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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Review of The Season Part 2. Or – How On Earth Can We Finish 5th Next Season? Or 4th…Or…

My final post of this season. Sincere thanks to everyone who has read and commented on Tottenham On My Mind this past year, makes this one-man old-fashioned blog in a sea of clickbait and ads all worthwhile. It’s a labour of love about a passion undimmed even after all these years. Posts over the summer if there is something worth saying, see you in August.

Regards, Alan

I’ve just finished reading Terry Dyson’s autobiography, a rattling good tale of the Double years that I warmly recommend. Dyson could have dedicated his book to his family, who feature in the photos almost as prominently as do his goals that won the ’61 Cup and the ’63 Cup-Winners Cup Final, or to any of his Double team-mates. But he didn’t. This is what he wrote:

“To all Tottenham Hotspur supporters – the most important people at the club.”

Dyson means it. He’s a down-to-earth, honest man whose love of the game and of his fellow players in what many contemporary observers say is the greatest ever club side shines through on every single page.

This truth has been mislaid somewhere along the line. Exorbitant ticket prices, constantly changing kick-off times, a club dismissive of supporter interaction, more false dawns than Groundhog Day. All of these and more have created an unprecedented distance between supporter and club. The season began with so many people saying that they had almost had enough. These are supporters who have been going all their lives, every week, across England and europe. Hard core but these days they weren’t feeling it like they used to.

So the greatest achievement of this season has surely been to bring fans and players closer than before. The young home-grown players, Kane, Mason and Bentaleb especially, have matched the passion of the supporters. When they celebrate, they’re celebrating with us, rather than putting on a display of self-indulgent preening and posing. They mean it too.

“Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes”. At Spurs we’ve been desperately seeking someone to revere, to thrill, to lift us from our seats whenever he’s on the ball. At the end of August, Lamela’s excellence against QPR convinced me that he was the heir apparent. Skillful and distinctive on the ball, he had all the hallmarks of a Tottenham maverick to remember.

But I was premature. Our hero came from closer to home. As Lamela spent the rest of the season running down blind alleys, Harry Kane burst through to take his place. More valuable even than his precious goals, he truly was one of our own. In midfield Mason was wholly committed, Bentaleb clever and responsible, Rose too took his chance. They turned our season round, driven by the desire to succeed for the white and navy blue.

Football fans aren’t stupid, although a bad day on twitter could easily lead you to think otherwise. We now and have always known that we are not treated well by the board, and this is true for most of Tottenham’s history. The difference is, up until comparatively recently, supporters felt as though they had a reasonable relationship with their club, something that’s true for all clubs, not just at Spurs. Admission prices were acceptable, within the reach of working people, and there was some reciprocity between players and fans. It felt as if the fans could be the 12th man, to be part of something. In return, the players would respond, try their best. We understood if they didn’t win every time, that wasn’t the point.

Times were different then. Players now choose to have lifestyles that separate them from supporters. Terry Dyson earned £40 a week when the maximum wage was abolished in 1961, lived in the same digs for 10 years and drank after the game in the Bell and Hare. Regimented all-seater stadia and high prices dampened enthusiasm but Kane et al showed it does not have to be this way. Over the past two seasons, this blog has been critical of the board’s unduly negative and secretive approach towards the fans, and I will continue to be. On the field, something did change for the better this season and it lifted spirits wonderfully. We had some fun.

We should be justifiably proud of our young(ish) over-achievers. Supporters of other teams are envious. This season we fielded the youngest ever PL team on several occasions and probably have more home-developed players than the top four combined. However, despite the optimism, they have carried the burden of a flagging side and a failed transfer policy for long enough. This summer needs an influx of several new players able to settle quickly.

