Spurs Wait for the Window of Opportunity

Spurs worked hard against Leicester but succeeded only in making hard work of a draw that could easily have become a defeat as a late goal I thought was never going to come was the signal for an all-too-familiar collapse. The lack of spark and creativity is becoming a problem.

Our first half toil was sweaty but ultimately pointless. We could not add the cutting edge to reams of possession. It reminded me less of a top six challenger and more of a midtable side using effort and energy to compensate for a skill deficiency.

Pochettino would have been pleased with our goal, what with Deli Alli bombing past Kane to score. It was well-crafted and quick, out of keeping with much of what had gone before. Kane turned goalwards to find Chadli and our new boy knocked in the cross from point-blank range. Alli’s determination and power will be a real asset this season. A tantalising glimpse – more please.

A goal up with 9 minutes left is a signal for most teams to shut up shop. Spurs are the exception. Many of the players had the best view in the house as Mahrez, Leicester’s most dangerous player, launched another solo run goalwards. Vertonghen’s technique one-on-one was found out once again as leaden footed, he was squared up as the winger curled the ball inside the far post. Morgan missed a late chance to win it as he crashed a powerful header into Hugo’s chest.

We worked hard without creating very much and continuing last week’s theme of nothing changes, the way we ground to a halt at the edge of Leicester’s box is reminiscent of the days under AVB. Walker set up Chadli and Dembele stretched the keeper.

Another wasted afternoon from Lamela. Wasted possession, wasted one good chance, wasted his opportunity to start and until he realises the pace of the game is passing him by, a wasted talent.

Spurs could use this as a platform to build on. Spurs have made no progress since last season. Both are simultaneously true. The team is at one of watershed moments where it could go either way, where the echoes of decisions made in the next 7 days will reverberate for many seasons to come.

Tottenham are perceived as the perennial underachievers but another way of looking at this is that over the past five or six seasons we have over-achieved. Given the players at our disposal and the disruption at managerial and Director of Football level, we’ve consistently finished in top six whilst seldom playing consistently well and with clear deficiencies in the squad and tactics.

This isn’t cause for an open-top bus parade. I don’t necessarily approve of this state of affairs: I have enjoyed the status and much of the football without forgetting for a moment that potential has been wasted and the manner in which we have squandered opportunities to consolidate has been Soldado-esque. However, early Redknapp, AVB’s first season, qualifying for Europe while waiting to Sherwood to leave, all higher finishes than I expected given the lack of balance, depth and in some positions such as up front, quality of the squad.

We hope to push on after Pochettino took us to 5th in his first season, much of which was spent with him getting to know the players and the players coming to terms with what is expected of them. instead we are glimpsing how life would have been without those late Eriksen goals or Kane’s once-in-a-career purple streak. I said in my pre-season preview that while that high finish delighted me, it could become a millstone round the manager’s neck. A high final placing raises expectations that need to be fulfilled. Poch can go for the players he wants rather than work with those he was given by a manager and DoF with a different approach. To support him, he has a scouting set-up of his choosing too.

Three games in and they need time to settle, as does every team in the league by the way. We have upped our physicality and possession (saw an Opta stat saying PL players are running 20% further than 5 years ago) without adding that vital element of talent that makes a good team great. We’re not supporting Kane up front or getting back to cover, so we have midfielders in betwixt and between. The back four has been upgraded but is still not being protected. Alderweireld made a telling comment after the Stoke match last week, saying that at Southampton, Schneiderlin and Wanyama would have stopped those inswinging crosses coming in whereas at Spurs he was surprised at being left so exposed. This has been our problem for several seasons. It’s why our full-backs are under so much pressure. Opponents target that area, Walker usually, yesterday it was Davies who had a poor time.

So what are we doing about it? Strikers – we have one, need three. Berahino is a promising young player who likes the ball at his feet, a good buy if not the Holy Grail he seems to have become in the past week because we are so desperate. Desperation is not the best quality to bring to the negotiating table and the tension generated in Cold War era disarmament talks is nothing compared to Levy and Peace in a staring contest.

