Since when does Kyle Naughton take corners? From both sides of the pitch? How come that was the plan? Someone at Tottenham Hotspur sat down, thought this through carefully, maybe even deliberated with others, and came to the decision that a Spurs reserve full-back who seldom looks confident moving forward anyway, should be our deadball specialist for the day.
Sometimes you watch a game and things don’t go well for Spurs, OK, they gave it a go, could have played better but that’s how it goes. Occasionally you see something that is so bewildering, so utterly unfathomable that you have to hit yourself over the head with a tin tea-tray to make sure this wasn’t the hallucinogenic ramblings of a delusional unconscious.
Look – I know Naughton’s corner-taking ability isn’t the thought that’s uppermost in Sherwood’s mind as he reviews this hideous performance. Since the final whistle I’ve tried to come to terms with it. My only conclusion is that is represents the nightmare vision of my repressed subconscious, where every fear I have about the team, hitherto long-buried under alluvial denial, played out before me. Those dreams where you run and run yet find yourself going nowhere. Where you lose control over muscular functions so everything you try fails crazily. Where logic and rationality becomes an Alice in Wonderland parody of reality.
Much of the game held a hazy, dreamlike quality. Vertonghen, a fine centreback, intelligent, quick, tough, a footballer, crashing through with mistimed tackles he was never going to make. Dawson, marooned like a beached whale on the halfway line, stranded and gasping for air. A back four so far apart, they needed binoculars to see each other, so lacking in unity they would have been better off communicating with semaphore. Lennon with some sort of a central free role – but he can’t pass it… Chadli doing, well, not sure what really but he looks good and that’s what counts, apparently. Defensive midfield? Who needs it?
With no intended disrespect to Norwich, who were fully deserving winners, the first half was shocking. The Canaries’ hesitancy was understandable given their perilous league position. Ours was harder to grasp. We had a lot of room and took no advantage. Instead there were bizarre passages of play where both sides struggled to come to grips with the basics of football and passed to opponents, into space, anywhere but to a team-mate.
One time, we took a throw, with caution mind, nothing rushed, and precisely tossed it 10 yards to a Norwich man, who with as much consideration passed it straight back to us, whereupon we gave it to the nearest yellow shirt, all without any pressure on players or the ball. Did I imagine this or had my mango squash been shaman-laced with bad seed?
The match highlights on the Sky red button included only two incidents in the entire half. One was Van Wolfswinkel trying to kick a ball in the box that was eight foot off the ground, the other was Chadli shaping to do a far-post top-corner curler and failing miserably. After Newcastle I guess we’ll have to put up with that every time he plays from now on.
I know this because I missed the very start of the second half as I was still putting the dinner on. Add some celery and carrots to the pan, stuff the chicken with an onion, keeps it moist you see. A lemon will do, then slice the onion in the baking tray. This all takes a fraction longer, long enough for Spurs to give the ball away with the defence stuck upfield. Snodgrass, by far the game’s best player, darted into the inviting gap left by Danny Rose and scored a fine goal. At least my gravy was full of flavour.
We flattered to deceive for a while and were on top without getting very far. We had been unbalanced by Capoue’s injury early in the game, partly because we lost the protection he gives us but mainly because we missed the hard work and promptings of Bentaleb who had to drop back. Throughout we had no tempo, settling early into a dull, monotonous torpor from which we never escaped and that Sherwood was powerless to influence.
Only Dembele tried to shake things up, driving at the defence whenever he could. He dished up a perfect ball to Chadli in the second half but his fellow Belgian shot at the keeper when well-placed. Adebayor kept going but his movement was wasted because he was so far adrift from his team-mates. This was a creativity-free zone. Goodness knows what ran through Eriksen’s mind, watching from the bench. What’s Danish for, ‘are you seriously saying I’m not good enough to get into this team?’
Soldado’s form has plunged into the abyss, resting finally in a subterranean cavern that last saw daylight 300 million years ago before the grinding of tectonic plates contorted tortured sediment into an underground chamber buried beneath the rock until the sun explodes in five billion years’ time. See the way he looks round suddenly? He hears the sound of deformed otherworldly creatures scuttling by.
