Spurs: Has Levy Given Pochettino What He Wants?

Discovering the strategy at Spurs is rather like the search for the Lost Ark, an exciting, mysterious and ultimately futile endeavour chasing something that exists only in the minds of hopeful devotees. When it comes to casting Daniel Levy, Harrison Ford is likely to pass on the role of a lifetime.

But like those pilgrims, despite decades of evidence to the contrary the idea provides me with some crumbs of comfort. Supporters all over the world, proud history, multi-million pound business, I cling to the notion that the board have some ideas about where the club is going.

Not a lot to ask really. Not even mentioned big money signings, top four or, perish the thought, actually winning something. But apparently, it is. I’ve repeatedly returned to this theme throughout the life of Tottenham On My Mind because I’ve never found a satisfactory answer.

This is important for supporters, who will put up with a lot and pay up too if there is something to look forward to, if we are working towards something better than we have at any given moment.

There are variations on this theme. Many would say, with some justification, that Levy doesn’t know what he’s doing, that he takes decisions on the hoof and most of them are lousy. Another suggests Levy does have a plan, it’s just that it’s rubbish. Whatever your refrain, one phrase crops up all the time: “On the cheap…”.

History shows his poor judgement in terms of 2 fundamentals, picking the right manager and supporting him consistently. All this in a context where Levy wants success based on the development of upwardly mobile players, usually bought with some experience and nurtured rather than home-grown, as opposed to investing big money on players. Everyone would agree that whatever he’s up to, it hasn’t worked.

If that’s the plan, fair enough. It underestimates the investment required but the real problem is Levy’s unwillingness to provide the consistency and continuity essential to this strategy. He builds his house then tunnels away at the foundations. As the dust settles on the January transfer window, another strategy emerges from the ruins. The real question is, are Spurs moving in the right direction or is Levy condemned to making the same mistakes?

The significant signings of this window will appear on the pitch only if Paul Coyte interviews them at half-time. The arrival of Paul Mitchell as talent spotter (he will have some management gibberish title to burnish his CV but that’s what he does) has been followed by Rob McKenzie, a highly regarded youth specialist from Leicester City. Mitchell comes from Southampton and is seen as Pochettino’s choice, the clearest sign yet that the Argentinian is here to stay, at least for a while. Levy’s form with new managers is to wait for them to prove themselves before investing heavily in players, an unhelpfully unsupportive message in my view but Pochettino has been rewarded for keeping his head down and making do with what he’s got.

On his record so far, he deserves that backing. He has done an excellent job to bring on Kane, Mason and Bentaleb and to bring the best from Eriksen. These young players have become leaders, showing the more experienced members of the squad what it takes to be a Spur. In the process, they’ve lifted the fans from early season gloom. Spurs play attractive football with a core of young men from the youth set-up. These are our own and it feels good to be a part of it.

Without putting a dampener on all this justified optimism, we’ve been here before. Spurs’ history under Levy is best characterised not by our managers, even if we could remember them all there have been so many, but by our Directors of Football. Arnesen began the policy of buying for the future. No matter that we now sneer at the likes of Atouba or Zeigler, they did a job for a while then we gradually upgraded. Also, even if you see them as failures, vitally they didn’t cost much.

Under Comolli, same policy only a notch or three up in class. Modric and Berbatov cost about 16m and 10m respectively but they had room to grow, as did others. And then there was Bale. Shame about Bentley but you can’t have everything.

Baldini used Bale’s cash to buy silk that turned out to be schmutter. Soldado can’t score, Paulinho can’t smile, Lamela a talent still to mature in the PL but at least with him there’s hope. We’ll never have such an opportunity again but he is still around, presumably doing something over than sitting next to Levy in the director’s box. Looking improbably suave is a worthy achievement but not on the job description. Levy allowed Comolli to undermine his manager: on no account should Baldini’s continued presence mean that this will happen again.

To new signing Dele Alli, an apology. He’s already been saddled with the “wonderkid” tag even before he signed. He’s not a superhero. No doubt his failure to leap tall buildings in a single bound will lead him to be labelled a failure after the first pre-season friendly this summer. He’s a highly promising young player who has prospered amidst the hard graft of Division 1 and frankly I’d rather have that than a “wonderkid”, whatever that is. Football is littered with the ghosts of players who were stars at 16. You will recall John Bostock, a fine player at that age who made two mistakes. One, he had an agent at 14, two, he believed the agent’s hype. Don’t read the papers, get kicked around in the mud of the lower leagues and you shall be a man my son.

