You think the game has had enough of you when you get to my age. The personnel changes, so does the kit, but they play out the same old dramas of lust, envy and disappointment, the search for trophies, bitterness towards those rivals who succeed where we have failed, the crushing burden of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. And then the next season begins.
Looks like the beautiful game is fluttering its eyelids and flashing come hither glances in our direction once again. This transfer window has been astonishing. The sound of jaws dropping and hitting the floor has been deafening. Our own Good Friday brought three high class footballers to the club, Chiriches, Lamela and Eriksen to join Paulinho, Capoue, Soldado and Chadli. It’s likely there’s still time for a left-back. In writing that list, I had to stop and remember them all. Chadli seems so long ago now, there’s been so much change, I had to work a bit to get his name.
The Guardian tots that up as an eye-watering £110.5m but remarkably we remain in credit, or at least we will be after Bale is sold. No fairy godfathers, disgraced ex-dictators or russian/arab oligarchs, just Levy the businessman. Ten years of frustration in the market gone in the blink of an eye. Or perhaps they just repaired the fax machine and this is the backlog.
This may be our Good Friday but we may have to wait longer than three days for resurrection (apologies if I have the timescale wrong there but I’m jewish so the details never sunk in). Amidst all the changes there remains a thread of distinct continuity. Soldado aside, all the incoming players are on the make, young men who see coming to Spurs as a step up where they can prove themselves. This has been the template at Tottenham for some time now. The difference is, their baseline, their starting position, is several steps up the graph compared with the past.
They join a manager on the up too, a man who is calm on the outside but is fuelled by a inner furnace of ambition, to prove doubters wrong, to show that his methods work, to achieve through his team the success in football that a man of his meagre playing talent could never fulfil.
The manager’s most important signing is unquestionably Franco Baldini. Going about his business in an admirably low-key manner, his arrival and the influx of young talent cannot be a coincidence. Lamela especially - you wonder if the young Argentinian had ever heard of Tottenham Hotspur let alone believed he could up here, but damn right he knows Baldini.
Spurs fans are suspicious of the role of Director of Football after our experience with Damian Comolli. however, as I have said in previous posts, the main fault lay not so much with individuals but with an unclear management and accountability structure. The Levy-Jol-Comolli triumvirate failed because Levy as head of the company did not set clear demarcation lines about who took transfer decisions, so Jol was coaching with players he either didn’t want or had to fit into his tactics and Comolli took advanatge to go beyond his remit. Villas-Boas on the other hand has players who will fit his system. He coaches, Baldini gets the players. If we have any success in the coming years, that’s the foundation.
By the way, as a rule I don’t say much about players I don’t know well so I don’t pretend I have the encyclopedic knowledge of european football that everyone else in the social media has, apparently. But that you tube highlights video of Lamela…and he’s going to play in a white shirt with the cockerel badge…
Also as in previous years, this team is one for the future. It will take time for everyone to bed in, and just to repeat a simple fact that no doubt will be easily forgotten in the months to come, this is still a pretty young squad. Eriksen and Lamela are inexperienced despite their promise.
With the spending comes the pitfalls of increased expectations. Our Andre won over a media baying for his blood in August but any failings and they will scent weakness once again. The fans have to be patient.
Also, the team spirit at Spurs has been extremely good lately. Changes threaten that, as does the disappointment of not playing regularly, so we have to watch out for what could be a huge change there, especially with so many nationalities now. It may not seem much but these things matter. Villas-Boas is good at this.
However, the signs are positive so far. Thursday night’s victory over Tiblisi was a statement of intent. 8-0 on aggregate is usually described as a stroll but our attitude and performance was anything but. From first to last, we kept playing. The movement was excellent, Holtby and Carroll impressive. It showed players want to play for Villas-Boas and that our manager has his system. We don’t look like a side that is full of new players getting to know each other.
I’ve already mentioned one reason for this, that Villas-Boas has players who fit his way of playing. Another is that he is playing the new guys in roles that are familiar to them. Capoue, Paulinho, Sandro on Thursday (how good to see him back), that defensive midfield position is comfortable like an old wooly jumper. Not just sticking a foot in but starting attacks from deep and sniping in the middle of the field.
