The Blog that's not always wrong.

Friday, 22 August 2008

May the enforcer not be with you

(As published as JimmyG2 column in reply to Guest at Topspurs)

I don't usually reply to other columnists ,after all we are all entitled to our opinions. But 'The Anchorman' by Ed Cooper raises important questions at the heart of what it is to be a Spurs supporter. Are Tottenham just another football team or does their history and tradition make them something special,something different and by implication their fans too.

There has been a rising demand amongst some sections of the Spurs supporters for what is usually referred to as an 'enforcer'. This is largely a result of rising impatience with our lack of progress towards success at the highest level. The Carling Cup is not good enough, two fifth place finishes is not good enough,winning the fair Play trophy is not only not good enough but an indication of our namby pamby, players in gloves, soft touch,big girls' blouse, effeminate, hopelessness.

The answer to all this is a big hairy,frightener,who apparently allows all the other players to concentrate on their footballing skills. The 'You'd better not foul me cos our enforcer is harder and uglier than your enforcer' approach. Now it might work in the playground but its not going to work on the football pitch where you have laws, rules, a referee and two referee's assistants. It may have worked 30yrs ago when Dave Mackay picked Billy Bremner up by his shirt collar. That however was when a range of dangerous tackles were allowed and there was little protection for skilful players. This may have been true as recently as George Best who was disgracefully treated and once survived four attempts to hack him down before scoring. Times have changed and the game has moved on. Such a player would spend most of the season sidelined with enough red and yellow cards to paper his front room.

Noone can argue with demands for a defensive midfielder or an anchorman but an enforcer is a step further. In my opinion it is a step too far. Someone who strikes fear into the opposition is not a concept that I recognise in the modern game and is beginning to stray into a concept of football which is not in keeping with the Tottenham way. Would such a player give the other players confidence and allow the defence to push forward as suggested. Do Modric,Bentley,Berbatov lack belief and need a hard man to bolster their confidence? I cannot conceive who this superman would be,and nor can the writer .He sounds like Roy of the Rovers on speed wiping out the oppositions attacks whilst everyone else gets on with their game. This is more of an arcade game than a modern football match.

Ed Cooper keeps straying over a vital line. I for one would not prefer to sacrifice enjoyable football for more positive results. Backbone, yes but more ruthless,no. I also would like to see greater stability in the squad and have predicted another season of consolidation because we have so many new additions. The answer to this is not yet another addition. We have plenty of players who can fulfil the defensive midfield role,Zokora,Huddleston,Jenas,King . All these could perform this role with skill determination,and vision. Carrick was an excellent defensive midfielder but could never be described as an enforcer. I would favour playing any of the above in tandem in front of the back four alternating between them attack and defence. Incidently what are the back four supposed to be doing while superhero is striking fear into the oppositions forwards?

The tradition of Spurs as 'nice to watch' is what Spurs is or it is nothing. This cannot be exchanged for anything else without breaking the bond of Spurs fans and players past present and future. Once you break with this tradition even for a temporary pause in order to achieve success through ruthlessness you might as well go and watch some other team. I don't disagree with a lot of the detail in the article but the spirit is contrary to all my beliefs about Tottenham Hotspur and the support of over 50yrs. My slogan is 'watch and enjoy' and my constant reminder is that if you can't achieve success through playing good football it is not worth achieving.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Deja vu,again

I've had this feeling before. It started after the Carling Cup last year and lasted until the end of the season. Its got traces of anger, little bits of feeling let down, a splash of mystification over the decisions of the manager, a sprinkling of guilt over falling for the hype again and a hint of worry about the immediate future for the team.

Now I take full responsibility for my over excited response to the new signings, especially Modric, and the cavalier romp of our pre-season performances that just got better and better. I was bold or stupid enough to tip us to win by threee clear goals but I agree it wasn't bold it was stupid. Now at my age I ought to know better, perhaps its desperation that I might not live to see the Spurs revival , the return of the Glory Days and my dream of Tottenham achieving success by playing good football. Nor do I want to go from elation to pessimism on the basis of ninety minutes football.

We seem to have a manager that fits in with Spurs attacking and stylish tradition, we have a set of players measurably above the level of the past few seasons. Although we are about to lose our best player for years, if not decades, we still have a talented and young squad. But they refused at the first fence yesterday and were very lucky to get away with a single goal loss.

