If winning ugly is a sign of a successful team, this was the Elephant Man of victories. Spurs v Everton should never have come out in daylight. Rather, the game is destined to slip furtively through the back alleys of north London largely covered in a hessian sack for fear of scaring the onlookers.
Nature and adventure. That’s the way to go. Something different. Exciting, innovative, all round White Hart Lane. On the advertising boards, of course. None of that on the pitch. It was that sort of first half, plenty of time to read the ads. One from Spurs encouraged us to ‘Join the conversation’ – nothing much to talk about. ‘What would you like to remember?’ begins the prompt on my note-taking app. About the first half, frankly nothing.
I’m grateful for the three points, I really am, don’t get me wrong, but my giddy aunt large parts of that game were the worst we have played since I don’t know when. Disjointed and devoid of both ideas and energy, we created very little in the way of passing moves in the first half, let alone chances.
Everton had the better of the opening period, Osman missing with two or three decent efforts from the edge of the box and Lloris making one top class save, full-length to his left. We gradually came back into it without making much of an impression on the Toffee’s well-marshalled defence. Eriksen shot over from a long-range free-kick and Adebayor stretched in vain pursuit of Rose’s one decent cross of the game.
Rose was holding his back even in the warm-up and looked sluggish throughout. Eriksen was peripheral, Lennon anonymous, carrying on from where he left off last week. I hope Paulinho is feeling his way back to full-fitness after his injury because if not, he must be mightily hacked off about something. Only Dembele provided any drive or impetus. A rock on the ball, defenders bounced off him as he went he forward but he had precious little help from his team-mates. He should have tried a shot or two.
Bentaleb kept moving across in front of the back four, tidying up and making himself available, his distribution a mixture of the accurate and misplaced but he was not alone in giving the ball away. A plastic kebab box blew across the pitch as half-time approached. Guess the defenders had the time to tuck in. It was so quiet at times, I could hear Sherwood shouting on the other side of the pitch. My highlight thus far was queuing for the toilet at half-time.
After the break Spurs emerged with a bit more purpose and bounce, though everything in this game is relative. We weren’t really getting anywhere but there were a few oohs and ahhs from the crowd, although by then winning a thrown-in might have led to a lap of honour.
The match was won with a moment of high-class football utterly out of keeping with the rest of the performance because it involved a) quick thinking, b) a pinpoint pass and c) a shot on target. Dembele toppled over in centre midfield. While everyone waited for him to pick himself up, Walker hit an early diagonal ball 40 yards onto Abebayor’s chest. Everything about what followed was perfect – a finely timed run to avoid offside and get a precious yard on the defenders, his impeccable control, his strength to hold off two defenders and above all a blinding left-foot shot that flew low to the near post. My whingeing about this game should not detract from Manu’s cracking finish, thrilling with the co-ordination and flow of a striker at his peak.
And that was pretty much that. The goal was our first shot on target. Stats show we had another one but I can’t recall it. Sherwood used his subs well, Capoue coming on to shore up the defence as Everton pressed and the bold move of Defoe and Townsend to distract Everton at the other end. Andros ended up shooting against defenders’ legs from a foot and neglecting his defensive duties as Coleman overlapped but the danger passed. Capoue came across to help but nearly undid his work by making one rash tackle, on Coleman in the box, but the ref said ‘no penalty’. We played out time without too much bother.
A few things to take from this one. People are still talking about Sherwood’s 4-4-2 when he has often varied his formation. This was 4-5-1 to match up with Everton. In the end, both sides cancelled each other out, which made for a dull game. Everton had no recognised striker and it really showed. Even so, their attitude was too cautious and they did not pressure us when it was clear we were not playing at all well.
Our main problem was the absence of movement when we got the ball. Time and again we picked the ball up in midfield only to find everyone bar Adebayor standing still. We did not get enough players in front of the ball in those situations. One – Adebayor – is not enough. We have the players to do it, we have done it in away games to good effect, yet nothing yesterday and that could be down either to player lethargy or poor coaching.
Adebayor was our best player regardless of the goal. He kept working and was always available despite not getting any support from the midfield.
I’ve never done it myself but I could understand why many were tempted to drift away before the end. A shame though – they should have stayed to say farewell to Jermain Defoe, who wandered slowly around the pitch taking his applause from two-thirds empty stands. A mistake to let him go. He found himself a relic of a bygone age when the big man/little man combo reigned supreme. Sincere thanks for everything he’s done. I was sad to see him drift away like this and think he was sad too.
After the game on Saturday, Kyle Walker received several abusive tweets and deleted his Twitter account. This sorry episode followed what is fast becoming a depressingly familiar pattern: player joins twitter. Fans welcome this and follow. We can interact with our heroes. This temporarily bucks the trend of increasing separation between Premier League clubs and their supporters. Fan insults player. Player says why do I bother. Player deletes account. Player more reluctant than ever to communicate.
