For all the well-deserved plaudits, we didn’t learn much about England on Saturday. Rather reminded me of a wedding rehearsal – polite, happy, didn’t count for anything. Slovakia played like footballing eunuchs and were duly thrashed at a canter.Ukraine, and their occasionally-preceding definite article, ought to prove a slightly different kettle of fish - but only slightly. Fifa’s curious ranking system has Ukraine within the top 20, and it is worth noting that, like England, they made the World Cup quarter finals in 2006. Shevchenko and chums are no mugs then - but this is the sort of straight-faced diplomacy trotted out by the players, in those excruciatingly bland pre-match press conferences sprinkled with phrases like “We won’t be underestimating them… No easy games at international level…”
Cutting through the blandness, and Fabio’s England, on the back of some perky form and with a team brimming full of Champions League connoisseurs, certainly ought to beat Ukraine at home. It’s unlikely to be quite as merry a cakewalk as on Saturday, but we still ought to win. While our position five points clear of Croatia gives us some margin for error, it would be better to have that in hand for the trip to Kiev, or visit of Croatia to Wembley. Ukraine at home is not really the time to slip up.
After the maternal members of the Terry family tried their hands at shoplifiting last week, there seemed grounds to suggest that at the weekend the family brain cell was being used by the England captain. This argument was promptly shot down at Wembley when JT ensured that a certain Crouch goal was disallowed for offside, by tapping in from one yard, when the ball was already past the ‘keeper and heading for the net. Better it happens in a friendly, I guess, but hardly the most impressive display of tactical acumen. Looks like Rio will be back to partner him on Wednesday.
A propos Rooney, the news that Crouch has recovered from injury suggests that Wednesday will see the beanpole up top, with the human gargoyle in that scrumptious position just off the main striker. Nods of approval at AANP Towers. Presumably Gerrard will continue on the left, where he did a good job on Saturday. The link-up play between him and Rooney has inevitably attracted plenty of praise, but he’s nevertheless a square peg in a round hole out there, and a better team then Slovakia (a fairly wide-ranging criterion admittedly) could expose both his right-footedness and defensive lapses. However, it seems this is his home for now, so he might as well bed in and make himself comfy.
The injuries to Heskey, Carlton Cole and Crouch led to some speculation over who would be called up. Michael Owen and Kevin Davies were the names being bandied around. In those kits I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Terry Thomas make an appearance. As it happened our very own Darren Bent got the nod.
The Darren Bent Confidence-O-Meter
Sat 7 March – Recalled to the Spurs starting XI against Sunderland, the dial on Bent’s Confidence-O-Meter stirs into life and hits 4 out of 10. However, a trademark Bent miss high into the north-east sky, sees the dial return to rock bottom, with our hero considering packing it all in.
Sun 15 March – Bent keeps his place in the starting XI for Villa, and the dial pings upwards again. His sensational two-inch tap-in sees the dial go right off the scale. Winning goal! Victory at Villa! The man is a hero - at least inside his own head - and his confidence has never been so high!
Weds 18March – Forgets to take the bin out for collection. Confidence begins to slump.
Sat 21 March – Retains his place in the starting XI, for visit of Chelski, and all is right with the world again. To his credit he worked his hoopy socks off, and contributed worthily to another fine win. These happy thoughts have the Confidence-O-Meter right up at level 10. However, every time he remembers that he didn’t actually score, it drops down several levels – such is the brittle existence of a “confidence player”. Just stay positive Dazza!
Sunday 29 March – The Bent Confidence-O-Meter explodes irreparably after Fabio calls him up for international duty, following injuries to the first 18 strikers on the list.
So it’s a good day to be Darren Bent. Or at least it was until he did his knee in training and Fabio called up Agbonlahor. Crouch and Rooney will start up front for England, and if things are going to plan I’d imagine Fabio will replace a striker with a midfielder in the closing stages, which will mean precious little action for either Bent of Agbonlahor.
Milestones for Terry and Beckham
On a final and belated note, AANP Towers politely and sincerely applauds Terry on winning his 50th cap, and similarly lauds Beckham on his 109th. One suspects that this newly-set record for outfield appearances will itself be surpassed soon enough – the modern-day international calendar seeing to it that the Ukraine game is Rooney’s 50th for England, at age 23. Nevertheless, while subtly steering clear of any sort of debate over his selection, I suggest that, whatever his off-pitch shenanigans, Beckham’s attitude in an England shirt always seems to be one of fierce and honest commitment. If all goes to plan more applause will be ringing out on Wednesday night.
