Tagged: Europa League

Mood Swings at Spurs

One of the finest Spurs strikers of modern times tips a bucket of cold water over a man in a chicken suit. Another Glory Glory night at White Hart Lane. For those of you who missed it, the half-time entertainment against Limassol was Chirpy doing the ice bucket challenge, having been nominated by Goonersauraus. People videoed it or rather videoed the video on the big screen. Not quite sure what they expected – Chirpy’s expression didn’t change, surprisingly.

The match itself was decidedly ordinary, just the way I like it when it comes to these early rounds of the Europa League. Get through it, bit of decent football along the way, no other expectations. And that’s praise by the way – the team were confident, kept their shape and maintained the pressure throughout. Kane scored one but missed several – he seems better when he doesn’t have too much to think, his one and two touch play is better than when he has time on the ball. Developing well but not yet ready to lead the line.

Slightly bizarre to see the AVB attacking set-up with Lennon and Townsend as inverted wingers and Paulinho in the centre. Poch now knows it’s not effective but he could have asked me and saved himself the trouble. My only gripe was that this was a match crying out for width and wingers taking defenders on. In the end our goals came from exerting pressure – twice the Cypriots gave the ball away, the third a penalty – but we created that pressure and well-taken by Kane and Paulinho.

Good to see so many children with their families, benefiting from reasonable prices in the school holidays. To me a routine win, to them a special occasion that could mean they are fans for life. Spurs are keeping prices down for the Forest cup tie too – I’d designate an area that is even cheaper, just for families. WHam get stick for not filling their ground but they do kids for a quid for some games. It’s an investment that will pay off in the long-term.

When Spurs played Keflavik in the early seventies, I bumped into several pupils from my school, not regulars like me or even Tottenham fans as far as I could tell, who had travelled from west London in the hope of a goal avalanche. No live football on TV in those days, of course, so this was the only way to see the Spurs stars and europe held some magic even if the opposition were part-timers. They weren’t disappointed – Spurs won 9-0. Times have changed. Sides with limited skills like Limassol are impressively well-drilled and dangerous from set pieces but we broke them down without being at our most fluent.

The game may linger in the memory, however, as the final time we see several players who once, not so long ago, represented our future and a healthy one at that. Sandro the beast bossing midfield and terrorising his opposite numbers into submission. He did well enough on Thursday night and let’s not be too presumptuous but the feeling persists that a succession of injuries have permanently deprived him of that precious half a yard that makes the difference between the average and the good, the good and the great. The manager has had a good look at his new charges now and placed Capoue higher up the pecking order with other more mobile players alongside him. Levy will be excited by the fee so that may be that. A shame – I really thought he could be one of our best buys, powerful, skilled and committed. DM for a decade.

We’ve barely got to know Chiriches but rumours of his departure are rife. A ball-playing defender able to turn defence into attack as well as time a tackle perfectly, centre-forwards can out-muscle him too easily when the ball is in the air. I worry though that Kaboul is not fit enough for a season. He’s lost the supple pace that made him stand out. Welcome Favio but with Daws gone we still look short there so maybe Vlad the Paler will stay.

Holtby too – he must know his time is up if he can’t get into the EL home leg starting line-up. He could do with thinking more and running around less but he’s seldom played. I’ve remarked before that in his first year with us, he played only 4 games for 90 full minutes. He came with a good reputation and looked like he had a place in the squad at least but interesting that 4 managers, including Magath at Fulham, were unimpressed. Whether there’s a place for both Lennon and Townsend I’m not sure.

Spurs have gone old school when it comes to transfers – players we know little or nothing about arriving with little or no warning. It’s refreshing to look forward to judging Stambouli, who signed today, on his merits and on the evidence of our own eyes.

It does feel as if he and Favio were not first choices, if the rumours about Schneiderlin and Musacchio have any substance. That’s no bad thing. Pochettino has a clear idea of the type of player he wants. If we can’t get our first choice, try hard then move on. It is an approach that largely seems to have been accepted by the fans and this marks a singifcant change of mood. Since Pochettino took over, I have seen very few comments from supporters along the lines of ‘where are the big signings, Levy get your cheque book out, we need stars to take us to the next level.’ In that respect I can’t recall a transfer window like it and it’s all for the good. There’s a willingness to have realistic expectations and allow an able manager to mould a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Fans are prepared to buy into that, which has not been the case recently.