The textspeak insults were pathetic and small-minded, like the people cowering behind the anonymity of cyberspace who posted them. Twitter is in a froth about it all, predictably. The good guys are trying to get Kyle to come back, although if he’s not on twitter, he won’t see it….
So what’s to be made of this? Reading some of the coverage, it feels like there’s been a cataclysmic rending of the Spurs firmament. Fans at each others’ throats. Players alienated from fans. Let’s have a go at the team while we’re about it. High up the league, fast improving, fine players but lose to a team racing clear at the top who spent more on three midfielders than the value of our team plus the bench and it’s AVB out, Walker out, Levy out. 606 is as unreliable a guide to opinion as Twitter, but a Spurs fan rang on Saturday to say precisely that, describing our performance as the worst he’d seen in 30 years. Couldn’t have been a real Spurs fan, then.
Twitter is a lot of fun but sometimes it suffers from delusions of grandeur. Designed as a method of conversation, it becomes reified into a self-contained universe. Not one conversation but the only conversation. The delusion is fed by a media hungry for opinions. It’s referenced with increasing frequency. Who needs a contact book compiled painstakingly over many years of scoop-seeking when you have a ready-made source of quotes at your fingertips, conveniently packaged into 140 character soundbites.
I trust those weasel misbegotten nogoodniks will crawl back under the stone from whence they came. It should be easy, they have no backbone. Back in the real world, after his dire error, the Shelf groaned then gave Kyle Walker a warm round of sympathetic applause from the Shelf. A few stood to emphasise the point that there’s a difference between a bad player and a player having a bad game. Loyal fans who put that mistake into context. The young full-back heard that and will remember long after Twitter becomes the MySpace of the next decade.
That context recognised instinctively by the Shelf is sadly lacking from the appreciation of many football fans these days, not just Spurs supporters. Devouring the game through television provides valuable insights but fundamentally distorts the nature and equilibrium of this finest of all sports. It’s safe to sit back and judge from the armchair gantry where everything is spread out before you. Slow it all down, watch a key incident 37 times from 6 different angles, only then decide a player’s ability. It fosters a culture of blame where perfection is the sole acceptable option and condemnation follows swiftly for anyone who dares to fall short.
This culture of unrealistic expectations distorts our entire perception of the game, of what clubs, players and referees for that matter are capable of. Nothing exists but the here and now. Spurs have a new manager and new players so why aren’t we top of the table? We’ve had several matches already. Just buy lots of players. It’s what other teams do. Refs are rubbish, even though we’ve seen an incident repeatedly and still can’t decide whether it’s a surefire penalty. Players are not all they are cracked up to be. Look, they make mistakes. Let’s get some stats to back it up.
Back in the real world, players’ form goes up and down. Hardly a staggering insight but in the universe of the unreal, it is forgotten far too frequently. The two finest midfielders I’ve seen at the Lane, Hoddle and Gascoigne, had more games when they were largely ineffective than glory games. It doesn’t diminish their stellar achievements one jot because that’s merely the nature of football. The way Ginola was lauded at half-time, you’d think he was Hod and Gazza rolled into one. I enjoyed watching him play, but just so you know, they show those goals against Barnsley and Leeds over and over partly because they are superb but mainly because there aren’t many others to choose from. For every moment where he turned a game there were twenty others where he slowed everything down intolerably or ran, however elegantly, into a blind alley.
In the real world, I’m fortunate enough to sit in row 14 of the Shelf, almost opposite the benches. The players are close, real-life flesh and blood, stained and steaming. When they hug the touchline, I can count the beads of sweat on their brow.
It’s a perspective that means I’m particularly close to wingers and full-backs. For that reason, I’m particularly fond of them. They can’t hide. I’m not seeing them through a prism of slowmos or tactics graphics. Right there. I see their faces and under pressure, I can see into their minds. I see elation, indifference and fear. Lots of fear, you’d be surprised. They cover it up but not from me.
So I see Kyle Walker as the most focussed and committed of Tottenham players. I am convinced of it. Towards the end of last season, he was knackered. Sure, I know they play once or twice a week, should be fit enough blah blah. But pounding up and down that wing, forward and back, being nudged and pulled and kicked, he was tired. His legs were plastered with support tape as if stuck together with sellotape. In a quiet moment, he would bend double to catch his breath.
And he did not stop. Over and over, his determination to overcome the pain in his legs and his guts kept him going. His determination to be a good professional. His dedication to the shirt. Our shirt.
Walker is not playing so well this season. His poor positional play is being found out. Late on Saturday I looked for his runs to support Lennon as we sought an equaliser but there was nothing. I don’t know what caused it but he was shot through. The England trip, a virus maybe but he was off-colour. During a lull, he went to the bench, ostensibly for a drink but taking on liquid that late will have no effect whatsoever on his body. He needed a boost, words of soothing reassurance to quell his anxiety.