That is a key area for any side but especially for us where we have left our back four unprotected in the past, to our cost. It may be ‘one-nil to the Tottenham’ but that’s what the big boys do. United and Chelsea were lambasted for a dull midweek game but both knew the danger of giving ground at this stage in the season.
Spurs fans are long-suffering and accustomed to disappointment. What that means is that we have greeted these signings not with the triumphalism and sense of entitlement that supporters of our London rivals tend to exhibit but with grateful astonishment. No predictions from me, except that this will be one season to look forward to. The game may have given up on me but I’ve never given up on the game as so many fans seem to do these days. I might finally get some reward.
In the early days of Tottenham On My Mind I wrote a piece characterising the relationship between Harry Redknapp and his chairman. The title, Levy is Redknapp’s Poodle, summed up their dealings during their first summer transfer window together. At his previous clubs, Redknapp ensured large sums of cash were at his disposal, even when at West Ham and Portsmouth that money wasn’t really there to spend. His appointment signalled a potential sea change in attitude by the cautious and parsimonious Levy and the possibility of any policy clashes further receded after Redknapp’s success in averting disaster placed even greater power in his hands. What Harry wants, Harry gets.
Over the next two years, I came to revise that assessment. Like many before, I had underestimated the quiet man’s resolution. Redknapp was clearly given boundaries for the first time in his managerial career since he left Bournemouth. He operated within a strict salary structure and transfer fee budget. Given Harry’s garrulous nature and his cosy relationship with an adoring media, his frustrations occasionally surfaced but by and large he seemed happy enough. Success on the pitch helped. Now, with a watershed season already under way but a lack of new signings, Redknapp can’t contain himself any longer. Restlessness has become thinly disguised antagonism. The tail is trying to wag the dog.
His comments yesterday are all over the media. It’s classic Harry. He’s relaxed and reflective, understanding the situation facing his best player: “…if someone comes along and offers to treble your wages..” note the use of ‘wages’ not ‘salary’, old school is Harry….” and could win the Champions League, it’s not easy….he’s had his head turned.”
Yet he “wants to see him here at the start of the year…” Harry mate, we’ve started already…”I don’t see him going.” But hang on, there’s more: …”if he goes you get three or four players…They’re your options: get the money and get four players, and in all honesty have a better team, or keep Luka who is a fantastic player.”
Harry the pundit, taking a reasonable overview of the situation. Except he’s not a pundit commenting on the state of play, he’s our manager. He has a job to do, to get the best possible team for Tottenham Hotspur. At least he said ‘we’ and ‘our’ this time.
In fact, he doesn’t want to keep Luka at all. He wants the money to buy more players and ‘have a better team’. Thus he is in direct conflict with his chairman, who some time ago said unequivocally that Modric is not for sale, then kept a dignified silence.
Not only is our club riven with conflict at the very top precisely at the time when crucial decisions are being taken at the beginning of this watershed season, it’s revealed in the media for all to see. It’s bad enough our dirty washing gets an airing in public but Redknapp is blatantly using the publicity to gain leverage over his chairman.
In my limited dealings with the club and with people who have had dealings with the club, they are intensely controlling of things like access to the staff and information about behind the scenes activity. Yet Redknapp can say what he likes. He’s so powerful, he kept his newspaper column as well as spewing out quotes about anything going on in the game. Journalists pick over the bones of the slightest incident or event in football, yet Redknapp is not criticised and is more untouchable even than Alex Ferguson. Call him a ‘wheeler-dealer’ and he’s at your throat, one win in 10 and Harry’s working hard to get it right.
Levy does not want to sell Modric or he’s playing hardball to make Chelsea sweat. Redknapp says ‘sell’. Either way, keep it quiet and sort it out behind closed doors. Redknapp’s instinct to deal via the media serves his own interests more than it does those of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. His employer. As it is, he’s openly blaming Levy for not coming up with the cash for new players, cash which in passing surely does not have to come solely from the sale of one player. We have some cash from Keane plus O’Hara and deals will be done for several fringe players in the frenzied last few days of the window. Then there’s £31m from the Champions League and a well-run club.
