The Blog that's not always wrong.

Monday, 27 April 2009

A failure of leadership

I've given it 24hrs but it still hurts. But then those other collapses are still with us all after many years. I don't study the statistics of other clubs but I don't recall any of the current top six in recent years being 2-0 or 3-0 up and losing, and on two occasions by 2 goals.

So is it just a Tottenham thing? An example of our mental weakness, lack of team spirit or application, a lack of a tough core or spine? We can make excuses, blame the referee which is quite easy to do on this occasion, or dodgy pasta or whatever but its something that seems to be with us threatening to strike at any moment. We can never relax and enjoy the game because the team might buckle at any moment.

Currently we are on a very good run, still sixth in the Premiership form table, five consecutive clean sheets at home, out of the relegation zone to the edge of Europa qualification. Yet apart from this Saturday there was Blackburn and those other defeats which still burn in the memory.

There was a collective failure of leadership on and off the pitch on Saturday. Harry who I have acknowledged as our saviour this season showed why some, including me, doubt his overall ability. The box marked 'next level' on Levy's office wall chart will have been given a question mark.On Saturday when calm appraisal, and reaction to events was required we got nothing other than a double substitution on 86mins. We got theatrics and playing to the gallery. Harry froze just as the team itself did.

On the pitch Keane who might well have been substituted in the last three games also went missing. Being captain gave him the apparent right to roam anywhere and to neglect his role as support for Bent and link to the mid-field. Making him captain was a hostage to fortune. He did little to justify his selection as a player or as captain which requires head as well as heart. We lost it in tactical and formation terms all over the pitch.

The poor penalty decision certainly marked a change in the attitude of both teams: Man.Utd. sensed that their luck had changed and we seemed to believe that it was only a matter of time. Suddenly they had energy and belief and we had neither. The quick equaliser confirmed this view in both sides.

Now was the moment to act and I cannot believe that there was no plan B for such an event. Plan A was clearly blame the referee and cross your fingers. We lost our shape at the back and individual errors, bad luck and the sudden surge of attacking football played at high pace which we simply couldn't cope with announced the inevitable.

Am I calling for heads to roll? I most certainly am not as it is our recent stability under Harry that has brought rich dividends and we need more of it not less. Do we need more beasts in midfield to aid Palacios in his mission to search out and destroy? Not if we want a Tottenham that plays good football, which we have been doing lately. Palacios was fortunate to escape a red card on Saturday for a desperate lunge. Destructive midfielders need to have a positive side and either way are of no use to us in the dressing room before half time.

Two footballing myths were also exposed. Firstly that if we go out 2-0 up for the second half and keep it tight for 15 minutes everything will be fine. Secondly that if we can just get that vital second goal the game is more or less safe. We did both on Saturday and lost.

We can still make Europe if that's what we want; we have a quality squad although we must keep Modric; we are playing well most of the time but on and off the pitch as Kipling wrote some-one needs to keep their heads when all about them others are losing theirs. I hope he wasn't in the crowd on Saturday but with that attitude he's not likely to be a Spurs fan.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Quit when you're ahead.

'Oy Tottenham! How come this week you're going for Europe and last week you were going to the Championship'. Banter in the pub after W.Ham. You can tell how many Spurs fans there are where I live because the nickname 'Tottenham' is all mine. I reply that I am not responsible for the vicissitudes of the Premiership. I find that the use of such vocabulary has a calming effect on Top Four supporters and the brow wrinkling pause gives me time to get a drink and seek out a quiet spot. Although I have to admit it did get me punched once.

Reading the football columns this week I thought that they'd opened a secret Spurs transfer window. We've been linked with Kenwynne Jones( again); several continental types (Milito again); Huddleston and Bale are coveted by Fulham; Pavlyuchenko's and Gomes are on their way to Chelsea; Bent would apparently prefer Everton over Sunderland and so it goes on. It can't be long before e-Bay catch on to this lucrative market.

Yes we know its all rubbish but it does raise the question of whether Harry will go all out for seventh and some more European away days or whether he will use the rest of the season to explore his current squad in a little more depth before he starts sifting through the scouting reports and making bids. We couldn't experiment before because of the threat of relegation, now we can't because of the hope of Europe.

I would have thought that Harry having secured our position after virtually a whole season not so much flirting with relegation as engaging in full public sex with it would have cashed in his chips and had an early night. But the fan sites are full of our shameless supporters demanding that Harry respect our traditions and field our strongest team until any possibility of 7th is gone. My mum doesn't approve, she thinks we're being greedy. 'You don't know when your well off'. Quit when you're ahead Harry' I say.

