Well if we continue to display that peculiar trend for producing performances directly correlating to the qualitiy of the opposition, we’ll have a ruddy good chance. Draws against Chelski, l’Arse twice, Liverpool and Man Utd themselves suggest that we’ve got it in us, somewhere.On paper, by the form-book and according to the general laws of physics that keep life ticking over across the planet, we really ought to get thrashed on Sunday. European (and, for what it’s worth, World) champions, and runaway league leaders; against our lot, who apparently only had two points when ‘Arry took over. And that’s as much negativity as you’ll prise out of me this time. The spirit of blithe optimism which has been at me like a fever all week is set to last until about 2.59 on Sunday, at which point, as is customary, frantic agitation shall make itself at home within my skinny frame.
On the team news front, we’re without Cudicini, Chimbonda, Palacios, Keane and Campbell (ineligible). Ledley, as ever, is being pieced together with blu-tac and sticky tape, Woody’s got stitches but that won’t stop him, and Pav has a groin strain, which might stop him, as he’s got a lot of fairy in him.
All of which is likely to leave us with Gomes; Corluka, Ledley, Woody, BAE; Lennon, Jenas, Zokora, Modric (or maybe a reshuffle with Bentley instead of do-do-do Didier?); Bent and Pav. With Dawson, Hudd, Gunter, Bale, Three-Touch, Bentley/Zokora, Giovanni and Obika amongst the subs.
Brazil 1970 it might not be, but as mentioned, nothing brings out the best in us like a game against one of the better teams around. A seeming lack of motivation to complement the obvious talent has irked me on and off all season, but it won’t be problem in a Wembley cup final. It’s been a slightly tortuous seven months of blind allegiance so far this season, but frankly that would make victory on Sunday that much sweeter.
Some Thoughts on Our Opponents
Man Utd are quite possibly going to field an understrengthed team. That doesn’t fool me. While it would be nice to imagine that they’ll be trotting out a team of Fraizer Campbells, I don’t doubt that they’ll still be pretty darned strong. Tevez, Scholes, Nani, O’ Shea – that sort of “understrengthed”. And they will also have the world’s most expensive and talented substitutes’ bench as a safety net, so few favours will be forthcoming. It matters not. We’ll match them, and better them.
I have to admit I enjoy watching Man Utd. Don’t like them as a team, find their arrogance face-slappingly obnoxious, can barely restrain the urge to kick the telly whenever their boss appears, and would happily lock that publicity-addict Bobby Charlton in a retirement home with no windows – but I enjoy watching them. You see, they play the Tottenham way.
I’ll just pause a moment to let the laughter subside.
It’s that one touch, defence-into-attack style. It first caught my eye in ‘99, when the Beckham-Keane-Scholes-Giggs midfield supported the telepathically-linked Cole and Yorke upfront (with Solsjkaer and Teddy on the bench). Some team. The only other side to win a trophy that season was Tottenham. The key seems to be more off-the-ball movement than you can shake a stick at. When they attack at pace it’s all so fluid that commentators have given up trying to pin a label upon the formation. It’s no longer 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Ronaldo pops up in the centre, and Berba drops deep, and Rooney goes wide left, and Giggs drifts into the middle, and they bring on Tevez wide right; then five minutes later they all swap anyway and it’s just football in liquid form.
It’s football the way it’s meant to be played – the Tottenham way – and it tends to contain an end-product, unlike that other lot, up the road.
A couple of years ago, the halcyon days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name) only Spurs compared to Man Utd for entertainment and flair. The pace and movement of Lennon, Steed, Berba and Keane had everyone drooling. Our problem was generally defence, or perhaps protecting the defence. Hence, we’d ship in almost as many as we conceded, and 4-4 draws ceased to be anomalous. It was all action, no plot.
Man Utd, irritatingly, seem to have married the Tottenham way of attacking with an impressively solid defence. That would probably explain the slight but crucial disparity in league positioning and European pedigree. All action, but they stick to the plot too. Still, the speed of Lennon, and touch and vision of Modric keeps us in touch with our tradition of champagne football, and fingers are crossed all over the better half of North London that the signing of Palacios will give us the backbone to complement the fancy frills further forward.
I won’t notice at the time, I’ll be a bundle of nerves, but given the playing styles of both teams it could be one of the better Cup Finals of recent years. That said, I’ll most happily abandon the glory football ethos and settle for a long-ball, any-which-way war of attrition if it ends with Ledley lifting the trophy once again. Deep breath, calm the nerves – here’s hoping for a long night of celebrations and the world’s happiest hangover on Monday…
Our glorious leader has been quoted as saying that he’d rather fancy a crack at that England malarkey once he’s finished his business with Spurs. He sees Fabio as upping and leaving “sooner rather than later” – which presumably means that he’d be happy to exit N17 along a similar time-frame.
Some quotes, for your delectation:
For sure I would love to be England manager one day. It depends if I’m doing a good enough job at Spurs and I plan to do a good job here.