My pity for his misery is as deep as the chasm that has trapped him. Beyond criticism, I can’t bear to look when he comes on. Such indignity should be a private affair. The commentator had barely finished sucking clean the bones of his Thursday night miss when a rare decent move set him up on the right of the box. His first touch of the game was an outrageous slice impossibly high into the stands. A minute or two later, a close range header skimmed off his forehead without even going in the general direction of the goal. Two perfect chances, and the game, gone.
I feel so deeply, desperately sad. What have we done to him? ”Soldado, ohhh oh. He came from sunny Spain, he’s going back again….” He must be on his way in the summer. Bags packed in the hall as we speak, I should imagine. And we all know the consequences if the team’s form continues to deteriorate – who else will join him? For the last few seasons, we have diced with the consequences of thwarted ambition and promises that we cannot keep. We build a side in the knowledge that success may keep it together but also acts as a season-long advertisement. Berbatov, Carrick, Modric, Bale, all gone but thus far we have tried to replenish the pool of talent.
Now, Vertonghen, Lloris, they won’t hang around, Dembele will be a target for someone, Paulinho has a reputation plus a possible World Cup Winners medal to look forward to. What a waste.
Sherwood has a real challenge to overcome. He has to get a grip and exert a greater influence over the side. Individuals are coming back from injury, it’s true, but Paulinho and Vertonghen have to drive us on and be a presence on the field, while the problems with the inverted wingers that bedevilled AVB’s second season have reared their ugly head in the last two matches. We can’t rely on Manu’s goals all the time.
Watching the last two games on TV, I was struck by how low and worried a few of the players seem – Dawson, Verts, Townsend, Paulinho. It may be nothing but they look as if they are carrying a heavy burden.
Norwich deserved to win. They defended stoutly in the second half and should have scored more. Lloris saved well from one chance while the crossbar is still vibrating from a thundering free-kick. Other chances we got away with.
So what I mean to say is, yeah – it was s**t.
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.
OK, I’ll take that one. The angst and alienation that characterises the prevailing mood amongst Spurs fans has provoked a golden period of powerful, passionate writing about Tottenham Hotspur. Here’s the blogroll of honour: the Lustdoctor and Paul Johnson aka @Sniersmoregut on twitter with a manifesto I wholeheartedly agree with, Dear Mr Levy, Martin Cloake and last but not least Greg on Dispatches. Read them all, you won’t be disappointed.
Greg ends up by posing a deceptively simple question: what kind of club do we want to be? Here’s my contribution. Like the others, let’s move this forward. After all, I haven’t much hair left to tear out.
So this is what I want. This is my way out of the mess.
First thing: football is football. It remains unsurpassed, compelling drama that entices the world. It’s always evolving – the physical fitness of players is the single biggest difference since I began watching the game in the mid sixties. It means it is faster and there is less space for individuals to run with it or pick a pass but I simply refuse to accept that intrinsically it is more lifeless, defensive or dull than it used to be. It’s a little different but football evolves. So leave the game as it is.
There were always good games, bad games and indifferent games. Social media was profoundly affronted when early this season Manchester United and Chelsea contrived to play a dull game. Dull? These superpowers? How dare they? Death of the English game, football not what is was etc etc. Horses**t. It was just a bad game. Ozil – not worth the money. Over-rated. Me, I’d say he’s going through a bad patch, the same as any other player, ever, from Thursday night over 50’s 6 a side to Barca and Madrid. Those blogs that wrote off Gareth Bale after a poor showing in El Clasico earlier this season. His second or third match for Madrid. Talk about giving a bloke a chance. Social media isn’t football. When people say they are fed up with football, don’t get confused with what happens on the pitch. It’s what goes on off it that is the problem.
Next: I want my Tottenham Hotspur to be unique. I want us to remember our heritage. That heritage is a living thing and the current club and supporters are part of that. Spurs stand for certain things: good football, innovation, being in N17. We breathe the same air and walk the same streets as every player, every single supporter since the boys met under the second lamp-post along the High Road from the present ground in autumn 1882 to form a football club.
That’s important. This isn’t some poncy heritage site National Trust pickle the ground in aspic rose-tinted visit the tea-shop on the way out nostalgia. It’s real, it’s us, it’s who we are. It makes us strong, different from all the rest. It gives us something to tell our children and our children’s children. Neglect that at our peril.
