All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Are Wenger’s latest kids really so special?

Christmas approacheth. Lights are being lit in shopping centres, adverts are being aired on broadcasting stations and pundits are getting over-excited by the performance of Arsene Wenger’s latest crop of youngsters in the Carling Cup – all sure signs of the imminent commemoration of the birth of our Lord. So how good are l’Arse’s latest crop of young gunners? I’d better make clear right now – I haven’t seen them in action (I hate that lot, why would I see them?), so this isn’t really a debate about their quality. I caught the goals in their 3-0 win over Wigan, as I did their 6-0 win over Sheff Utd in the previous round. Well done, very pretty, not particularly impressed. Casting my mind back a few years, Arsene’s kids are regularly trotted out in domestic cup competitions, invariably destroying lesser-rate opponents, but they came a cropper (4-0) vs Man Utd in the FA Cup, and were rather gloriously destroyed 5-1 by my lot in the Carling Cup. Furthermore, lest anyone has forgotten, the 6-0 demolition of Sheff Utd earlier this season was promptly followed by a defeat at home to Hull, or someone similarly nondescript, three days later.

However, there are many (not least the whinger-in-chief himself) who insist that this year’s crop really is something special. I suspect that that Vela character is indeed a bit of a talent, as he’s had the odd cameo in the Premiership, with some degree of success. I’ve also heard particularly good things about Wilshere, and as he is an Englishman with a left foot, there is a sense in which I temper my innate hatred of l’Arse, and watch his career with interest. There may well be a couple of others who make it at the other lot, one or two who go on to the international stage. On the whole however, I’m happy to laugh cynically in the face of all those bleating about what a golden generation this is. Yes, admittedly a sizeable proportion of such guffawing can be attributed to my white-hot anti-l’arse bias – I can admit that my perspective on the red half of north London might occasionally be influenced by two decades of bile and hatred.

However, more broadly, it seems to be a footballing fact, quite possibly supported by the law of averages, that of the plethora of teenagers who debut amidst a blaze of optimistic publicity at a given club, only one or two, if any, go on to establish themselves at that club or a better one. Inevitably, the media fanfare which accompanies the entrance of said youths onto the scene includes the phrases “precocious”, “wonder-kid” and “the boy’s got a big future ahead of him”. But look more closely, my action-indulging chum, and you shall see also phrases synonymous with “shows great potential”, “one for the future” “destined for great things”. And there’s the rub. It’s not sufficient for these whippersnappers simply to break into the first team at 16 or 17. Andy Turner did that at Spurs. (To answer your question – exactly). They need not only to make an instant impact, they need then to progress and improve. Fabregas did it. Rooney did it (although some even dare to question whether, really, he has improved that much, the heretics). But for every Fabregas who made it at 16, nailed his place in the team and carried on improving, there are a bucketload who had their 15 mins of under-age precocity and disappeared into the footballing equivalent of that flat glass thing which whisked away the baddies in Superman II. If a player is at the same level at 22 as he was at 16, or even the same at 26 as he was at 21, he’s not really going to make it. I’m thinking of Caskey, Turner, Austin, Edinburgh, Marney, Gardner, Davies and Etherington – all apparently “wonderkids” from Spurs teams gone by. I fear Lennon is going the same way, as is, less depressingly, Jamie “three-touch” O’Hara. They might make it as good honest pros, maybe even win a medal and a handful of international caps along their journeymen careers. But the hype surrounding Wenger’s latest hoarde of ear-studded, excessively-gelled and already cliché-spouting kids would have you believe that a fair number of them will rise to the very heights of the game. I make no attempt to disguise my scepticism.

A cracking, all-action performance! Spurs 4-2 Liverpool

Well who’d have thunk it? Six games, five wins, eighteen goals – and last night’s performance owed nothing to luck! It was a cracking performance! With the games coming thick and fast, and goals flying in like they’re going out of fashion, this really is all action and no plot.