I didn’t really see myself getting that job anyway. I thought that after what happened to Steve McClaren the FA would go for a big-name foreign manager. It was inevitable.
They hired Fabio Capello and that was the right choice. Everyone can see that he has done a fantastic job.
There is no doubt Capello will move on, probably sooner rather than later. I don’t see him here forever. But I am 61 and once my job is done here I would have time left to be England manager.
If that opportunity should ever arrive - fantastic. It would mean I had taken this club forward.
First thing to point out is that this is probably just another sensationalist product of the 24-7 media machine, which is now obliged to over-analyse every throwaway comment, and dedicate time to turning molehills into steaming great big mountains. It strikes me as a bit of a non-story. I don’t know the context of ‘Arry’s words, but I presume he was given a few dozen questions after last night’s Shakhtar game, and one way or another the topic wound round to the England team. “Would you still fancy the England job?” “Does the Pope sh*t in the woods? By heck I would, you betcha.” And bingo, we have a back-page exclusive.Presumably this will incur the wrath of the more hot-blooded down at the Lane, chuntering about “loyalty” and “contracts” and other such phrases completely alien to footballers. Personally I can do little more than raise an amused eyebrow. It’s a cynical sport, in which the only obvious loyalty is to number one. Having merrily urinated over Southampton and Pompey a couple of times, it would be no major shock if ‘Arry dumped our lot at the prospect of a bigger gig. And really, could any football fan begrudge any football manager a crack at the England job?
The only surprising element of this is the mild lack of tact. I would imagine the PR suits generally instruct football folk not to make the sort of comments that could be interpreted by the crazed masses as disloyalty to the team. Somehow, Salomon Kalou has been quoted this week as saying that it’s his dream to end up at l’Arse. No idea what he actually said, or even what language he was speaking when he said it, but it’s presumably been tweaked a little and another back-page exclusive is born.
So it’s no big shock to learn that ‘Arry still covets the England job, but he might do his prospects a world of good by knuckling down with his present employers. Before I even finish typing that sentence I can hear him bleating in my ear “We only had two points when I took over…” Yes ‘Arry, bravo. Now get us playing some snappy one-touch stuff, get us winning games against the likes of Sunderland and ‘Boro – traits we proudly exhibited just a couple of years ago – and then maybe the England job will be a bit more than fanciful paper-talk on a quiet Friday morning.
One would think this sort of thing would become easier to swallow, after over two decades, but it’s just as bitter a bill as ever. This, presumably, is how a man feels when jilted on the altar. Or a four year-old receiving a fluffy, wide-eyed rabbit for his birthday, only to see it savaged by a Rottweiler as soon as the hutch is opened.I should be used to this. Should have known better than to dare to dream. For goodness sake, the very first time I ever watched Spurs, as a whippersnapper who still had his hair cut by his Dad, they lost a Cup final through an own-goal of all things. That should have taught me. It should have taught me that sport, football, Tottenham lifts you up, gives you a glimmer and then callously crushes you with four minutes remaining. And yet yesterday, just like everyone else, I let myself get far too carried away as Giovanni let rip, and the ball grew to love its new home in the Shakhtar net. For thirty minutes thereafter, as I became inappropriately excited at the possibility of what might unfold, I thought that maybe, just maybe…
As an aside, while there’s a certain amount of pride to be derived in glorious failure, it’s a dangerous sentiment to cultivate. No sportsman ought to settle for defeat, and console themselves that, given the circumstance, it is acceptable. The world’s best – Federer, Woods et al – certainly don’t subscribe to this mentality. As an England supporter I’ve spent too long revelling in our status as a nation that goes down in a blaze of glory (and woefully-directed penalty kicks), complete with unjust refereeing decisions and conveniently foreign pantomime villains at whom to whinge. Our boys then receive heroes’ welcomes on their return, and we all congratulate ourselves, and revel in glorious failure.
The notion that it’s the taking part that counts stopped holding water at AANP Towers shortly after my sixth birthday, when I realised that Mabbutt and co would not get to hold aloft the big shiny thing after that wretched ’87 cup final. Who the hell wants to be remembered as a glorious loser? Which aspiring sportsman grows up wanting that? Which schoolboy daydreams in his classroom, which distracted employee wastes company time sitting in front of a pc, thinking about watching his heroes climb the Wembley steps to collect their loser medals, all glum faces and insincere handshakes?
And despite it all, with the bitterest disappointment, I can’t help but feel proud of the team. They showed a bit of passion, pride in the badge – it was a glorious failure, complete with near misses and infuriating, crucial refereeing decisions. That Obika, though understandably rough around the edges, is a brick outhouse of potential (although I worry that, finding himself behind Keane, Defoe, Pav, Bent and Campbell his next professional appearance will be in something other than lilywhite). The much-maligned Gilberto turned in a performance which, although by no means flawless, few would have thought him capable of. Giovanni showed glimpses to suggest that he may be worth a run of games on the left. And so on.
