A criticism often levelled at Spurs (and indeed England) fans is that life is always either a triumph or a crisis, without any middle ground or hint of perspective. It takes an impressive strength of character to accept criticism, and luckily I possess such humility in abundance (modesty is one of my many attributes). Therefore I can detect an element of truth in this charge. Indeed, I suspect that most Spurs fans would appreciate this line of argument. Win, and we’re world-beaters, on course for European qualification and en route towards the Champions League within two years (that’s winning the whole thing, as opposed to just qualifying), whilst playing the vintage brand that would have Jairzinho et al glancing enviously over their shoulders.The alternative to this blistering optimism is doleful, morbid pessimism, of the brand I’ve been perfecting in recent weeks. Lose a couple of games and the only possible solution seems to be wholesale changes. The players – whom we’ve never rated in the first place – aren’t fit to wear the shirt, they don’t care, they’re not good enough. The tactics are wrong, the management is clueless, the best thing for us would be relegation so that we can start from scratch.
Results and performances this season have naturally given us a good excuse to adopt the latter approach and become prophets of doom. Few players are exempt from criticism, second-chances are rare and “perspective” is a curious word from a bygone era, whose meaning no-one really remembers. Hence, despite the fact that Bent is often played in a formation badly suited to his style, he is now subject to rather wildly disproportionate abuse whenever he misses. Elsewhere on the pitch it is conveniently ignored that Hudd requires movement around him to strut his stuff. Instead, following the Burnley and Man Utd losses, queues have been forming of those keen to banish him to the bench or reserves.
I’m amongst the worst culprits here, all too easily and willingly swept up on a wave of short-term sentiment. It could be argued that in this multi-million pound industry there is little scope for the “patience” necessary to allow players to settle, squads to gel, formations to be tinkered with. It could also be argued that the club has had twenty-plus years to get out of the transitional period, so anyone lecturing me about patience ought to have DVDs of the miserable mid-1990s seasons shoved into every available orifice. However, this ignores the fact that, however we got here we are now, again, rebuilding, and the process will take time. And even as I type those words, I pointedly eject them from my mind, to make room for more completely unrealistic, short-term analysis.
In the build-up to the game against Bolton, the scales inevitably tip towards the side of buoyant optimism. Five consecutive away defeats, in all competitions, can be conveniently glossed over, because we have, finally, produced the champagne football of which our players’ CVs suggest they are so capable. It may be six months late, but our push towards European qualification has begun. Having done it once this week, there is no reason why we can’t continue in the same vein on Saturday, and twice a week every week thereafter.
Even Spurs fans claiming to have a sense of perspective will calmly insist on the back of four points from our last two games, and within such a tightly-congested table, that we’ll probably maintain this form and be pushing for the top six by May. What do you mean it was only 45 good minutes out of our last five games? What do you mean it was only Stoke at home? Are you blind, or mad, or a complete footballing imbecile? Was the evidence of that first half not enough to convince you that we are quite patently one of the biggest teams in the country?
The truth, inevitably and rather unglamorously, is somewhere in between. By all accounts the first half versus Stoke was indeed extremely impressive. Replicate this consistently, and we will steadily progress up the table towards the neon lights of the top six – as would any team which regularly played well.
A degree of perspective with regard to the players similarly throws up some rather unspectacular truths. Irrespective of the formation, Darren Bent’s finishing has frequently been hurried and inaccurate. While the limitations of his team-mates have done him no favours, Huddlestone needs to develop other aspects of his game (fitness, off-the-ball movement, tackling) in order to complement his passing ability and fulfil his potential. And so on.
Frankly I feel unclean to ponder Spurs’ situation in such a grounded and sensible way. The All-Action-No-Plot mentality is about the mindless pursuit of glory on the pitch, and the complete absence of perspective from the stands. Therefore, a draw away to Bolton would not be an acceptable step towards stability and security of Premiership status; it would be an opportunity for me to sharpen my knife and lay into Zokora/Bent/Bentley/Ass-Ek/Arry/all of the above (delete as appropriate).
(nb a vastly more reasonable assessment of our current plight, and the lack of perspective at the club, can be found at “The Game is About Glory” – The Core Problem With Spurs?)