All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Assessing Assou-Ekotto – Newcastle 2-1 Spurs

Darn it – having recently mugged l’arse and Liverpool with last-minute goals, we muggers became muggees this afternoon, against the barcodes of Newcastle. Evidently we can feel aggrieved, but these things tend to even themselves out, approximately, over the course of the season, so let’s not be too despondent. It still baffles and grates me that we’re unbeaten against each of the top four this season, and have lost to just about every rubbish (or at least second-rate) team in the division, but that’s football I guess. By all accounts it was a decent perfromance – and upcoming fixtures suggest that we have a great opportunity to go on the sort of run that would lift us well clear of the relegation zone and ensconce us in the top half.

The fall-guy today was left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, apparently glaringly at fault for the first goal. While ‘Arry has steadied the ship and brought out the best in the likes of Modric and Lennon, and even Gomes and Bent,  his faith in BAE has gone largely unnoticed, but nevertheless irks me. My reasons are twofold – numero uno, BAE is mediocre at best; and secondly, we have one Gareth Bale in reserve.

BAE’s mediocrity is spectacular. He is the archetypal “solid”  full-back, where “solid” is a euphemism for “dull and of limited talent” . He rarely ventures beyond the halfway line, let alone up to the oppo area, in the style of the great 21st century attacking full-backs. His entire array of passing seems to comprise solely of whacking the ball down the left flank – and his defending, as evidenced today, hardly elevates him into the pantheon of greats. I like to judge a player according to the teams he would attract if offered for sale – and BAE seems to be in the Fulham/Wigan category.

On top of that, he has an unnervingly blank expression at all times. Admittedly this isn’t the strongest reason to exclude him from the team, but that icy demeanour makes him look like he’s formulating a plan to murder someone – with an axe – and scares the bejeesus out of me. Just made a last-ditch tackle? BAE looks blank. Just dropped a clanger? Looks blank. I suspect that even if he slotted home the Champions League-winning penalty his celebration would consist of a blank look into some distance space, before retrieving the ball and belting it up the left touch-line.

And yet BAE is keeping Gareth Bale out of the team. Indeed, BAE was the only first-teamer rested by ‘Arry during last week’s draw to Spartak, so unfathomably sacrosanct is his place in the team.

If Bale were sold today Aston Villa and Everton would have a look, and possibly even the top four – indeed, we beat Man Utd to his signature 18 months back. Now admittedly Bale has had a slightly shoddy season so far. His defending has never been his forte, reflected in the fact that he plays as often in midfield as at the back, and his distribution has been a tad wayward. However, when on song – as in the first half of last season, before getting injured – he is a potent threat. As a natural, attacking left-footer he offers balance to the midfield, the threat of an early cross, good pace and also chips in with goals. When all else was going wrong in the first four months of last season, he struck me as our best player.

The congested Christmas fixture list is likely to force ‘Arry to chop and change a bit, and I implore young Bale to seize the chance with both hands, and left foot, and cement his place in the team. He may look like he’s yet to evolve fully from our simian cousins, but he has at least previously shown himself to be a quality performer in a Spurs shirt – something I’m not sure could be said of the axe-murdering BAE.

Gilberto – so bad he got sacked… Spurs 2- 2 Spartak Moscow

Imagine playing so badly that immedidately after the game you get sacked by the manager. It’s got to be the game’s biggest indignity, even worse than being a substitute who gets substituted. Gilberto, take a bow. I think it happened to Dave Beasant once, back in the late 80s/early 90s, but last night in his first start under ‘Arry, Gilberto was hauled off at half-time and shown the door at full-time. How badly must he have played?

Not only that, it was the third time in his brief Spurs career that he’s started and been withdrawn at half-time, for performance rather than injury reasons. Now we’re not exactly a club famed for its amazing defenders, so to be taken off at half-time, and then told he’ll never play again – the guy must have been truly rubbish last night.