Perhaps it’s relief and gratitude after Sherwood’s caretakership. It’s gone well so far but the mood may darken if results turn against us. I do sense however that many are looking beyond just the next result. The problem is that with all the upheavals, yet again the manager has to rebuild the side with new players who need time to get to know each other. Let’s get the window out of the way and get on with it. I’m looking forward to it.

A fond farewell to Michael Dawson, our warrior with a heart. Dawson was a much better defender than most give him credit for. His finest hours were in Europe, backs to the wall and penned deep inside the box versus Milan, he refused to give ground and marked Zlatan out of the game. One late late tackle saved the game.

To play to his strengths, he needed protection from the midfield that seldom came. Not an excuse, just fact. Look at how Terry and Kompany are vulnerable when deprived of a midfield shield. Coming as a makeweight in the deal to bring Andy Reid to transform our midfield, he saw his chance and took it rather than just a hefty pay packet, working hard on his game and in the process developing a genuine loyalty to the club that sadly few have matched. I couldn’t believe the criticism he has recently received from some fans because he wanted to stay and fight for his place.

His time has come. His lack of pace on the turn left him and Spurs exposed too often, although that long cross-field pass he is derided for – 4 managers all encouraged him to do it so I reckon it can’t have been that bad. It’s a shame none of the other players appear to feel the club’s heritage and bond with supporters so deeply. When he made an error, he used to give himself a good talking to and slap his thighs in part punishment, part encouragement. I loved him, never forgotten.

For more tributes, Adam Powley’s love letter, Windy and Martin Cloake have said it more eloquently than I could.

 

 

Spurs Embrace The Mediocre In The Europa League Again

Europe used to inspire Spurs. Now it just brings out the mediocre. Since we got back into the Europa League, we’ve never got to grips with the away leg. The mantra is familiar - keep it tight, keep the ball, no need to take any risks - but unfortunately so is our response. We seem desperately compelled to do the opposite, every time. Against Dnipro on an admittedly treacherous pitch, we were wide open at the back and wasteful with the ball. Add some missed chances and all in all, this was another one to forget.

Half-time, one goal down with the home leg to come, could have been worse – all of that. I’m looking forward to next week – with the goal to catch up, there will be expectation and tension under the lights and we will have to go at them. Perfect European conditions, in fact.

There’s nothing of any significance to take from this match except for the fact that it took place at all. Played against a backdrop of violence between protesters and police in the capital Kiev, the expectant faces of the fans were in stark contrast to the images of a government opening fire on its own people that played simultaneously on the evening news as we kicked off. UEFA should have postponed it until next week at a neutral venue. It was incongruous to see supporters in their scarves, cold blue jackets and silly hats, but football has always been an escape from reality. As the camera dwelt on the crowd close-ups, you sensed their minds were elsewhere.

We fielded a strong team and left at home the players who could most do with a break, bar Bentaleb. This young man relishes a challenge but needs a rest, mentally as much as physically and this was a trip too far.

He and Capoue failed in their mission to protect the defence by simply being bypassed by the Dnipro attack. Capoue was nowhere for much of the time. Naughton and Rose strayed as far as they possibly could from the two centre halves, creating inviting space for the strikers. Unfortunately for the Ukrainian team, they suffered a collective loss of muscle control and capability once they got into the box. I can’t recall a series of such feeble finishing efforts over 90 minutes. A couple barely had the velocity to reach the keeper from 12 yards out.

Friedel was excellent throughout. Part of being a keeper is working the percentages. Get the angles right, make it hard for the striker, don’t commit too early, don’t go to ground. hH doesn’t need the spring in his legs to achieve all if that and he presented a formidable barrier throughout the match. I suspect as the game went on, the mere sight of his approach from his line was enough to put off the Dnipro forwards. Without him the result could have been a lot worse.

At the other end we more than had enough chances to settle the tie then and there. In fact, some of the game was enterprisingly open. But we wasted opportunities, usually with a poor final ball or shooting when we should have passed it. Andros, you know you’ve got to sort that out but he was not the only culprit. Townsend looked really shaken when he was taken off. Usually, players on the bench obey the unwritten laws of substituted players – cursory pat on the back/high five, then leave them be. Yesterday, the unused subs looked anxiously along the line as Andros was hunched and lost, praying almost, comtemplating something.

Soldado missed the big one. An uncharacteristically fluent move involving Paulinho and Naughton put him in front of on open goal, a few yards out.  He missed. By a long way. Any sort of goal will change his whole approach and at least he’s working still to take up the right positions, and still for that matter looking heavenwards every time he doesn’t get the pass he expects. Right now, as he shaped to kick the post in frustration, you expected him to miss it.