A virulent strain of man-flu left me stuck in AANP Towers, and unable to venture out in search of the curious GCSE Media project that is Setanta. 5Live and ITV highlights for me – the extended exposure to 5Live’s Alan Green robbing me of much of the will to live – so my take on the game, tactically wanting at the best of times, is about as meaty as a vegan’s lunch-box today.I had hoped for the challenge of a decent period of parity, to give England a bit of a test of patience and creativity. The early goal duly robbed the game of much purpose, although it’s one for the Wembley crowd to tell disbelieving grandchildren several decades hence, having been netted by Heskey. The eventual 4-0 scoreline suggests that the Slovaks obediently fulfilled their roles of sacrificial lambs without demur.
Some fluffy and inane thoughts to pass the time, based purely on the noises that came from my radio:
· There is a concern that the Upson-Terry central defensive pairing has a lack of pace that would be punished by better teams (a penny for Ledley’s thoughts).
· A bizarre, Darren Anderton-themed game of musical chairs amongst the strikers saw about twenty of them trot on, get injured and trot straight off. I’m cleaning my boots in anticipation of a call-up to the squad for Wednesday. As is Kevin Davies, according to the good folk of the BBC. Distressingly, only one of these statements is made in jest. (Hot off the press - well, luke-warm – is the news that big bad Dazza Bent is to transfer that hurt, confused, hands-half-raised-to-head look from club to country, having been summoned by the Don. Cripes. Another penny please, this time for Michael Owen’s thoughts.)
· The question of whether to build the team around Gerrard or Rooney seems to have replaced the question of whether to pick Gerrard or Lampard.
· Lennon, apparently, was ok (and, mercifully, withdrawn without injury). However, there was something approaching consensus on the view that Beckham’s crossing gives him the edge, even if Lennon gets the nod on Wednesday.
Fairly bland, satisfactory and meaningless then, as anticipated by all and sundry. More entertainingly, away from the lumpy Wembley turf there had been an increasingly farcical air about the England soap opera over the last day or two, conjuring up images of poorly-scripted day-time TV soap operas.
· Bewilderingly, both the mother and mother-in-law of John Terry found themselves in trouble with Her Majesty’s finest, for shop-lifting. The mind boggles. It’s like a caption competition without a picture.
· After much fanfare the new, £50(!) England shirt was unveiled. Presumably intended to hark back to the days of Lofthouse et al, it looks rather like the design brief was assigned to an eight year-old, who quickly became distracted and forgot to complete it. It certainly evokes memories of Tottenham – both Spurs’ plain white shirt of last season, and the PE uniform I wore as a nipper in the playground on the High Road, just opposite White Hart Lane. Neither here nor there I guess, but it does aggrieve me to think that someone somewhere is minted on the back of designing that.
· The tête-a-tête between Fabio and ‘Arry simmers on, although now less Rocky vs Apollo Creed, and more schoolgirls spreading gossip about each other. Fabio raised the point that there was no objection to the call-up of Alan Hutton to the Scotland squad, after several months out, as there had reportedly been to Ledley’s selection. Possibly a mistake on the Italian’s part, as the circumstances are different. The Ledley objection revolves around his recovery time, as a strictly once-a-week player; Hutton is more straightforwardly just back from a one-off, non-recurrent injury.
So all a bit surreal, but pleasing enough. Things should at least pick up as the more serious business of the qualifier vs Ukraine approaches, followed by the Premiership programme next weekend. Bon weekend, one and all.
A friendly against some generic Eastern European country will make for a pretty underwhelming Saturday evening. Slovakia, as with Slovenia, Estonia, Belarus and the rest of them, never has contributed anything to football, and probably never will. No-one can name a famous Slovakian player, they will all have rubbish haircuts and are basically the international equivalent of Bolton or someone. It’s likely to be tedious and eminently forgettable - yet is probably a smart choice on the part of the FA bigwigs, given that next week the players all have to make diplomatic noises about the qualifier against Ukraine.Actually, Slovakia might be half-decent, having once been part of a country with healthy footballing pedigree – Czechoslovakia (still part of them in fact, within the strange alternate universe that is David Pleat’s head, where there exists “the republic of Czechoslovakia”. Get that man his own seat in the European Parliament, and watch as history is rewritten.) However, it’s a long-shot. Slovakia might be have some talent, but the likelihood is that this will quickly descend into the archetypal big-boys-vs-lower-league fare.