Bizarrely, Gilberto is Brazilian, which ought, according to the laws of physics, to make him one of the most talented footballers around. No doubt once we get rid of him he’ll be snapped up by some European team and end up with a Champions League winners medal. However, it’s saying something that at a time when ‘Arry is moaning about the size of our squad he’s willing to jettison a player after just 45 minutes…

Bless him, Gilberto’s debacle last night occurred about a year after his debut for Spurs, when he picked up the ball just outside his own area and decided to try and dribble past the entire opposition. He got tackled by the first guy, who promptly scored. At the time I figured that after such a nightmare start things could not get any worse for him. In a sense this was true – strictly speaking they haven’t got worse – but the assumption was that things would actually improve. They haven’t. They’ve remained at a cringe-worthy inept level and Gilberto is still rubbish. He’s only played a handful of times for us, but remains about eighteenth down the pecking order of full-backs, behind the likes of Assou-Ekotto, Gunter and the good ladies of the under-12s.

To be fair to the guy, playing in defence obviously means that bad form results in goals conceded; whereas a striker in bad form doesn’t actually cause a negative goal difference. So while Postiga scored about two goals in 20 or 30, and the clumsy beanpole Razsiak didn’t score once, neither actually caused us to concede goals. Gilberto, on the other hand, and indeed Gomes, can have solid games for 89 mins and still be remembered for making one howler, with little chance of redemption up the other end.

I can’t remember how much he cost, but we seem to have made a bit of a habit of paying well over the odds for defenders who are mediocre at best. Richards for £8 mil a few years back, a good £3 or £4 mil for Rocha, now £8 mil for Corluka – even in the modern age of inflated prices these are all ridiculous. I’d be quite content if Platini, Blatter and all the other crack-pots who run the game insititued a two-tiered payment system for defenders – £20 mil for the best ones, and £1 mil for all the rest. Rio? £20 mil. Cannavaro? £20 mil. Ledley? £20 mil. Assou–Ekotto? £1 mil, tops. Lescott, Carragher, Tal Ben Haim and Gilberto – £1 mil. This would avoid any confusion brought about, and remove the need to sack some foreign defender with a few international caps for whom we’ve paid a shedload but who is actually rubbish. It will never happen, but then once upon a time we thought the same about the back-pass rule…

I can’t make much informed comment about Gilberto’s performance as I had to be content with the radio last night. Even though there are about 200 hundred tv channels available in the UK at the moment, including half a dozen dedicated sports channels, not one was showing the game. Clearly there’s not enough football on telly at the moment. There’s a niche in the market there…

So I don’t really know how Gilberto played, other than that he messed up royally for Spartak’s opener, and got sacked as a result. It’s a form of management that would strike few into a few million of Britain’s laziest in other spheres of employment. Elsewhere on the pitch – well, I don’t know. I couldn’t watch it. Apparently though, the first half was awful, but in the second half the full-backs pushed up and we were much improved. Good to see (ie hear) that Modric has broken his duck for us. Generally relieved to hear that the patched up reserves made it through, particularly from a two-goal deficit. Bring on Shaktar Donetsk in the next round, minus the wretched Gilberto.

Anyone fancy a game? Spurs – Spartak Moscow preview

The build-up to tonight’s game with Spartak reminds me of our office 5-a-side team. We too would reach the day of the game with only four guaranteed players, from an initial pool of several dozen. And so it transpires that Darren Bent can’t play because he has a cold, Ledley and Woodgate are injured, Pav has a prior engagement with his missus, Corluka is helping a mate move into a new flat, Hutton is probably too hungover, Giovanni will no doubt have a deadline looming and can’t get out of the office in time, and as a result ‘Arry is going to have to phone around the players’ mates to try and find a couple of ringers.

As in fact he has already done – step forward Bostock and Parrett. I watched Bostock come off the bench to become our youngest ever player vs Dinamo Zagreb, he seemed to have a decent touch and was left-footed, which is pleasing, but he looks like he should be wearing a hoody and sitting at the back of the bus playing his music out loud. As for this Parrett chap –  I saw a photo of him in the paper and he looks about eight. Maybe the picture is actually 12 years old and he’s really 20, but this still annoys me. I’m not old, but people like him make me feel old. It seems like five minutes ago that I was a teenager, and dreamed of being the young kid thrown off the bench at Spurs. Admittedly I couldn’t even make the school starting XI, but still, I dreamt that dream because I was young enough. It was about the same era that Southgate and Ince were playing rather than managing.