In truth we did not get knocked out of the Uefa Cup last night. We were knocked out back in August when stumbling to defeats against Boro and Sunderland; and later when Gomes gifted points to Villa and Fulham; and when Jenas ducked out of a header to allow Wigan the late points in January. Tally up those points. They have been blithely haemorrhaged, leaving us scrambling for survival in late February. They’ve left us sacrificing a first-choice eleven, in a two-legged tie we could realistically have won. Moreover, with Milan and Villa tumbling out last night, the entire competition remains one at which we could have had a jolly good stab, had we been free from survival concerns and devoted all energies accordingly.
(There’s a strong argument to the effect that, whatever our league position, top-six chasing, mid-table or our current status bringing up the rear, ‘Arry would have dumped the Uefa cup firmly at the bottom of his priorities list, and fielded a weakened team anyway. C’est possible, but my word, had he sacrificed the Uefa Cup for anything but Premiership survival he’d have incited a riot amongst the better half of North London, with baseball bats and knuckle-dusters freely distributed at AANP Towers).
So no more Uefa cup – possibly for a while yet. It’s not just been fun this campaign, it’s been a three-year adventure. Beginning way back with Slavia Prague on Channel Five, and then, gloriously, back at the Lane and under the floodlights in September 2006; through the various, mental legions of foreign fans and their songs, to words I didn’t understand and tunes I didn’t recognise; via the emotionally draining exit at the hands of Sevilla, the memory of which still quickens my pulse even now; taking in Berba’s ridiculous impudence in front of goal; the Jenas penalty saved by some lanky ‘keeper called Gomes; a Bent hat-trick that still had us singing Defoe’s name; and finally the second-string last night, and that most horrendous but apt phrase, glorious failure.
Who knows how long it will be until we sip that continental elixir once more? With a bit of luck and a psyched-up, leash-straining performance at Wembley our passports could be sent for renewal as soon as Sunday. Or, if that all too familiar spirit of under-achievement seeps back into the club, it could be several years, and quite possibly as many managers. Dammit, I should be used to it by now, but it’s no easier to take.
Given that this season I’ve needed so little encouragement to bow my head in despair and slip into a straitjacket of pessimism whenever the Tottenham circus rolls back into town, it is strange and vaguely ironic that today’s most hopeless of situations finds me at my most optimistic. A two-goal deficit would be tricky enough for us to negotiate at the best of times. Throw into that a polyglot mix of overweight (Hudd), comically inept (Jenas) and internally-loathed (Gilberto) reserves, alongside a bunch of kids so young that they need parental permission to stay up for kick-off, and the tricky task ought to become Herculean in its magnitude.And yet somehow, I genuinely do feel upbeat. With the tie just about over already, the burdensome dread that I normally carry on my shoulders as kick-off approaches is strangely absent today. We’re two down, and sending out our kids and deadbeats – what’s the worst that can happen?
Actually, that might be a rather dangerous rhetorical question to bandy around. I close my eyes and the worst-case scenario unfolds… Start listlessly, concede a couple of early goals and the floodgates open. The heaviest aggregate defeat in our European history, or some such statistic. If it really does all go spectacularly wrong it could have catastrophic effects upon the careers of Obika and Townsend and the rest of our “triffic” kids. ‘Arry, and any other watching scouts summarily pass judgement upon them and their one chance at the big-time dissipates in 90 minutes of ignominy. They’ll go back to their academies battered shells of their former selves, psychologically scarred for life, and without a cat in hell’s chance of making the grade at the Lane, destined instead for a lifetime of ignominy in the footballing no-man’s-land that is Leyton Orient. (Not that any of this will have the slightest impact upon Spurs’ long-term future, as we never ease home-grown talent into our first team if we have the option of splashing out £14 mil on someone from a struggling Premiership side instead).
However, I really do remain optimistic that no such nightmare will unfold, and that, instead, we’ll put on a ruddy good, fearless, attacking performance tonight. Admittedly I can’t really see us winning the tie, as concession of one goal would leave us needing to score four. Nevertheless, after a season in which our underachieving first-choice rabble have been epitomised by Darren Bent – plenty of huffing and puffing without ever displaying real class – it would just be a typically illogical Tottenham thing to see our second-string of wastrels and street urchins produce a dazzling, energetic, motivated performance tonight. Before disappearing back to the substitutes’ bench, reserve team and youth league, rarely to be seen again.
Moreover, the whole attitude of the camp is a little different. Last week the game was lost before a ball had been kicked, so belligerently did ‘Arry insist that the match did not matter. The actual starting eleven selected last week, while weaker than normal, really was not the selection of inbreds and pre-pubescents many had anticipated. Gomes, Dawson, Zokora, Hudd, Jenas, Bentley – there ought to have been enough there to keep the tie alive. Rather than the choice of personnel it seemed to be the defeatist attitude that cost us. This week, inevitably, soundbites have been trotted out by the likes of Gomes and Giovanni about how determined the players are to fight their way back into the tie and so on. Vacuous untruths for sure, but, if repeated sufficiently frequently, I faithfully believe that the players might just lack the intelligence to realise that it’s all a lie, and instead go out there all guns blazing tonight.
