The Blog that's not always wrong.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Is Modric the new Carrick?

Let battle commence on the electronic highways and byways of Spurs' supporters. Not only has Modric been compared to Carrick in style and role but he looks likely to split us in much the same way as he did .( and Jenas for that matter though he probably has more detractors than fans)

Now it is very difficult to compare players precisely. Modric in the two Croatia games I have seen is more of a harrier and carrier than Carrick but possesses that ability to keep the game going with good passing and plays in an unhurried way. He makes space for himself and gives his team-mates an out for the ball. He does not attempt the defence splitting pass as often as Carrick preferring quick ,short passes. He is a more attacking player with 'quicker feet' and will probably score more goals. In the first game against Austria he was disciplined in a more defensive,Carrick role. In the second game against Germany he played a more attacking role which is where I think he will play for us.

How lovely that phrase sounds 'he will play for us'. I will come clean immediately I am a Modric admirer. He has that indefinable Tottenham quality. Something involving style and skill and clear evidence of a football brain. Now I tend to think the best of our new signings, want us to welcome them and pray that they will take us to greater glories.

I am very defensive of our players and probably go on supporting them after their sell-by date. The only recent signing I struggled with in these terms was Bent,but we can't all be Berbatov. I have not yet given up on Boateng, Kaboul, or Tarrabt, but think that loan spells might benefit them. Dawson and Huddleston can be trained up by Ramos into effective players and Zokora can also make a useful contribution when his role has been more clearly defined. Jenas in my opinion is a quality player who will partner Modric as a fast and skillful attacking midfield pair.

But Tottenham fans are not so sure. Is he too frail for the Premiership, allegedly the toughest and most physical in the world. You don't need to watch much Spanish and Italian football to know that this is not a claim that it is easy to maintain. Didn't he slip out of the game against Austria: shades of Jenas. The fact that he was clearly playing in a defensive role as part of a tactical plan explains this difference between the two games to me.

Ever the optimist I agree. Now it doesn't pay to make too much of a case on limited evidence. Searching for a midfield defensive general which clearly Modric is not, Spurs' fans alighted on Frings of Germany and Engelaar of Holland. Both were innocuous or worse in the second matches, Engelaar was substituted and their names disappeared from the transfer wish lists. Both these judgements could well be premature. However I am confident of the class of Modric, as I was about Carrick and as I am about Jenas.

Of course players who desert us as, Carrick did and Berbatov might, immediately incur the wrath of the fans who,in their anguish, deny that they were any good in the first place. A difficult case to maintain in both these cases I would have thought. And in their perverse way that fans have they adopt players of lesser abilities who play with spirit and energy. Michael Brown and Steffen Freund come to mind. Zokora is a better player than either of these and like Freund has never scored for Spurs' and looks unlikely to. He plays with great energy but has never been taken to our collective bosoms as Freud was.

So I come back back to the original question. Is Modric the new Carrick? There are signs that his quality is doubted, worries about his capacity to survive the Premiership and doubts that he will be able to perform his defensive duties effectively. All these have surfaced on the fan sites. I think that he will become a Spurs legend very quickly. However there is the next Croatia game to come and all this may have to be revised. But I predict that Spurs' fans will take him to their hearts perhaps because of his size, though this hasn't quite happened with Lennon. God help him if he ever tries to leave .

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Is cricket following football's lead?

I was listening to Geoffrey Boycott the other day filling in during the Test match against New Zealand. He was talking about 20/20: how exciting it was; how entertaining; what a good day out for the family; how good it was for the economics of the County set-up and so on. But I didn't actually hear him refer to it as cricket.The reason being of course is that it is not cricket.It's no more cricket than 5-a-side is football.It contains elements of the proper game but it is a very limited version.

Now proper cricket has a problem that football doesn't have.It's great to play but not that great to watch for a mass audience except on T.V.Here you can have replays and complex analysis and a great view which is difficult to reproduce at the ground.Much of the delight is in the technicalities of the game. 20/20 solves all these problems at a stroke but doesn't enhance the game proper.It props it up financially whilst undermining it in terms of technique and in creating an audience for the real thing. If you've got the time you can have a good day out at a county cricket match, weather permitting, but you need to take a radio with you for the ball by ball commentary.You can stroll about in the sunshine, have a drink and a meal, sleep, watch the replays on the big screen, but the actual game is too far away, takes too long and is only intermittently interesting except to the purists who delight in every ball and afterwards in the statistical analysis.