Pochettino made the key signing several months ago. He needs players able to respond to his methods and tactics, and Paul Mitchell has the task of getting them. Some managers prosper by finding a formation that suits the players at their disposal but Pochettino isn’t one of those. The current squad, bought for different purposes and a different manager, largely do not fit his high tempo, forward-passing, pressing game. The post-League Cup Final optimism in some quarters that we needed ‘one or two’ to add to our ‘homegrown spine’ was touchingly naive and completely misplaced. The squad needs a major overhaul.

Should they stay or should they go? Capoue, Kaboul and Chiriches aren’t good enough. Soldado and Paulinho are good players who have failed at Spurs, partly because various managers did not play to their strengths, then they could not lift themselves out of the doldrums. So they go too, with Adebayor whose time has passed and with my thanks and best wishes.

I’m wary of selling talent, always hopeful that skill will finally win out. Therefore I would keep Lamela and Townsend, the latter if only because he’s part of that group who dictate the dressing room atmosphere. This is important at any club, especially so at Spurs where the several new players will walk into this positivity. This will be what they learn is integral to being at Spurs. Townsend has been dreadful this season but I’d play him on the left. Both may be sold however if the price is right. Neither are indispensable and I could see them used as bargaining chips if Poch really wants a particular transfer target. I feel less strongly about Dembele, who will probably be sold but his strength and power on the ball has a role further upfield.

The manager will have a judgement to make on Fazio and Stambouli. Pochettino must have sanctioned his countryman’s purchase but it’s hard to see where such an immobile centreback fits the masterplan. However, defending is a team responsibility so if we tighten up in front of the back four, Fazio’s strength in the box may shine. Until now, they have remained firmly behind a dark cloud. He could be sold. Stambouli has not been given many opportunities, perhaps because his manager doesn’t rate him. Interesting snippet – Michael Bridges, a Spurs-supporting journalist, tweeted last week that Mitchell had Stambouli lined up as a replacement if Saints sold Schneiderlin, so they must think something of him.

I’d keep everyone else. The question is, will some of them want to stay? I just can’t see my lovely Lloris staying for more if one of the top European sides come in however much he and his family like living in London. I assume that’s why Vorm agreed to come, on a promise of first-team football. Vertonghen often looks uncommitted and I’ve thought all season that he wants to try one last big move. Eriksen too is highly thought of in Europe, although I suspect he’s not played well enough this past season to enhance his reputation. Kane will not be sold.

Kevin Wimmer, the former Cologne centre-half, is our first signing, hopefully an indication that we will try to do business early in the window. Judging from Four Four Two’s analysis, he’s a template for our transfer strategy – some experience (22 and I international cap) with his best years ahead of him, fast, decent on the ball, ambitious, dedicated. Both talent and attitude should be part of the job specification.

He’s also cheap – £4m. Levy has openly stated we’re not spending more than around £10-15m for players with most considerably less than that. All the more reason why Mitchell is so important. If a player gets an offer from a CL club, chances are they will reject us.

Depending on Fazio and Vertonghen, we may need one, possibly two centrehalfs. One keeper if Lloris goes, maybe someone experienced as third choice if he doesn’t. Another right-back possibly but the spine is much more important, so at least one more DM, preferably two (Mason is not a natural DM), two wide players able to attack and defend – the latter is absolutely crucial to the point where success or failure could hinge on those signings – and two strikers to support/cover Kane.

That’s a lot. There’s some variation depending on tactics. Jay Rodrigues at Southampton joined midfield and went up front as required, working extremely hard in the process as well as scoring goals. I think Pochettino hopes Chadli will fulfil this role but as yet he does not work hard enough. It’s a tall order, and that’s without the problems of integrating so many new players into the side, however able they are. That’s what did for AVB after all.

So an optimisitc end to the season but frankly a difficult summer ahead. Pochettino has said he wants players with PL experience but I reckon we will not have heard of many of the targets, like Wimmer. Support for Pochettino goes without saying. All the signs are that Levy will back him too. It’s perfect for him – success on the cheap, after all, isn’t that what he pays his managers for? Spent all that money, did what the football people told me to do and where did that get us? He’ll be happy, again though the suspicion that this was why Levy appointed Pochettino, because he would be compliant over transfers and bring on the youngsters. At least it looks as though we have a strategy.