Middlesbrough were more competative and combative in all areas and a better team perhaps than I or Ramos gave them credit for. In this vital first game he left five players on the bench that I think should have started and played Bentley out of position for no reason that I could comprehend. I assume that Berbatov,King,Bale,Gunter and Huddleston were fit to play and at least four of them should have started. If they were not fit to play they should have been left out of the squad.

Up front Bent was left isolated and had no support at all until Berbatov came on. In pre-season we flooded forward quickly in support of the lone striker and he reaped the benefit. Against Middlesbrough we always seemed to be a man short and because we couldn't control the midfield we saw the reappearance of the dreaded long ball,even from Gomes. Consequently the game started to bypass Modric and even the talented Dos Santos seemed bemused by the lack of space he was afforded in his first premiership game. We had 65% possession but mainly on the half way line and we couldn't seem to make our possession tell. Playing Zokora at left back was reasonable enough as he has played well there in pre-season but surely Gunter should have played and Zokora deployed in midfield. He should have played at centre half as it happens but Ramos wasn't to know that.

All this can be remedied especially with the addition of another support striker and a replacement for Berbatov if he goes. A specialist centre half would also seem to be a good idea. Ramos is by reputation a flexible and intelligent manager who will move quickly to sort the problems out. But there flows from this two problems. Firstly the problem of integrating late signings into the squad. It may be that we have too many newcomers already. Secondly the apparent inability of Ramos to motivate his squad to perform to their obvious ability in the arduous and lengthy grind that makes up the 38 game premiership season. I want our manager to be creative and bold and if he is we will come unstuck from time to time. Its just that the first game of the season was a bad time to do so.

So another year of consolidation beckons, which won't be so bad I suppose. Its just that I was so happy on Saturday morning and on Saturday evening I was not. At least none of the pundits have tipped us for 'top four' this ye

Monday, 11 August 2008

Dream the impossible dream

I haven't been this confident or excited about Spurs prospects since,well,er,last season. And therein lies the rub. Just when we thought that pre-season couldn't get any better, it did. We capped an exciting run of games with a really classy performance against Roma that lifted all our spirits and took our minds off the first real test next week against Middlesbrough. The test that actually matters.

Last season it all came undone in spectacular fashion against new boys Sunderland by conceding to one of our trademark late goals that was to set the pattern for the season to come. But compare the team that started that day to the likely starting line up this season and even if we sign no more players there is a huge leap in quality.

There is also the Ramos factor and I don't mean the mythical qualities that he is supposed to possess.
I mean the way in which he has got the team to play. Not only has he given the team confidence he has given them a new way of playing in which possession and flexibility are the key. Apart from the key positions down the spine of the team(goalkeeper,centre halves,centre forward ) almost everyone can fulfil multiple roles and do so within the confines of a single game not just from game to game. The key to the new Spurs is 'keep the ball'. This, plus new levels of fitness mean that we can control the pace and direction of the game We can switch play, not by playing the long cross field ball, but by inter passing through, not over, the midfield. Gomes who rarely kicks the ball out and skilful midfielders like Modric and Jenas will assist in this mission not to give the ball away.

Last season many balls out of defence from Dawson and Robinson were 50/50 balls and it was only the phenomenal skill of Berbatov that turned any profit from them. But this one dimensional way of playing leads to the law of diminishing returns.(students of Economics will know where I am going here).Once a play is predictable it can be countered.

That wont happen this season because the opposition won't know what's going to happen next and nor will the fans. We have wingers that can play on either side or through the middle, both Lennon and Bentley scored from central positions today: midfielders who can play defense or attack (Modric,Jenas,Huddleston) : overlapping fullbacks, forwards who can play in the hole(Berbatov,Dos Santos and Modric) and in Zokora,Huddleston and Bale players that can fill a wide range of defensive and attacking roles.Well perhaps Zokora should stick to defensive ones but he is flexible and has played well at right back.

We have played two Champions League teams and won without conceding a goal. We have played good football and taken our chances well. Every member of the squad has been given an opportunity and has grabbed it with both feet especially Bent. If we keep Berbatov and dont sign anyone else this is a team that can push for top six.

