his principles and throw money at the problem, or as he sees it throw money down the drain in the pursuit of short-term success without any guarantees and which is unsustainable in the long run.

I firmly believe this team is hesitating on the threshold of glory. Whether it takes a step into the unknown depends on keeping our best players and adding top quality new recruits, two strikers and a mobile centre half being the priorities. Levy is not going to radically change our salary structure, therefore regardless of where we play our european football next season we will be pursuing players on the up rather than established stars. It’s no bad thing – give me players with the right ability and mental attitude, men who want to better themselves and who focus on the game not celebrity status and I’ll show you a club with a future.

I’m not sure that we have scouts any more. They probably have a business-speak title like ‘Talent Development Analyst” or some such bollo, heading a department composed of statisticians pouring over facts and figures rather than standing on exposed touchlines searching for the next big thing. Whoever they are, they hold the club’s future in their hands: we rely on them totally.

They have to be psychologists too – motivation and a determination to be the best convert ability into class. We’ve done well in that respect lately – Walker, Kaboul, Sandro, all are good footballers united by a desire to play, and a total cost of what, £15m?

It’s the same with transfer fees. Levy the ruthless negotiator looks for value, not just at the bottom line. To him, paying a large sum for a youngish player with a bright future is an investment. Everything’s risky in this game but a fat insurance policy, long-term contract to maximise any future transfer price and payments to former clubs spread over several years all significantly decrease the uncertainty. Over the years he’s learned the price of experience too, about £4m and 70k a week for Parker or Adebayor on loan. Spurs have to pay for that knowledge and that time in the game but Levy won’t go over the odds.

Our salary structure is well set, with a maximum of around £70k a week, although that is extended by various means including lump-sum loyalty bonuses. It should be extended upwards but it won’t approach the double or triple that is commonplace elsewhere. Our stars are therefore vulnerable and being in the CL would help player retention but nothing can outweigh the pull of big bucks if a man is that way inclined. Again, no CL is not a major determinant of our future.

Our chairman is in the box seat when it comes to our manager too. Levy’s last gamble with the precious jewel that is our club was dismissing the popular and comparatively successful Martin Jol in favour of Juande Ramos. When Redknapp arrived amidst relegation panic, all thoughts of any strategic approach had gone, or so it seemed. In fact, contrary to my initial expectations, Levy has reined in Harry’s worst excesses in the transfer market. Also, whilst Redknapp is one of the world’s best paid bosses, there’s value to be found. He’s not only saved us (you probably know how many points we had when he arrived…) but he’s taken us to the CL quarter-final and our highest sequence of finishes for donkeys’ years. Also, Levy has refused so far to extend his 4 year contact beyond the end of this coming season. He doesn’t want to get caught with huge severance payments should manager and staff be sacked. Doing everything he can to keep the odds stacked in our favour.

So Levy finds himself in the place that all CEOs or businesspeople want to be – he has options. I completely agree with Spurs author, fan and all round seer Martin Cloake who wrote last week:

“I’d stick with Redknapp – if I could sit down with him and be sure he was fully focussed on Spurs. There’s one more year on his contract, and unless he wants his legacy to be ‘Almost there’ he needs to win a major trophy with Spurs in what could be his last year in the job. So there’s certainly incentive there.”

To me that’s sufficient motive for Redknapp. It’s highly unlikely that he will ever find a better job than Spurs at his age and this informed piece from the Guardian suggested that last season he was keen to ‘retire’ to a cushy job in Dubai. If it’s not, and maybe Levy should make that judgement rather than HR himself, he should go straight away.

That seems about right to me. I have an ambivalent relationship towards Harry Redknapp, which mirrors the behaviour and performance of a man portrayed in the media as a known, consistent quantity but who in reality is riven with contradictions. The so-called great motivator is popular with many players but there have been other occasions where the players have dead eyes and he’s an impotent mess of frustration on the touchline. Bale, Walker, Assou Ekotto, Kaboul and others have flourished under his guidance whereas Pienaar, Pav, Bentley and Bent have shrivelled to almost nothing.  For extended periods last season we played breathtaking football that stunned the league, by far the best to watch and the best for thirty or more years for Spurs fans starved of glory. Redknapp deserves full credit – don’t give me this nonsense about no tactics, it was his team, but that same team was virtually unrecogniseable against Villa and Norwich, a hollow shell of what had been.