Whenever we go to White Hart Lane, the spirit of Bill Nicholson is always there, a force for good in a mixed-up mumbled-up shook-up world. Despite the determined efforts of PR and marketing departments to plunder his heritage to sell units and thus demean his achievements, Billy Nick will rise above it all – the game for Spurs really is about glory, doing things in style.

Comparisons with our greatest are invidious and unfair, but it is worth a reminder of how he lay the groundwork. Bill Nick was at the club as player and coach for over 20 years before he became manager. His signings were superlative but over half the Double side were at the club before he took over. We’ve had umpteen changes of manager and Director of Football, let alone players. Pochettino has basically spent a year coaching someone else’s squad.

Last week my son and I went to the Trust meeting, where it was good to see several long-standing supporters of Tottenham On My Mind. I enjoy the meetings even though fans understandably air grievances with the club over the new ground, prices and, well, everything.

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It is a heartening experience though, not just to be with fellow supporters trying to bring club and fanbase together, but also, surprisingly, to hear that some of the club employees are as passionate about the club as we are. Sue Tilling, the club Safety Officer, chatted with us about this classic photo of Bill Nick in the dressing room. One of the chief away stewards (sorry, didn’t catch her name), stood up and said we the fans were her family. That’s why she looks after us. She meant it. It was the perfect note on which to finish my season. Let’s hope the club means it too.

Review of the Season Part 1- Spurs End On A High. Or – How On Earth Did We End Up 5th?

Spurs ended this convoluted and at times incoherent season on a high. Harry the Hero’s diving header from Dier’s sumptuous cross gave Tottenham victory against Everton and lifted us into a delightful but improbable 5th place.

2014-15 will be remembered as the season of the Fine Young Men of Tottenham Hotspur and it was fitting that Kane, the very best of them, should seal a creditable finish with an assist from another young player who when thrown into the limelight through necessity, did not blink. Like Mason and the excellent Bentaleb, who could turn out to be the best of them all, Eric Dier made the most of his opportunity. Often these youngsters have carried their more experienced team-mates on their shoulders, too often in my view.

Fitting though this ending was, the quality of the goal was not in keeping with large chunks of Tottenham’s football over the past 9 months. We have seen such rubbish sometimes, it was a most unwelcome resurrection of long-buried memories of the mid-nineties when Spurs were devoid of teamwork, ambition and above all hope. After a bright start, autumn and spring were flat and frustrating, bookends for a winter that was anything but bleak.

I watched open-mouthed and aghast at the disjointed, inept performances against Villa and Hull away, Stoke and Newcastle at home, that became a worrying pattern. Yet away from home there was another element. Late goals against the run of play transformed the side. 3 points at Villa, Hull, Swansea, Leicester, winning this way became the norm. However undeserved these wins were, we have been lucky that so many sides have missed good chances against us this season, the players began to believe in themselves. Their manager’s fearsome fitness regime that some older heads rejected, proved its worth. Spurs were still running as opponents flagged. Injuries were at a minimum. We had skilful players who without imposing themselves on the game for 90 minutes could win the match with a moment of class, Eriksen being the prime example.

In April and May, understandably the young players who had lifted us from the doldrums were mentally weary and performances suffered. The legs were still willing but the minds were weak. This inconsistency was intensely frustrating but completely predictable given the inexperience of half the players and the lack of balance in the team. Those who have taken a heavily critical approach on social media should just consider this for a moment. More about the manager and players in a moment, but this squad was in no way equipped for success. Sides full of young players do not prosper in the Premier League. I have been critical of an apparent lack of learning-from-mistakes and apparently of effort, I’ve bitten my tongue in irritation at a succession of crass errors, I realise our high final position is in part a comment of the inadequacies of other teams in a mundane PL, but remember this season as one where a developing team over-achieved.