As the game was petering out, we contrived to set up the winner for Dnipro in a piece of football in keeping with our overall performance. Capoue had three or four players clustered ahead of him at the edge of their box. Clustering is not good but we’ll leave that one. He managed to miss all of them with a ten yard ball, whereupon Dnipro countered. Daws sold himself inside their half when there was no need, Verts was exposed, had no help and brought down the attacker. The penalty was converted.

Can’t shake that lingering sense of betrayal around Ramos. As soon as he arrived, I printed up the t-shirt: We can be heroes, just for Juande.” That’s genius that is. Then he’s gone: wasted, all wasted. Good luck to him and I’m sure he’ll get a ripple next Thursday at the Lane, although Ledley King won’t join in. In a biography as mild as camomile, he’s critical of Ramos’s lack of understanding of the players and the English game, or more precisely of his lack of effort in trying to understand the game, including insufficient preparation for games other than against the big teams. Led sees the good in everyone, so by the standards of the book that’s cataclysmic.

In injury time as we hurriedly pressed for an equalizer, the ball came to Sherwood at the edge of his technical area. Unerringly he sliced it straight into the dugout. You never lose it, son. One to forget for all concerned.

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 Europa League: A Help Not A Hinderance

Spurs’ qualification into the knock-out stages of the Europa League won’t settle the long-running argument about the importance of this tournament. However, there’s no doubt that this Europa League has been of huge benefit to this Spurs team. In future years, maybe not, but it’s moved the team-building process on more swiftly than if we had not participated.

The theme running through my last few posts is progress. Andre Villas-Boas is closer to understanding what suits his players and is getting the best from them. Many managers make little effort to hide their irritation with the Europa League but for Tottenham it has been a help not a hinderance.

I wonder if it is a generational thing. Games against teams like Maribor that take place in the early stages of each group barely keep the pulse beating, never mind set it racing, but those of us of a certain age still hear echoes of glory glory, however faint. I suspect that they are out of range of younger generations brought up on the Champions League for whom the EL has the equivilent importance of the Anglo-Scottish Cup. Commenters, let me know.

Villas-Boas has taken the bold step of playing strong teams throughout. Granted there’s the danger of burn-out later in the season but right now I can’t recall a Spurs team in recent years that has looked so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. AVB is building a new side rather than scrabbling together the remnants of the old, so what better way to move forward than get them to play together.

He’s seen the Europa League as an opportunity not a threat. Each game is another chance for him to put over his methods and ideas, to enable the players to become familiar with their roles and those of their team-mates. Not everything has worked – there have been some flat-spots along the way – but better to make them in a EL group game than in the glare of the Premier League.

Contrast his approach with what’s going on a couple of miles up the road. Wenger likes a moan at the best of times but their league form is solely down to fatigue, apparently. It won’t wash. Maybe Spurs have better fitness coaches because we haven’t seen any signs of that. On the contrary, the team to a man appear invigorated by the growing realisation that they could be part of something good.

It’s more an attitude of mind. The difference is that the years have wearied Wenger as he creates yet another side without the full backing of his board in terms of buying players of the highest quality. In contrast, Villas-Boas’ desire to succeed burns like an everlasting flame. Without a footballing career behind him, like Wenger the only way he can prove himself is through his team and he has communicated that enthusiasm and desire to his players. They want to play, to play for him, and he deserves credit for getting through to them. Few can now doubt that this is his side, that this young, mild-mannered man is in charge and has the respect of the players. The risk he took in playing virtually full teams in the Europa League has paid off.

Dempsey, a man who needs to fit in more than most, has been played throughout, giving him game time and his performances are slowly improving. More assists on Thursday night. Dawson’s role and the authority of captain meant he wasn’t excluded from the first team action and helped produce those fine Premier League performances when his chance came. Carroll, Huddlestone and Sigurdsson have all had useful time on the pitch, while AVB’s gradual introduction of Lloris to the English game, much derided in September and October, could in hindsight be a managerial masterstroke. Everyone has had some chance, none have been excluded. This is all shrewd man-management.

I wasn’t at the Lane on Thursday but watched on TV. We did more than enough to win without playing well throughout. Just as the jitters set in, class told. We think it’s always us, these periods where we seem to switch off. While we have to cut them out if we are to get close to the final, every other team does it. All the other British sides that I’ve seen have the same inexplicable lethargy at some period, making the games dull to watch. If it helps us learn lessons, then I wouldn’t worry about it. Two-legs ties increase the pressure, let’s make a judgement then.