So what have we learnt from pre-season? Expect the unexpected. Believe the unbelievable. Think the unthinkable. Were gonna.....No think it, don't say it ....yet.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Arrivaderci Roma

Well pre-season certainly built up to an impressive climax and just when we thought it couldn't get any better it did. Roma,probably not at their strongest and behind us in their preparations were nevertheless calmly,efficiently and with style put to the sword. We controlled the ball and the game with possession football to delight the purists.

In the first half Modric gave a trademark performance of economy and unfussy availability. He is always there when you need him. We kept the ball amongst ourselves and have become mean,we dont give it away anymore. Bentley made his home debut and won over the few remaining doubters with an early free kick that was allowed to pass into the net,and a fine run and shot through the middle.Bent scored a couple,obviously, and whoever we sign he has earned his place in next weeks starting line-up. Dos Santos too was quick and clever and set up Lennon for a well taken goal. The defence played as if they all knew each other and had the confidence to keep the ball until they saw an opportunity to do something positive with it. Everyone played with the belief that they could,and they did.

Ramos has not only created a squad that is flexible and confident but has given them both pattern and purpose to their play. Todays squad played with the same fluidity whoever came and went. The team changed personnel but the style remained the same. We kept a clean sheet again and didn't look threatened at the back where Ledley King made a welcome cameo appearance. When danger threatened the giant frame of Gomes seemed to fill the goal. I can't remember feeling so upbeat about Spurs since last season!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Watch and enjoy

As published on 'Topspurs' Vox Pop pre-season review

As a new boy to this pre-season prediction lark I thought I would read last season's vox pop as Jim had thoughtfully provided a link. Oh dear what a depressing half-hour. So much hope and optimism,so much anticipation and desire. As they say 'Its the hope that kills you'.
Anyway here goes based mainly on the new signings, the hope that Berbatov stays and our impressive performances so far.

I am on record as not craving success at the expense of good football and that is my first prediction: Spurs will play better,slicker,on the ground,possession football this season. A goalkeeper that rolls the ball out and Modric will help to achieve this. We have a better quality squad with perhaps Arshavin and Veloso possible additions. Watch and enjoy.

We will do better than last year: top six and hopefully the Uefa cup. I won't go any further than this,I don't mind a medium free-range egg on my face but an ostrich egg no thank you.

Jermaine Jenas will be vice captain and will step up and he and Modric will be the driving forces ,
(announced this morning that JJ is VC but I'm leaving it in as I wrote this before .Honest)

We will score almost as many goals as last year and concede far fewer. Midfield will contribute more and Modric will outscore Jenas.

There will be more switching roles during play and more players will be given the opportunity to step up to the first team squad. Ramos likes flexible players and we now have several that can fulfil multiple roles.(Zokora ,Bale Huddleston,Gunter,Bentley,Lennon,Berbatov,Jenas,Modric and Arshavin if he comes. Our formation will fool the fans and confuse our opponents

Berbatov will stay.(So that could be wrong before this is published).This is more fervent hope than prediction.

Woodgate,Modric and Gomes will fight it out for player of the season. Modric wins.

Jenas,Zokora and Berbatov will win over the fans and become official 'true Yids'.I think Robbie Keane's mantle is lying around somewhere.

There will be no progress towards the new stadium due to the 'credit crunch'.

Ramos will still be manager next season whatever happens (Barring relegation of course)

Bent will score 25 goals or more this season.

We will beat Middlesbrough by three clear goals on the opening day of the season.

The crystal ball is clouding over but that's enough hostages to fortune and I'm putting a tea-towel over it. But wait is that Ledley holding aloft the Premier League trophy and being knighted by the Queen.
'Arise Sir Ledley' no wait,wait 'Arise Lord Ledley of White Hart Lane'.I know you don't get knighted by the Queen for Lordships but whose fantasy is this?

'Wake up JimmyG your teas getting cold.'
'Oh sorry love must have dropped off there for a season or two

Our first silverware

A step up in opponents this time as we played Borussia Dortmund in the final of the the Feyenoord Jubileum tournament in Rotterdam on Monday. Mind you we started in the semi-final so there wasn't that far to go. Borussia,one time Champions League winners,have fallen on hard times since but gave us more of a challenge especially up front. But in the absence of King and Woodgate our reserve pairing of Dawson and Huddleston were just about up to the job and apart from one scare from Valdez coped pretty well.
Zokora was a more than adequate stand in for the injured Hutton and is proving to be the kind of versatile player that Ramos likes.

