So, dearest reader, here we are. The end of another season and for the second year on the spin May 19th goes down as a miserable day in the diary for those connected with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. In any other context, in any other footballing universe, apart- rather inconveniently- from the one we find ourselves a part of, this would be a time for triumphant celebration; having just recorded our best ever points total in the Premier League and highest number of wins. Instead we look back on an otherwise tremendous campaign with a modicum of regret that we couldn’t squeeze out another bloody point from somewhere, somehow. Everton away, Fulham at home, QPR away. Don’t even torture yourself.
In the end I was quite thankful the final day wasn’t cast in some dreadful Spurs-brand melodrama or that we weren’t socked by some heartbreaking thump of irony. Apart from the phantom goal at St James’ (seen only by Alan Sugar) things ran as you might have expected. Andre Marriner’s exotic interpretation of the rules of football was infuriating but not ultimately to our cost (although you could suggest it would’ve ratcheted up the pressure on Arsenal had they’d known we were winning). There was no ex-Spurs keeper throwing the ball into an empty net (Ben Alnwick’s brother stayed on the bench) and no Tottenham players bent double in the penalty area trying to hold in the contents of their bowels. We did everything that was asked of us: it’s just the team above did likewise and we came up short by the slenderest of margins.
I’m largely delighted with Andre Villas-Boas’ work as a coach. The injuries and summer departures have been well covered, but it shouldn’t be underestimated what the Immense Dimensioned One achieved in his first year at the club without seven- eight, you could argue- of the players who were so vital for Spurs last season. In one guise or another Kaboul, King, BAE, Parker, Sandro, Modric, Van der Vaart have either left or been sidelined for considerable stretches of the year. You could probably throw Adebayor into the group too, who, up until about a month ago, was either injured, in a different continent or just being straight-up appalling at football. And, while new players have been recruited and in some cases been improvements- Lloris, Vertonghen- that’s still a sizeable turnaround of clientele and not a lot of time to make it work. But work he has made it.
The summer we’ll be treated to another exhausting transfer odyssey, pertaining to the multi-award-winning Gareth Bale. Rumours of a new contract won’t do much to p*ss on the fires of speculation but in my loins, I’ve a feeling he’ll stay on for another year at least. While we might not be able to offer the platform of Champions League football to exhibit his astonishing talents, he does seem to enjoy himself at Tottenham and in Villas-Boas he has a coach who’ll get the very best out of him. If Wing Commander Levy can club together all his Nectar points in the warmer months and buy a word-beater or two, then the decision might be made even easier. Hey, things are looking up already. COYS.
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While you shouldn’t rely on Alan Pardew this weekend to at least make life interesting for the subscription-paying neutrals (won’t someone please think of the subscription-paying neutrals!) one thing you can bank on, is when it comes to penning a good book, John Crace won’t let you down. Following his quite excellent Vertigo: One Football Fan’s Fear of Success comes his latest offering Harry’s Game: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp.
I’ve got a copy to give away to one of you lucky folk but first, a quick word with the author:
WFRF: Hello, John. It’s fair to say Harold Redknapp is a fairly divisive character. Does this make him an ideal subject for a book? In your own words he’s either the ‘the greatest manager never to have managed England since Brian Clough’ or, a less encouraging ‘bullet dodged’:
JC: Harry is the most absorbing character currently working in British football. Bar none. Fergie was much more successful but he was also much more straightforward. Given a choice of a night out with Harry and a night out with Fergie, you instinctively know with which one you would have more fun. Harry polarises opinion like few others. People either love him or hate him: often without very much good reason. Harry is a man who it’s very easy to misread: a man whom you think you know and understand when you don’t. People have made all sorts of claims for him, both about his managerial style and his character without really thinking about who he is and what he has done. In Harry’s Games I wanted to make sense of him and explain why it was possible for so many people to assume he was going to be the next England manager when there was still a chance he might go to prison. To do this I had to go back over his life and career to get beyond the standard Harryisms in which football pundits traditionally have traded to think about where his loyalties really lie, how greedy he is and how ambitious?