Okay, okay, let’s get the smallprint out of the way – it was Liverpool’s reserve team and they were woeful, no shape or fluidity, no passion (at least for the first hour) and no big names bar Torres. However, we were ourselves without the core of our team, in King, Woodgate, Jenas, Bentley, Modric and Bent. Got that?

The midfield in particular was superb – regular all-action-no-plotters will be well aware of Spurs’ inherent uselessness when it comes to working hard off the ball. This isn’t anything to do with individual players, it’s part of the fabric of the club, written into every playing contract as one of the things that defines Tottenham Hotspur FC, and one of the lesser known laws of physics. Pretty in possession, but with a defensive core made of jelly. Last night however, Zokora played like a man possessed! And in the positive sense, rather than foaming at the mouth and speaking in tongues! O’ Hara got stuck in, so I’ll forgive him his woeful first touch, while Lennon scampered about like a 5 year-old who’d had too much Fanta, and Campbell’s work-rate was also impressive. Torres wasn’t given a sniff in the area, consistently hassled by grown men in tight white shirts and hooped stockings. In any other forum he’d have called the polizei.

However, ’twas The Incredible Hudd who really caught my eye, evoking misty-eyed memories of Carrick in his pomp. Delightful, incisive short passes, mixed with the odd, Hollywood 40-yarder. That ability to look up before receiving the ball, and thus knowing to whom he’d pass once he’d received it, without having to pause, control, look up, take a touch, stop, look, listen, think etc. (O’ Hara take note). I shall cherish it, for it shall only happen but once a month, but a good performance from Huddlestone really is a joy to behold for the purist. His passing range is right out of the Spurs manual (as is his allergy to tackling). A true Tottenham boy.

And for a true all-action-no-plot look no further than our all-action attacking performance last night. Fantastic short diagonal passes into space behind defenders on the flanks, as well as good support from the full-backs, excellent movement (admittedly sullied by some pretty poor crossing from Lennon), a shedload of chances and a glut of goals. That’s the Tottenham way. Was particularly impressed by the partnership of Campbell and Pavluychenko, given the common adage that two similar strikers can’t play together.

And Gomes. Blot on the Tottenham escutcheon. Every time he and his huge conk and satellite-sized ears come into shot on tv, I panic. A couple of weeks ago I asked on these pages at what point does a goalkeeper go from inconsistent to a liability? The guy can’t catch a cold. Liverpool barely touched the ball, yet scored twice straight from corners that my one year-old nephew could have plucked out of the sky. Was anyone else secretly pleased when he got lamped and had to be stretchered off? (Relax – he’s fine. The fuss-pot didn’t even go to hospital, the medical verdict was that he got a “blow on the face”. Wuss.)

Re-appearance of an angry ex

Uh-oh. Liverpool at home tonight. Again. After what happened last time, they are going to be pretty darned angry…

Just 10 days ago they came to our place in a Premiership game, the only unbeaten team in the country and sitting pretty at the top of the table – while we were bottom. They completely outplayed us from start to finish (a boxing ref would have ended it well before time) but we rode our luck and beat them in the last minute. For having the temerity to do so, I fear we might get spanked tonight. Well, for having the temerity and also for not being half as good as them.

We’ve ridden our luck since Harry took over, somehow winning four and drawing one, showing flashes of genius and bundles of confidence going forward – but still having all the fight and spine of a Care Bear. Who has just had his/her spine ripped out. Ideally I’d like us to face a few more of the weaker teams, to gain confidence, continue the good form, continue building momentum. The last team I want to face is Liverpool, reappearing like an angry ex-girlfriend just ten days on, with vengeance on her mind and a chainsaw in hand. We can plead all we want that it was unintentional, it was an accident, she really is superior to us in every way and we wouldn’t dream of doing it again – but to no avail. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn’d. We took her out, misled her and wronged her. Now, as flies to wanton boys are we Spurs fans to the footballing gods, who have decreed that the angry ex is forced back onto our doorstep before the dust has had a chance to settle, and before she’s found anyway else to assuage the indignity of it all. She won’t rest until she’s humiliated us, in front of our nearest and dearest, and live on Sky Sports. I don’t care if she’s resting Gerrard and Keane, she’s still got Torres. This could get messy.