Personally I quite hope that the game remains nil-nil well after the first half hour, and into the second half. If Slovakia stick eleven men behind the ball, and play the role of untalented spoilers an Rooney-baiters, they will provide a useful test of England’s patience and creativity. By contrast a couple of early goals would draw out the Slovaks, create space and lead to a rout – we would learn nothing. A long barren stalemate will at least give England the experience of breaking down stubborn opponents. With England cruising atop the group, the only potential obstacle to World Cup qualification is likely to be rubbish Eastern Europeans slamming the ball to halfway and inviting us to go again.
Mind you, failure to score an early goal against Absurdistan would probably have the Wembley crowd laying eggs and bottling one another. It’s probably just a minority, but I can honesty say I’ve never heard such a shamefully abusive and impatient bunch. Nevertheless, at the risk of enraging the Neanderthalic Massive, I’m hoping for a dour, goalless start to the game.
Gerrard On The Left
Injury to the fantastic Joe Cole has again provided a handy escape route from the Lampard-Gerrard problem. Gerrard is fist-clenchingly annoying, but I can’t deny that he’s been awesome in that role behind the striker(s) this season. It seems a right waste to shunt him out left, even though our own wonderful Luka has demonstrated that this need not be a hindrance to a creative genius.
I hope that once Cole is fit again he assumes the left-hand berth, and Gerrard replaces Lamps as the attacking central midfielder. Cole has consistently been excellent for England on the left, provides balance and width, despite being right-footed, and is the only player capable of dribbling past his man.
Lampard is no mug, but just is not as good as Gerrard. If it comes to a straight choice between the two, I hope Capello opts for the scouser (as he think he has previously done on occasion). Lampard would certainly be an excellent player to have coming off the bench.
As mentioned, I’m hardly pushing to be secretary of the Steve Gerrard Fan Cub. Top player, but like that other squeaking irritant, Jamie Carragher, he seems far more concerned about his club than country. Like Carragher, I imagine he would have little hesitation in chucking in the international game if it dawned on him that he did not have a divine right to a place in the starting XI. Presumably he changes light-bulbs by holding them and waiting for the world to revolve around him. And, on top of everything else, he always bangs home the pressure pens for his club (vs Man Utd and Real) but messed up in the quarter-final shoot-out at the World Cup. Still haven’t forgiven him for that.
So hopefully we’ll learn a few things before the glut of second-half substitutions. Great opportunity for Lennon to stake his claim. One-Trick Downing will presumably continue the crime of the century by adding a further England cap to his collection in the second half. Yet another pretender will try on the gloves. Win, lose or draw, no-one will remember this once we’re at South Africa next year.
Sunday: Ledley gets called up to the England squad.M
onday: ‘Arry’s twitches go into overdrive – “Madness”, he rages, “The boy can’t train all week! His knee swells up the size of Croydon! We only had two points…”Tuesday: Ledley gets sent back home by England. (Perhaps for maximal effect this should be read whilst listening to the Benny Hill theme tune)
It seems that Fabio
“Einstein” Capello and his crack team of monkeys have concluded that Ledley’s knee, currently stuck together with sellotape and string, will not stand up to the rigours of twice-daily international training sessions and two international matches per week. In the same press release Capello also revealed that some bears prefer to defecate in woodland areas, and that Pope Benedict is a Catholic.
As it’s a quiet week for football news the media have gone to town with tales of how the relationship between Fabio and ‘Arry has descended to the level of to-the-death physical combat. Not there are too many direct quotes to substantiate the claims that the pair are not getting along, but the line we’re being fed is that they are not about to skip around hand-in-hand in congenial agreement on what to do with Ledley, who is being tossed around like a lump of meat while the two camps bicker away.Kind of England, King of The Lane
It seems equally reasonable of ‘Arry to have objected to the prospect of Ledley being asked to train, or play twice in a week, given that he’s physically incapable of either. So far, so good. Despite the exhalation of some hot air, both have got their way.
The more pressing issue was whether Ledley would play for England next Wednesday, as that would have ruled him out of Spurs’ game the following weekend. Club trumped country on that one, and Ledley was sent back to Spurs Lodge, for some hardcore watching from the sidelines as others train.
Lescott and Upson vs Torres and Villa: Scary
In theory it’s a cracking idea. Ledley’s pockets are bulging, full of all the strikers he’s kept there over the years, for club and country. He would certainly provide excellent cover for Rio as the ball-playing centre-back, and not too many eyebrows would raised if he were considered for the starting XI. In practice, however, the guy is a cripple six days out of seven. His inability to play more than once a week renders him an unaffordable luxury in a World Cup, where games come around every four days or so.