There is no pressure upon the team to deliver. Young Three-Touch O’ Hara is likely to return, which should inject a bit of life into proceedings. And should we grab the first goal, the atmosphere will bubble up, and pressure will most certainly mount upon our Ukrainian guests…
While tonight is a chance for the youngsters to shine – aside, annoyingly, from Taraabt, inexplicably omitted from the Uefa list by Wendy Ramos – spare a thought for any older heads called into action. With Carling Cup final just three days away, 90 minutes tonight would pretty much guarantee omission from the side that trots out at Wembley on Sunday. Gunter, Jenas, Hudd and especially Dawson are amongst the likely candidates for selection tonight - and disappointment at the weekend.
What a curious three-point haul. It was neither outstandingly good nor egregiously bad, just blisteringly average. Once upon a time Spurs played in an all-action-no-plot style, attacking with free-flowing, gay abandon, scoring four and shipping in three. In a parallel universe this probably continues. Last night I had duly sharpened a knife with which to attack the team and performance etc, but ended up repeatedly stabbing myself in the eye just to keep myself entertained.Such a strange game, a million miles away from the hyperactive entertainment of recent years. Hull would string two passes together, then one of their players would trip on his own laces, then Keane would have a moan, then the camera would cut to Dawson warming up and then we’d win a corner. And the process would begin all over again. After 15 minutes I became distracted by the sight of some paint drying in the corner of the room. Glancing up I saw some huffing and puffing, players falling over, Bent giving that “Soooo-close” look and then we’d win a corner.
Each of the players seemed strangely hindered by their own particular demon, which prevented them, try as they might, from escaping the bog of gentle mediocrity and attaining something a little more eye-catching. Corluka’s demon, as ever, was the inability to find a different gear from “lumber”. Like a slowly falling oak he plodded up and down the right flank, and at the crucial moment, when nimbleness was required, he succeeded only in getting his entire torso in the way of the ball and conceding a needless corner. From which they scored.
Keane’s demon was an obsession with twisting and turning until he found himself surrounded by three or more opponents. I closed my eyes and saw the annoying kid in the playground, resolutely refusing to look up, instead just spinning around in little circles of three yards’ circumference, until swamped, like Hudson being dragged to his death in Aliens.
Bent’s demon, was the lack of talent, or a lucky break, or anything, to elevate him above his perennial in-built mediocrity. He’s earnest, by goodness he is earnest, and out of the blue he almost delivered a most un-Bent moment of brilliance - controlling, spinning and volleying like some sort of Berbatov. But realistically, it was never going to happen. It was not that sort of game, and he certainly is not the sort of footballer. When everything else clicks into place the footballing gods simply won’t allow him to be amazing, as long as he’s a Spurs player.
Cudicin’s demon appeared to be gallons of oil smeared all over his gloves. Quite why he had an attack of Gomes-itis and resolutely refused to catch anything was baffling. He flapped and he slapped but he appeared determined that he would chop off his own head before he took the bold step of grabbing the round thing. In his defence he was not aided by the strangely liberal attitude of the referee towards attempted on-field-rape-of-goalkeeper by the Hull forwards, but nevertheless, it was the sort of unconvincing performance which makes the heart skip a beat whenever a set-piece is conceded.
Jenas’ demon was that he is Jermaine Jenas, and that his life is therefore full of Jermaine Jenas moments. A curious zen-like attitude has seeped into me in my old-age, to the extent that I no longer swear and curse and bludgeon to death with their own walking-sticks passing-by old ladies whenever Jenas goes anywhere near the ball. No, these days I roll my eyes as soon as he obtains possession, and scan the pitch for Palacios or Woodgate or someone to rectify the damage he’s about to cause. It’s very beneficial, you should try it.
There were the occasional, all too fleeting moments of style, flair and élan, which suggested that deep beneath the surface there does still lie a champagne football outfit. The glorious first goal for a start. Peach. The burst of pace from Ledley in the second half, to make a recovery tackle, rolling back the years. The early cross from Ass-Ek, and Woody’s swift rise up an invisible ladder to a height of around 18 feet, in order to head our second. And then there was that effort from Palacios, scientifically proven to be the hardest a football has ever been struck in the history of mankind. Fleeting moments, but just about enough to keep a flicker of optimism burning.
This is not meant to be particularly critical. I screeched like a chicken that had had his beak wrenched off when we scored the second, and will build a little cot in my bedroom to look after the three points we earned. All season we’ve played like that and then lost late on, so the players deserve credit for reversing that trend. Had Man Utd won in similarly scrappy style, observers would have trotted out clichés about the sort of performances that win titles.
It was all just strangely dour and scratchy. Ultimately I think we won because we were playing Hull. Back in the day, Marney and Gardner weren’t fit to wipe the excrement from the training boots of Ledley, Keane et al. Inevitably, the Tottenham rejects seemed to match our lot stride for stride for much of the game, but in the end they succumbed to the fact that they are Hull, and as such just not particularly remarkable. Cousin’s random volley was classy, but that aside they did little that had me running for the hills and cowering in fear. Much to the chagrin of their manager Phil Brown, whose blood swiftly boiled until he began to resemble a rabid dwarf.
