We won the World Cup in 1966 and have never looked back since. The trouble is we were facing the wrong way. The periscope got jammed and we forgot to take the lens covers off the binoculars But as recent events have shown at every level we need to start scanning the horizon. Pre-season eh! In theory a carefully planned series of work outs to ease us gently back from the beach designed to achieve an outfit strong in mind and body in peak condition for the first game of the season. In fact a globe trotting, exhausting, jet lagged trawl around the Corporate high spots.
Villarreal was more of a full body pummeling for which we may feel better, eventually. Friendly? It didn't look like it. Unless you have the sort of mates who set fire to the curtains and chop up the furniture when invited round for a pleasant social evening. Next time they come round the invitations should be more explicit: a draw is acceptable; drubbings are not permitted. So just when you thought it was safe to start dreaming again its back to the drawing board.
I know all the excuses: some of our best players missing; first time the boys have all got together;
youngsters being given a run out; still working out game plans and formations; difficulties at centre-half; new signings to come in; dead wood to be cleared; and finally: 'Its only pre-season. Chill'.
Yep I've been through them all but it still leaves me with that nagging doubt whether we can build on last year's success and push on. A bit like the after effects of Burnley, but I'm over that now.
Lets take the positives; and there's always positives. As the man on the steps of the gallows remarked , 'At least it's not raining'. Some youngsters have appeared and by and large have shown some talent. Last night, Rose, Parrett and Walker in particular. Giovani surfaced and was as good as some of us always thought he was. The final pass of two of their goals should have been cut out and their third was deflected past a stranded keeper. Huddlestone and Bale maintained their form and none of our returning stars got injured.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half we put some pressure on them and scored an excellent goal. At 2-1 it could have gone either way and their fortunate third clinched it. However we were outplayed for most of the game by a team that have another month to go before their season starts. Outplayed by the current Spanish style of play demonstrated by the Spanish National team, the Spanish U.19 team, and Barcelona. A style that we have the tradition and talent to espouse. Clearly the world has moved on since 1966. We won the World Cup and set ourselves back 50yrs. We won't win it again until we turn our backs on the past, reject our traditional attitudes, forget power and strength and learn to love the ball. Even with some of the Worlds' most skilful players in the Premiership the emphasis is still on physicality and speed.
In British football by and large the ball is not our friend. When it comes our way we treat it like a stranger in a dark alley asking for a light. The Spanish World Cup squad love the ball. The Under 19's who beat us recently treat it like a brother. Villarreal, who are not even in the top ranks of La Liga nurtured it like their first born; they caressed and cherished it; they wanted it so much they pleaded for it when they hadn't got it; they looked lost without it.
Even at Spurs a talent like Taarabt is a figure of fun. We don't know what to do with him: he's an embarrassment. When he gets the ball newcomers in the crowd think his name is Gerrid. We don't know how to integrate him into the the team. Surely a failure of coaching as much as anything. Put him on for 10 minutes and all he can do is go through his repertoire of tricks in a desperate effort to catch the eye.
We have to start making friends with the ball and put the 'welcome home' mats out for it. We need to embrace it, take it for walks, marry it in a civil ceremony or whatever it takes. When a Spaniard passes the ball he expects it back. It's a loan not a gift.
At Tottenham where we have a tradition of keeping the ball on the ground, pass and move; where following the team is a pleasure as well as a duty born of family history or geography we at least should appreciate these 'continental' fads. We of all people should be grateful that the rugged efforts of Holland were eventually overcome by the passing style of Spain. It would have been a disaster for the beautiful game if the Dutch had won. Generally speaking we have courted this type of approach although occasionally in times of managerial stress it has disappeared from view.
Parking the bus and 10 man defences are going to be the norm next season especially at home. This is a reflection of our new Top Four status but also an acknowledgment by most teams that if they take us on they will lose. We have to out-think and out-skill them and we have the players to do it. We don't have the mentality or the tradition to do anything else.
So let's get hold of the ball and learn to love it. Keep it, protect it, love, honour and obey it. Give it to Modric and Huddlestone when we can; play through the midfield; fine anybody except Tom who passes it more than 30yds.Villarreal didn't allow the ball to travel much above head height or more than 20yds away in case it got kidnapped out there all on its own. Let's not ignore the timely Villarreal-ity check we were given. We can't just live in hope that we don't meet any Spanish sides in the Champions' League.