Some have argued that Ledley would be worth a place in a World Cup squad, even though unable to play twice in a week, because, as a stand-by defender, he is better than all the alternatives. Understandable point, when one thinks of, for example, a quarter-final against Torres and Villa, with England boasting Upson or Lescott at the back. A one-legged Ledley would probably instil more confidence than those two.
The Verdict Is…
Just this once, my argument is not borne of a pro-Spurs bias, for those at All Action No Plot Towers wave their England scarves as enthusiastically as their Tottenham ones. If anything, having a foot in both camps, and with impeccable balance, I am unusually well-placed to offer an objective opinion, in contrast to my usual, excessively blinkered rants.
On a personal level it’s desperately unlucky, for one of the most gifted defenders of his generation. I like to think that I am uniquely positioned to feel Ledley
’s pain, given that I too have an unfortunate congenital condition – known in medical circles as a “twinge” – which prevents me from training midweek in between Monday night 5-a-side games. Neither Ledley nor I, kindred spirits, are likely ever to represent our country in a World Cup, and purely because of our wretched medical predicaments, callously thrust upon us by a cruel and vengeful Lady Luck. (You see? It’s all a woman’s fault.)So what conclusions to draw from this sorry tale, aside from desperately sympathetic pats of consolation for the blighter? Unfortunately, there is not much left to do but, rather guiltily, wait for Ledley to get back to business in the lilywhite of Tottenham, rather than England. Despite this, I can’t help feeling that the matter is far from closed. There’s a year until the World Cup, and while we should probably just be grateful to see Ledley on the pitch at all, it seems certain that as long as he is playing for Tottenham he will be courted by Fabio’s mafia.
As the final whistle sounded all restraint and reason duly gave up trying to make themselves heard and discreetly slunk out of the stadium. It was neither the time nor the place for that sort of behaviour. Instead it is the time for giddy over-excitement, the time to kill the fattened calf and start making our outlandish predictions about next season.The business of getting far too carried away comes as naturally to Spurs fans as that whole inhale-exhale routine. Typically it occurs in the idle pre-season months, to the merriment of rival fans the length of the country, but this sequence of - let’s face it - title-winning form, has us all dispensing with moderation and stampeding towards unrealistic dreams of glory.
Over the last few weeks we’ve all desperately tried to restrain ourselves. The win at Hull? Limited opposition. The thrashing of Boro? Far from flawless performance.
Then things started to get out of hand, with the win against Villa. That was hugely impressive, and left us all scrabbling a little desperately for reasons not to get carried away. Deep inside we became convinced that we were showing form worthy of the top six and better, but such talk remained strictly taboo. Company policy had us all under strict orders that the only topic to be broached was that of avoiding relegation.
Ledley was the first to snap, spouting off this week about how we ought to push for the top four next season. We tutted and clucked, even though in our heart of hearts it’s what we all wanted to say.
However, now that we’ve beaten Chelski – and deservedly so - the shackles have been removed. Let’s not beat about the bush here – we’re fricking awesome! ‘Arry made a few apologetic post-match noises about not being out of the danger-zone, but no-one believed him, and I don’t think he even believed himself. Chelski are one of the teams that the big Italians and Spaniards are trying to emulate. By the old playground-conker rules, that means that we’re now the envy of Barcelona and Milan. Nine games to go, all eyes on seventh spot. The international break will now rather irritatingly disrupt our momentum, and possibly bring injuries, but we can worry about that later. There’s a warm glow at the Lane, and nothing should prevent us from basking in it.
(Reason and restraint have reappeared at AANP Towers, urgently trying to point out the folly of such excitement at one good month of results, but they have duly been gagged, and banned from the premises for trying to spoil the party).
Gold Stars All Round
My cap is also doffed in the general direction of Gomes. “Much-maligned” is a prefix now gathering dust, for the big man’s save from Terry was worth a goal yesterday. Back in the glorious 2005-06 season under Martin Jol (blessed be his name) I considered that, between them, Ledley and Paul Robinson did the equivalent of scoring one goal per game, through some unlikely last-ditch tackle or point-blank save. Gomes has now started doing the same. He may still grimace and wince and cry like a baby every time a flea sneezes on him, but I’ll accept that he’s a bit of a fairy if he can continue in this vein.
Oh what the hell, why not? So drunk with pleasure am I that I’ll even lavish praise upon Darren Bent. He will never look like a £16 million striker, but he worked tirelessly yesterday, in the “unsung hero” role, allowing more illustrious and talented peers to hog the headlines. It feels a bit like praising the rubbish fat kid in the school team for showing “good effort”, but Bent should just graciously accept the compliment and go back to Spurs Lodge to work on his finishing.