Let’s get down to it. If he’s our number one target, pay the money. I don’t like wasting cash on inflated transfer deals. £15m and anything north is a risk, but that’s not the point here. Fees are determined by market forces, supply and demand. In this case, supply is not the number of strikers out there, it is the number of strikers prepared to come to Tottenham. We may end up paying something close to the fee Chelsea have shelled out for Pedro, a much better player, but he’s not in the equation because he would never dream of playing for us.

If supply is defined as ‘the number of decent strikers prepared to play for Tottenham Hotspur’, then demand is high, supply is low, therefore price is high. Basic economics. The extra element of the high fee is a tax on Spurs’ inability to find somebody else, and we all have to pay our taxes. Don’t we?

I like Austin too, completely different to either Kane or Berahino. One touch, bam, shot on target. He could play with Kane, who has the movement and support play Austin lacks.

All this raises another question though. What is Poch looking for? I’m sure he wants one more striker but the suspicion lingers that he’s more keen on attacking midfielders to support/get past the main man. Also, he’s a fine coach but you can’t coach experience. We need someone to take charge in midfield, a creative and above influential central midfielder.

Micky Hazard was terrific on the Spurs Show this week with Martin Cloake, both well worth a listen. He repeated a great anecdote about the incomparable warrior Dave Mackay. Before they went out, he turned to the team and said, “Some of you are going to have a bad one out there today. The crowd will get on your backs. If that happens, give it to me.” We badly need that sense of authority. Yet there’s no hint MP is searching for it. Young players respond to him because he can make them better. The feeling niggles that he’s wedded to his way of going about his business and does not want to change, even though that’s what we need.

And then there’s Levy, always Levy. He may be saying, there’s not much money, we’re building a new ground don’t you know. Rules are made to be broken, and if our policy is to buy younger players to develop, fine, but sticking to it rigidly is cutting off the nose to spite the face, never mind the fact that authority and experience can help development.

We’ll have a clearer idea by the end of the month but not before an important home fixture against Everton. We need a win to get the season going. In the Independent on Friday, the press conference piece suggested Pochettino has a plan to try 4-4-2, at least as an option, although whether this is something the journo knows or is merely surmising is not clear.

The stakes are high. It’s not just about Berahino or Austin, it’s about developing the club’s medium and long-term future in a time when we are going to have to repay £350m (ish) in the next decade in a league where everyone is scrambling if not for the CL then for the crumbs from the top four’s table. Good players will leave if we are not successful and good players will not come to replace them. It’s not so much the fee for a young player, it’s an investment that will pay off in the future.

Spurs Have Learned Nothing, Apparently

What have we learned from history?

Apparently nothing, nothing apparently

Apparently nothing, nothing apparently

(Young Disciples)

The grass was green, the players lean, their expressions more purposeful than mean but Spurs looked ready. They had something to prove in the first home game of the season, as a unit drilled and instilled in the Pochettino Way, as individuals too. Young men like Mason and Dier, determined to make the most of the responsibility placed at their feet. More experienced players given an opportunity to keep a first-team berth – Davies at left-back, Dembele with a spot to finally show his talents have a place in the set-up. Walker, under pressure now from Trippier at right-back, Alderweireld on his home debut.

By the end, the same old failings. Bright beginnings, earn a lead only to let it slip away with a mistake under pressure just as the game seemed won, by the finish grateful for a point.

Years ago I wrote a good piece that accurately summarised a match, against Newcastle I think it was. A few paras from the end, I admitted it was cut and pasted from the corresponding fixture the previous season. Nothing changes – I could similarly choose from 50-odd pieces on the blog to sum this one up. Or pick out problems identified in the pre-season preview – a lack of presence in midfield that comes with experience, the two wide forwards set up to attack but unhappy defending, the lack of options up front. All played out before our very eyes – nothing has been done about them. The outcome may not have been a surprise and booing at full-time premature but it’s a sobering start to the season nonetheless.