Edit: since publishing I’ve read Lyall Thomas’s article who notes Mitchell worked with Alli at MK Dons and recommended signing him.

Pochettino’s Spurs are getting a good reputation all of a sudden for bringing on our own. In a competitive market that will count for something. Once again Kane, Mason and Bentaleb show the way. So as supporters, let’s learn from them – give them time and don’t expect too much too soon.

But no new striker. The sword of Damocles hangs over every match. An injury to Kane and we are in deep schtuk. This problem goes way back – the failure over many years to buy quality strikers is scandalous and once again we are left woefully short. January is not the time to buy the right man – this problem should have been fixed in the summer.

As I have said before, hold back on the Adebayor criticism because he has a role to play for us this season. In any event, no excuse in the world for booing him. All this talk of Spurs not selling/loaning to West Ham out of spite is all hot air. Levy was quite right to refuse the deal – why bolster the chances of one of our biggest rivals?

Very best wishes to Aaron Lennon, a player we stole from Leeds. Whatever your opinion of him, he cost £1m and we got some value there. I loved to see his little legs dashing along at high speed. Always saw them as a blur, like the Roadrunner. And oh how he frustrated – if only his final ball could consistently match his pace.

I’ll remember him fondly. A man out of time, he is a winger in an era full of wide men who are multi-skilled, who tackle back, who ‘do a job’. Azza adapted but remained a guy who did just one job well. “Run at ‘em, take them on!”. And in the San Siro for Crouch’s epic winner, Arsenal at home amid delirium, at their place for 4-4, that’s just what he did. Four years on, nobody left from that San Siro team, he was the last. Thank you and good luck.

 

 

 

Kane Deals With His Biggest Challenge Yet

Harry Kane’s first season in the Spurs first team has been a remarkable success. Given his chance by a manager who believes in him, he’s transformed both his own prospects as an outstanding young English forward and those of the team. He’s become indispensable.

Now he faces his biggest challenge yet, overcoming the weight of expectation. Spurs expects: he scores them, he makes them. Supporters have presented him with the ultimate accolade that any crowd anywhere in the world can bestow: Harry Kane is one of our own. There’s no higher complement from the people who truly matter, the fans.

He deserves it. He’s exceeded all expectations so far, even I suspect his own. Many who now laud him wrote him off not so long ago. Obviously not good enough. Before starting a Premier League game, obviously. Such is the modern way. The ability to make a judgement quickly is more important than its accuracy.

Footballers need time to mature. Always been that way, always will be, except let’s ignore all that because we’re modern and the ‘now’ generation allows no one any time. Success has been the undoing of many a young player over the years. Players who burst onto the scene, they’ve got it all but to the unwary choice can be the enemy of the indecisive. In the first flush, it’s all natural, unthinking, instinct. Then there’s a fraction’s delay. Shall I shoot or beat another man? I can take on anyone, except defenders suss you out. The player will many talents has to decide which one to use in any given situation, but any given defender isn’t going to give him that time.

Already there are sighs of disappointment when Kane doesn’t quite make it. The fans are not having a go at him, it’s genuine but that all puts extra pressure on a lad. Which is why I enjoyed his first goal yesterday so, so much.  On the left, he shifted the ball onto his right in what is fast becoming a trademark move. The last few games, he’s missed a few. Taken an extra touch, trying to get it just right. But this boy knows what he’s about. Took no chances with this one, larruping it past Foster who was beaten by sheer pace. No messing. He’ll make it. Expectation will inspire not hamper him, just as he’s inspired us. He’s achieved a rare rapport between fans and players that we’ve seldom seen recently and remained humble almost, clear headed and feet on the ground all the while just like his mate Ryan Mason.

But yesterday’s plaudits go to Christian Eriksen, having a fine season after a slow start. Over the past five games he’s moved up another level. Now you expect something to happen whenever he’s on the ball. I’d say there’s a buzz or that your heart beats a little bit faster, except there’s no time for that. Eriksen doesn’t hang about. At his best the ball’s gone in an instant. The best creative midfielders deal in the art of the possible, the unlikely. Their clocks run fast. Paint a picture of what the game will look like in two seconds time, that’s where the ball will go.

His team-mates have cottoned on. Kane loves him. His eye for a pass is tailored for Kane’s mature movement, sliding into channels or on the half-turn with his back to goal. It’s a match made in heaven. Yesterday Rose on the overlap, instead of hanging wide and taking the orthodox (and perfectly worthwhile) pass down the line, he saw who was in possession and so veered diagonally into the box, into an area dangerous for defenders, secure in the knowledge this most difficult of passes would be delivered accurately. The ball was cleared but that’s not the point. Dump the passing stats, Eriksen is about risk, the unexpected, trying something. True creativity requires mistakes to be made. Don’t expect him to run a midfield – he’s not that type. What he is, is a matchwinner.