Bent scored early on after good work from Jenas who was again captain. A good turn and shot which wrong footed the goalkeeper set us on our way. Again we kept possession well, played the ball on the ground and even without Modric looked composed in midfield.

Berbatov came on for the second half and was not match fit and took a knock early on. He set up Giovani Dos Santos with an outside of the foot curler and he should have scored. He did soon after from a good ball by Jenas. Borussia were a little more positive in the latter stages and Gomes made a couple of decent saves though nothing from close range. Once again he rolled the ball out constructively and looked to come for every ball,not always appropriately but it makes a pleasant change. He oozes positivity.

A third goal after a quick passing movement involving Lennon and Adam Smith, an academy youngster who set up O'Hara for a close in finish late on gave us a clear,deserved and impressive victory. Jenas was named as player of the tournament,which will surprise some Spurs fans and might just shut them up long enough while they have more thoughtful look at a player who is right at the heart of Ramos plans for this season.

My enthusiasm is beginning to rise,but then it always does so I'm just going to go with it. Bent has certainly earned his place in the starting line up, O'Hara has played well twice and it is good to see young players given their chance by Ramos. Bale was again something like the player of early last season even though he was given some rough treatment and two Borussia players were booked.

Just announced tha Jenas is vice-captain for the coming season and will therefore play as captain quite a lot. I am delighted for him and hope that it will give him the motivation and confidence to show his doubters what he can do.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

It was only Celtic but

This was our first real test in the Amsterdam tournament against Champion's League perennials Celtic. Now according to their followers Celtic 'don't do' friendlies.Well they certainly didn't do this one. Spurs controlled the game completely, retaining possession and playing the ball neatly through midfield and Gomes in goal was rarely bothered. The first half was a little scrappy with both teams struggling to control the ball on a dry hard pitch but Spurs were always dominant .

Bent scored an individual goal,using his speed to cut out a back pass and to finish impressively from a narrow angle.He nearly scored again from a neat through ball by Modric but Boruc was quickly out to smother the shot. In the second half Tottenham controlled the ball better and the match and used the flanks well with Ekotto,Bale and Bentley later on exploiting the spaces down the wing.

In defence Zokora, playing at right back ,was very effective against McGeady their most dangerous player. Woodgate was rock steady against a series of hopeful balls aimed at Jan Vennegor of Hesselink. Ekotto was dangerous going forward and hardly tested in defence. In front of the back four Huddlestone played without pressure, Jenas was a little lethargic and again Modric was the best player on the pitch.Economical in his movement,quick and effective with the ball and off it.

Wonder of wonders Berbatov played the whole game and was increasingly effective in the second half. What light this casts on the will he stay or will he go saga I'm not sure.He was his usual self except that after his injury and short lay off he was a little off the pace. He was flamboyant and skilful,waved his arms about quite a bit and covered from the front well. It is difficult to know whether he pulled out of trying to contact Bale's clever ball along the six yard area after another energetic run down the left but the ball ran through to Bentley unmarked at the back post and he tapped in for his first goal for the club. He kissed the badge in the time honoured way but after Keane I need more proof of lifelong commitment .

It was good to see both King, who still looks as if he is still easing himself in,and Woodgate both get pitch time but we still might need an experienced back-up to bolster Dawson in his role as understudy. Gomes had no chance to show any of his skills but he is certainly a dominant and eager presence. He rarely kicks the ball out which is a welcome change from Robinson and to the purists delight means that we will keep the game on the floor and capitalise on the skills of midfield. Modric seems to be playing as an attacking midfielder which I think suits his abilities more than leaving him further back where we have Zokora, Jenas and Huddleston and there is talk of a player coming in to fill that role.

It's only pre-season and the first test that counts is at Middlesbrough quite soon now,but this was another good performance and Ramos must be very pleased with the progress.Although he looks a hard man to please.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Its only Leyton Orient but

I had to go out at 9oclock on Wednesday having followed the live updates on the Tottenham website. We were 1-0 down and I was mentally revising my last blog, curbing my enthusiasm as it were. We had most of our top players out, Orient scored within 5minutes and got to half time ahead.