While I’m at it, sell Luka for even £30m to bring in ‘three or four’ quality players – the sums don’t add up. It smacks of Redknapp getting his excuses in early – fail and it’s not his fault because he didn’t have the players.
I’ve been clear on the blog about my attitude towards our manager. I will always be grateful for taking us from the foot of the table to the quarter finals of the Champions League, in the process serving up scintillating football played by superb players. To say there’s more he could have done and still can do is not to diminish that achievement. I’ve never accepted his media personna as a cuddly uncle figure who just has to drape his arm round a man’s shoulders to transform him into a worldbeater. He’s crafty and shrewd, knows the game inside out and is tough as old boots. Fine by me – I don’t want a shrinking violet as manager because it’s a hard old game out there – but don’t try to fool me. Don’t like it, never have.
However, I’m tired of this game-playing in the media. It seems no one is prepared to control him so he needs to exercise some self-control for the sake of our club. Our club, Harry, our club.
To finish with, let’s talk about the team. There are serious issues here. If Levy is reluctant to release cash for transfers, even if it means paying a little over the odds, at this point in our history it could have disastrous consequences. If on the other hand he hangs on to make one of his legendary (or infamous?) late deals, he could be our saviour. Right now, all we know is that relations between manager and chairman have plummeted to a new low. After the window is over, something has to give and history suggests it won’t be Levy. The prospect of Spurs caught up in these internal conflicts is the very last scenario I had in mind as our season kicks off in a few hours time.
I’ve been catching up with Carnivale, the US series about a carnival travelling through the dustbowl during the Great Depression. It’s compelling television but frankly not one to come home to after a bad day, evoking as it does a picture of poverty and suffering that places little value on human life. By heck it’s grim up mid-West.
In a recent episode, the carny folk are caught up in a dust-storm that envelopes them in a dark cloud of dirt and fear. Now I know a decent metaphor when one comes along and slaps me round the chops like a wet mackerel, but just in case we didn’t get it, one of the characters talked us through the plot even though the person she was speaking to was clearly aware of what was happening. ‘Dark clouds of black topsoil stripped from the surface of a thousand farms…the ruined hopes of families like yours, your mother’s bones uprooted and dumped three hundred miles away…’ Think Mystic Meg crossed over to the dark side. But if you want a metaphor for my feelings about Spurs right now, (and of course you do, don’t you?) watch out for the dust-cloud, dark, foreboding and heading our way.
A month ago I was not only optimistic but above all patient. That’s the way I should be still, because little has changed. And therein lies the problem. Nothing’s happening. As I write, no signings have been confirmed although Adebayor on loan seems highly likely, but more on that when it happens. Harry has been conspicuous in the stands at Loftus Road and in Holland. However, if we are contemplating spending a fortune on players in the next week or so, surely they have been scouted thoroughly and there’s nothing to be learned from the manager watching another 90 minutes, less in Holland yesterday where apparently he left the ground at half-time thus missing Ruiz’s goal.
It seems certain that our top-tier targets either do not want to move or have gone elsewhere. Not even Uncle Harry’s charm can’t outweigh the lack of Champions League football. A nice fat salary could do the trick. Except Levy has a wage structure. Some sources say he’s willing to bend if not entirely break that, and in the past to make up some of the shortfall we have offered lump sum performance incentives that have not proved exactly tough to achieve, like staying at the club. However, it confirms my view that if the big names won’t come, our scouts had better be at the very top of their game to get the best of the rest.
Being patient involves managing anxiety over time and now that the season has started, time is catching up on us. Tomorrow we play Hearts in a crucial two-legged tie. I can’t claim to know much about the Scots, although my fellow bloggers THFC1882 and What a Fantastic Run can help you out. All I know is that this is our first game of the season, whereas Hearts are well into their league campaign, and we don’t have any fit midfielders, apparently. We were caught cold this time last year against Young Boys, when the European dreams became a nightmare after 30 disorganised and depressing minutes.