Seat covered with birdturd – welcome back to White Hart Lane. Being Spurs, they lulled us into a false sense of security. In the sun, it was a busy start with everyone apparently clear about what they should be doing. Mason and Dier were solid in the centre and in front of them the forward 3 of Eriksen, Dembele and Chadli were smoothly interchanging positions. On the right Walker looked to get forward, if not with the ball at his feet then with a late run into space. He reached the byline once but took the soft option and pulled it back twenty yards instead of banging it into the box where danger lurks.

Our work was good even if it much of it was sideways. Credit to Stoke for this – they packed midfield and were hard to break down. Any goal at this point was likely to come from a set piece and Dier it was who was first to a near-post corner to head in. He scored Spurs’ first goal last season too.

Spurs had all the play, Stoke two good chances, one a header that Lloris saved well, the other when the keeper cleared a ball straight to a Stoke player on the edge of the box. Lloris persistently played the ball out dangerously close to the goal. This is obviously planned – Vertonghen and Alderweireld split either side of the box as soon as Hugo gets it – but it is so easy for the opposition to pressure us despite the latter’s ability to hit a scorching long ball.

After the half hour the game opened up and we went into the break two up. Davies got forward only once, to pick up a ball from Kane. It looked beyond him but not only did he pull it back, he found Chadli at the far post. Earlier the Belgian fluffed his control when clean through, this time his volley was deflected in.

Our best spell came after half-time. With Stoke looking to score, Spurs used the space to develop a few flowing moves. The best ended with Butland saving well from a close-range Kane effort.

Then the errors. Pochettino’s were crucial. He allowed Spurs to drop back and hit on the break. Kane came off – post-match Poch said he was tired, goodness knows what we will do if he is injured – as did Mason, who had a good game in midfield and nearly scored in the first half after a lovely take-down and shot in the box. This gave Stoke the initiative. Our attacks had come from Kane dropping short and team-mates bursting past him. Now that was gone, plus we had no out ball with Chadli at centre-forward. Stoke simply dropped deep to mop up a series of aimlessly drifting long-balls and so they could focus on attack. Lamela and Bentaleb, the two replacements, never picked up the pace of the game. Eriksen was invisible wide left as Stoke poured down our right, a familiar ploy last season against us. Walker had a decent game as did Dembele on the ball but instinctively he drifts in, leaving a gap.

Under not a lot of pressure, Alderweireld committed a foul in the box. After that penalty, Stoke seized control. Vertonghen and Toby were solid with the ball in front of them but we could not deal with a steady flow of inswinging crosses that produced three chances and two fine saves from Hugo before one finally went in.

Mark Hughes clearly had the better of Pochettino tactically. Our manager had a poor game and his chairman has had a poor pre-season. Spurs are a side with top six pretensions and only one striker. It astonishes me even though I have written it so many times. Even Coulthirst, who’s not good enough at this level, has gone out on loan. Kanemania obscures the hideous truth. Welcome Njie, Poch says, yes, he can play up front. No – I want someone with ‘striker’ on his biog. Spurs are a side with top six pretensions and only one striker.

Lamela looked out of his depth. Given a role on the right and a bit of space sometimes, he played at his pace as the game passed him by. No sense of positional discipline or of keeping the ball at a time when clear heads were needed.

Maybe the season really starts once the window shuts. Certainly for Spurs we cannot predict our prospects until we know if we have two more strikers and a central midfielder.

There’s been the usual social media infighting about Bobby Soldado, now mercifully  put out of his misery like a pitpony released from the depths into the green fields above or at least the Spanish sun where he will score the goals that eluded him in his desperate career at Spurs. Rumours that he installed a barn door in his back garden just to prove to himself that he could do it are probably unfounded but never has a striker with such an appalling record been sent on his way with such fond wishes from the supporters.