Winning the Tottenham way: Man City 1 – 2 Spurs

That’s more like it. 2-1 up, with 20 mins to go, against a team reduced to nine men? Sew up the game and put the oppo out of sight? Do it the easy way? Tottenham? No chance.

After the 4-0 romp a couple of days ago, I felt a tad discombobulated. Wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Needed to sit down. Needed a stiff drink. I asked people not to confuse me with polysyllabic words – after all, I’d just seen my lot destroy a team and offer them not a sniff, at any stage. Forget that Obama chap – a clinical 4-0 win for Spurs was change like we’d never even dreamt of, seismic change that could create global chaos, raising a hind leg and peeing all over the centuries-old laws of physics, whilst chewing up and spitting out common sense for good measure.

But this was more like the Spurs I know. Rather than play keep-ball, toy with the oppo, score a simple third and silence the home crowd, we won it the Tottenham way. That is to say we sat back, got nowhere near their goal, invited pressure upon ourselves, let the oppo build a head of steam, let their players believe they could salvage something, gave their supporters plenty to roar about and then, just to ensure that no-one would get any silly ideas about a comfortable victory, we contrived to have one of our own players sent off with 5 mins remaining, making it 9 against 10.

I had to listen to the game rather than watch it, but my mind’s eye – well-trained on weekly drills since the 1987 FA Cup final – served me impeccably. Ah, if I close my eyes I can see it unfold again. I can see our central midfield trio deciding, ineffably but with perfect synchronisation, to slow down to an amble. Put in a tackle? You’re having a laugh! Why fight for possession when you can run around in circles, loosely following the direction of the ball a couple of seconds after it has moved on? Why gallop when you can lollop? Yes, I can see Jenas, Zokora and Huddlestone losing the 50-50 challenges. I can see mis-hit clearances and ricochets in our own penalty area. I can see players consider blasting the ball into orbit just to clear the danger, then remembering the crest on their shirt, the tradition to uphold, the Tottenham way – and deciding instead to shin the ball some seven or eight yards to the nearest Man City player, ready for the next barrage to arrive.

So, with heart-rates raised to indecent levels, nerves frayed and fingernails dentally assaulted, we collected the three points. It’s a third consecutive league game in which Lady Luck has intervened to get us out of jail – by all acounts, when it had been 11 vs 11 today we were second-best (and went one-nil down). As such the jury, chez Lacquiere, remains out on ‘Arry, but I’m quite satisfied to sit here and smugly write about another win. Lucky or not, it’s strangely gratifying to know that having had the oppo on the ropes, we didn’t win it clinically. Instead, we won it the Tottenham way.

"Just f*****g run about" – Harry Redknapp, tactical genius

Man City away will be a good test of how far we’ve come in the five minutes or so since ‘Arry took over. Amidst the hype it’s been easy to get carried away by results, rather than analyse performances which have been decent (and lucky) rather than exceptional.

The win at home to Bolton was a decent result, particularly given what had preceded it, but can hardly be attributed to the new boss’s tactical nous, given that he took charge at half-time. The draw vs l’Arse was fun but lucky, ditto the win vs Liverpool. Zagreb was undeniably a strong performance, but the limitations of the oppo ought to be taken into account. So Man City away should prove a handy gauge. Away from home to a decent team, with some fantastic individuals, who aren’t having the greatest run of form – we should be looking for at least a draw.

As ever, happy to back ‘Arry, but not yet convinced of his tactical expertise. In particular, his instruction to Pavlyuchenko to “just f******g run about” at half-time vs Liverpool, while a nice soundbite from that loveable cockney rogue (helping to banish the memories of his surly foreign predecessor, who had the temerity to conduct his press conferences through an interpreter – wot a disgrace) hardly merits a £1.5 million salary, or whatever it is. It’s obviously still early days – won’t really be able to judge him until he’s had a full season, or calendar year at least – but after the drama of a North London derby and the visit of the league leaders, a trip to Eastlands will, for me, provide the first true test of our quality and ambitions for the season.

