Shakhtar 2- 0 Spurs: Mission Accomplished
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.