And I’ve not even mentioned the free-kicks. The keepers know where they are going but they can’t stop them. Another right-footer, over the wall and down. Keeper Foster thinks he’s got it but the curl means the ball just keeps on going.

That 6th minute opener was just the tonic for Spurs. Ten minutes later Kane made it two and we were well and truly on our way to the one of the best wins of the season.

Spurs spent much of the game shepherding the ball with the care and vigilance of a mother swan guarding her brood of cygnets. Mason, Paulinho and Dembele, again much more effective in an advanced starting position, assiduously kept it circulating with willing assistance from both full-backs. There were extended periods in both halves where Albion simply could not get the ball. It shows a genuine confidence in the Tottenham side that wasn’t there even a few weeks ago when we were winning.

The defending did not match this standard and whilst we had comparatively few alarms, Lloris came to the rescue on several occasions. One full-length tip-over then a superb save low to his right, the shot from point-blank range. He couldn’t reach a set-piece header – slack marking from Fazio – but the ball thumped against the bar and away.  A third lightning reaction save in the second half, helped by Rose scrambling the rebound away.

Second half, any chance the Baggies had of a comeback was snuffed out by Kane’s second, a penalty harshly awarded after the ball hit Lescott’s arm as he slid across to block a cross. I love the pic above, Harry in the act of striking the ball, tongue poking out with the intense concentration of a toddler trying to complete a puzzle. Kids are totally in the moment, completely fixed on completing the task properly. I think that sums up our Harry nicely.

Seldom have Pochettino’s efforts to build a side been better evidenced than in this victory. On the ball we were organised and purposeful and if he can pull off the trick of rehabilitating Paulinho, water into wine will surely follow. The Brazilian looked eager for the first time in a year and while he relied on Mason doing much of his work for him in the first half, he played his part.

The Final The Hard Way. The Spurs Way

The moment Tottenham Hotspur reached the League Cup Final,the Sky cameras focussed on the face of Christian Eriksen, whose late goal, a sublimely serene finish amidst the bedlam of an underdog cup-tie comeback, secured a precious victory. Tdhey found no elation, just a blank expression as he gazed into the middle distance, coming to terms with a trip to Wembley rather than the gut-wrenching indignity of extra time in a match Spurs seemed to have thrown away as carelessly as chucking a fag packet out of a car window.

Relief next as the magnitude of what he had acheived sunk in. Only then was there joy. The players joined hands to celebrate in front of the 5500 who had travelled a long way on a bitter winter’s night in search of cup glory. They were led by our own, the young Spurs, proper Spurs, for whom this meant so much. Supporters and players for once as one, experiencing the same emotions. Ripping pain aside, joy unconfined, on our way to Wembley.

Wembley the hard way. The Spurs way. Is there any other way? I don’t mind how we got there as long as we get there.For all I care our centre forward could have repeatedly stamped on our opponents without punishment then go and pinch a late set-piece winner, but you could never get away with that. Semi-finals are never pretty but it felt as if Spurs won this one twice over. Ending the first half a goal to the good, we were unable to fully sustain our first half dominance but come 70 minutes, two up on aggregate with an away goal, we had surely done enough. But Spurs are always vulnerable. A couple of decent balls into the box and it turns out we had built a house of straw. Sheffield not only drew level, they missed a decent chance to win it. With United rampant and baying for blood, time dragged so slowly I truly believed 180 minutes had passed.

Spurs learned their lesson from the first leg and from kick-off took the game to our opponents. We harried and pressed, confining this game, well-organised United team to their own half. Kane demonstrated the folly of starting last week with Adebayor up front by repeatedly finding the channels between their back four time. Sadly his finishing did not match the quality of his movement. He missed several good chances but because we were on top, you were confident another one would be along in a minute.

At the other end, United posed few problems. Those that existed were largely of our own making, giving away possession unnecessarily. To break the spell, Vorm dropped an innocuous cross but we scrambled it clear. Never again doubt Lloris and his choice to frequently punch.

To our credit, we did not allow that to faze us. Dominant again, the goal when it came was deserved but from a free-kick rather than open play. Stambouli drove on towards the defence but was fouled. From the right, 25 yards out, Eriksen’s right-footed shot looked to be curling wide of both the keeper and the woodwork, then it nestled into the top corner as softly as a mother bird settling on her eggs. A beautiful piece of skill, impossible to save. Flat-footed Keeper rooted to the spot, looking up, back to Eriksen, then up again. It was in my friend.