This despite the fact that we had to abandon our European hopes this year in order to survive. Now fans are claiming that they didn't doubt for a second that we would escape. Well it must be me because I'm only just sleeping again at night. The thing that makes this all possible is the tightness of the league below the top six, or the vicissitudes of the Premiership as someone so memorably put it.

My plea is twofold: don't buy any new players; use the rest of the season to give a chance to fringe members of the team to see what they can do. We've been given a breathing space so lets use it wisely. A season without Europe might even give us the opportunity to mount a genuine challenge to the upper reaches of the Premiership where reputations are really lost and made. Knowing Harry though he might just do both.

Against W.Ham I was pleased to see Huddleston, Zokora, and Pavlyuchenko get a game. I was in deep water during the week for mentioning Huddleston and Hoddle in the same breathe and more surprisingly for saying that we played well.

The classy goal that Pavlyuchenko scored after a controlled passing move involving Ekotto, Huddleston, Corluka, and Modric exemplified the best of Tottenham to me. Modric slipped the ball to Pavlyuchenko, moved square for the return but he turned Collins and scored into the far corner where Keane was on hand to do a Bent if it hadn't been going in. We also survived after scoring the only goal of the game on 65mins. without a single alarm.

My point was that we played 'our' game. Not the heroics of the Arsenal comeback, not the effort and determination of the Man.Utd. and Chelsea games but passages of accurate and controlled passing orchestrated especially in the second half by Huddleston. Perhaps the relief of reaching the, beating W. Ham.and burying the memory of Blackburn all on the same day added a rosy hue to my spectacles. W.Ham were a bit powder puff admittedly and said to be 'missing Carlton Cole'. Its usually Cole that does the 'missing'.

Apart from a misjudgement by Woodgate and even with Palacios suspended and Jenas off injured in the second half we not only played some good football but didn't give the ball away. It was our fourth consecutive clean sheet at home, our first such run in the Premiership and the first time for 22yrs. If we do it again against Newcastle then it will require Archaeologists rather than Historians to track it down.

My feeling is that we already have a quality squad and that Harry and Sandra can go off on holiday this year and Harry doesn't have to spend the summer wheeling and dealing or Sandra practising her keepy uppy skills on the beach. Lets build some stability, loyalty and cohesion into the club on the back of what is turning out to be a successful season, even if we don't make Europe, and not run it as a transit camp for up and coming players en route to the Champions' League.

I know that I'm in the minority on this as in many things lately but if you wanted to run with the pack you wouldn't support Tottenham in the first place.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Those who cannot remember the past

In one of my last postings I asked the question 'How far can we go?'
The answer after Blackburn is 'not quite as far as some of us dreamers were hoping' But 'twas ever thus at Tottenham. Well since I was a boy anyway.

The Blackburn game repeated many of the sins of earlier in the season, bad habits that we thought we had banished. We dominated but we only created one good chance in the whole game. We were gifted a doubtful penalty and even though we knew Blackburn's game plan we still managed to concede twice in the last eight minutes with some sloppy defending by two of our most reliable players.

Palacios was sent off unfairly and the red card may well be rescinded. But that doesn't help us now but it may against West Ham. He showed, with the attacking run and through ball to Bent to set up our chance, his more positive side and I hope that Harry stresses this role to him. Otherwise he falls into the trap of thinking he is just the muscle in midfield who allows Jenas or Modric to play. Essien and Ballack are tough guys but play a positive role too. But 12 yellows and now a red are too many and he will get more now that he has a reputation.

The dreamers' hopes of 7th and European qualification have taken quite a psychological knock even though the situation has not actually changed much. With West Ham to play we can undo the damage in one go. But will we? Just when we thought we were swimming ashore safely a nasty creature from the depths floats up and bites us on the bum.

Late goals conceded, poor defending at a set piece, failure to score the second goal, lack of pressure to pick up the second ball, aimless kicking out of defence, poor decisions in the final third. The whole cast of this familiar horror movie script were there with our old friend Red Card to undermine our efforts at the crucial time. I've already used 'Deja vu' and Ground hog day' as titles and as my current title attests I have had to move into higher philosophical realms to do justice to our mentality as a team and a club.

In amongst this we played some good controlled football and were a class above Blackburn. But they have the three points and we have none. Just a blip, put it behind us, the show is still on the road and glory beckons. Well maybe, but our good run has ended, we have some tricky games to come and the thought must be in Harry's mind, the team's minds, the fans' minds that there is still work to be done. Not now to avoid relegation, but to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.

This squad can make progress, we need to explore its scope. Its probably not good enough for a sustained Premiership tilt but taking short cuts was our undoing with Martin Jol. Now I'm not entirely sure how the late 19th century Spanish philosopher poet George Santayana foresaw the fatal Tottenham flaw in his observation that 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'. But he got our weakness spot on.