I guess at the start of the season it would not have taken Einstein to pinpoint Hull away as a potentially scrappy game. One to be consigned to the annals, under lock and key, immediately after the final whistle, never to be spoken of again. Let’s keep it that way.
Bravo boys, now let’s bring home that tropy. And the Carling Cup (boom boom).
Finally, I look forward to a Spurs game imbued with a spirit of sunny optimism! Huzzah - the good times are about to roll once more. Like a shallow secular kid the night before Christmas I can barely wait for the superficial short-term joys which tomorrow will bring!Anyone who has found themselves entangled within my web of doleful pessimism in recent weeks will know that AANP Towers has generally become a pretty sobering venue in recent weeks. Brows have been furrowed. Sotto voce curses have been muttered. The usual guaranteed spirit-raisers – l’Arse-directed Schadenfreude, surreptitiously kicking the shins of annoying toddlers, repeated viewings of captured bears dancing on hot coals – have failed to work their magic. Spurs have been rubbish, and no number of excuses, protestations or £14 million signings have been able to hide the fact.
Finally however, Spurs fans the world over have something to celebrate. For part two of ’Arry’s inter-domestic-European masterplan is now about to come to fruition. At first the idea was pretty difficult to stomach. Part one involved committing to defeat, in last week’s Uefa game vs Shakhtar, before a ball had been kicked. Impatient, short-sighted, pseudo-fan that I am, I foolishly failed at the time to appreciate the holistic strategy. Instead, disgracefully, I accused our intrepid heroes – and our intellectual behemoth of a leader – of betraying the club’s proud heritage. Shame on me. A thousand whip lashes across my scrawny back.
When a terrorist is angry he blows himself up. When an American is angry he pulls out a gun. But when an Englishman is angry he sits down and writes something – and by golly did my literary juices flow in the aftermath of Thursday’s debacle. Upper lips of Spurs fans across the land literally quivered with incandescence at the limp capitulation in Ukraine. It was not so much the decision to rest key players (Woodgate, Palacios, Modric and Lennon will, admittedly, be integral to our survival), as the quite public and premeditated decision to enter the game with a spirit of indifference. Shame on me. Shame on all of us who criticised this masterstroke.
For it was, to quote from the magnificent Ving Rhames in Con Air, a means to end, my hillbilly friend. The whole purpose of Thursday’s insipid cowardice was to save our energies for the Premiership! Starting with Hull away on Monday night!
So prepare to pop a few corks, kick your heels in the air and free the shackles from the wrists of Barrabas - because ‘Arry and the players are going to deliver the mother of all performances tomorrow! It will be a Rolls-Royce in footballing form, one-touch stuff ordained by the gods. Expect pretty triangles, defence-splitting balls and more movement than a swarm of mosquitoes on Ecstasy. Expect a return to the mesmeric all-action performances of years gone by. Expect a return of those players who are just too special to risk in Europe. The spirits of Ginola, Gascoigne, Hoddle, Ardiles and Greaves will be invoked tomorrow. Tackles will be won in wince-inducing fashion. The defence will be impenetrable. The attack will be irresistible. The opposition will sit down and steady themselves after 30 minutes, so dizzied will they be by the brand of meta-football that has been rehearsed by our first-choice team over the last week or two.
Frankly I can’t wait. I have the urge to find a meadow of daisies and skip through it. I want to discover a small cute unicorn, rear it, care for it and finally slaughter and eat it. I want to rob from the rich and give to the poor; help old women cross busy roads; and with a cheeky smile offer sweets to small children. Thanks to the genius of ‘Arry’s masterplan, tomorrow we’ll all finally have something to celebrate. Isn’t life just peachy?
So mission all but accomplished then ‘Arry? Elimination from Europe virtually guaranteed, and mercifully we can look forward to far fewer of those pesky football matches that just seem to get in the way of the manager’s true raison d’être (trying out his latest gags on the sycophants at press conferences), and the players’ weekly trips to Faces.
Last night’s was not the worst performance I’ve ever seen – until the last 11 minutes it appeared that we would, unbelievably, return to the Lane as favourites to progress (’Arry would have loved that – “More f*ckin’ games? I don’t f*ckin’ believe this…”). Neither, however, was it the sort of inspirational stuff that instils in a man the urge to beat a tiger to death with his bare hands and make love to fifty beautiful women before singing God Save The Queen and tucking into his fish and chips. No-one attacked that cross like their life depended upon it. In fact no-one went near that cross in any fashion whatsoever, and one-nil it was. The defence plumbed to new lows for the second, and while it had me turning green and bursting out of my clothes, the whole sorry incident seemed to encapsulate precisely the attitude of indifference being peddled all week by ‘Arry.