And now? Now Southgate is a manager, Ince has just been sacked from his third managerial post and some damn eight year-old who hasn’t started shaving is going to play for Spurs tonight. How can someone born in the 90s be a better footballer than I am? How can someone still at school be better than I am? I’ve got over ten years on these kids – surely I must be fitter, and stronger, if not necessarily faster? Go back to Pokemon and recorder concerts Parrett, leave the football to grown men. That kid is going to get a right kicking tonight. I’d kick him if I were playing – even if I were his team-mate – just because no-one ought to be a better footballer than me if they’re not old enough to remember Thundercats. There’s a natural order of things here, sonny. Still, as long as Ryan Giggs continues to play, I’ll always feel young. He represents a whole era – my era. Don’t you ever dare to retire, Giggsy.

We only need a point to progress tonight. Fingers crossed for Bostock, Parrett and the rest of the High School Musical cast.

Time waits for no manager – Ince gets muscled off the ball

I feel a little sorry for Paul Ince. Admittedly the multi-millionaire side of things will probably soften the blow for him, but the guy was a legend for England, and the sort of midfielder I yearned for Spurs to buy. When England were at one of their best periods (Euro 96, le Tournoi 97, France 98) he was at the hub of it.

Still, there’s no escaping the fact that Blackburn were in freefall, and weren’t about to improve under him. It’s all very well to hear ex-pros say he should have been given more time – I think the Blackburn faithful would beg to differ. More time would have seen them exit the league. As Wendy Ramos – and indeed the wondrous Martin Jol – found out, time is a commodity a Premiership manager simply does not have. The Premiership doesn’t work like that. There’s so much money flying around that relegation is an absolute disaster – as is failure to qualify for the Champs League, if the team is that way inclined. This is no secret, so Ince really ought not to use that as an excuse. No Prem manager ought to – if he’s so dense that he thinks that his club will wait to be relegated, just to suit his personal career prospects, he ought not to have been hired in the first place. 

Time waits for no manager, but Heurelho Gomes might just have been saved by it. With no transfers until Jan, and no obvious replacement in goal, Gomes has had the chance to redeem himself and restore his reputation, and he’s fairly literally grabbed it with both hands. He’s certainly turned in some top-notch performances – his ability to pull off the spectacular saves has never really been in doubt, and he now looks a lot more assured coming for crosses, even if he does annoyingly tend to punch every time. However, it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to convince ‘Arry to stick with him until the season’s end.  Bless him, I fear that Gomes could have another 29 consecutive faultless games, but if number 30 features another clanger that’ll be the one we all remember. Call it David James syndrome.

Woodgate does his Anderton impression: Spurs 0 – 0 Man Utd

Good grief, what a productive week. West Ham away and Man Utd at home could quite conceivably have ended in nul points (and would almost certainly have done so under Wendy Ramos). Admittedly the second half vs Man Utd increasingly became a backs-to-the-wall effort, but we did create some chances, and a clean sheet against the European champions, with an attack of Berba, Ronaldo and Tevez, is no mean feat.

 

That feat becomes even less mean when it is remembered that we began without King, and lost Woodgate to the most innocuous looking injury early on. We’ve been rather spoiled by an injury-free year for Woodgate, but the manner in which he picked up his “knock” – with no-one around him – was rather worrying, and memories of the original, definitive “Sicknote” came flooding back. Whereas Sir Les would get injured every week because he’d get concussion from nutting someone’s right boot, Anderton just didn’t seem to be built for football, and his weedy little legs rarely took the strain. His sinewy frame and gaunt face gave the impression of a man built of elastic bands tied around twigs – with the result that if he strained too hard he would snap. It had slipped my mind until Saturday, but Woodgate’s history suggests that he is similarly constructed. Hence, in the finest tradition of Anderton he incurred an injury seemingly just by landing, after jumping a foot in the air, and off he went, clutching his back and grimacing, like a grandfather who’d overdone it a wedding disco.

