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Spurs’ "fighting spirit"? Are you sure?

I keep hearing about Spurs’ new-found “fighting spirit”. Let’s clear this up pronto – the comeback on Weds night was nowt to do with fighting spirit. The players had given up after 80 mins and accepted a 4-2 defeat. The only reason we got back into the game was a stroke of luck – Clichy slipping and presenting Jenas with a route to goal (nb credit to Jenas, there was still plenty of work for him to do when he picked up the ball, he took the goal exceptionally well). Thereafter, for the four mins of injury-time, we showed some desire, but broadly, that comeback was not achieved because of our fighting spirit.

Veering off on a tangent – why the hell doesn’t every professional footballer show fighting spirit, every damned minute he’s on the pitch? Our acceptance of a two-goal defeat after 80 mins on Weds made my blood boil. I remember feeling the same way when England were 2-0 down in Croatia with 10 mins to go. It only takes, say, 20 seconds to orchestrate and score a goal. Moreover, they’re paid in excess of a thirty grand every week, to give a 90 minute (plus injury time) performance. So don’t give up after 80.

The mentality could probably be attributed to the fact that they’re picked up at 14 (or younger), completely pampered by their club and have never done a proper day’s (9 to 5 or longer) work in their lives. For them, two hours training per day is hard work.

Sigh.

Rant over.

More technically…

To be honest, until Clichy slipped in the 89th minute at 4-2, we didn’t look like getting back into the game. After 80 minutes we seemed to accept defeat. Arry’s substitutions seemed daft - chasing the game he took off our most attacking left-sided outlet, Bale. Presumably the idea was to give Lennon’s pace a crack, but still, he could have removed Assou-Ekotto and dropped Bale back into defence, n’est ce pas? Then swapping Bent for Pavluychenko? Two goals behind I’d have thought it would make more sense to increase the number of strikers (we ended up shoving Woodgate into the centre-forward role in injury-time).

However, more positively, Modric now appears to have a definite role. He looks like he knows what is being asked of him - off the ball as well as on it (I noted that he was generally designated to close down l’arse’s deep-lying midfielders). He does look lightweight, but picks a great pass (two essential criteria for a true Tottenham boy) and seems to have some nous playing in between midfield and attack. He and Pav are not yet on the same wavelength, but that will presumably come in time.

Gomes. At what point does a ‘keeper go from having a poor run of form to being a liability? MoTD (yep, got home and watched it) highlighted that having come for and missed the first two corners, he tried again, missed again, and the ball almost embarassedly bobbed into the net. His mistakes occur every match, and are hardly offset by the occasional acrobatic save.

Set-piece defending generally was atrocious, which is perplexing, as we’ve got some big lads back there now.

We seemed to care last night, which could be a wonderful sign that we’ve turned a corner, but is likelier due to the combo of playing under a new manager (can we change our manager ever, say six weeks?) and being psyched for a game against our biggest rivals.

And Arsenal. Ah, my heart bleeds for them, it really does. How could one fail to sympathise after the ostentatious arrogance of their celebrations for their third and fourth goals, finishing one dance routine then beginning another, celebrating not out of joy but out of a desire to be seen, to be noticed, to be photographed. Thierry Henry’s spirit lives long. Yep, heart bleeding over here. A few words of advice - don’t keep trying to score the perfect goal every single time you obtain possession.

It’s been said, both to me personally and on various websites and in various publications today, that Arsenal played much better than us. Just to qualify that - they looked technically superiour and more dangerous when in possession, no doubt, but that misses a fairly crucial element of the concept of “playing football well”. It’s not ballet - you don’t get gold stars for looking pretty. Put the ball in the net guys. Then you’ve played well.

4-4???

Bloody hell.

Blinking heck.

Only yesterday I wrote that I didn’t know what to expect, and duly listed a bunch of possibilities - a thrashing, a surprise win, a tough draw (thinking more along the saner lines of 1-1 etc). A 2-1 defeat seemed likeliest.

Somehow, though I had readied myself for the unexpected, never in a million years could I have imagined that. I ought to have done - we had enough of those 4-4 draws last season. But still. A forty-yard screamer to get the ball rolling? Yet another ‘mare from our keeper? (Actually, I think we all expected that part). 4-2 down after 89 minutes? Jermaine Jenas - Jermaine Jenas - to deliver one of the goals of the season? And a 94th minute equaliser, to make it 4-4, against our biggest rivals, on their ground?