Is cricket about to go down the road that football went after the creation of the Premiership? The pursuit of riches for the few at the expense of the game as a whole.In football's case we have not had to alter the actual game yet but it will come. So far,apart from ludicrous money making ideas like the 39th game masquerading as a bonus to fans, the game remains intact.

To be honest it's probably too late. As soon as money becomes the driving force things accelerate out of control very quickly.In football the impact has been felt at the lower levels,and lower levels start at the Championship. Chelsea's annual wage bill is more than twice the cost of the National football centre at Burton on Trent which was first planned in 2001. It was mothballed in 2003 and the current plan is to have it open by 2010. The original cost was put at 20million but the funding has yet to be approved.We live in hope. Premier league clubs currently spend 3 million a year on their Academies. Chelsea and Manchester United spend twice that per year on one of their star players' wages. Increasingly teams outside the Premier league face financial problems and with no promise of profits the big backers are not interested.

Is the modern game better than the old days? Foreign players have raised the skill and interest levels of the Premiership and the County champioship but because it is not a European matter they can legislate the levels of foreign recruitment. But in football this has been carried to extremes and foreign players dominate many top level clubs.On the final week of the 2007/8 season less than 40% of the players in the Premiership were English.Can it be right that an English Premier club can field a team with not one English player? It is no coincidence that 3of the 4 teams in the Champions' league were English but England did not make the finals of the European cup.Opposition to the proposed 6+5 rule which attempts to ensure greater parity for English players and the 'homegrown players ' agenda which will likewise force clubs to pay attention to growing their own players rather than buying them from abroad off the peg, will be opposed all the way by clubs looking to profits and not at the requirements of the English game.

Will the fact that cricket has a different form to be exploited save the proper version or expose it to the chilly blasts of commercialism and thus hasten its demise.City teams are already being proposed which will effectively end the traditional structure of the game.Meanwhile 20/20 will thrive in the fetid atmosphere of hype and money and in ten years might well be the only form except for five day 'Heritage' games sponsored by the Dept of Education. I notice that Duncan Fletcher is promoting a variation of the four day game designed to protect traditional cricket by changing its format But will this in fact be the beginning of the end for proper cricket. He says himself that the impact of 20/20 is uncertain .

Football has only the one viable form to be exploited commercially. We are seeing the increasing gap between the top level of the game and its supposed supporting structure.Can we go on supplying our needs from abroad both in terms of money and players.Sir David Richards is likely to lose his job for arguing the detrimental effect of foreign players on the league and ultimately the England team. If we wreck the current organization we have no fall back position. European super leagues beckon with backing of the club chairmen and the rest will end up in local leagues like the old Third Division South and North to cut down on expenses.Is it too late to stop any of this happening?

As the gap between rich and poor widens in the wider society even under a Labour government, what safeguards are there that the traditional structures, in the case of football, and even the very nature of the game, in the case of cricket, will be preserved under the commercial pressures on both games and players.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Fans,followers and throwbacks.

I have been accused of being out of date, a throwback, old fashioned, behind the times, ,obsolete, past it and virtually extinct (with thanks to Collins 'Essential English Thesaurus')
Of course I have been accused of many other things but these are the ones relevant to articles and the Blog that appears under my JimmyG2 byline.

To all these charges I proudly plead guilty. I am a member of that perhaps diminishing minority that call themselves fans who can be found in almost every club who cling to a vision of their team as being more than a corporate entity whose trade happens to be football. I. believe that the football comes first ,before success. I believe that the club has duty of care to its players and its supporters. I am loyal to all the players at the club and want to see their full development and find it hard to accept that a player such as Defoe is no longer a Tottenham player. I don't want to see Huddleston, Lennon, Dawson, Kaboul or even Robinson transferred ,unless they want to go, before all avenues of improvement have been explored.

Now all these things make good business sense as well as being the right thing to do. You don't need to throw things away if they can be repaired or reconditioned or recycled. But the throwaway culture we live in now applies in football to the players as well as the single match shirts. It may be the modern way but it isn't right and it doesn't help build a club with any sense of continuity. I still like to think of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club as a family with a history and a tradition going back down the years. A tradition of a playing ethic and style which can be discerned despite the efforts of individual players and managers to short cut the road to success. The club is bigger than any one team or manager and the success of the club is not to be found in any one season but in a story that goes back down the years.