Somehow, the mentality has become one which accepts and commits to defeat in certain games, before they’ve even begun. ‘Arry has been banging this drum all week, and last night it was visible in the players on the pitch. Have these people no shame? Have they no pride, in themselves or the club? Irrespective of the competition, it’s a football match, a professional football match. It begins at nil-nil and the point, once upon a time, was to win it. We may and probably will stay in the Premiership, but its beginning to feel like we’re selling our souls to do so. We ought not to be resorting to this. What sort of professional sportsman decides, in advance, to settle for losing a contest? If this football business is too taxing for you then sod off to a golf course or bingo hall or something, but don’t destroy our club’s reputation and tradition.
Deep breath.’Arry’s chosen solution to the problem (I use the term loosely) of footballers having to playing football matches is to lose the knock-out ones. An absolutely ridiculous and wildly irrational alternative would be for Spurs to try winning such games – because, let’s face it, no-one complains about fixture lists when they’re successful.
A couple of years ago we reached the latter stages of the Uefa, semis of the Carling and finished fifth in the league – and by golly you’d have heard a mouse sneeze in the middle of a stadium-wide chorus of “I love Martin Jol” (blessed be his name) before you’d have heard anyone grumbling about the number of games we had to play. The explanation for this, bizarre though it is, seems to be that baffling, science-defying instrument that is The Psyche of the Common Sportsman. This is constructed such that more games just aren’t a problem when they are being won (see Man Utd for real-time illustration of this point).
For Spurs to implement this would admittedly require some degree of responsibility on the part of the management and players – undertakings such as non-stop graft on the training pitch, fitness work, repeated drills on set-pieces, shooting practice, tactical instructions… ah maybe ‘Arry’s right - it’s far easier just to lose games.
The counter-argument is that it is better for us to lose in the Uefa, minimise the risk of injuries from excessive games and preserve our Premiership status. I appreciate the point, but I don’t see the issue as so black and white. There is a straightforward middle ground - of doing our damnedest to win the Uefa games anyway, and still preserving our Premiership status. Willing participation in the Uefa need not necessarily mean that we’re automatically doomed to relegation from the Premiership. Another imbecilic notion this, but I reckon it might just be possible to try winning games in both the Uefa and the Premiership, without stretching the poor lambs to the point of mental exhaustion and physical breaking-point.
Players will pick up injuries, without doubt. However, our squad contains enough players who ought to be comfortable taking to the field as required. To spell it out, here’s one full team:
Cudicini; Hutton, Ledley, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Modric, Bentley; Defoe, Keane.
Here’s another full team:
Gomes; Bale, Dawson, Chimbonda, Corluka, Three-Touch O’ Hara, Hudd, Zokora, Jenas; Pav, Bent.
(And just for a laugh here’s some more player names: Gunter, Campbell, Taraabt, Dos Santos, Ricky blinking Rocha.)
The squad is big enough, ugly enough and damn well expensive enough to cope. Good enough? On paper, yes. On grass – well, we’re one point off the relegation zone…
Shakhtar were ok, but they were hardly footballing gods either. They were beatable. They will be beatable in a week’s time. However, such is ‘Arry’s commitment to defeat that he’s already promising to drag youngsters from the Academy (and probably the Paxton Road) onto the pitch for their debuts. I think we can kiss goodbye to the chances of overturning a two-goal deficit.
Outwitted by a footballer. Not really the sort of thing to proclaim from the rooftops and highlight on my CV - for footballing folk are hardly regarded as the great intellectual giants of our time, no matter what David James and Tony Adams would have you believe. However, whichever way you look at it, ‘Arry Redknapp laid the simplest of traps, and with astonishing naivety I fell for it hook, line and sinker.The occasion was the build-up to the cup game with Man Utd. With a twitch of his head and a moan about his squad size, ‘Arry fed me the line that he would play his weakest possible team. I – still reeling from the news that the word “gullible” had been removed from the dictionary – lapped this up a little too zealously and indulged in a typically tedious diatribe about the ignominy of it all, laying into ‘Arry, invoking the club’s 126-year tradition, the full works. Come kick-off and the “weakest possible team” did not materialise. While Woodgate was rested, the team sent out was of general, moderate-to-strong capability, boasting Modric and Pav, with not a Rocha in sight.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and ‘Arry is making similar noises prior to our Uefa cup game. He’s bleating on again about how he’s stuffed the team bus with kids from the Acadmey squad – but I’m not buying it this time. As Dubya put it, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again. ‘Arry reckons Corluka, Pav and Keane are all cup-tied – a likely story. He’s claiming that Lennon, Ledley and Three-Touch O’ Hara are all out injured – pull the other one. Jermain Defoe is apparently both ineligible and injured – the lady doth protest too much, methinks. And Woodgate, Cudicini, Palacios and Modric are all being rested tonight – oh you tease ‘Arry, you mischievous scamp. Not only have you played that ruse before, but to omit our ten best players against a team whose last competitive result was a win against Barcelona – well that would be the most suicidal plan since Bruce Willis did the honourable thing in Armageddon (or perhaps Deep Impact).