I don’t warm to him but he’s ours, and I’d give him another year. Arguably Redknapp has helped us over-achieve. He’s managed that on tiny resources compared with his rivals. These figures did the rounds on twitter last week. I haven’t checked them but they have the ring of truth: Spurs have spent £16m since last top 4 finish in 09/10. Arsenal £64.7m, United £80.3m, Chelsea £160.4m, City £212.7m. He was fortunate that Modric, Bale and Assou Ekotto were here when he arrived but he’s helped make them what they are. Also, the harm caused by yet another change of direction with no chosen successor in sight is a major factor. Like I say, I want a plan, I want what’s best for us and I’d back him with a generous budget, but see ‘value’ above. Our immediate prospects hinge on the dynamic between the two of them.

This piece isn’t about tactics but there’s one thing I am compelled to add. Football is extremely complex but whoever makes up the team, whatever the formation, we have to get more men back behind the ball when we lose possession. It is a huge problem and leaves us exposed. No other team in the league is as open as we are. It’s why I like the two defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1. If it means more cautious approach, so be it. A price worth paying.

Mind you, who cares about tactics? It’s all down to fate. Written in the stars. I don’t believe in that twaddle. All we have is us, and we should look after our world and our fellow human beings to the best of our very considerable abilities. After the season’s end we’ve had, it’s enough to make me recant this heresy, fall to my knees and shout a few hosannas. The Pentecostal Church of the Sacred Cockerel. Glory glory hallelujah, sisters and brothers, let’s pray for future success…

Meh, maybe not. My faith in Levy’s plan is not unshakable but it’s the best thing I’ve got so I’ll go with that. It has the long-term interests of the club at heart, and that’s the only thing on my mind.

End Of An Era

Earlier this week I received formal notification that Tottenham Hotspur PLC is proposing to de-list its shares and become a private company again. As a shareholder, I’ve been kept fully informed even though the postage on the thick wad of legalese cost twice as much as the value of my holding. I have one share, literally a share holder, so that’s very sweet of them, although as a responsible shareholder I feel disappointed and concerned that the board have wasted this expense on schmucks like me for whom it makes no difference. Add up the postage, labour and paper, it’s enough to pay Manu’s wages for at least 12 hours.

Frankly I have no idea what it means for the club’s finances. Daniel Levy says the listing “restricts our ability to secure funding for its future development.” That is, the new ground is easier to fund this way and if that means we are a step closer to the NDP, I’m delighted. Levy is a master of his world, finance, and has always looked after the club in this respect. Even with our low capacity we made an operating profit of £32m, a rise of 42%, boosted by the Champions League pot of gold.

Management Today(what do you mean, you don’t read it daily?) takes a more cynical view, wondering

spurs blog 57

Buy Al's Share, Buy! Buy!

if the furore over the Olympic Stadium has lead Spurs to prefer life without the added scrutiny of external shareholders. Then there’s Redknapp’s forthcoming court case which is scheduled for January, the same time as the de-listing. Pure coincidence, but the assuredly bad publicity can now have no affect on the share price. It doesn’t mention suspicions that the ‘I’ in ENIC means they have half an eye on a future sale.

What I do know is that this is the end of an era. Nowadays it’s commonplace for football clubs to be listed companies but Spurs were the first and it wasn’t that long ago. In 1983 an ambitious businessman called Irving Scholar was determined to make his mark as our new chairman. Before then, the club had for many years been run as a private company by the Wale family but by applying the same business principles that had made him a wealthy man, Scholar aimed to drag football finances into the twentieth century even though it was almost over. In the process, Spurs would become the richest team in the land.