WFRF: As a Tottenham fan I warmed to Redknapp in the first two seasons- obviously all the winning and playing Real Madrid helped- but became exhausted by his knack of deflecting any kind of blame away from himself, whenever things went a bit awry. Instead of the loveable rogue, salt-of-the earth type, he became someone I imagined might point his own grandmother out in a police line-up if it meant he wouldn’t go to jail. Am I fickle? Do all managers do this to some degree?
JC: We’re all fickle. And all managers do this to some degree. But Harry is a past master at deflection. Nothing is ever his fault. He’s either got the wrong players or luck was against him. He’s been like this at every club he’s managed. I think the fans take it so personally and turn against him, because he encourages the view that he’s ‘one of them’ and so they feel the let-down more acutely. But it’s also true that he’s a manager whose strengths and weaknesses are so clearly mirrored in each other. He does have a good eye for a player and his teams often play wonderful football. But he doesn’t have a Plan B for when things aren’t working and neither does he have a Team B. So he seldom rotates the squad and when his favoured players get tired and injured things tend to fall apart because he is forced to bring in players who he doesn’t rate. And, as importantly, players who know they aren’t rated by him. Was it any coincidence that the player who ducked for the injury time freekick that cost QPR all three points against Wigan and effectively condemned the team to relegation was Adel Taarabt, whom Harry had rubbished at Spurs? I think not. The most frustrating part of watching Harry’s teams was that their form often fell apart in the latter half of the season.
WFRF:What’s your view of Harry’s famous blind spot for tactics? I think most people thought this was some kind of ruse, or at least a point overstated. There’re plenty of examples of him successfully re-jigging formations during the course of a game, but do you think he’s been left behind in that regard? His line about ‘bullsh*t baffling brains’ was, if nothing else, an odd comment.
JC: Harry is not big on tactics, but he’s no mug either. The 1-0 away win against AC Milan in the San Siro in the first leg of the Champions League tie was an object lesson in how to play the perfect away European tie. And he did it with a severely weakened team. But on the whole Harry is not quick on his feet to change things. At Spurs, many of his substitutions came at least 10 minutes after everyone in the crowd had seen what needed to be changed. Harry is at his best playing 4-4-2… and for this reason I think he could actually have been a really good choice of manager for the England side. There would have been no getting side-tracked in transfer speculation, he could have played his strongest squad as often as he liked because there’s no need to rotate, his powers of short-term motivation – he’s not good at lifting a team throughout a season – would have come into their own as competitions last five weeks at most and tactics are not nearly so critical to success at international level as they are in top club competitions
WFRF: After all your research and writing the book, has your view of Harry changed dramatically one way or the other. Is there anything about the man that surprised or affected you?
JC: Absolutely. He turned out to be a lot more complex than I expected. Harry has great personal charm and is brilliant at dealing with journalists and fans. By and large he tells people what they want to hear. I came to realise he wasn’t so much an arch-manipulator – though he can be that too – as an insecure people-pleaser. Harry never set out to be a football manager. He just wanted to make a living out of football. Survival, rather than glory, has always been all he has ever really wanted. Enough money and a job that allows him to commute from his home in Sandbanks. Management was something he fell into. Likewise, he is very hard to categorise. Sometimes he has shown exceptional loyalty to people, at other time he has ruthlessly stabbed them in the back. Sometimes he has been incredibly generous, at others a greedy bastard. To make sense of him, I had to go through the details forensically to work out why he could seem so capricious.
WFRF: And finally, are Newcastle going to do us any favours on Sunday? I’m guessing not.
JC:Wouldn’t that be nice… I can’t really see it. Newcastle have effectively been on holiday since last weekend. Pardew admitted as much when he said he wouldn’t mind if Arsenal beat them 4-0. Sunderland will also be demob happy after Wigan got relegated. So I see both Arsenal and Spurs winning relatively comfortably. Which leaves us precisely where we don’t want to be but could have predicted we would be on the first day of the season! Still if the Welsh Boy Wonder stays for another year then AVB will have done a decent job. I don’t Bale would have stayed – or played so well – under Harry.
**Rightio, if you want to win a copy of ‘Harry’s Games’ then follow @wfrfthetruth on Twitter and post #Harry. If you’re not on the old Twitterbox then simply post below the line. I’ll pick a winner at random in the next day or so. Good luck! **
Afternoon. I’ve been away from the old machine for a few days but luckily nothing of any real significance has happened since last contact so we can pretty much pick things up where we left them.