Spurs played particularly well up to half time, smooth possession football, untroubled and untouchable. Most unlike us. Not quite so superior in the second half as United came out with nothing to lose but still effective. Mason and particularly Stambouli swept up everything in midfield, snuffing out any sparks of danger and moving the ball forward as soon as possible. Mason added a couple of lung-busting late bursts into the box but failed to convert. Dembele came into his own too. His strength on the ball meant he was nigh on impossible to tackle and he took the game to our opponents repeatedly, not only easing pressure on our defence but making chances for others too. Far more dangerous further upfield, which has become the sub-title for this blog. Echoes of old failings though in the way he eases up at the edge of the box just when something decisive is required.

Duty bound to slip in at this point the fact that Lamela was excruciatingly awful, wilfully ignoring space and preferring to run with the ball towards the nearest defender. Given that he did nothing defensively, one of those performances when despite watching football for over 50 years, you have no notion what was going through a player’s mind.

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy yourself….Stambouli and Mason are a good pair when the ball is in front of them. It’s a different matter when our opponents get behind us. How we miss a fit Sandro in these situations, slipping back into the back four to cover any gaps. United hit some good balls into the box and boy did the gaps appear. The lack of midfield cover out wide left the full-backs exposed. Drawn out, our centre backs were isolated. Suddenly United were level, one cross to the far post, one deflected shot impossible to save.

Spurs were as trembly as Ossies’ knees. The sound of crashing dreams was almost audible. It’s not resilience that gets us through. True resilience would mean we wouldn’t need late winners after being ahead but hey, this is the cup so remember only the magic. Desperate times call for cool heads. Up against it, we have a couple as cool as James Bond at the North Pole. Kane perfectly controlled a tricky ball then his pass to Eriksen tore the defence apart. Into the box, left foot, Eriksen calmly stroked the ball across the keeper and wheeled away in triumph. A top class moment irrespective of context. To win a semi-final, it was the touch of a master.

The hard way, the Spurs way. Something more was required. I wouldn’t have played Vorm, not because he’s bad, he isn’t, but because Lloris is by far our best and leaving him out gives the wrong message to the whole side. But Vorm hurled himself at a forward’s feet and 50/50 became 100/0 in our favour.

A day out at Wembley to look forward to, even better in the company of these young players whose exuberance and application have got us there. Kane and Mason chatting afterwards on the pitch, Mason with a Spurs scarf, sure he got it from a grateful fan but you felt as if he could have worn it on the train coming up. One of us. Good times. Fans and players loyal and committed. Better times to come.

I’ve been contacted by Jeff Astle’s family. Read their message from the Justice for Jeff campaign, if you’re at West Brom on Saturday, please support

JUSTICE FOR JEFF ASTLE

Nine minutes into Saturday’s game a large banner will be unveiled in the Birmingham Road End (opposite the Tottenham supporters) reading ‘Justice for Jeff’ which starts a minute’s applause – nine being the famous shirt number our dad wore. The two big screens at The Hawthorns will also display a picture of Jeff with the words ‘If in doubt, sit them out’ which refers to the dangers of concussion in sport.

Spurs fans are more than welcome to join in with the applause if they choose; for which we would be very grateful for; but if not we would like to take this opportunity to make them aware of our campaign if they haven’t already seen it via the national media.

The Justice for Jeff banner has been at every West Bromwich Albion home and away game and will continue to be for the rest of this season. Hopefully by then the promised research into the links between heading footballs and brain damage will be in its early stages and, just as importantly, the research into former players and instances of dementia will have commenced.

We are aware that your great club has also had old heroes who suffered or are sadly still suffering with Alzheimer’s or some other Degenerative Brain Disease. Arthur Rowe, Alf Ramsey, Tommy Harmer, Danny Blanchflower, Peter Baker and the ‘ indestructible Dave Mackay, to name a few.

We would also like to respectfully ask that if you are aware of any other former players who may have died of, or are sadly living with Alzheimer’s or any other Degenerative Brain Disease please contact us by emailing dawnastle@justiceforjeff.co.uk – this information is vitally important to forthcoming research.

 

Our dad was the first British footballer to have been confirmed to die from CTE but he wouldn’t of been the first and certainly won’t be the last.

 

You can keep up-to-date and learn more about our campaign by visiting our website justiceforjeff.co.uk or through our Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/justiceforjeffastle) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/astle1968 #justiceforjeff) pages.