Mental Croats at The Lane: Spurs 4-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Confused.com over here. I have to admit that in all my years I’ve never been to a comfy 4-0 win against a second-rate team, and frankly, at The Lane last night I just didn’t know how to react. Admittedly I’ve only been to dozens rather than hundreds of games, but this was easily the biggest win I’ve seen. It’s different on tv, you have more opportunity for animated discussion with the unfortunate souls who have ended up around you. And no doubt it’s different in the stadium when you’re handing out a thrashing in a massive game, against half-decent opposition (I’m thinking 5-1 vs l’Arse, in case you hadn’t clocked). But 4-0 against some impotent Croats? If I tell you that Zokora and Huddlestone bossed the game you no doubt get the idea, Spurs aficionados that you are. (Nutshell summary of the salient points: Bent’s on form; Hutton and Bale were strangely below-par; foreign teams don’t realise that Lennon is one-footed; Modric again looked alright in the hole; nice to see a debut for wunder-kid Bostock, our youngest ever player, he seems to have a good touch)

Cruising at 2-0 after half an hour, without having to break sweat, there was only one thing for it – some good old-fashioned needle and jingoism between the sets of fans. Admittedly the language barrier threatened to douse the hostilities (for all we knew they might have been chanting tactical advice at their coach, or complimenting us on our shiny blue seats). However, that didn’t stop several thousand middle-aged men from Norf Landaaan reminding them of our nationality, chastising the quality of their support and offering hypotheses regarding their sexual preferences, in between the regular reminders of our own team’s identity. Credit to the Zagreb fans though – they just didn’t stop throughout the 90 mins. No doubt they’d made a day of it in London, and were probably fairly well-sauced by kick-off, but I do enjoy the slightly different, utterly enthusiastic and frankly mental atmosphere created by the away fans on these Uefa Cup nights, when they bring along songs we’ve never heard in languages we don’t understand. By setting off flares, although breaking stadium rules and causing panic for the stewards, the fans injected into the arena the sort of electricity that was beyond their players. By removing their shirts at three or four nil down they confirmed that they were enjoying their night out, irrespective of the imposters on the pitch masquerading as the Croatian league-leaders.

The pièce de résistance however, came as full-time approached. By that time we were in olé mode for each pass, and had lost the will to scream obscenities at our Croatian guests. Instead, in a surreal moment of mutual pacifism that conjures memories of the 1914 Christmas Truce, we joined in with their songs. To hell with the language barrier, the “clap-clap-clap-clap… MAD DANCE” number didn’t require words. That one lasted, again and again, for the last 5 mins of the game and a fair while in the stadium thereafter. I jest ye not, it was the sort of bizarre international camaraderie that Ban Ki-moon would kick his own granny to achieve. Do check it out on youtube or whatever (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIT1f5Syd2A). For my part, while enjoying the mad Croats, I remained confused. We don’t win comfortably, it’s not the Tottenham way. We make heavy work of it, whoever the oppo and whatever the occasion. A 4-0 stroll just leaves me baffled. Confused.com.

The games played by Wenger, Ferguson and East 17

Within the last 24 hours there have been bizarre rants from both Wenger and Ferguson, seemingly unprovoked, angry digs at imaginary deviants who have been laying into their innocent, virtuous, maltreated players. No-one takes these seriously, and the few who can be bothered to react do so by laughing at their blinkeredness (nb, surely there’s a better word?).