Exhaustion seeps from muscle to mind and when called into action next he made two horrendous mistakes in as many seconds and they scored their fourth. He made one final dash upfield in desperate atonement, stiff-legged and too late. Instinct propelled him forward.
Kyle Walker is not a bad player, he’s a fine footballer who is not playing well. He’s young and will learn. His pace gets him out of trouble most of the time but not always. Defenders need games to add positional nouse to their talents. He will succeed and but he has nothing to prove to me. I know he plays for the shirt.
Thanks to my cyberpal the @Lustdoctor. Blog in the blogroll to your right. Essential. Our conversation on twitter generated some ideas for this piece. Oh the irony.
Football On My Mind is an occasional series of articles about current events in the game, not just about Spurs. Endlessly curious, it’s called On My Mind because it is, always.
Last week England manager Roy Hodgson committed what appears to be a cardinal sin in contemporary football. He gave an honest answer to a question from a fan.
Hodgson has been accused of being at the very least naive and at worst of crass stupidity. He’s since apologised but it’s not entirely clear for what exactly. Certainly Rio Ferdinand should have been the first to know that he was not selected for the forthcoming England squad. Any leader worth their salt knows that honesty and trust are powerful motivators, whether the organisation be a charity like the one I manage, a private company or a football team. While the defender’s omission is hardly a surprise, least of all to him I suspect, this apparent breach of duty will reverberate through the rest of the squad. I doubt it will have any immediate noticeable effect but they won’t forget when times are tough and their manager calls for trust in his methods.
In many ways Hodgson presents as a man out of time, a relic even, although this serves to mask a comprehensive understanding of the modern game. It’s hard to imagine him as a young man. He was born an avuncular uncle figure. There’s a comfortable stability in his old-fashioned values of hard work, footballers doing their best and an integrity born of working with players and an endless fascination with the game itself. Most of the time this continuity with the past is reassuring in a time of rapid change and short attention spans and it’s not as if he bangs on about the good old days all the time as many younger pundits choose to do. Roy will never be a trendy uncle, perish the thought that he will lose his charm, but he looks forward as well as back and his broad-minded approach to innovation probably held back his career in England.
The old days were never as good as many would have you believe. Hodgson’s apparent wish that John Terry should be found not guilty by a court or the FA smacks of the unwritten football code of silence, what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, superseding the imperative to counter racism in all its guises. However, communicating with the supporters is a fundamental element of that old-school attitude and there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Hodgson wants to talk football and does not think he is above the fans, whereas many professionals treat us with barely concealed contempt. The yawning gap between fans and the clubs to which they have devoted a large part of their lives has created a growing sense of alienation that is destined to cause irrevocable harm to the game as a whole unless it is challenged.
These days the them and us attitude prevails. Many Premier League clubs do their utmost to control the contact between their staff and the fans. We faithfully turn up and the only communication is one-way via our bank accounts. Perish the thought that we may wish to interact in any other way. Even in the media, the pundits, paid handsomely to talk, barely disguise their contempt for the task of communicating. And all this is accepted by the producers and directors who tolerate vapid platitudes or, in the case of Mark Lawrenson during Euro 2012, apparent disdain for football itself.
The England manager does something about it, in his own small way. He’s on the tube, not a limo or even a cab, knowing he will be recognised. When he is, he’s happy to talk openly about the game he loves, knowing that fans share that passion. He’s not different because of his status, he’s the same as us. Passionate after all these years about the game we love.
So he talks and ends up all over the back pages because in return for his openness, someone calls the tabloids. No doubt they are boasting to their mates about it and they have trousered a few hundred quid in return.
Hodgson will never be as straightforward again with the public and it’s a reminder to everyone else in the business to keep mouthing the dull platitudes. Keep to themselves any real opinions, anything of any vague interest or that may be marginally different from what anyone else is saying. Perhaps I’m the one who is now being naive in believing there is any such thing as a private conversation any longer.
Uncle Roy was young once. He used to play for Tonbridge Angels, now in the Conference South. I went to see them 10 days ago. My wife’s nephew was mascot. After the game, all the players gathered in the club lounge and happily posed for pictures, chatted to supporters and signed autographs. As the match finished, the away team fans huddled behind the goal. Nothing sinister here – they had been joined by Sutton’s manager who talked to them about the club’s current problems. He gave them bad news, they gave him a round of applause.
This contact is why more fans are turning their backs on the big clubs. It’s not the same in the Premier League but it is possible to work much harder to close the gap between fans and clubs. Hodgson was naive but like any relationship, it works both ways. Perhaps we get the game we deserve.