This is not an argument for innate superiority. I want City, United, Newcastle and Sunderland, Dulwich Hamlet and Fisher Athletic to be unique too, to maintain their heritage. I want clubs to be different not homogenised.
I want the club to be there long after my ashes have been scattered under the crowd’s feet as they hurry home after the match. That’s important too. I want long-term stability and security to make sure that happens. I want Kirsty and Tom, my daughter and son who sit next to me, to be there when they are my age. My club is not a rich man’s plaything, an afterthought soon tired of. It’s not all about me either. I want the club to carry on wehn I’m gone.
Third pillar: The Champions League is not the Holy Grail. I want Spurs to be contenders, to be punching their weight near the top of the league, I want other sides to worry when our name looms on the fixture list. However, I don’t want to spend money we don’t have on the possibly futile pursuit of temporary success. I want Spurs to play good football with good players. If so, success will come. If they don’t make it, it is not the end of the world.
Pausing for breath, let me pull up my soapbox by way of an interlude. Just think about this for a sec. The Premier League is geared towards failure and futility. The goal according to accepted wisdom, is the holy CL. Everybody goes for it, only four get in, reduced to three soon enough if English teams don’t do well. We got in but we didn’t win anything by so doing. Whatever level a team is on, their supporters talk of the next level. The FA Cup what’s the point? Europa League? Give up, not worth anything.
Everything becomes not a victory but a staging post for the mythical next step. There’s nothing achieved, no time to pause and enjoy it, no sense of satisfaction, unless you win the CL three times in a row perhaps. This is not my attitude but one that prevails in much football discourse these days. It’s one reason why some peole don’t seem to enjoy it. Not for me. Stay in the moment. Enjoy a win for what it is, fifth in the league is better than sixth and enjoy it. Shiny shiny trophies, if we ever win any, stop and enjoy it. Fans are always going somewhere else. I prefer to stop and look at the view.
Where was I? To be contenders, we have to have a plan and stick to it. We can’t spunk huge wads of cash, let’s build something over time. I want the respect of fans of other clubs who see us doing this, I want some self-respect when I see us doing it and the problem right now is that I have little respect for what’s going on.
Since Levy took over, he has made a series of attempts not just to build a side but to build continuity, with varying degrees of success. We never really know what goes on behind the scenes but in this perspective, the phases of the club can be measured not through managers but the Directors of Football. Arnesen, Commoli and now Baldini have been charged with, happen to be around when, whatever, we bought players who by and large had their best years ahead of them.
Good plan botched by Levy. Two reasons: one, he refused to commit a few extra resources to seal the deal when one or two players would have helped the squad fulfil potential. Second, Levy can’t judge a manager. Good chief exec focusses on goals for the organisation, picks good people to lead the operation and lets them get on with it. He can’t do either. But it remains the only way forward for Spurs, and if it works it will feel good. We watched Modric, Bale, Berbatov blossom. They were ours.
Now, and this is important: the club has to respect the supporters. Deeds not words. Start by understanding that there is a reciprocity in the relationship between supporters and the club. We will put up with a hell of a lot because we are loyal, not to managers, chairmen or players but to the shirt.
It is and always has been an unbalanced relationship with the club holding all the cards because they know that we the supporters will turn up. We have an emotional bond with the club, the board’s relationship is something different, less permanent, less committed.
This is intrinsic to the culture of British football. Fans have always been badly treated by clubs. However, there are degrees of exploitation and right now supporters are being pushed to the limits. It’s true for Spurs, the example I know most about, but it’s sadly also true for supporters of many other clubs.
The relationship may be unequal but never forget that it takes two, and Tottenham Hotspur PLC need to remember that. The current alienation has been caused not by league position – we are steady in fifth or sixth despite everything – but by the grievances fans have about being marginalised.
We can see there’s no coherent plan for the team to progress. Hopes rise only to be dashed again. And there’s a context. Living standards are falling, ticket prices rise. Inflation is falling, ticket prices rise. Above all, the income from non-ticket sources has gone through the stratosphere, ticket prices rise. You’ve heard it before but it’s worth restating, if only as a stark reminder of how much the balance has shifted in favour of the club, of just how unequal the relationship has become.