Oop…hang on…just been passed a note.
Right, well. That is interesting. He might retire, you say? And what about Gary? Sticking with Sky? Probably a good move. They like him over there.
Hot dogs and jumping frogs. What a week it’s been. The footballing landscape has endured seismic shifts from which we may never recover a toehold again; the end of a dynasty, a New World Order, the changing of the guard. Yep, all very well, Geoffrey, but if you could just keep the noise down for a second, we’ve got our own problems to worry about over here. Chief of those, trying to keep check of a Champions League dream that just plumb refuses to die. Why won’t you die!?
Bale’s eleventh-hour heroics against Southampton; the deadlock at Stamford Bridge, which, under normal conditions would be a respectable outcome; the late win against Stoke and Charlie Adam, the world’s first ironically professional footballer. Three results which’ve ensured it’ll go to the final day and the hope will consume us all.
Whatever the result tonight, I’d say it’s been an excellent first season for Villas-Boas, essentially operating with one arm gaffer-taped to his back; with injuries, the chairman’s muddled transfer policies and whatnot. To have equalled last year’s points total with a game to spare is fairly remarkable. Perhaps Wigan can do us a favour this evening (no pressure, chaps, but if you don’t I will hunt you down and do stuff to you. Weird stuff.) perhaps it’ll be one great escape too far. Whatever the case, whatever our final League position, I think we can all agree that Alan Pardew is one super cool dude.
This is it, then. The last hurrah. Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that the midweek game at Stamford Bridge is rather an important encounter, but the bleak reality for Tottenham is that if we decide to lay a steamed pudding in our trousers tomorrow afternoon and results elsewhere go awry, then the jig is up and Wednesday will be nothing more than a showpiece for the hopeless and socially abhorrent. Particularly if John Terry is within racializing distance.
Southampton will be without creative fulcrum Gastón Ramírez for the game; who’s carrying out a three-match suspension after Shane Long entertained the frightful business of socking his cheek into the Uruguayan’s elbow. As an aside, did you also know that Ramírez was born in Fray Bentos? Which, if nothing else, reminds me of a highly lucrative pastry and cigarette company I’d like you all to invest in. It’s called, wait for it: ‘Pie, Fags ‘R’ Us.‘
You know, like, Pythag… oh I give up.
Elsewhere Danny Fox is also suspended after he tried to atomise Steven Reid’s leg(s)/arm(s)/entire body.
For us the only doubt- apart from those clawing, soul-tugging fears that we’ll not qualify for the Champions League and all of our squad and manager will leave before White Hart Lane is swallowed up into a fiery, blazing sinkhole and the club is lost forever- is Moussa Dembélé, who picked up a hamstring tweak against Wigan. Adebayor is apparently fit. So there you go.
Here’s how Southampton might line-up:
Ahoy there, web-slingers!
Barely have we had a minute to disentangle our underpants from the neighbour’s satellite dish after a quite astonishing come-from-behind victory against the former Champions, the radar bleeps and twinkles again with the incoming of Roberto Martinez and Atletico Wigan. Who, as required to do so in their perilous situation, are fighting for their Premiership Lives.
Now, the usual protocol for Spurs following a hard-fought and unlikely triumph is to make an utter pig’s tit of the next, apparently weaker opponents. For every glorious evening under the lights beating Inter Milan you can bet your grandmother’s heating allowance that the next game at The Reebok or some such will be a miserable disappointment.
But these, as they say, are mysterious times and this, sir, is a different beast altogether.
If there’s one thing to admire about Andre Villas-Boas and his brief occupancy at Tottenham, it’s that he doesn’t appear to embrace the oh-mother-of-mercy-why-us brand fatalism that it’s easy to adopt every now and again as a fan. Early days, of course, but rather than play the victim card or feel hard-done by the inexplicable force of the footballing cosmos, the young Portuguese buck deals rather in the business of identifying problems and, get this, fixing them.
Conceding late goals? Use the training ground to work on specific defensive routines. Losing at half-time? Re-shuffle, tinker, make one or two cunning substitutions. Rubbish at penalties… well, early days, as we’ve said. To the chalkboard!