I’ve tried before - almost ruining my Master’s degree in the process - to articulate the unique magnetism of football. It seems churlish to try again, but what the hell. With one bizarre and completely gripping twist and turn following another, last night’s game had to be experienced live to be fully appreciated - and maybe there’s the rub? It is unscripted and spontaneous. And when Spurs are involved it generally stretches the boundaries of credulity, in a way which would detract from scripted drama. Maybe that’s why there never has been a particuarly good film about football - it’s unscriptedness is its essence.

Even if the above is true, there is undoubtedly far more to it than that - no doubt some bright spark would want to witter on about human involvement, and aesthetics, and other such stuff. However, the unscripted, spontaneous element definitely has something to do with it.

I’ll maintain until my dying day (and my death shall be incurred by over-excitement at a Spurs/Englang match) - football is like women. What’s that? No logic to either of them? I didn’t say that, how dare you. Wash your mouth out and apologise. No, football and women both drive you mad, day after day, week after week, absolutely relentlessly and almost, it seems, deliberately… And then, once or twice a year you get that moment, like Bentley’s lob or Lennon’s equaliser, which makes everything seem worthwhile. It isn’t, but for a few sweet moments you forget and convince yourself it is.

Back to the game. I’ll remember for a long old time my spontaneous leap of amazement that greeted the sight of Bentley’s lob (forty yards!!!) dipping into the net, and good grief I’ll remember the spontaneous, unrestrained multiple air-punch that greeted Lennon’s equaliser. (Equally memorable was the sight and sound of a supposedly neutral colleague gradually warming to Spurs until he too celebrated Lennon’s goal).

Coca-Cola once ran a bunch of posters, showing grown men who ought to know better getting rather carried away at football matches. The line was something along the lines of “One day you will see a goal so beautiful you will want to marry it, move to a small island and live there with it forever.” That’s Bentley’s goal, that is. I want to marry it and have lots of baby wonder-goals with it.

A post that was to be entitled "I don’t know what to expect", but which had lapsed into the traditional Spurs fan’s pessimism by the closing line…

It’s a bit of a cop-out, but awaiting tonight’s North London derby at the Emirates I just don’t know what to expect.

It pains me to admit it, but l’arse might start this game as favourites. They might possibly live up to their billing and win it. In fact, I’m worried they might even spank us. Even aside from the fact that we’re still bottom of the league, there’s a case to be made for this.

Exhibit A - l’arse have been known, occasionally, to dabble in what some might call half-decent football. They’re a bunch of cheating deviants, with no sense of sportsmanship or grace, in victory or defeat, and hilariously rubbish, silent support - but occasionally they do come close to playing football the Tottenham way. Take this time last year. We were somewhere near the foot of the table, but not because we were playing particularly badly, as has been this case this year. Instead we were losing games due to a chronic inability to defend set-pieces, and to our then-goalkeeper’s similarly chronic inability to keep out long-range shots. For the first couple of months of the season I would take great pains to tell anyone who’d listen (and many who wouldn’t) that no team had actually cut us apart - we only losst, regularly, because of long-shots and set-pieces Unfortunately that changed at the Emirates of all places, when l’arse’s first goal cut us to ribbons. Can’t remember who poked it in, but Fabregas was involved. (nb we still should have won that day - Robbie Keane missed a pen at 1-1, we ended up losing 2-1).

I’ve drifted somewhat. The point is that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that l’arse might stuff us tonight.

Alternatively, we might stuff them. After all, it’s been known to happen in the not-so-distant past :)

Can’t really see it happening though. We might “get a result” (idiotic phrase - as long as the game is completed we’ll get a result). A draw wouldn’t be bad in the circumstances; a win, naturally, would be particularly sweet. Given our current form, league position and the fact we haven’t beaten that lot away from home since ‘93, this might be wishful thinking. However, there are some grounds for optimism. As I’ve noted elsewhere on these pages, I’m not ‘Arry’s biggest fan, but we are nevertheless enjoying the traditional new manager “bounce”, and there is a slight possibility that it may last beyond one game. Moreover, we always raise our game vs that lot. L’arse at home is usually our best performance of the season (5-1 anyone?), but even at their place we tend to look ok - a week before the 5-1 last year we came within ten mins of beating them at the Emirates; as already mentioned we had a glorious chance at 1-1 and a penalty in the league last year; and going back to 2006 we again came within 10 mins of beating them on their patch. We’ll raise our game, more than likely.

