The Blog that's not always wrong.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

I wouldn't start from here in the first place

As the Irishman said when asked the way to Dublin: 'Well sir if I were you I wouldn't start from here in the first place'. Most fans would agree that where we are now is not a good place to start for anywhere.

When is the right time to take stock, to step off the merry-go-round, and see where we are and what we've got, to re-examine our decisions in the light of our history and tradition. In the middle of a season with a new manager when we are hovering close to, or even in, the relegation zone is perhaps not the best moment.

When is it a bad time to undertake such a process? Perhaps it was when we sacked Martin Jol. We were enjoying our best seasons for many years, two 5th place finishes, and someone decided that although we were on the threshold of moving to the next level this manager was not good enough to keep us there. At the hoped for moment of success we took a look at ourselves and said we are ready but we need a better manager to carry us forward. At that time Jol's record of 1.5 points per game was second only to Bill Nicholson himself.

We all know where that adventure ended: two points from eight games and the new man was gone. We re-evaluated and decided that a short term fix was required and that Premiership survival was the name of the game. It still remains to be seen whether that strategy will pay off. If it doesn't another new manager will be brought in, with a new management team, new tactics and inevitably another new squad. There is no stability and no continuity.

Sacking the manager has been the default setting for the football world in general for many years and for Tottenham in particular for at least the last two decades. It sometimes produces the new manager bounce but like the dead cat bounce on the stock exchange it doesn't usually last.
The average length of stay of a top level manager is just over two years but Tottenham have only managed just under 18 months in the 24 years since Keith Burkinshaw left in 1984. Since then we have had 15 managers.

A glance at the current top six shows that four of them have had their managers for well in excess of this. For over four years at Liverpool; seven years at Everton; twelve years at Arsenal; and the winner by a distance twenty two years at Man. Utd. Chelsea the other 'top four' side had unlimited resources on which to build their success and perhaps Man. City will one day demonstrate that building a side over the long term with a trusted manager is not the only way to go.

Recent discussions on the site have centred around whether certain players are 'good' enough for Spurs and that whether in our current position we should sacrifice our 'traditions' for a bit of pragmatism; do whatever is necessary and get back to tradition and style later; this is a crisis and anything goes.

But when you have a proud history and style of playing established over many years and a world wide fan base reared on the knowledge of what to expect from the club and the team on the pitch you cannot just abandon it for a few months or years. We have done that in the past with certain managers and players; people who didn't get what Tottenham was about and it has not done us any good except in the very short term. George Graham anyone ?

This has nothing to do with having a superior attitude or being under the delusion that we are a 'top four' club who just happen to be at the wrong end of the table. Or believing that we are the only club in the league that have a proud tradition. Every decision has to reflect the values of the club.

I want us to build a squad, not buy one in. I want us to stick with a manager and give them time. Surely we could have found a manager that had the right values and the requisite skills in the past quarter of a century. Or did we sack some of them before they had a chance? Ossie Ardiles for example.

Its the same with players. At present we have a lot of quality in the squad some of which is under performing. A new manager's job is to get the best out of the squad he has before he starts buying in players that are not necessarily better than the ones we have already. Kenwyn Jones for Bent , Palacios for Jenas or Zokora for example.

We are always searching and yearning for that magic player to finish the jigsaw who will pull the team together, or that midfield destroyer who will give the others room to play. A lot is resting on the shoulders of Wilson Palacios who at 24 and with only 18mths Premiership experience is being hailed as the signing that will do the trick.

I would like to see fewer players brought in and for us to be more selective; fewer stop gaps and more quality. I would like us to stop selling our best players. I would like to see more concentration on what happens on the pitch and less on the what goes on upstairs in the office. In the past ten years we have signed over 100 players. Even allowing for young players bought for the future this seems excessive; virtually a new team every year.

This constant changing of manager and players has undermined the progress of the club over many years. I am not a great fan of Harry Redknapp in general although I pay tribute to the fact that he has at least given us a chance of survival. But even if we go down I think he should at least be given the league average of two years.

I said the same about Ramos, and the sacking of Jol was a disaster and not just in hindsight. Let's ignore the Irishman's advice and start from here, think about the next decade and not just tomorrow. Its time to stick rather than twist.

Statistics courtesy of Wikipedia and the 'Topspurs' Archive by kind permission of Jim Duggan.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Press the pause button

I thought I would wait until the crises was over and then reflect on our progress in a calm and dispassionate way. But its not over and there is no sign of the fat lady whatsoever. It just goes on and on. Harry, having given us hope ,seems to have lost the plot if he ever had it in his possession in the first place.

Once again we have not just been linked in the press to the registered players of the entire English and Continental football workforce, but confirmed links have reached several hundred already and there are still two weeks to go.

Some of those linked to us are depressing and sad, Bellamy springs to mind, and some are just, depressing: Stephen Hunt anyone? Defoe has returned and will probably be as disappointing as he was before, but at least he knows where the dressing room and toilets are and can find his way to his Lamborghini without the help of one our apprentices.

So its another new manager and inevitably another new squad. Not at the beginning of the season when you have time to prepare but in January when we are still in the bottom three and you need things to gel pretty darn quick. But what's the point of being a football manager if you cant buy and sell?

Thats the one thing that Harry does well and looks more and more like the only thing. In evidence I call last week's performance at Wigan M'lud. Team selection and formation wrong; substitutions wrong; tactics wrong. The only positive thing you could say about it was that we were extremely negative.We dared them to beat us and they duly obliged.

But the football world is a dynamic and fast changing maelstrom of innovation and we are now likely to have the first £100 million player and the first £1/2 million a week salary. Kaka is a very good player and Man.City are nearly as desperate as us but I think Levy will fold his cards on this hand.