By the time the single-term Champions arrive at The Lane tomorrow it’ll have been a whole ten days since our semi-tragic parp-parp-whoops exit from the Europa League. In that period, Arsenal and Everton will have played thrice and Chelsea and City on two occasions. These things rarely boil down to the machinations of a diary, of course, but with just five points betwixt 6th and 3rd even the smallest scheduling advantage could be crucial for the teams involved. It’s all about the little things, as I’m often told by the good lady- with no regard for my self-esteem whatsoever.
As well as giving a rest to the world-weary lambs who were put through the extra-time ringer in Switzerland last week, the enforced sabbatical has allowed a sizable hunk of downtime for the recuperating trio of Defoe, Lennon and multi-award nominee, Gareth Bale. While risking all three from the start would be a dick move in the extreme, the noise from the camps is that all are in contention. Here’s some of that noise now, in the form of words:
“All of them are in with a chance of making selection.”
“Gazza has been training for the last two days with the team and on his own since the beginning of the week.”
“He has made good progress from the beginning of the week to training with the team, so definitely will be up for selection.”
“We recognise the impact he has had for us. With the run that he is on it can have that factor.
“It is good having key players around and players who have been decisive, especially in this last part of the season is always inspirational for everyone. It’s good to have him back”
Phew! Well this team picks itself:
Oo-er. This looks decidedly not ideal. While resident harefoots Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are grounded in London with unrelated but not terminal ankle and knee prangs respectively, Spurs contemplate how they might best progress from an even (but not really) tie in which Swiss side Basel hold most if not all the aces. The most reasonable answer would be to score more goals than them but as we saw last week, that won’t be as simple a task as some perhaps imagined. Tidy, aggressive and stylish were Murat Yakin’s brigade at The Lane last week, and, rather troublingly, in their domestic League they’ve not been beaten at home all season having only conceded six and scored a walloping twenty-eight. Yikes.
Still, the general consensus appears to be that, with a fair chunk of time before our next league game (Sunday 24th against City) the chaps are pretty much free to turn the dial up to full volume and worry about the consequences and stiff joints in the morning. The thought being that if Spurs could get the maximum out of Holtby, Adebayor, Dembele and the like, we ought to have enough tinned goods in the pantry to see us through. Here’s how they might line up, Champs 01/02 stylee:
Brad out, Hugo in. Just how necessary it is at any stage to rest an exuberant young goalkeeper isn’t really the concern here- Friedel’s done something of a job in the previous rounds and it’s nice to give his legs a bit of a stretch from time to time- but now that our status in the competition hangs in the balance, Lloris’ inclusion is crucial. We’re simply better with him in goal. Elsewhere it’s Tom Carroll for Dempsey for the sake of ball retention and to avoid the potential meltdown on Twitter should the Texan have an awry one. It’s for your own good, Clint. COYS!
We did a fine job of underestimating Swiss opponents in the Champions League qualifiers back in 2010 so let me be the first to declare that we should absolutely vaporise this lot within minutes of referee’s threep. In fact, with the weather unseasonably brisk, I’m not sure why they’ve even bothered making the trip- such is our superiority, might and standard of haircut.
FC Basel are, of course, crack Euro campaginers and presuming we’re going to walk this would be misguided at best. Top of the Swiss Super League and recent conquerors of United, Bayern Munich and Zenit in the last twelve months, Murat Yakin’s side are anything but small-time chancers fumbling their way to a final.
Sure the history books will tell you Bayern scraped through their Champions League tie last year on away goals (then went and robbed their best player, Xherdan Shaqiri) and Zenit are massive racists, but the numbers add up to a difficult fixture and one we’d be doing well to take a something-to-zero lead from tonight.
The latest Big Injury Concern is Jermain Defoe who was declared kaput for up to three weeks yesterday; meaning he’ll miss both legs of the quarter-final and Saturday’s crucial meeting with Everton. It wouldn’t be over-egging it to suppose that Adebayor might want to start being good again soon. Not over-egging it at all. 2-0 Spurs.