 

The resulting ad hoc back-four of Zokora, Assou-Ekotto, Corluka and Dawson hardly instilled me with confidence at first glance, but my goodness they did well. A lot of Dawson’s recovery tackles may come about because he erred in the first place, but he still made those recovery tackles in fine style. Zokora I single out for particular place, not only because he was thrust into unknown territory at left-back, but also because he was up against the newly-crowned Ballon D’Or winner, Little Miss Ronaldo. Perhaps, with his pace and penchant for an occasional 80-yard run, right-back could become a more regular spot for Zokora, in the absence of so many other options. Assou-Ekotto had his usual perfunctory, unspectacular game, although rather more eye-catching this time on account of his new hairstyle, which looked a bit like the grid from that board game “Battleships”. Gomes was quality. I’ve been one of his biggest critics, but the lad had a blinder – the spectacular leaping saves obviously catch the eye, but I was most relieved/impressed by the fact that he didn’t fail to connect when coming for corners. Bravo, sir.

 

Elsewhere on the pitch… Modric continues to look like he’s adapting to the English game with every passing match. Thudd performed an impromptu castration upon poor old Pavluychenko, which prevented what might have been a cracking goal (has Thudd ever scored any other sort of goal?) Bentley still looks like a flashy boyband member who has yet to prove he can walk the walk. However, his early long-range volley was a further indication of the renewed confidence that ‘Arry seems to have instilled in the team.

 

So positives aplenty, but all the jolliness is rather tempered by a glance at the league table, which shows that we’re still only a point above the relegation zone. This despite an unbeaten record against the top four this season* which makes all the more infuriating our losses to Stoke, Boro, Sunderland etc. The top half of the table remains tantalisingly close, but we will require a string of wins, rather than the win one, draw one, lose one cycle we seem to have adopted. The Prem takes a back seat for a few days as Spartak Moscow are next up, which at this rate is likely to see me make my debut in defence. Point needed to progress, I feel confident.

 

* = Pedantry alert – I’m aware that Villa are actually fourth at the moment, but for all intents and purposes I’m shoving l’arse into that little group.

Berba the pantomime villain: Spurs – Man Utd preview

So it looks like Berba is chickening out of a return to the Lane tomorrow, the big girl’s blouse. There is also some talk of Carrick possibly missing out through injury, although I suspect he’d be due less vitriol than the Bulgarian swine. Loyalty means nothing to players, nothing new there, but everyone loves a pantomime villain, especially at Christmas, and should Berba play he can expect to be roundly booed for the manner in which he upped and left. Of sulky demeanour at the best of times, his departure was conducted in such a surly manner he didn’t even bother to make the usual polite utterances about how grateful he was for the opportunity and support at Spurs etc. There’s probably a sense in which his honesty is refreshing, but I missed it in the midst of my indignation that anyone would dare to leave the amphitheatre of N17, or that, contrary to the song, there is actually another team around which is by far the greatest the world has ever seen.

 

Some players will always be warmly received at the Lane – Waddler, Ginola, Klinsmann et al. Guys, mi casa su casa. The criteria are pretty straightforward – play the sort of champagne football that the Lane regulars love, show that you care for the badge and, possibly above all else, don’t leave acrimoniously. Getting shunted out by an unscrupulous chairman/manager tends to assist the returning player in the popularity stakes.

 

By contrast, declaring that you’d rather leave Spurs and join some other lot, who have handily become the club you supported as a boy, will grant you the sort of treatment that even Emmanuel Eboue would consider a tad harsh. And leaving to join l’arse on a free, after you’ve been club captain for years – well, suffice it say that ten years on and that’s now become a matter for the polizei to investigate.

 

With Rooney and possibly Evra also missing from the Man Utd line-up tomorrow, and our bizarrely impressive record against the top-four so far this season, there may even be grounds for optimism ahead of the game. I think we’ll get stuff myself, but personally I’d rather lose this one and win the Carling Cup final against them.