Can anyone, let alone a footballer, be worth 750 experienced nurses per year? Is he worth 31/2 Berbatovs? Or 5 Robbie Keanes? Or to be paid 4 times as much as any other player in the Premiership? What is the rationale for this development? There isn't one.We do because we can is the new philosophy at Man.City.

I don't think Sparky will last long in this environment. I fully expect Mourinho to be installed at Eastlands before the end of the season, or even Scolari.

Do I sound cynical? Do I sound envious? Am I not my usual bright ,shining positive self, able as a long suffering Tottenham fan to see the bigger picture? Well the world of football has taken another leap into the murky world of business and finance here. Forget level playing fields and a contest of skill and tactics between roughly equal teams. The future of football and the division of the spoils will be played out in the boardrooms of mainly foreign investors in the not too distant future.

Forget the 39th game played abroad.We will be lucky to get a dozen or so games here.The rest will be played in the new European Super League host complex, probably in Dubai.

At my most succesful I could have earned coming on as a last minute substitute for Kaka as much as I earned in a year for most of my working life. And though I say it myself I don't think I would have lost them the game; not in the last minute anyway. Cynical? Envious? Moi?

At least the blip in the fortunes of the richest club in the world and those of the previous richest club in the world might give us some little hope. But lets face it we can't even operate successfully at our own modest level. We can't find a manager that suits us and god knows wev'e had enough tries over the last dozen or so years. New manager, new management team, new squad, new tactical theories, on average every 18 months in the time that Arsene Wengerhas been at Arsenal.

Is it too late to press the pause button and take a longer term view of our own situation or of the state of football in general? Of course when your battling relegation its hard to take a long term view but that is precisely what we desperately need and what we should have done several years ago.

Certainly Levy has thrown plenty of money at our problems but you cannot say that Harry was anything other than a short term fix.We sacked Martin Jol our only successful manager of recent times in pursuit of something or other.
Short term fixes don't always work and they can leave you worse off than you were before.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Harry Redknapp: Houdini or Wizard of Oz?

Its difficult not to warm to Harry Redknapp. He is a football man through and through with a solid though largely undistinguished playing career and a similar managerial one .Portsmouth's FA Cup win last year was his only major achievement.
At West Ham over seven years he handled a series of good young players:Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick amongst them and gained a reputation for good man management and the encouragement of young talent.
He gives good interviews and is popular with the press for his down to earth, populist, honest and straight approach. He is quick witted ,lively, self deprecating , apparently easy-going and doesn't try to make a simple game over complicated.What's not to like?
His reputation as Harry Houdini the relegation escapologist was possibly what drew Levy to him initially but it was the fact that he was not Juande Ramos in any way whatsoever that clinched the deal and led not just to the initial 'new manager' bounce but to the amazing initial turn around in our fortunes.
For whatever reason the team were not playing for Ramos, and not just in the first eight matches of this season but for the post Carling Cup period of last season as well.
Culture shock, language difficulties, alien training and diet regimes, unaproachability ,who knows why, but the team were not responding and Harry was apparently the answer to all their prayers and ours.
My first reaction to the announcement of Harry's appointment was 'Oh no!' . I liked the idea of Harry in genaral but not as manager of Tottenham in particular. I had never been convinced by his record and his attitude.
Harry is a pragmatist, he will do whatever is neccessary to survive, including signing Bellamy for example, and, it is rumoured, Joey Barton. Good footballers they may be but with anger problems and disruptive tendencies that a club like Tottenham should not encourage or have to rely on.
However like most fans I acknowledged with great joy our new saviour. He put us back in the bottom half pack and gave us an opportunity where there seemed little before.
But Harry is not as straightforward as he appears. His words sometimes seem designed to cover his own back and to try to manipulate situations to his own advantage. On several occasions he has appeared to undermine his own squad and has veered from love-in to grand falling out.
Some of this seems designed not to get the best out of his players but to secure funds for further signings.
His failure to demonstrate his reputation for encouraging young talent is for me the worst aspect.
4-1 up gainst Burnley in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi and not one fringe player or youngster gets even a 15 minute cameo. He had praised Taraabt previously but didn't have the nerve to give him a go. Giovani was on the bench and presumably fit; Bostock played well in his brief first team appearance but has not been seen again; Gunter could well have been used to allow Corluka to play at centre half in Ledley's absence but has not been trusted to do so for no apparent reason .Fortunately Dawson is back to his best.
His failure to face down the fans that booed the appearance of Hossam Ghaly as a substitute was another worrying sign. His claim that he knew nothing of the background was nonsense or a failure of managerial duty.
His sudden overhaul of the playing system and negative tactics away toWigan; the inclusion of Ledley King in midfield when he can barely play one match in three at centre-half; the preferance of Zokora to Lennon on the right of midfield; the substitution of Modric are all to me worrying signs of a manager that doesn't know what his best team and formation are. We were asking to be beaten and beaten we were.
We are three points from 11th and two consecutive victories would see us challenging for the Uefa cup places. But we are not getting consecutive victories in the league. Three more defeats and thats 2 points from 8 games which has a horribly reminiscent ring to it.
I didn't want Jol to be sacked; I favoured sticking with Ramos and I am not calling for Harry's head either. The club is crying out for stability of management and players. We need a long term vision and some strategic thinking.

Whether we can get it under ENIC and Levy is problematic. We have had ten managers since Arsene Wenger came to Arsenal and it might well be eleven shortly even if we avoid relegation which I think we probably will, just.
Harry seems to me to be the classic short term fix and some may argue that it was necessary. But it might not work. Harry is looking less like Houdini and more like the very ordinary imposter revealed at the end of 'The Wizard of Oz' when Dorothy's little dog pulls back the curtain to reveal the true nature of the great wizard.
That makes it another year wasted in the long overdue revival of a once great club.