Welcome back, web-slingers. I hope the trauma of Please Don’t Get Broken week hasn’t withered your spirits too much. In the name of fun it might be handy for Tottenham if Swansea took the same casual, post-cup-winning attitude to the rest of the season as King, Jenas & Co. did back in 2008. That is: this football lark is all very well, chief, but it does rather get in the way of me tanking cava in an up-market discothèque while speculating whether flip-flips or sandals might be the way to go this summer. Not so much foot off the gas as parked up on the hard-shoulder and whipping out the egg sandwiches.
Indeed, Birmingham City took the whoopla a step further in 2011 and got themselves relegated- which is a bit over the top if you ask me.
Whether they’ve mentally signed off for the day or not- two losses out of three since Wembley- the Welsh have been magnificent this campaign. An imminently likeable bunch whose sharp-as-a-tack passing game has gained them many an admirer and steamrollered many an opponent. Heck, this blogger- perhaps hypnotized by the exotic Eurosexy charisma of Michael Laudrup- went as far as to suggest they could be regarded as Champions League contenders: before they inconveniently got pulverized by Liverpool and there the harebrained theory was taken out back and shot.
Good old fashioned winning is the name of the game for Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas this weekend. Chelsea and Arsenal are treated to a decent but beatable Southampton and a flat-lining Nigel Adkins’ side respectively- so anything but maximum points could see us slip into 5th before the day is through. The trick to beating this lot- something we’ve managed twice in three games since their promotion- is squeezing the blighters like John Goodman squeezes frogs. Allowing the Mighty Swans time on the ball is an explicit negatron and, as such, the line-up should reflect a willingness to close down and hassle the home side’s ball-hogging stars. Plenty of energy and legs, then. Lewis Holtby, a fresh Scott Parker, Sigurdsson perhaps even Tom Carroll should be chewed over and considered for selection. Here’s how I’d line the chaps up. But what say you?
The international break has arrived at an ideal time for Spurs; although break is perhaps misleading as twelve of our senior players will be dispatched across the globe this weekend to turn out for their respective Motherlands- and, judging by the performance on Sunday, what some of these chaps need is a breather in its more traditional guises. One which involves being marooned on a floating lilo somewhere with a virgin pina-colada; rather than jetting off to Macedonia for a sticky World Cup qualifier. Alas, the struggles of the modern footballer.
The Big Fear at the moment is that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating itself for the Mighty Hotspur. Not without form in conceding supposedly unsurpassable leads, it was about this time last year that the ship’s wheel was beginning to twirl out of control while the Captain dreamt of England and a better life. Similar to last season, too- and it’s perhaps symptomatic of our very DNA- the minute someone from the outside world starts sounding the I-can’t-see-Spurs-finishing-outside-the-Top-Four klaxon, the underpants find their way atop the head and the inmates begin to panic. It’s happening again, boss!
While there might be a good deal of truth attached to this, you’d have to imagine the Fulham result was somewhat of an anomaly. A rotten day at the office. European hangover is a tired old chestnut but for the two-hours of aimless ball-chasing and slapstick defending in Milan on Thursday night, it can only have been a physically and mentally taxing experience for all involved. The effort it took to play that badly must have been tremendous. Indeed, Vertonghen and Dembélé looked exhausted against BMJ’s men and Scott Parker, at times, genuinely appeared to have turned to stone. But it’s not his fault he’s been required to play every game to its bitter end.
The question now is, whether you have faith in André Villas-Boas to ignore the hyperbole surrounding this mini-wobble and focus on the task in hand: sayin’ nu-uh to the haters and guiding us to the Champions League Party. Personally, I think AVB’s just the man for the job; a serious operator for whom focus and calm comes as naturally as a gravelled voice and a shiny, auburn pelt. If you remember all the Spurs in Turmoil tommyrot being pedalled in the media in August, it was Ol’ Twinkle Eyes who kept an aura of Fonzie cool around the club when the odd result went astray and the players duly responded. Even going to the trouble of beating United at Old Trafford just to prove things were under control. No big deal. There’s no denying that the run-in is a certifiable stinker but you get the impression that Villas-Boas and the players are more than up to it. So don’t despair just yet.
**To say ‘thank you’ to football fans’ amazing support throughout the Capital One Cup’s first season, Capital One is going to turn 1,000 fans into mini football figures check the app out here: http://bit.ly/Xlppk2