Look elsewhere and there are no mitigating factors. The FA and Premier League do nothing except put the interests of the clubs first. Kick-off times, scheduling of matches, managers playing second-string sides for the ‘magic of the Cup’. Pathetic, weak, self-interested, these bodies denigrate the hisotry of the English game and have totally repudiated their precious responsiblity for nurturing its future.
Families priced out. Kids can walk round the ground before the game but only if they pay to sit in a certain part of the ground. Tour the ground and pay. Visit the shop and pay – how much exactly does a blue and white acrylic scarf cost to mass-produce? We give, they take. Everywhere. Without exception. Stubhub. If you know your history – Spurs fans do. We remember the Shelf and what happened.
One feature of the concept of alienation is that the alienated are prevented from having a true understanding of what is going on because of ideological constructions that obscure and deny. I have a sociology degree and I’m not afraid to use it.
What’s happened now is that dissatisfaction has risen because what was once obscure is now transparent. We can see perfectly well what is going on. The club have more money than ever before yet choose the option of fleecing us more than ever before.
I want a club that actively espouses the right values. That is transparent in its dealings with supporters. That respects us and the community of which it forms a part, however reluctantly. That gives importance to the needs of supporters. That recognises our emotional attachment. That realises the team will benefit from wholehearted support. That realises the responsibility they have to this and future generations of Tottenham Hotspur supporters, rather than taking a short-term, profit-driven approach.
To respect us, the club has to listen and to respond. I’d like a supporter-led organisation to take over and take this co-operative to the top of the league. Yeah right. That’s true but it will never happen. Point is, I’m happy to settle for a lot less.
Let the supporters have a say on key issues like pricing, the new ground, ticket reselling. Don’t increase ticket prices this season. How much will the club lose? About half the salary of a squad player or something approaching the equivalent of the chairman’s recent salary increase but it would make a hell of a difference both to our pockets and our feelings. How about safe standing? A dedicated extra area for singing led by 1882. Singing – it’s not asking very much, is it.
The PLC have an insular, trench-warfare approach to fan liaison. Two weeks ago local paper the Haringey Independent sent them some questions about Stubhub. They were critical but legitimate. Last week they published them. The club complained. They haven’t answered the questions yet but have the energy to complain that a newspaper publishes legitimate questions on issues that have been raised many times before, including in the established media as well as on blogs. Legitimate questions that fans want answered yet the club complain about openness. And we haven’t even got to the answers yet! Doesn’t matter what you think about Stubhub. It’s symptomatic of an attitude that excludes us, a denial of the outside world.
These things will make the club stronger. They are to be embraced not feared. A dialogue between club and fans, using fans’ phenomenal expertise, building bridges and perish the thought, encouraging our efforts to get behind the team. Think about it – it’s not a revolution, these are not ridiculous demands. I have not even mentioned ENIC here, not about getting rid of them at all. I’m talking about my generation of fan contributing to the long-term benefit of the club.
Tell us what the long-term plans are for the club. Let us discuss them, contribute, have a dialogue, in public. As radical manifestos go, this is more WI that SWP, yet to the club it’s a threat. That mentality has to go.
I want children to go to the game. I want them to be welcomed. I want them to come back. I want them to be as excited as I was when I was a kid. I want fans to be able to say, I want to go to a game and I can afford it.
So there you are. The right values. Money is vital but it isn’t everything and the thing is, there’s plenty to go round. Anyway, respect costs nothing. At least, that’s what I think. Problem is, right now the club doesn’t agree.
Away season tickets – the must-have accessory for any self-respecting Spurs fan. Props to all who made the long and hazardous journey to Newcastle last night through the windswept Armageddon that is the British weather these days. Those of us who made do with a stream could hear you loud and clear and enjoyed one of the honeypot delicious performances of the season almost as much as you did.
Spurs have one of the best away records in the league and this was the best of the best. The better side for the vast majority of the match, a tight, unified team effort provided the platform for Adebayor to score twice and lead the line like a master, while Bentaleb’s calm dominance of midfield proved once more that he is a high class prospect. Dembele was strong in an unusual role on the right while the return of Younis Kaboul alongside Vertonghen was very welcome. Even Chadli scored for goodness sake.