Yours Sincerely,

The Astle Family

 

Spurs Win Fades Quickly From The Memory

What am I doing here? How did I end up in this shabby part of north London on a freezing cold night? And why are there hundreds of other people shuffling along in this queue?

It was the sort of game that by the time you get to the station, you’ve forgotten all about it. Shame really: a cup semi-final, one step from Wembley, should produce a bit of edge but this dismal performance sucked the tension from the air along with any semblance of spark or originality. ‘Enjoy the win’ became Tottenham On My Mind’s mantra after a series of lacklustre performances earlier this season produced a series of improbable victories. So I liked this win but it was hard to love.

At least Spurs were consistent: it was a disjointed, low-key start and never wavered. Taking their cue from captain-for-the-day Adebayor Tottenham were stiff and stilted. In the modern game the role of captain is becoming inconsequential and never has the honour been rendered more meaningless than when the armband was tossed to Manu. The days of little Stevie Perryman, sleeves rolled up and urging them on through deed as well as word, are long gone.

I accept Adebayor is coming back from a long absence for, well, nobody outside the club really knows, but for much of the time he remained statuesque in the middle, inviting Sheffield United’s centrebacks to mark him. With due respect to the two of them, we needed to move them around and open up some gaps. Kane should have started up front. He must be tired but this is the most important game of the week and he would have posed genuine questions. Instead, Adebayor’s immobility set the tone and shape of the evening. United were admirably well organised and worked like Trojans but Spurs made it far too easy for them.

 

We played into their hands from the beginning. After about 10 minutes, as we gave the ball away unnecessarily (Ben Davies I’m looking at you) and struggled to get going, United realised that we were a bit soft and could be knocked out of our stride. This gave them renewed confidence whereas Spurs should have done much more to pressure a side two divisions below them.

United had a few decent opportunities but missed. Vorm did not have a save to make all night. At the other end, Dier had two headers but neither looked dangerous. No pressure on their keeper at all. Adebayor missed our best, perhaps only chance in the first half, sublimely controlling a long ball from deep (Eriksen?) as it dropped over his head, then shooting tamely over.

Spurs upped the tempo a notch or two after the break but United, falling back even further towards their own goal, contained us for the most part. Our domination of territory and possession wasn’t translated into chances. Townsend tried hard and we should have given him the ball more often. I don’t understand why our two excellent attacking full-backs, Davies and Walker, did not get forward more often. We lacked width and hardly ever got to the byline. Overheard on the way out: “We really missed Danny Rose tonight.” Now that’s a first. It’s true – he would have worked harder to get something going.

Then we got a break. Soldado, on as sub for Skip, had been marginal. Put through, he appeared to miscontrol the pass only for the defender to do the difficult bit and nip in between him and ball then knock it away with his hand. I’m happy to be corrected on this ‘view from the shelf’ but in all honesty I didn’t fancy watching the highlights. Townsend scored emphatically from the spot, same pen as Chelsea, placement and conviction.

We should have been geed up and gone for the jugular, inspired by the example of what a bit of pressure could bring. Instead, we responded to taking the lead with our worst spell, inexplicably conceding the initiative and nearly a goal to our opponents in the last 15 minutes. It was the worst spell of the season but we survived and went to Sheffield a goal to the good. I remain quietly confident but the United fans in the station queue were delighted at the outcome. We could well rue that slack approach come next week.

Dier was our best player, not put under undue pressure but one step ahead throughout and I like the way he carries himself. Vertonghen continued his good run of form.

United fans made some fantastic noise.

So that’s over with and we have a goal to take north with us. Once again we played poorly and came away with a win. Something is working. Last night the team looked their age – the willingness of youth without the nouse of experience. Also, Pochettino has the daunting task of getting a below-par squad through a sequence of 9 games in January, 7 of them in a 22 day period that ends on the last day of the month.

I suspect he has a plan and Adebayor’s appearance and captaincy may well be part of it. Fact is, we are going to need him and while I wouldn’t have picked him, last night was part of playing him into fitness, the armband a sign of his manager’s confidence, genuine or otherwise. It’s hard for young players to keep up an intensity of performance and concentration that they have never before experienced. Kane and Eriksen should put their feet up in front of the tele on Saturday. So far, Poch is handling things well.

Good luck and best wishes to Kyle Naughton, now a Swan. Neat and willing, not the highest quality but he will do better as a regular first teamer. I admire his approach – after getting some stick earlier this season, he kept going and produced his best football under the most pressure.