Alas, it’s actually true. It could be Alfie Patten and friends – and his kids – lining up in lilywhite tonight. There will probably be some recognisable faces on show (Dawson, Jenas, Hudd, Chimbonda, Zokora, Gomes etc) and it will be nice to see Dos Santos finally get a game, and reacquaint ourselves with Bent’s look of disbelief as he shins wide, but let’s not kid ourselves. Although Shakhtar are just returning from a winter break, our sub-strength team will struggle. Over two legs, we’re heading out. We’re doomed (which might well become the new subtitle of this increasingly morbid forum of woe). I know, I know – we have bigger fish to fry, with Premiership games mounting up (Hull away on Monday) and the Carling Cup final to come (a week on Sunday). Logic was never my forte in scholarly days, but even I see the sense in omitting key players tonight and next Thursday, in a Uefa Cup competition we’re miles away from winning.
But still. For years and years I’ve enviously watched as other teams – not least l’Arse – have gone on their merry midweek European jaunts, and yearned for the day when we could do the same. And when we finally made it into Europe, it was amazing. European nights at the Lane are awesome, they absolutely rock, and I shall happily slap in the face with a wet fish anyway who suggests otherwise. Successive seasons of it has me addicted. And now we’re just going to throw it all away? (If ever there was a time to become sufficiently tech-savvy to insert an audio clip of an anguished howl, this is it.)
Yes, yes, yes, YES – I know, it’s far more important that we stay in the Premiership, stop yelling that at me. But the all-action-no-plot devil on my shoulder continues to poke me with a stick and repeat to me – “What’s the point if we’re not striving to climb the table and get into Europe?” I’m aware that I’m displaying the all too familiar Spurs Fan’s Irrational Impatience™, far more harmful than good to the team, a wretched curse of generations up and down the High Road and many miles beyond. I’m aware that this all a means to an end, and that the Uefa is being sacrificed so that we can come back stronger next season – but here and now, in the build-up to Shakhtar away, it doesn’t soften the blow. Shakhtar over two legs is not insurmountable; I just hope that if we do lose we at least go out with a fight.
This season we’ll scramble free of the drop, lose the Carling Cup final and finish like all the rest of them – mid-table, no trophies. Why retain our Premiership status if that means existing in a dull rut, alongside Middlesborough and Fulham and all of the other most boring and soulless sides in the universe? What’s the point of surviving, if we then go on to live our lives in a dull void of unfeasible blandness and nihilism. We’re in danger of becoming Middlesborough I tell you. Middlesborough! Is there a more depressing thought in football?
The odds of us winning the Uefa this season were always a tad long, but at least we were in it. Who knows when we’ll next have the chance? By next Thursday night we’ll be out of the Uefa. Next Sunday we face the best team on the planet, in the best form in their history, in the Carling Cup final. After that we could well have become Middlesborough.
I feel like Ray Liotta at the very end of Goodfellas.
“And now it’s all over. That’s the hardest part. Today everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. After I got here I ordered spaghetti with marinara sauce…and I got egg noodles with ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”
Headgear readjustments this week, as I donned my England hat, carefully placing it alongside the Tottenham version. Although the defeat to Spain didn’t feature any Spurs players, the naming of One-Trick Downing on the left had me sharpening knives, practising my most caustic put-downs, and preparing once again to do battle with those who claim that he’d be a worthy addition to the lilywhite ranks.However, a couple of spanners appeared in the works. For a start, this is hardly new ground. Whether they agree or not, seasoned all-action-no-plotters can virtually lip-synch with me as I trot out my usual lines of argument (decent player but not £14 mil of special; and not exactly a little bundle of unpredictability either), and the responses are themselves fairly predictable too (a natural left-footer provides balance to the midfield; and early crosses for our often ball-starved forwards).
The other problem with revisiting the Downing debate was more practical in nature. If watching “soccer” while holidaying in Oz was pretty darned tricky, then catching a game in New Zealand was nigh on impossible. Just the goals for me then, and the case against One-Trick can be adjourned with no further questions from this particular prosecution.
However, the debate will rage on, particularly in the summer. Rather than just moan about what I consider to be the problem, I shall take the novel and proactive step of suggesting a solution. One other name very briefly linked with Spurs, probably by a gossip-mongerer with a penchant for the particularly tenuous, was that of Joe Cole.
Until around 2004 – 05 the left-wing had been a major headache for the national team, with the list of earnest but inappropriate players shunted into the round hole including Heskey, Gerrard, Barmby, Bridge, Scholes, McManaman and Alan Thompson. Enter Joe Cole, stage left, and the problem ceased to be. Despite being right-footed he seemed to balance the midfield by maintaining positional discipline; he crossed well with both feet; was willing to cut infield (admittedly perhaps a little too willing at times); chipped in with goals; and was (is) pretty much the only player in the national squad with the natural ability to dribble past opponents. He is also one of the few flair players I can think of who is willing to devote as much energy to the hard work of scrapping and harrying as to his dribbling.