The reason is that Soldado offered something precious, gold, frankincense and myrrh to supporters – hope. His goals could have transformed the side into genuine contenders. It’s hard to let go of hope and for many their belief remained unshakeable even when confronted by stark reality. It helped that he is a decent, honest bloke. His quote praising the fans for our faith and adding that he was ashamed that he could not deliver was genuinely touching, a rare thing in football these days.

I grumbled toward the end but could not find it in my heart to attack a player who has been scoring goals since he first kicked a football as a toddler and who when instinct failed him therefore had no idea what to do. His form was so wretched, it went beyond anger into sympathy. He had to go, and good luck.

Spurs Season’s Preview. Here We Go Again

I’ve been there before
But I’ll try it again
Any fool, any fool knows
That there’s no, no way to win

Here we go again
She’ll break my heart again
I’ll play the part again
One more time

I’ll take her back again

One more time

Ray Charles’s lament for a love who has let him down time and again is not so much aimed at the object of his desire, more a lament for his inability to let go. So here we go again, but then again, where else would I be?

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino no doubt has something more upbeat on the dressing room wall to motivate his side. Our success or failure turns on his capacity to organise and inspire the players so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As individuals, our men are in the majority of positions not as good as the squads that finished above us last season and probably the remainder of the transfer window will not compensate for that deficiency. Our opportunities, our hopes, lie in the collective, with last term’s drive and commitment with better players in some key roles allied to Pochettino’s teamwork and system.

Pochettino is a highly focussed manager, comfortable in his own skin and certain in his mind that his way is the right way, without being cocksure about it. I enjoy his outings with the media. He mumbles a few words, gives little away, then back to the training ground. He can’t be arsed but plays the game and keeps attention on the football in preference to creating a sensational backpage non-story. It’s funny: say something, anything and the media are apparently satisfied. Yesterday’s deadpanned ‘Soldado is part of our plans’ was priceless.

It’s taken a season but we have managed to jettison the ballast that was holding us back. The Magnificent 7 were going to ride into town, vanquish the reds and the Blues, and save us all. Now I think of them and see only a desolate bomb-site.

We’ve come out of it fairly unscathed, getting decent money for the deadwood, learning in the process that Sunderland last scouted Kaboul in 2011 and the Napoli coach in his own words “doesn’t know much about Chiriches” having only ever seen him for 45 minutes. It’s puzzling which 45 minutes those were because even a showreel of best bits could not have lasted more than 45 seconds, let alone minutes.

I wish Younes well, he could have been our leader but for the injuries that deprived him of pace and flexibility. I’ll miss Lennon, who will surely follow him out the door, and it will be a relief to see Soldado put out of his misery and get some sun on his back in Spain, where I hope he does well.

Given half a squad that’s so poor, given it’s taken a year to rebuild after the last rebuilding (repeat to fade), finishing 5th last season looks better and better as time passes. This is especially so as we did it without a defence worthy of the name and it’s here that Pochettino has concentrated his efforts pre-season. Alderweireld is the sort of mobile centreback with a decent touch that we need and he could bring the best from his defensive partner Jan Vertonghen, who sorely needs a kick up the backside. I’ve never seen Wimmer play but he seems to be ambitious, motivated to be at Spurs. Dier is a fine prospect with a cracking approach to the game who will only get better.

The competition at full-back is healthy. Trippier could be the making of Walker – I still hold out some hope for him and the pressure for his place could finally compel him to focus on his naïve positional play. Davies will find Rose hard to shift. All four strike me as determined and motivated.

Lloris is still here, not something I thought I would be able to write four days before the season begins, although with De Gea’s situation at United unresolved let’s not count our chickens. Major boost if he stays.