For once there was plenty of competition for man of the match but Hugo Lloris streaked ahead at the end. Flinging himself to all four corners of his goal as Newcastle finally emerged from their self-induced torpor, he made sure there were none of the Typical Tottenham wobbles late on. That strong left-hand is becoming his trademark. For the third game running he plunged low to his left to push out two chances, then kept his best til last with a reaction left-handed tip-over. Underlying the showreel saves is a determination to cut out the mistakes that have bedevilled his game since his injury versus Everton.
There is a context for all this: Newcastle were dreadful. They signalled their intent right from the beginning when Santon got caught in the corner for Dembele to steamroller in. Manu’s shot was deflected just wide. Not to be deterred, Santon did it again. We pushed forward scenting blood.
In a hectic opening, there was poor defending at both ends, ours from a free-kick when we couldn’t sort out the marking. Cue Hugo’s first save although Cisse should have put the ball further from his body.
It was very open and entertaining but then settled into nondescript period with Spurs holding sway without getting anywhere. Both teams gave the ball away frequently. Then a fine piece of football from Bentaleb created our opening goal. He shepherded the ball out of danger, deep in our half, then drove on with that seemingly effortless running style that appears slow yet takes him away from defenders with pleasing regularity. He beat one with skill, held off another with strength then crossed from the left into the danger area at the edge of the 6 yard box. Krul, on fire in the home fixture before Christmas to secure the Barcodes’ victory, got his hand to the ball but only to obligingly place it onto Adebayor’s left foot.
We should have had more before half time. Lennon hit the post and Paulinho split the defence apart with a ball to Walker whose cross was scrambled off Azza’s toes in the nick of time. The half fizzled out, Spurs on top by not giving the ball away as often as the Geordies.
Paulinho looked more fluent yesterday evening – I thought he was stiff and glum on Sunday. Good rather than great but he has that ability to up the pace suddenly. In the second half our attacks had been one-paced. The Brazilian seized on an opportunity, initiated a quick one-two and was on hand to score as Krul again parried rather than cleared.
The goals emphasised Spurs’ control rather than establishing it. Newcastle played as if running through treacle and we took full advantage. Adebayor made it three, banging home a ball on the bounce. The Barcodes looked dangerous for the only time in the game. We sat back too deep and failed to stop the crosses coming in, a fault of our attacking formation and the unwillingness of the wide midfielders to cover as assiduously as they should have done. What the back four could not handle, Lloris welcomed. Chadli scored the fourth and final goal, the classic right-foot curler into the top far corner from out on the left, but he had more time to line it up than Tiger Woods with a five iron to the green.
12 years and counting into Levy’s chairmanship, £80m give or take spent in the summer and I did not expect to watch an inexperienced manager learning on the job. It’s alternately fascinating and frightening. Sherwood has not played the same formation for two games running since his first couple of 4-4-2 efforts. Yesterday he went 4-3-3 with Lennon wide left and Dembele wide right. Newcastle did not play wingers so this gave us numbers in the centre where we were strongest. Good tactics. supposedly he doesn’t like DMs yet our efforts rested on the foundation of Capoue sitting efficiently in front of the back four. Ungainly and sometimes wasteful, he nevertheless gave others freedom, notably Bentaleb, who could get forward, leftish, to prompt and harass.
Kaboul available, Kaboul straight back into the side to replace Dawson who until now has played every minute of every game. The shape of things to come. A big man, he looks overweight to me. However, his timing in the tackle was excellent and he had enough pace to repeatedly snuff out the rare moments that Newcastle looked dangerous. Lennon again did little. Out on the left, he kept on turning onto his right foot, and turning into tackles when he should have been running wild and free into the space that Capoue and Bentaleb gave him. Interesting that we had more space because Demebele and Paulinho did not get in each other’s way down the centre.
Inverted wingers. High defensive line. Dedicated DM. Sound familiar? Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, as Tim would never say. Let him take some credit here, though, for getting this to work better. Away from home, his personnel and tactics are shrewd and insightful. Add that to his motivational powers, enabling Adebayor to blossom like a teenager again, he did well last night. Not everything has worked so far but he’s learning fast. Only fair therefore to conclude with this stat courtesy of Four Four Two’s James Maw via twitter last night: I am not sure how it has happened but this is the closest Spurs have been to the top of the table at this stage of the season since the Premier League began.