As well as going public and raising money on the Stock Exchange, Scholar took over two clothing and sportswear companies, including Hummel, fondly remembered for providing Alan Ball’s revolutionary white boots. The ground was empty save for one or two days a month, so use it for alternatives at no extra fixed cost. The space under the Park Lane became a factory. The income was to be ploughed back into the club, a secure stream unaffected by the uncertainties of league position.

Scholar shrewdly assessed the zeitgeist. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs (not easy for me to do but anyway..), we were in the midst of Thatcher’s property-owning democracy where the public could buy pieces of the de-nationalised industries, make some easy money and feel part of things. To borrow from contemporary politics, we were all in this together, except that times were good.

On top of that, Spurs fans were offered the unique chance to be a part of the club. Long excluded, unlike like any other fans we could now have our say and influence the future. It proved popular. I don’t have any statistics to back this up but I reckon the number one Christmas present for Spurs fans that year was a share certificate.  There’s no doubt that the share offer caught the prevailing mood.

spurs new stadium

I've helped buy that

I was given a hundred shares by my then girlfriend. It was worth about £160 but to me it was a priceless token, sealing my attachment to her and to the club. These were the only shares I have ever owned and I kept an eye on their progress, all the while thinking that like the family heirloom on the Antiques Roadshow, I will be delighted to be told it’s worth a fortune but I would never sell. Many fans of different clubs have their certificate framed on display, proving it means something.

At one point they were valued at over £500 but soon they plummeted, as did the relationship. By the time I was kicked out and the shares sold to get rid of a painful reminder of happier days, they raised less than £100. Spurs’ romance with the new ways faded just as brutally. We sold our finest players Waddle and Gascoigne to stave off financial ruin and the businesses failed. Maxwell was a telephone call away from taking over the club so perhaps we should be grateful for Alan Sugar sorting out the mess Scholar left behind. Actually, perhaps not, but again, that’s a story for another time.

It was then that the true nature of the new era became clear. Thatcher’s meritocracy was nothing of the sort. Power and wealth became concentrated in the hands of the few and the gap between rich and poor widened. As with society, so it was with football. The advent of the Premiership and the Champions League meant that the top clubs and Sky TV held sway. Rocketing admission prices transformed the fan experience with many alienated for good, never to come back, and others priced out of the game they loved. Kick-off times were at the whim of television. PLC not F.C. Far from being part of things, football fans had never been more helpless.

Now we’re all experts on football finance. We have to be because it’s all over the back pages and otherwise we can’t keep up with events at our clubs. Never mind 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, it’s the income to salaries gearing that holds the key to success. False 9 or false accounts? Ask some of the clubs that have gone down the tube. Despite the sterling efforts of fans’ organisations and protest groups, the legacy of football shareholding is that many of us feel more distant from the game, our game, than at any point in living memory.

I’m still in play, mind, thanks to the gift a few years ago from my daughter of a single Spurs share. It came in a fancy tin box (safety deposit, just in case?) with some blurb about the club. Now that’s a juicy business to be in – buy the share for next to nothing, add cheap packaging and charge £19.99. Football fans are nothing if not loyal and gullible.

So what to do about the de-listing? I don’t know where the certificate is but I recently found my last dividend cheque, £0.04, proudly un-cashed. The PLC tell me my share is worth 33p and I have until 11th January to decide. I could sell, and use the results of my foray into the murky world of high  finance to buy, say, a 6th of a cup of instant tea or coffee on matchday, or two gulps of water. I expect that I won’t be bothered, however, and will keep it as a souvenir of the days when the club couldn’t be bothered about me either.

Redknapp Moves With The Times, Spurs Prosper

Harry Redknapp is the quintessential English manager. Working class roots, played football since he was a kid, steeped in the game, worked his way up in management from the lower leagues. Close to his players, he preaches the virtues of hard work and character. He has prospered in the modern era but his teams would look familiar to fans from any era of English football – big men at the back, tough tackling midfielders and wingers with another big bloke up front.