I come back at 11oclock and logged in and we've won 5-1, Bent's scored another hatrick and after watching the goals on 101 goals we're we seemto be back in business,enthusiasm full throttle, bring on Celtic. This obviously will be more of a proper test but they can't be relishing the prospect of facing a rampant Spurs.I do like my Spurs rampant.
By all accounts from eye witnesses we were a bit ragged in the first half,Taraabt was aweful Berbatov and Woodgate were nowhere to be seen but in the second half we repeated our performance against Norwich. Bent taking his opportunity with both feet again was sharp,Modric scored his first goal for Spurs,Lennon scored another headed goal,Dos Santos looks to have staked a claim for a starting place whoever we sign next.

It seems to me that Ramos will be much more flexible tactically and that's why he likes players who can perform dual roles. Modric is an obvious example.For the opening game in the Euro 08 tournament he played mainly as a defensive midfielder for Croatia whereas in the second game he played a much more attacking role. Dos Santos in pre-season has played all over the attacking front and is not afraid to shoot. Bale and Gilberto are both happy anywhere down the left flank. Huddleston and Zokora can both play at centre half if required.Lennon had a freer role too in pre-season matches not just confined to the left wing.A useful ability in the light of the signing of Bentley.

Flexible tactically in terms of substitutions and 'in flight' as it were.In the same way that Ronaldo,Tevez and Rooney interchange at Man.U, I think that we will adopt a much more fluid formation. To do this you need thinking footballers,and now in Modric,Jenas,Dos Santos and Berbatov if he stays and he hasn't gone yet we have them All Bent or his back up has to do is hold his position and put the ball in the net. Simple really.

Friday, 1 August 2008

It was only Norwich but

I'm trying not to get too excited,but I don't expect it will last. After all it was only a friendly and it was only Norwich. But, and here we go, Spurs played very well. It always helps when you have quality players and Modric and Dos Santos are certainly that. But it was the passing and movement particularly in the first quarter of an hour and the whole of the second half once Norwich had been seen off as an attacking force ,or defensive come to that, that hinted at the good things to come.

More positives:obviously the calm and effectiveness of Bent; the persistance of O'Hara, particularly for the second goal; the promise of Gunter and his part in the interpassing that set up Bent for the last goal; the liveliness of Dos Santos and the skill that set up the first goal; the curbing of Zokora's enthusiasm, both he and Taraabt passed the ball more quickly; the sight of King apparently fit and Bale too though both a little rusty. I thought too that Ekotou and Gilberto looked skillful and effective .I was pleased too by the sight of Huddleston and feel that he and Zokora will share defensive midfield duties. Remember too that both can play effectively at centre half if required as they did here after Dawson was injured and King subbed.

The goalkeeper is obviously a good shot stopper and is determined to command the area. He seems a little impetuous but this will be an improvement as far as the defence is concerned. It's obviously early days but Ramos has clearly instructed the team to retain possession and to vary the tempo of the play. In Modric and Jenas he has two excellent players who make themselves available and keep the play moving. I am aware that Jenas is not in Modric's class at the moment but hope that he will fullfil his potential this season. He has all the qualities required except self belief and an element of determination. He will need to step up because although I think that Ramos will give him a chance early in the season we will have plenty of able replacements with Bentley and Arshavin rumoured to be on their way.

I thought that Dos Santos was bought with the future in mind but he looks as if he will feature from the start. O'Hara certainly by his performance here did his future prospects no harm at all and will be an excellent back up.The real excitement of the evening however was Four goal Bent.He bided his time,made all the right runs,kept onside and took his four goals especially the first two with skill and pace. I am very pleased for him and thought he might fall foul of the Berbatov/Keane Defoe syndrome. In the same way that Robinson can't go from 'Englands number one' to hopeless in a season nor can Bent go from a 20 goal a season man to useless in the same time.

And here I come to the really exciting part, Berbatov is still with us and looked relaxed despite what the 'Daily Mail' picture feature attempted to show. I think we will buy another foreward in the Bent style because I don't regard Berbatov as a front line foreward. He likes to drop off and in his partnership with Keane was often the support attacker. He did score some tap ins but quite a few of his goals came from near the edge of the penalty area.

So you can make too much of a single performance, Spurs often flatter to deceive,its early doors,it was only Norwich ,but I can feel the excitement rising and will do my utmost to keep it under control.