I guess I’ll never know with certainty what they’re thinking, but I’m pretty convinced that this – and indeed, every absurd whinge they’ve had over the past decade and more – is all part of a masterplan. As with East 17’s finest numbers, I trust that they’re not taking themselves seriously, and that what ostensibly appears to be sheer lunacy (ski hats as tall as top hats?) is just an ironic façade, designed to elicit mild hysteria amongst gormless punters who will take the bait and plaster them over the newspapers. Behind closed doors, I’m convinced that Arsene, Sir Alex and East 17 are all sniggering to themselves, whilst giving themselves pats on the back for the straight-faced manner in which they repeatedly deliver these performances.

In the cases of both Wenger and Ferguson, I can only presume that the repeated refusals to accept publicly that their own team and players are to blame for any setbacks are part of their winning mentality. In football it seems that nice guys come last. Wenger and Ferguson only want to win, and that typically means engendering a them-against-us mentality, attempting to pressurise officials and shielding their players from any external negativity. Within the privacy of the dressing-room I doubt that Wenger shrugged off the defeat against Stoke by advising his players that the naughty ruffians were being nasty. He probably went mad at them. Ferguson has probably had stern words with Rooney and possibly given him a slap just to reinforce the point that he’d damn well better not lose it with the refs any more. But in public, they trot out their whinges and rants, deflecting attention from the shortcomings of the players, all in the name of winning, winning, winning.

Mind you, if this isn’t the case, and Wenger, Ferguson and East 17 truly believe in the balderdash they spout, then I despair.

Violating Lady Luck – Spurs 2- 1 Liverpool

“You know, I’m starting to think that the 4-4 draw with Arsenal was two points lost…” – Lac, Sunday 2 November, 4.20am.

Ok, so maybe at that point I was started to get a bit carried away, but can you blame me? It’s worth remembering that only seven days ago we were in freefall – eight games, two points, bottom of the league. However, seven days, seven points, two big nights on the lash and not much sleep later, and in the early hours of this morning I finally started to get carried away.

However, as a Spurs fan it is in my essence to be pessimistic – so here’s the bad news.

Against l’arse, and far more so yesterday against Liverpool, we were completely outplayed. Never more so than in the Alamo-style siege of our goal in the ten minutes after half-time yesterday. How on earth we escaped from that with only a one-goal deficit I’m not sure. (The barrage also neatly encapsulated in a microcosm the best and worst of Gomes – outstanding in his acrobatic finger-tip save of Gerrard’s deflected shot, and plain mad in his back-pass that allowed Gerrard another chance just moments later.)

However, once that barrage had ended, I and several sage souls knowingly agreed that Spurs were likly to nick something from the game. As with l’arse three days earlier, any team that completely dominates Spurs, running rings around us and creating several billion chances, but failing to put ball in net, is asking for trouble. Having survived three woodwork interventions we then continued to violate Lady Luck by benefiting from an own goal (Carragher’s third for us in his career!) before stealing it at the death. There will be days when we outplay teams and don’t get the win we feel we deserve, so I’ll happily take this.

I’m still not convinced about this “fighting spirit, never-say-die” mantra the press are bleating on about. All the spirit in the world wouldn’t have saved us had l’arse and L’pool screwed in their shooting studs. We’ve amassed four points from these games primarily because of lucky breaks. However, unlike most teams who find themselves in the relegation zone, we do also have bundles of talent. A core made of marshmellow, but some exceptionally skilful players. Modric, while not yet bossing games, is beginning to show glimpses of class. Bentley’s confidence is providng an outlet for his inventiveness. THud’s eye for a defence-splitting pass is beginning to emerge. Lennon’s trickery and pace is beginning to open up oppo defences. Bent and Pav are scoring. What the two most recent games tell me is that we’re not in the same class as the top four. However, should we be lucky enough to remain within sight of such teams after they’ve had their spells of dominance, we have enough skilled players in our ranks to score goals, whoever the opposition. And with our talented players beginning to show confidence in their abilities, I expect that we’ll certainly turn over a few of the Premiership’s lesser teams in the next few months.

An abridged version of this badboy was also posted on the letters page of football365.com:
http://www.football365.com/mailbox/story/0,17033,8744_4448091,00.html

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