He’s often scornful of tactics, preferring or so he claims, to assemble good players and let them express themselves on the pitch. John Giles, a shrewd man not easily fooled, concurs: “You don’t see him complicating it with big tactics or formations.” Yet our success this year has come about precisely because of a different approach to tactics. Like the players, he’s absorbed a few lessons from our European experience. A couple of changes have made all the difference.

Teams play from the back – get it right there and everything flows. That’s true for us, of which more later, but the crucial difference is up front. Redknapp has jettisoned his faith in a centre forward as target man in favour of mobility. Manu Adebayor is not performing to the best of his considerable ability but he doesn’t have to, because he brings out the strengths of those around him. Crouch was a target for Bale and Lennon’s crosses. Manu is that and more. In particular, his runs open up space for others to either move into themselves or to slide in a pass through the channels.

As a result, Van der Vaart has prospered. Harry has him in a free role, working across the pitch and in the gaps between the opponent’s back four and midfield. He can hang back or make a little run himself, feed Adebayor or a runner, all these and more are possible. Bale is encouraged to make diagonal runs into the box. When all three are firing, Lennon is stretching them wide and Modric is hanging around, any defence will struggle. Before we leave Rafa, note how hard he’s working this year. His ‘ground covered’ stats rival anyone on the pitch when he plays well. He’s no longer a luxury.

The other major development is our centre midfield. Whether they are called a half-back, defensive midfielder, midfield destroyer or ‘a Makelele-type’, English teams have revolved around the energetic, tough-tackling midfield player. Times have changed and Redknapp has moved on. Positional play, the ability to pick up the ball and distribute it, to keep possession until team-mates are in the right place and defence can become attack, these qualities are more valuable at the highest level of the game. Spurs fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to Wilson Palacios but he doesn’t possess these abilities and so, like Crouch, has become part of our past. We know Modric can do this. Now we have Parker too. Both can tackle but that’s a bonus.

The modern game is so much about possession and movement off the ball. The great Italian coach and theoretician Arrigo Sacchi talked about formations but in the end the most important quality was the player’s ability to understand where he was in relation to his team-mates and to the ball. It was as if the game is about thousands of these micro calculations, re-calibrating constantly as the game flows. Put it all together and you have a team functioning as a unit, adapting to the ebb and flow of the match, to the conditions, to the opposition’s pressure or the need to score or defend, and above all to whether or not you have the ball.

Scott Parker is good at many things but this is finest quality. He knows where he should be at any given time. In defence he will shield the back four or slip back into a channel, leaving the defence to mark opponents. He’ll pick it up and wait. Not dither or procrastinate, but wait, a touch or two here, shielding the ball as others move around him. Then he’ll release, short or long, short mostly, keep it moving and allow more time to readjust into attack from defence. No space, well, knock it around, get others moving or move it himself. Sometimes he will inject some pace, either with a run upfield, jabbing strides and low centre of gravity, or with a sweetly timed through ball.

At his best, the game moves at his pace, hums to his tune. Add the traditional English virtues of toil, sweat and tackles and you have the perfect midfielder. He’s been outstanding, both in himself and in the way he gets the best from others. His intelligence means he knows what’s best for them, where they might be and how they want the ball, and again Redknapp’s coaching has been instrumental in getting the pieces to function as a whole.

Last season I said similar things about Luka Modric. Put the two of them in the same team and they complement each other perfectly. I would go a step further and include Sandro, a world-class prospect in my view, alongside Parker. They would lie deeper, although as I’ve implied that’s not a rigid demarkation, with Bale, Modric and Van der Vaart ahead. Lennon would miss out.

This isn’t about straight lines, remember. Rather, flexibility, intelligence, mobility and an ability to respond to conditions are key. All these five can run all day. They will have to, to cover, press and chase when we don’t have the ball. If we are short, one of the two DMs can slide across whilst others make a direct run straight back to cover. This allows Walker room to plunder on the right. If he’s forward, another stays back. Doesn’t matter who, they work it out according to where they are and the positions of their team-mates. Each player takes these same decisions, hundreds of times a game.