And the counter arguments? He can frustrate by failing to impact upon games as much as he ought to; he sometimes dribbles when a pass is on; and he regularly exhibits that most obnoxious of traits – the dive. An undoubted further source of irritation is that he has a voice so high that wild dogs run for cover when a microphone is thrust towards his visage, but the impact of this upon his performances appears minimal.
Not perfect then, but if being compared with One-Trick Downing, “perfection” is a criterion that can be safely tucked away in a drawer and forgotten about until we reach a completely different topic of discussion.
So I’m firmly in the tongue-twisting pro-Joe-Cole camp. Although now out for the season with an injury, there were murmurs to the effect that Cole was not entirely enamoured with life at Stamford Bridge this season. Apparently he was substituted in a dozen consecutive games by Scolari, up until his injury a few weeks ago. With bids of £14 mil bewilderingly being faxed off to Middlesborough there would have been a strong case for redirecting those funds towards Stamford Bridge. It’s all a little academic now, for numerous reasons (transfer window closed, Cole out until the summer, managerial shenanigans at Chelski). However, with our left wing unlikely to solve itself before May, and presuming we don’t continue our buy-back policy and re-sign Steed, I’ll happily design, print out and publicise the bring Joe-Cole-to-the-Lane petition.
Same old, same old. You’d think that after a couple of decades and probably the best part of a thousand games it would be a bit easier to stomach, but no, Spurs’ capacity to frustrate remains unparalleled. Yet again, come the final whistle I was left looking around for a small puppy or irritating child to throttle.A usual gripe of mine is that we are playthings of the footballing gods, as flies to wanton boys and all that. Yesterday however, the footballing gods even took pity on us and gave us a couple of helping hands – disallowed goal for l’Arse which other refs might have permitted, Adebayor and his hammie, Eboue and his red card (nb Oh the hilarity of Eboue’s red! After the ostentatious embraces and words of comfort for Modric, when Eboue thought he’d got away with it, then to see him summoned back and sent packing – genius!). It really was set up for us on a plate. In fact, it was being spoon-fed to us. By half-time I had ventured from my private little pit of pessimism and was actually rather looking forward to the second half. The footballing gods, their work done, put their feet up to enjoy the spectacle. The gooners in the crowd, captured on tv, looked suitably morose. All was right with the world.
Sigh. One esteemed custodian of the interweb describes it as a kind of purgatory. Personally I see Tottenham as similar to women – intensely frustrating, with an adamant refusal to do things the simple way. A breed that seem to delight in complicating things solely in order to drive me to madness. And yet, I keep going back for more torture.
Despite the lack of cutting edge, it was not a bad display from us. In the early stages, of eleven vs eleven we seemed to be a bit sharper than they, the work-rate and team ethic an improvement upon much that has gone before this season. ‘Arry recently pointed to the attitude of Carlos Tevez as an example our players would do well to follow – of constantly harassing their man in possession, until this possession is eventually surrendered. At times yesterday, in patches, something akin to this could be seen from our lot, even as I pinched myself. Maybe it’s the start of a brave new era, and the arrival of a more determined mentality. Or maybe it’s just the perennial improved attitude for the game vs l’Arse, to be replaced next week with the usual lethargy.
Much of the credit for the high tempo of the early stages in particular must go to soon-to-be firm crowd favourite Wilson Palacios. For many this would have been our first good look at him, and, whisper it, he showed enough to suggest that he might be, you know, the one. The answer. If White Hart Lane is The Matrix, this guy could be our Keanu Reeves. Unless he goes off the boil like the second and third Matrix films. Anyway, either Palacios is possessed off rather extremely impressive energy levels, or he reads the game particularly well (maybe a generous dollop of both), as every time an Arse midfielder broke with the ball in the first half he seemed to be ready to greet him with snarl, foam at mouth, barrel chest and crunching tackle. He rather enjoys a foray forward too, and one gets the impression that he’ll be a lot more effective in the final third than do-do-do-Didier. I should probably also add a disclaimer that the screen on which I was watching was a little short on brightness and visibility, so it’s quite possible that every time Jenas did anything useful in the centre I automatically attributed it to Palacios.
However, as with Keanu in the early part of the film, Palacios still has room for improvement. The odd misplaced pass, and a typical piece of shambolic Tottenham marking from a corner that ought really to have seen Song score. Still, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the complete midfielder, turns us into a top-four team and sees everything as little columns of green numbers.
Until the final minute we didn’t create a clear-cut chance, but prior to that Lennon, Modric, Keane and Pav all had opportunities which weren’t too far off. Credit to Taarabt for playing in Modric in the final minute, he weighted the pass well. And Modric, ah Modric. No-one misses on purpose, I suppose, but one of these days I really will throttle a puppy, and have some difficulty explaining it to the constabulary (“I know I’ve got a dead puppy in my hand, but it was the last minute, he was clean through…”)
nb – Many thanks to Lee, for the venue recommendation for yesterday’s game. Home from home.