Now I know all about resale value,maximising income,rotating the stock and so on and no-one can ignore the rules of commerce, Leeds anyone? But somewhere in the process the thing we all value gets lost. Babies and bathwater come to mind. Aston Villa have just announced that their shirt sponsorship will benefit a local charity rather than taking two million off some gambling company. Perhaps all is not completely lost but I wish it had been Spurs that did that first. I know that players do a lot for local organizations and schools but that's just good housekeeping, buying a little goodwill from the local community in exchange for the hassle and inconvenience of having a major sporting venue on their doorstep. The day's wages for the nurses wasn't an overwhelming success. I would have made it a week's wages and put it in their contracts as an annual deduction.

You can argue about the good cause but cannot deny that Premiership players are ridiculously overpaid for what they do. Tottenham have tried to hold the line on wages as have Arsenal but Canute had more chance on the beach. All that kissing of the badge when they score is mostly a nod to the Gods of corporate finance as their next contract negotiation looms rather than a heart felt pledge to the club they profess to love. I like to imagine that Tottenham are different but I don't really need abusive fans telling me to hitch a ride into the 21st. Century. I nearly wrote the 20th. Century just to confirm your point 'Dreamer' is another accusation I readily accept.

I don't buy replica shirts,signed memorabilia or Opuses and to be honest I am not, nor ever have been, a season ticket holder. When I was working I didn't have the time and now I'm retired I don't have the money. Finance and geography have conspired to make me a follower from afar,a fan rather than a true supporter and ticket holder. .

However my most prized possession at the moment is the birthday card sent to me by the club as a member, signed by Juande Ramos, Ledley King and Dimitar Berbatov. Pathetic at my age but there you are.

How did I reach this sorry state of affairs. I have followed Spurs since childhood. After my mother re-married after the War (No, not the Great War, the Second World War ) I had a decision to make. My mother's family came from Highbury Corner and were all Arsenal fans . I used to go with my Uncle Ted to the Arsenal mainly to reserve matches. But my stepfather's family were all Tottenham supporters and one or two, including my stepfather were season ticket holders at various times. It became increasingly clear that regular visits to top class football would require a slight shift in allegiance .So I made the switch and have never regretted it.

Perhaps that is why I find the visceral hatred of Arsenal fans so uncomfortable when I encounter it, mainly it must be said on websites rather than in real life. We all come across the them and basically they are just like us ,they just, by some accident of geography or family tradition, support the wrong team.

We lived at the Archway in North London close to 'suicide bridge' at the start of the great North Road. It was slightly closer to Arsenal than Tottenham but there was a pretty even split amongst my mates and Arsenal against Tottenham was the only game we ever played. In those days you supported your local team. In London we had a little more flexibility. My switch at about nine years old was only a temporary embarrassment. From this point until I moved up North I was a fairly regular attender,mainly at first for reserve games but later in the boys' enclosure and finally on the terraces for first Division games.

Since then I have followed the club as a fan and follower of it's fortunes. But I acknowledge that the real supporters are the ones that watch the team regularly in the flesh. I always bow to their right to be the most opinionated and the most avid..Not that they are always correct but they have earned the right to be wrong and to be listened to.

And they are wrong sometimes. They were wrong about Carrick and are only just waking up to their mistake. I think that they are wrong about Jenas ,a classy player who has been an everpresent under two managers and three England squads, and they are wrong about Berbatov. I don't believe that his alleged attitude problems outweigh his contribution to the team. These are all quality players in the Spurs tradition, and the Spurs tradition is important to me. It has certain elegance and time on the ball quality about it. It involves style and panache, close passing with ball mainly on the ground. It espouses an attacking style and players who overcome the opposition with skill and vision. It prizes fair play and generosity in winning and dignity in loss.

Is this attitude applicable in this world of corporate ownership, foreign billionaires, ridiculous transfer fees, and even more ridiculous wages? We come back to throwbacks, and being out of date. I can see why you would accuse me of this, but it's not me that's wrong, it's the modern game. I cling to the belief that Tottenham are different and that they can triumph the old-fashioned way. If they can't then I fear that the prize is not worth winning. If you have to buy, clog or cheat your way to success what sort of success is that? If we are going to do it,lets do it right. If not then watch and enjoy.