In the middle, remember too some glorious matches and moments made all the sweeter because they were unexpected. Kane’s emergence as a top class footballer, one of our own come to save us from mediocrity. He will have a fine career but surely never a season like this one where for a while everything worked, every shot went in, even the dodgy ones. I loved him most though over the last month or so where though he played well the goals weren’t coming, yet he worked so hard, often without any support, intelligent, constant effort shifting the defence around, making space for others, always an eye for goal. He’s forever trying to do something for the sake of the team rather than personal glory. And all this without a hair out of place.

A hard-fought, tense draw against Manchester United after Christmas was a creditable result that should not be forgotten despite what followed. My vision of the Chelsea match is a dream-like blur of white shirts sweeping at will through the Blues defence, goal upon goal but the movement was sublime. Eriksen drifting here and there, pulling defenders with him, Chadli into the space, Kane a ghost for all Cahill and Terry could lay a hand on him. Harry’s shimmy and turn for his goal in the second half, bliss.

Then Arsenal, not just north London bragging rights but a deserved win against one of the best. Kane’s winner, right behind that looping header that hung for an age before nestling softly into the corner of the net, was unforgettable. Most of all, the atmosphere was as full-bloodied and committed as anything from the 45 plus years I’ve been going, and I’ve been to every one of the glory glory days and nights in that time. Bedlam in the stands, ears ringing in time with the tuningfork girders of the grand old ground vibrating in joyous rhythm, perhaps for the very last time. Perhaps there will never be another occasion like it before the wrecking ball comes in.

A Wembley final too, disappointing outcome but at least we took the game to Chelsea in the first half before their experience and billions became too much on this occasion. A reminder of the correlation between salaries and success in the modern era, Spurs’ wage bill is the 6th or 7th highest in the PL and that’s where we usually finish. The best young player of the season gets about a quarter of what Sterling is demanding.

Mauricio Pochettino isn’t the messiah, not even a naughty little boy. He’s a hard-working, diligent manager who has done very well to get Spurs through this season, let alone finish 5th. Firmly wedded to 4-2-3-1, the players know what is expected of them, and, most importantly in terms of progress in the long run, can build on this next season because for once there will be no changes in the summer.

This focus can also be his weakness because there have been times where this set-up has been too rigid. Towards the end of the season it felt as if he was devoid of ideas and waiting for the summer where he could buy players to fit his philosophy of high-tempo, pressing and always looking to pass the ball forward. I’m trying to sidestep the word ‘transitional’ here because it applies to most of the last 20 years, but also because it’s a euphemism. Pochettino has faced up redoubtably to a legacy of gross mis-management and neglect of the playing resources. Villas-Boas did not know what to do with the post-Bale influx of players, a £100m windfall and once in a generation opportunity that has been wasted. Sherwood was merely a caretaker.

Tactics schmatics. In the end, it’s all about players and the manager’s ability to pick the right ones. Pochettino was left with a poor squad unfit for purpose. One reason he’s been unable to change things around too much is simply that he does not have the options. The young players have prospered because they were prepared to buy into the approach of a manager who told them he could make them better players. Remember too they had to play because Pochettino quickly discovered the paucity of his inheritance.

Several apparently were not able or willing to follow their manager. Chiriches is a walking mistake, neat in the tackle but holds onto the ball in dangerous situations and easily beaten in physical aerial challenges. Capoue is too slow and one-dimensional for this manager, whose biggest mistake was entrusting Kaboul with the role of first-pick centrehalf. Injuries have deprived the Frenchman of the supple athleticism and power that made him so promising. The risk of giving such prominence to an injury-prone player was too much. I would not have sold Dawson, whose leadership and determination was surely an asset during times of change. Fazio, presumably signed with Pochettino’s agreement, does not look like an upgrade as he lumbers in and out of the side. Tough and clever enough to compensate for his limitations, he’s a barrier in the box but outside he has all the mobility of a tower block. Dier as I’ve said shows promise at centreback. He was fearless up against Costa in the League Cup final.