So to the problems. Pochettino will not budge from his 4-2-3-1, therefore the two and the one come under the most intense scrutiny. Fine player though he is, and even finer player though he will be become, it’s wrong to put so much pressure on Nabil Bentaleb in the defensive midfield area. Considering Dier to partner him pre-season is surely a desperate measure however willing the young man is and Mason is not really a DM. Neither is Dembele.

Up front there’s only Our Harry. ‘For the life of me I can’t work out why we haven’t bought a striker’ may as well be Tottenham On My Mind’s tagline for the number of times I’ve written it over the past five seasons. It’s beyond anger, just unfathomable.

Levy, the so-called master transfer tactician, foolishly betrayed his hand when he said he’s not prepared to pay more than £12-15m, preferably less. Everyone is after players in that price-range so it means we are going to have to wait rather than achieve Pochettino’s main aim, to begin the season with a complete squad. Coulthurst is not good enough from what I’ve seen. Kane gets a knock in the Audi whatever-nonsense and that’s that. Spurs have the lowest net transfer spend over the last 5 seasons of any team in the PL (including Bournemouth and Watford). This is long-term chronic neglect, resulting in large part from a decade of managerial churn, and not just about what happens or doesn’t happen on deadline day.

That leaves the front midfield three where we have a clutter of contenders. It’s likely there will be no newcomers unless you count Pritchard and Carroll returning from loan and of course Alli, who I am looking forward to seeing. Last year’s conundrum remains to be solved, the balance between attack and defence. Eriksen needs to be more influential more of the time, while if Lamela/Chadli/Townsend/Dembele et al attack they either need cover from others or show a greater willingness to not only run back but hold their position when we don’t have the ball. Pochettino’s system requires discipline, focus and an awareness both of team-mates and the space available that was sorely lacking from these players last time around. It’s not about the ‘distance covered’ stats, it’s about where they run, and when. These are individuals, the system works best as a unit until the final third where their skills can turn a game.

Last season’s over-achievement, finishing 5th with a limited squad, could end up being a millstone around Pochettino’s neck. If all goes according to plan, if we play good football as a team and the predominantly young squad progress both as individuals and as a unit, we could still finish lower as our competitors rebuild too and so the pressure will build.

My hope is that we stay genuine contenders, a team able to challenge and have a decent tilt at the cups. In the EL, pick a shadow squad early and drill them together for at least the away games in the group, and keep the seat prices down too.

Tottenham On My Mind will continue throughout the season, same format, too old to change now. Bear with me as some of the pieces around matches may have to wait a day or two, but they will be there, and later in the year I might need your help with a couple of things.

TOMM’s core readership is very loyal, judging by the comments, number of people who subscribe and people who have bookmarked it. My sincere thanks – the comments section is the most erudite and informed around. At the top of this new theme by the way. Couldn’t do this labour of love without you. I’ll be back on the Shelf, next to my son, for another season, and even after all these years, there’s nowhere else in the world I would rather be.

Let’s finish on a song….

Spurs New Stadium Plans All Shiny Shiny. But Don’t Forget – Stadia Are For Supporters

One of the rapidly disappearing joys of Twitter is the way you get to know people that you wouldn’t necessarily bump into otherwise. It’s extremely healthy – mostly.

Keith Punter and I support the same football team but that may be about the only common ground we have. I have no idea what he does for a living, where he lives or how old he is, and we should never, ever get into a conversation about politics.

I don’t even agree with him about football all the time but my relationship with Twitter would be much poorer without him. Keith detests the modern corporatism of the game, the hype, the money, the fact that’s it’s harder to enjoy yourself at football these days, so much so that it’s forced him to stay at home on a Saturday (or Sunday morning, or Thursday, or Friday). But as well as being a good judge of a player, he’s proper Spurs, because he cares about the club, deep down. It makes him angry when things are not done right.

spurs blog 146

Last week Tottenham Hotspur unveiled revised stadium plans with a capacity increased to 61,000, a possible retractable pitch and a home for NFL in London. Amidst widespread gushing over the architect’s drawings of the shiny smooth sweeping curves of the stands, where the sun always shines and the fans are always smiling, Keith tweeted this:

How much will a season ticket cost? How much for a beer? A pie?