The Curious Incident of Juande Ramos…

This Juande Ramos affair just becomes increasingly surreal. There always was an air of mystery about him and his band of merry man – primarily because they all seemed to be mute – but this was compounded by the arrival of new faces and ever-changing tactics; followed by his reappearance at Real Madrid of all places; and now the press reports that he’s eyeing up Dider Zokora of all people! What the hell is going on? With the increasing number of loose ends, bizarre sub-plots and unanswered questions this is beginning to resemble one of those ultra-complicated episodes of The X-Files, which finishes without resolving anything, leaving you mildly irritated and wanting to kick the television (or in this case Damien Comoli).

 

I don’t particularly want to re-open the debate of whether or not he should have been sacked etc. There are strong cases to be made for both sides of the argument. On one hand he steered us out of relegation trouble last year, demolished l’arse and then won the Carling Cup, with some shrewd tactical moves during the final vs Chelski, whilst generally maintaining an attractive style. Given time he would probably (maybe) have settled down, created a team he liked and made us Uefa cup regulars. On the other hand, he let the players give up the season after the Carling Cup final, was to some extent responsible for a dubious summer transfer strategy, was unable to settle upon formation or personnel after the best part of a year in charge and oversaw our worst start to a league campaign since woolly mammoths roamed the earth. Nor could he be bothered to learn the language after a year, not even to the comical-but-endearing extent of Claudio Ranieri/Phil Scolari. I’ve even heard it suggested that his success in Spain was due more to the Director of Football he had in place at Sevilla. Who knows?

 

Instead, I watch his career from a distance, with respect and a certain degree of bewilderment. Did he really think that Modric, a man who weighs less than his own shadow, was right for the midfield holding role? Does he really rate Zokora as the best player at the Lane? Has he really ended up at the biggest club in the world?

 

I suspect that even the most restrained Spurs fans, and indeed English football fans, would have raised an eyebrow at that, but if you tilt your head to one side and squint a bit, it does make some sense. It’s mutually beneficial – once Real decided to sack Schuster they needed a fairly safe pair of hands just to see them through to the end of the season, while for Ramos himself it’s a pay-day a useful CV point after the Spurs debacle, with not much to lose and something to gain. If it works the contract could be extended, if not there’s no commitment beyond the end of the season. Think Joe Kinnear with paella.

 

In a parallel universe maybe it all made perfect sense, and the Carling Cup win simply catalysed bigger and better things for the club with Juande in charge. Here and now however, I feel drunk just thinking about it. Good luck to the man, but roll on Man Utd under ‘Arry.

King reigns, Modric arrives: West Ham 0-2 Spurs

A bunch of positives from last night – a clean-sheet; cracking double-save from the much-maligned Gomes at 1-0, that was worth a goal (although a draw would have been harsh on us); little Lennon’s final ball matching the quality of his initial scampering; and the sight of the team generally bossing the game for much of the second-half. Personally though I was most chuffed with our little midfield fairy Lucy Modric.

 

Some context first – he was hardly Pele out there last night. In the first half in particular his tendency to drift wide and stay there left poor old Pavluychenko trudging around the penalty area with no white-shirts anywhere near him and only that nasty Lucas Neill for company. However, even in the first 45 Modric started to look like the flashy Hollywood midfielder we’d all heard about over the summer. A couple of neat step-overs, some twinkle-toed dribbles and the odd cheeky nutmeg – he suddenly appeared to fancy English football, and to believe that he really was a better player than Parker, Behrani et al. Then, for 20 or 30 mins in the second half, we began to dominate the game and Modric seemed to be at the hub of most things good. While maintaining a fairly central position he made himself available for a pass, and regularly took the opportunity to swagger towards goal and pull a few strings. It would be stretching it to say he bossed the game, but for the first time since arriving he seemed to enjoy conducting things, and occasionally he delivered the end product of a pleasingly incisive through-ball (we Lane regulars like that sort of thing). Finally it seems, Modric could be finding his feet in this Tottenham team.