It’s the not knowing that gets me. I have no idea how we are going to line up tomorrow, let alone how well we are going to play. Pre-season should have sorted all this out but our own particular footballing coitus interruptus could leave us frustrated and begging for more. It’s essential we play our strongest possible team in both legs of the Hearts tie to make up for a lack of match fitness if nothing else. If the midfield injuries are as bad as Harry says, and he’s lied before, we might see Kaboul as defensive midfielder in a cautious hit them on the break set up.
So it’s down to the last week with the window. Again. At least we have Levy’s ability to make a deal plus the assets to back it up, in the form of both cash (including income of £31m from the CL run) and players to exchange, should the need arise, which puts us in a stronger position than our rivals. We’re used to the brinkmanship, whether we like it or not. What concerns me is that our team-building is falling even further behind schedule. New arrivals won’t bed in for a while and we need to get going with Hearts and both Manchester teams on the way.
Carnivale is one of those programme where you’re sure something really profound is happening without being entirely sure what exactly that is. Like I said, I know a good metaphor when I see one. The central character appears to have mystical life-giving powers. Maybe that’s Daniel Levy in our little drama, but I fear it’s beyond him.
So farewell then, Robbie Keane, gone to develop his semaphore on acid routine in the States. These days it’s unfashionable amongst Spurs fans to like him but he deserves great credit for his prominent role in years that can best be described as a transitional period for the club.
He was never the striker you could bank on to score. Especially in one on ones, my abiding memory is relief rather than joy when the ball went in. However, he’s 9th on our all-time goalscorers list. Off the top of my head, 2 stand-out goals bookend his career. Early on at home to Leeds, outside of the foot from the edge of the box, taken early, then later a dazzling long-range equaliser in the mesmeric home draw against Chelsea. More of a curio, I also recall him sneaking in to surprise the Birmingham keeper as he played the ball out, then nipping in to score.
For a time Keane looked to be the perfect modern forward, equally comfortable in the box taking chances and also in deeper positions, making them. His partnership with Dimitar Berbatov made both better players. Derided for having any number of clubs in his boyhood dreams, he was nevertheless fully committed to Spurs when he played and his urgency was welcome on the many days when others seemed dozy and distant.
In the end, Keane was a bit too clever for his own good. Praised by pundits for his running off the ball, too often he took up positions that made it very difficult for team-mates to pass to him. Running between two defenders or into tight angles away from goals is all very well but there’s seldom room for the ball to be played into. Also, his technique was fatally flawed. At the end of last season he missed a crucial chance for West Ham, near post about 3 yards out. The pundits were amazed but Spurs fans weren’t. That ungainly shank or air-shot was all too familiar.
Genuinely overjoyed at our League Cup win, he led the celebrations then left to join Liverpool. Seemingly at the peak of his powers, it signalled the beginning of the end. From then on he became unsettled and despite helping us to safety after Redknapp took over, he was never the same player. It’s a classic case of the psychology of footballers. He was the last one to know it, but something at the Lane suited him. He disrupted the pattern and it was downhill all the way.
Given the gags about boyhood dreams, I was staggered to see him quoted as saying the move to the LA Galaxy was ‘a dream come true’. And they say Americans don’t get irony. It’s a sad recognition that his mind’s gone. At 31, captain of his country, the only option is the soft option. He had a good few premier league years in him, not withe Spurs because we are upgrading and had left him behind, but wherever he ends up, he does so with my thanks and good wishes for the future.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have much time for going out as a family. My dad had a small shop that was open 12 hours a day, every day except Sunday when he closed at 2. Sometimes for a treat he’d shut a few minutes early, scrawl a hurried apology on a paper bag that he would sellotape to the glass shop door and we would escape for a few precious hours. The favourite was a trip up west. The Central Line still has a touch of magic for me, a sentiment not shared by commuters, but in half an hour it took me to the centre of the capital. Window shopping around Marble Arch, egg and chips at Lyons Corner House (a man of simple tastes, my dad) followed by the Jacey cartoon cinema.