Forgive me if I am underwhelmed by this new announcement. It’s not that I am against the new ground. I will miss White Hart Lane more than I can possibly say and when the end is nigh, I’ll not so much wallow in nostalgia as dive in with a triple somersault, swim backstroke for 50 lengths then do handstands at the deep end.

But times are changing and we need another, bigger ground with the income that comes with it. I wholeheartedly support the building of the new stadium. It’s just that my views have not altered since the very first announcement, which seems a long time ago now, because that contained the key elements.

tottenham-stadium-plans-4

Levy has pulled of a remarkable achievement to build next to White Hart Lane. The Hotspur have never played a home match more than 600 yards away from WHL. Every single Spurs supporter has walked the same pavements, gulped in huge draughts of the same air to roar on the team, muttered darkly as they dashed in defeat down the High Road. This sense of place is irreplaceable. It makes us who we are. There’s only one Hotspur. Moving to an out-of-town industrial antiseptic, faceless B&Q of a ground would have vastly diminished that uniqueness. Finding that site in north London let alone in the High Road is an absolute coup.

The early design included a kop end and stands steepling high and close to the pitch. That means atmosphere, a renewed connection between team and supporters. You can have all the corporate boxes and hospitality you like, provided that is not at the expense of the ordinary fan. It’s still there, with the mouth-watering possibility a few years down the line of rail seating/standing. With the site and design, Spurs exceeded my expectations. That’s what counts and that’s not changed either.

Which brings me back to Keith’s tweet. None of this matters unless the supporters are looked after properly. Frankly, it’s never been a dream of mine to enter the ground along an elevated skywalk – a queue for the train is a queue wherever it is – but I’m sure I will get used to it, and even snatch a quick flat white on the way. If the seats are too expensive, it will be a kick in the teeth to the loyal regulars and alienate generations of potential fans who want to be regulars but who can’t afford it. The PL and Sky have between them already produced a generation of younger fans who define support as buying the shirt, getting a Sky subscription and taking part in endless arguments on twitter. That comment is about football in general by the way. It applies to Spurs but by no means exclusively. It’s a response to being priced out of regular attendance and it’s a crying shame.

Spurs blog 147

We have to increase our long-term income to compete nationally and in Europe. I get it, I really do. What’s that figure comparing income per home match, The Emirates generates £1m per match more than the Lane? This stadium, the NFL deal plus TV money, could secure our long-term financial health. What I don’t accept is if supporters are exploited in the pursuit of cash. To me, the two are not incompatible. Precisely because of the projected income streams and the capacity, Spurs can afford to keep prices reasonable. That secures support over several generations. Fans will keep coming even if, or when, the TV cash cow runs dry. Kids will support Spurs, not Chelsea, United or Barcelona. And in the long-term, that brings in money.

And while I’m about it, can we nail this thing about ‘never going to be able to fill it’ jibe that’s hurled at every new club development these days. The Lane has an illustrious history but since I began this unfortunate passion in ’67, it’s not been full that often even in the glory days that we recall so fondly, until of course you get to the modern era.

This afternoon I’ve seen a pic posted by a Hammer of the view from the upper tier of the soon-to-be-former Olympic Stadium. I know there will be retractable seating close to the pitch but for the upper tiers, they should include free binoculars with every ticket. Stadia are for supporters. That’s the benchmark, pure and simple. I feel for Hammers (no really) because they like us are used to being tight to the pitch.

Spacious seductive walkways populated by Lowry pigmy figures rushing to the match mean nothing to me. Stadia are for supporters. It’s the only benchmark. Levy got it right almost a decade ago and it’s the only thing that matters to me still. Watch this space.

And Keith, if we ever meet, I owe you a pie mate. Hang the cost, you’re worth it.