And yet, despite all these wild and fancy-free prognostications, I have a rather resigned feeling, deep down, that this will be a typical Spurs performance, not really looking like we’re going to win, and meekly subsding 2-1/3-1. It’s that same feeling that Andy Garcia’s character had in Black Rain, as he saw the gangster approaching him on a bike wielding a samurai sword, shortly before said sword lopped off his head. Despite what I wrote in my opening line, it’s that feeling of knowing exactly what to expect.

One win is nothing to get excited about..

A home win against Bolton really should not be any cause for particular celebration for Spurs. Admittedly the mismanagement of the last 18 months has meant that the immediate priority is avoiding relegation, but frankly, finishing 17th would represent a woeful season for Spurs.
I am not suggesting that we have a divine right to make the Top Four, or that this will be “our year”, as is trumpeted each August. But at the start of each season, making Europe certainly is a realistic goal. On the back of three successive seasons of European qualification, one strong push for the Champions League and a trophy, European qualification - ie finishing 6/7 and/or winning a trophy - is a reasonable goal for the club.

Is Redknapp the man to achieve this? I’m not yet convinced. He’s definitely the man to lead us out of the relegation scrap, but that’s certainly not all we should be targeting. This season is likely to end in mid-table obscurity and failure to make Europe. Looking ahead however, is Redknapp ever going to get us into Europe, even after starting with the luxury of pre-season and his own transfers? His record overwhelmingly suggests he’s the man to haul a club into mid-table or top-half security, so as a short-term fix this is fine; but there’s far less to suggest he can meet Spurs’ fairly reasonable expectation of regular UEFA cup football.

Last year he won the FA Cup with Pompey, meeting or perhaps exceeding their expectations, and we’ll now see whether he can do the same and better with a club that is bigger in terms of fan-base, history and financial backing. The manner in which he put together a combination of English and foreign talent, youth and experience, at Pompey, bodes well for Spurs.

However, I’m not yet convinced that he’s the man to meet our goals. Aside from the top four, we should be aiming to beat every other team in the division at least once each season. A home win vs Bolton should not be a cause for oarticular celebration. Certainly next season, Redknapp will have to show that he can turn us back into a team that regularly makes the UEFA cup - and then, as under Jol, we can start to dream of bigger and better things.

Can Redknapp drag Spurs back into regular European competition?

Hmmm. Redknapp eh?
Writing prior to kick-off v Bolton - it will get Spurs out of the relegation zone. We’ll have an immediate bounce, and get ourselves mid-table/bottom half. Might even manage a good cup run. ‘Arry will bring in some African muscle, particularly in midfield (Diarra seems a cert in the January window) and will also hopefully restore an English core to the team.
Unlike Ramos, Redknappy knows how to deal with the weekly hurly-burly of the Premiership. Ramos has proved he can cut it on the continent (witness several trophies, and Sevilla’s dismantling of Martin Jol’s Spurs in the uefa cup a couple of years ago) but just didn’t seem to know how to set out a team in the Premiership (witness the weekly changes of personnel and strategy this season, to no avail).
So we’ll avoid relegation, which was an obvious priority - and yet…
I’m not particularly confident that Redknapp can turn us into a regular European outfit, let alone push for Champs Lge qualification. No-one has a right to this, and Spurs’ fairly illustrious history, sizeable fanbase and huge financial backing has undoubtedly exaggerated expectations amongst deluded fans, including yours truly. However, with some justification Spurs fans now realistically target European qualification - in recent years we’ve had three consecutive seasons in Europe, challenged the top four and won a cup - so of course our target is now European qualification. Not so long ago we had a great platform in place to achieve this again, and challenge for greater things. The last 12 months has undone a lot of good work, and necessitated relegation avoidance as the immediate priority, but the broader aim of this club has to be European qualification. Redknapp’s history of achieving survival at his former clubs makes me wonder whether he is what we need to meet our realistic target.
I realise this completely ignores the very pertinent question of who else could possibly have been a more suitable replacement for Ramos. I also realise that he has just won the FA Cup and reached Europe with a Portsmouth team which only a couple of years ago would have settled for 17th in the Prem. As such Redknapp has my backing, and he will no doubt have the full backing of the Spurs fans (who to their credit did not turn on manager or players in recent weeks, but continued to encourage) and the chairman.
Nb - credit to Levy for having the courage to swallow his pride, admit his mistake, shell out the 10 mil compensation and make a change before it’s too late.

This badboy was also published on the letters page of football365.com: http://www.football365.com/mailbox/story/0,17033,8744_4408266,00.html

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