Vertonghen appears distant and aloof sometimes yet remains our best centreback despite being caught square one on one too often. In one match, Leicester home I think it was, he was inexcusably arm-waving and moaning at the problems around him instead of taking responsiblity to do something about them as senior defender. I suspect he would go if made a good offer.

Perhaps the season should be characterised not so much about the youth of the players who have done well but by those willing to take their opportunity. Ryan Mason said recently that he finally feels like a proper footballer. He’s taken his chance magnificently. From nowhere to the England team via a good summer tour in America that was the start of it all. I like his committment and ability to move the ball forward and he does not seem like a natural defensive midfielder so maybe all of this and playing out of position. We would have done less without him yet can’t rely on him to be the heart of the defensive midfield. His partner Bentaleb often gives him encouragement and an arm round the shoulders in solidarity. Spurs have taught this group togetherness and to take responsibility. Always available, he has an eye for the pass and keeps the ball moving. Highly impressive, he really could be something in the future.

If we’re talking about taking chances, Danny Rose comes out on top. He’s fought off the promising Ben Davies and looks every inch the attacking full-back. He deserves fulsome praise.

Our biggest problem has been the players wide in the ‘3’ of the 4-2-3-1. None of them suit the set-up because they are defensively weak. Chadli and Lamela are best when freed of any defensive responsibilities. I have been critical of the Belgian for his lack of work-rate. Lamela has learned to put in the yards but not that in the PL he’s going to get tackled before he can get up a head of steam. Both are effective when allowed to drift into the middle. Chadli has scored some fine goals and Lamela’s perfectly weighted angled through-balls from 25 yards are a delight. However, the gaps they leave behind have repeatedly left a fragile back four exposed, which some opponents have ruthlessly exploited.

Townsend is the Spurs youngster who has failed to grasp the nettle. He’s best flying down the left wing, powerful and direct. He’s not a great thinker on the pitch and the inverted winger role gives him too many choices. Come inside, go outside on the weaker foot, lay it off – too much for him, slows him down for a vital, fatal second.

Inside, Eriksen’s season has tailed away. He will never be a player who dominates a midfield. Rather, he needs someone else to win that battle, then he could win the match for you. Some fine goals and free-kicks will linger, none more so than his cool finish up at Brammal Lane when the defence fell apart late on. Spurs need more through-balls – we made chances from these and Eriksen can deliver. Trouble is, and this sounds crass I know, but he and Lamela have to have someone to pass to. So often this term, Kane has either been on his own up front or has gone out of the box in order to set something up. Poor Bobby Soldado is shot to pieces, a troubled soul who has scored goals by instinct since he was a boy and so has no idea how to make it better now they have dried up. Beyond redemption in north London, I can’t bear to see him suffer any more and wish him goals wherever he goes. Adebayor has been invisible, a troubled soul and out of contention. So no one to pass to.

Dembele holds on the ball and so does not seem to fit, but he has so much ability and strength, surely we can do something. He’s never been a DM and should play further forward. I’m surprised Stambouli has not been given more of a chance, especially as he was bought under Pochettino’s watch. Paulinho needs some sun on his back, once a good player who looks a long way from home. Nothing left in north London for him.

Last but not least, Hugo Lloris has been outstanding this year. I feel for him playing behind a dreadful back four. He looks so crestfallen when we concede as if it hurts him personally. His saves have earned us a good few points this season. I assume he will go in the summer, why would he stay if an offer from a better team in Europe comes along, and good luck to him, I will really miss him.

After the League Cup Final, it was easy to get swept away in a tide of optimism. The many pieces saying we had a spine of young players to rely on to secure future success were sweet but naive. My view is unchanged from well before Christmas. This summer requires a major overhaul of the squad and that’s without departures of the players like Lloris, Vertonghen and Eriksen who might be in demand. More about the future plus reflections on where the club is right now later in the week.