 

Bless him, he still seems to be made of talcum powder and string. A gentle nudge doesn’t just knock him off balance, it sends him hurtling about ten feet across the pitch. At times it seemed he was sent tumbling by a gentle breeze in the East End night, or the blast of air carrying from the ref’s whistle. More cunning teams will work out not to give him too much time on the ball, and instead just kick, as he’s liable to snap, but cunning didn’t appear to be the West Ham way last night. Admittedly there was not much to which it can be compared, but I’d say Modric’s performance last night was possibly his best in a Tottenham shirt, which bodes rather well – I particularly look forward to seeing him dominate some Uefa cup games, where he has more time on the ball

 

Elsewhere on the Pitch…

 

Modric looked the sort of player that Bentley would love to become – ie a class above and he knows it. Bentley still doesn’t look entirely comfortable. It’s as if the whole business of getting stuck in on the pitch is a rather irritating distraction from living out his dream of living the celeb lifestyle in London.

 

Elsewhere, Assou-Ekotto continued to amble around in auto-pilot with that curious, expressionless stare of the undead, before doing his best to concede a penalty (relax Hammers fans – yes it was a pen, but we should have had a blatant one at the other end).

 

Corluka looked like a big lumbering bear, with little pace, and generally preferring to exercise pragmatism over guile whenever in possession.

 

Zokora did a decent job defensively, but conceded possession too often in the first half when going forward. Almost got his goal in the second half, mind.

 

And good old Ledley capped a solid display with a goal he can now drink to, stumble to and get in a fight at Faces to. His goal celebrations looked surprisingly sedate for a man whose celebrations were so heart-warmingly captured by the tabloids earlier this year.

 

First half we were as sloppy as I’d expected we’d be, second half we were much improved, a really impressive, controlled and inventive performance. Also nice to see us (generally) sensibly play the game out in the last few mins, just keeping possession, aside from the needless concession of a couple of free-kicks. But even those had a silver lining, as Gomes was able to enjoy his moment in the sun. Take a bow lads.

Cliches and Aaron Lennon’s leggings – West Ham-Spurs preview

I’m not a fan of footballing clichés – my dislike of them was suitably exacerbated when l’arse went and signed one (with a girl’s name) – so if you’re similarly riled by them perhaps briefly avert your eyes at this juncture: I’d rather have points in the bag than a game in hand.  However, the fixture-gods (ie the tv money-men) have decreed in their wisdom that this weekend we sat at home and twiddled our thumbs, waiting until Monday night while everyone else notched up another point or three on the Saturday and Sunday. Thus we go into tonight’s game at West Ham just one point above the drop zone. While it would be a bit dramatic to say that there is daylight between the mid-table gang and our humble selves, the three-point gap (from us in 17th to West Ham and Man City in 15th and 14th) could start to stretch if we get nothing from our game in hand tonight, especially as we’ve got Man Utd next up…

The possible return to fitness of the waif-like Modric could prove timely, as he would allow us to revert to a five-man midfield, whilst also providing a bit of craft and guile in the final third. Even if Modric isn’t fit, the return to the team of Jenas will add some energy to the midfield – and will also handily give the travelling Spurs support someone at whom to vent their spleen if things aren’t going well (http://www.allactionnoplot.com/?p=71). West Ham’s recent win at Sunderland was their first Premiership victory in ages, and while the draw at Anfield last week was also an impressive result, they’re hardly in red-hot form. They certainly look beatable – but then I think that of most teams we face… We for our part have looked sloppy recently, but I’d hope that the derby atmosphere and evening kick-off will be sufficient to impress upon the players the need for some urgency. Won’t make a prediction – the Premiership is far too tight and inconsistent this season to be laying money down – other than that Aaron Lennon will wear gloves and possibly even those dubious legging things, the big girl’s blouse…

 

 

New kit unveiled for All Action No Plot

The more eagle-eyed of you may have noticed that All-Action-No-Plot looks a tad different. Unfortunately the early indications are that as new kits go this isn’t really in the league of that cracking ’91 Cup Final Umbro effort. In a desperate attempt to justify it I’ll claim that this shiny-new-yet-bland page now resembles our 125th anniversary home kit from last season – plain white, traditional and by no means a cynical money-making ploy, honest. Plus, that kit eventually won a trophy, so who knows where this site might one day go…? Fear ye not though, these lilywhite pages will continue to burst at the seams with copious amounts of action, whilst containing not even the merest traces of plot…

All Action, No Plot © 2008. Theme Squared created by Rodrigo Ghedin.