In those days there were a few cartoon cinemas in town. My love for Tom and Jerry, Tex Avery and the Warner stable is with me still and the Looney Tunes music has a special resonance. Interspersed with newsreels, the programme ran on a loop for an hour or so. You could come in and leave at any time and remain as long as you liked but usually you left when your first cartoon came round again. This is where I came in.
I’ve taken a break from the blog for a few weeks. Not sure why, if truth be told. Haven’t been away although I have been infernally busy at home and at work. Pointless really: I’m constantly drafting articles in my head, for Tottenham is genuinely always on my mind. A lot has happened in that time, mostly to do with Luka Modric, or maybe nothing has happened whatsoever. To put fingertip to keyboard at this moment is pretty pointless too (as if the rest of this guff has some significance…) because take an overview and nothing’s changed. It’s fun but I’m not sitting through this for a second time.
The media have lapped it up, not just a transfer story in a relatively dull close season but a veritable saga. Modric wants to go. Levy says no. Modric says OK, then it’s not OK. Levy still says no. Modric says Levy is not a very nice man. Levy doesn’t care.
A bit of knockabout fun but it’s no different from the situation I predicted a couple of months ago now. Because Luka Modric is the best midfielder outside the top four, there will be an auction for his services involving Chelsea and Manchester United. I doff my stylishly battered straw pork pie hat to the brave souls who saw Luka’s interview in a Croatian paper on Sunday morning and hit Google translation around the time I was staggering around trying to wake up and kvetching about another bloody weekend of DIY. However, the only surprise is that other top European clubs have not expressed a stronger interest. The key has always been Daniel Levy. He wants to build a top class team but he knows the price of everything. Whatever his protestations to the contrary, he may be tempted to sell. Nothing has changed.
The comedy dialogue that characterises the contemporary transfer pantomime is in full swing. Luka’s scriptwriter, presumably his agent, has gone for audience but his man emerges as the villain of the piece, a guise unbefitting a maestro who has has graced the Lane for the past few seasons. In the process he’s managed to alienate large sections of Spurs fans: if a relationship turns sour, dump before you get dumped. But it’s all the same. Leverage in the negotiations and a message to Chelsea to keep bidding. If it works, fine, if not, there’s a fat 6 year contract at Spurs to cushion the blow with the distinct chance that we will up his salary again.
My position hasn’t changed one jot either. Keep him at all costs. This is a watershed season for Tottenham Hotspur. If we graft a few quality players, strikers first and foremost, onto the existing squad we are ready to take on all comers, now and in the years to come. Modric, Bale, Sandro, riches beyond my dreams.
Modric’s recent comments don’t alter that view. He should show some loyalty, and also it may further his career to stay at Spurs where he will be the star rather than face the highly critical Chelsea support. However much as we don’t like it, the attraction of double the salary plus the CL would give anyone second thoughts. Also, as we have a pop at him, we have no problem luring away the best players from other teams. If Samba, today’s alleged top target, wants to come here, we won’t berate him for his lack of loyalty to Blackburn, the team who took him from relative obscurity. If he says he’s always wanted to join Spurs, that’s not true, now is it? The tired and stilted script of the transfer pantomime.
Forget the statements and media bluster. Instead look out for these two things that really matter. One, Modric. Professionals have a different attitude to this football business compared with the supporters. If he stays, as I desperately hope he does, it’s about how he performs. I reckon the professional in him will buckle down and give his utmost. That’s what being a professional means. So I’m not joining this wave of villification because I’d rather judge him on how well he does against that benchmark, nothing else, certainly not the rubbish from his agent.
Secondly, this has turned into a test of Daniel Levy’s integrity. Boldly and bravely, he has made a clear, unequivocal statement: we are not selling our best players. He has my wholehearted support. He too will be tempted by the money, so judge him on how well he resists. If he goes back on his word, his reputation will be shot to pieces. We won’t take a blind bit of notice of anything he utters, ever again. Perhaps the stakes are highest for our chairman rather than any of his players.