The wires are buzzing with the talent we might sign, could sign, will sign in our effort to bridge the gap between where we are now, just out of the excrement, and where we want to be, on cloud nine in Europe.

Well we've needed a left sided player for ages; we should upgrade Bent and the jury is still out on Pavlyuchenko; we're short of cover at left back; uncertainty over Ledley's fitness makes another experienced centre half a must have. And so, once again, we clamber aboard the transfer merry-go round.

West Ham won their game yesterday with two teenage youth players, both of whom scored, and so did one at Man.Utd. It should give us at least a pause for thought before we burn another £15 million on the bonfire of high hopes. Liverpool and Man.Utd both won their games with late winners showing resolution and belief. Is this the real gap between us?

With seven games to go instead of fretting over 7th place we should give some pitch time to a number of the present squad ( Bentley, Chimbonda, Bale, Dawson, Zokora, Hutton) and any others with a claim to first team status plus any of the youth players not out on loan. Not all at the same time obviously.
Seven games to go and two points needed for safety, as Harry is still pointing out. Seven games, two points; has a familiar ring but I can't just put my finger on it. Will History repeat itself? Or are we heeding Santayana's warning and learning the lessons of our previous failures?

The patient is sitting up and taking a little nourishment ( Harry's 2points in eight games linctus), a few faltering steps have been safely negotiated.(Getting ourselves out of relegation danger). Trying to leap the gap or even run now might just see us fall flat on our faces again.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Thanks Harry

Dear Harry,
Just a line to apologise: firstly for doubting your ability to rescue us after our disastrous start; I think you know the relevant statistics; secondly to thank you for getting our high quality squad to play somewhere near its potential. I wasn't 'over the moon' when I heard you had been appointed and your straight from the heart interviews would be better if they were straight from the head but I was wrong and I like you 'warts and all'.

We wobbled after the new manager bounce floundered and my doubts resurfaced and to be honest it was only after the wins against Aston Villa and Chelsea that I finally accepted that we probably won't be relegated. Nope scrap that 'probably'.

If I were you I would have told the lads to go easy. We're out of trouble, let's leave it now until next season. You've even got me working out how high we could get. Now, if we don't make the Europa Cup and finish above West Ham in seventh, Spurs fans and Daniel Levy will be calling for your head and calling this season a disaster.

Mass suicides would have been the order of the day if the unthinkable had happened. I must admit I've been chewing over the 'unthinkable' all season. However no more of that sort of talk, we're out of the woods and on the sunlit uplands of mid table, with the prospect of an enticing vista just over the brow of this next hill at Blackburn.

Can I presume to offer you a little advice? Don't buy any new players this summer. I know it goes against your alleged instincts and certainly goes against the Tottenham way over the last decade. I am sure that the statistics are available to you but ponder the fact that almost all the currently successful teams bar Chelsea have long standing managers, or 'longish' in Premiership terms, and more settled squads.

So give it a try: keep the squad we have now, including the much criticised Bent and Bentley. Its taken us all season to 'gel' as they say, don't disrupt things with another job lot of players bought because they are cheap, or expensive; young, or experienced; British, or foreign or whatever and go forward with the present squad

This is not the time to carp and criticise. We all have our faults but in your case they are far outweighed by your achievements. I didn't like the virtual abandonment of our European chances but you have been vindicated in recent weeks and it would be ironic if we qualified for Europe anyway.

Your policy of buying back former Spurs players, especially Robbie, has worked even though I had my doubts about that too, though not because I doubted his ability, and about making him captain. Palacios has added strength to the midfield so again my advice is 'quit while your ahead'. But so far you've been right and I've been wrong every time. You might have problems when Jermain returns. Does he know about Robbie or is his missis still hiding the newspapers?

So thank you Harry. Having achieved the near impossible you could turn your thoughts to the enigma that is Tom Huddleston and how we can fit him into the midfield with Modric, Lennon,Jenas and Palacios. There are plenty of players you could wrap your arm around; Adel Taarabt and Gio Dos Santos for a start. Oh and Gareth Bale. Then you could turn your thoughts to David Bentley before splashing the usual £15 million on Downing, although I think I've solved that one for you. Don't bring anyone in before you've sorted out what you've got.

The easy way out is to sell them all and bring a new lot in. But it doesn't work Harry, it doesn't work. We've proved that conclusively over many years, and that applies to managers as well as players.

All the best to Sandra. I think she can cut down on the heading practice and the near post runs now as Darren's had an England call up and so we probably won't be needing her.

Yours and thanks again,