The bubble will burst, we’ll all be whingeing again soon enough, but for now let’s just enjoy the good times. Keep it going after the international break, and we’ll all be going on a European tour.
As the visit of Chelski approacheth the time is probably right for me to confess my sordid little secret - I don’t actually hate Ashley Cole.Controversial Indifference About Ashley Cole
The reason for this is probably his level of performance in an England shirt. Generally, he keeps his head down and gets on with things when he’s wearing the three lions. Few histrionics or whinges, unlike some of his international (and club) colleagues. He’s a very solid left-back, pops up with his fair share of last-ditch tackles and goal-line clearances and, as befits the 21st century full-back, he also provides an extra attacking outlet by bombing up the wing.
I feel like I’m dodging rotten tomatoes as I write this, but tomorrow I’ll probably direct my abuse elsewhere. The allegations of greed and infidelity don’t particularly bother or concern me, as they merely suggest that he’s a member of the species homo footballens, completely oblivious to the true nature of life on earth. These players are signed as young teenagers, have the annual GDPs of small African countries waved at them before they’re 21, have hot ladies tripping over themselves to snare them, and have never touched a 9-to-5 job with a bargepole.
Little wonder then, that they grow up with pound signs in their eyes, and a penchant for a bit of skirt, within wedlock or otherwise. Even Saint Gary of Lineker was at it, back in the day. I’m not condoning it – Cole’s a rotter for messing around that minx of a wife – but he’s not alone in living on a completely different planet from the rest of us.
Bile Towards The Rest of Them
Drogba for example - built like a boxer, yet cries like a girl who’s been called nasty names. For goodness’ sake, take it like a man. And by “it” I mean everything that comes your way. I’ll never forget the sight of him tumbling like he’d been shot under a tap from Zokora at Wembley last year, picking himself up to score the free-kick, and then comfortably supporting two or three team-mates who jumped on top of him.
Terry seems to think that being an England player cloaks him in immunity from punishment. Quite why he is England captain is bewildering. A role model he most certainly ain’t – unless the asbo generation are seeking inspiration - and neither is he the best player in the team, or even the best player in the pair of centre-backs. That business of him giving a rousing speech before the Croatia game a couple of years ago, also had me spitting feathers. If the team wanted verbal inspiration then the poet laureate ought to have been hauled before them; but the entire business of pre-match speeches by the captain struck me as ludicrous, and entirely worthless once the whistle blew for kick-off. Honestly, if the players weren’t sufficiently psyched for a crunch game like that I hardly think some pearls of wisdom from John “Byron” Terry would have done the trick. And after all that fuss we were rubbish anyway.
I’ll resist the urge to go through the entire Chelski team firing off bile-soaked rants. You get the point. Unlike Peter Kenyon. Not so long ago Kenyon fastened blinkers to his head and quite earnestly banged on about turning them into the biggest club in the world by 2014. Without either an illustrious history or a massive long-term fan-base they will never be categorised as a true great of the English game. I can imagine Kenyon staring blankly at me as I try to explain this, then picking up a bag full of coins and shaking it at me, by way of counter-argument.
’Arry’s CV, Lennon’s Contract
Lennon against Cole is likely to be critical to the outcome of tomorrow’s game, on which topic, three cheers for young Lennon for putting pen to paper. Wise move, son. It would be convenient at this juncture to forget quite how worthless footballer’s contracts are, and instead breeze into the Lane tomorrow on a wave of goodwill and optimism.
The official Spurs website is astonishing, a propaganda machine almost Orwellian in its slant on life. On tottenhamhotspur.com the sun always shines, the good guys always win and there is no third-world poverty. In fact, there’s probably no third-world at all, in this planet of fuzzy smiles and merry unicorns. There is just White Hart Lane and the Spurs Megastore, in which FIRST TEAM PLAYERS make GUEST APPEARANCES (fans please note – only two pieces of memorabilia per person may be presented for autographs).Earlier this week Spurs reserves beat Chelski reserves, and our official club website practically wet itself with excitement. I say Spurs “reserves”, but this was not the usual selection of earnest young kids who will eventually be shunted off on loan to Orient before being tossed aside on free transfers without getting a sniff of the first team because we’re too busy blowing £14 squillion on some sub-standard midfielder from Middlesbrough.
No, this reserves team consisted largely of our subs bench from the last couple of weeks. Chimbonda, Bale, Hudd, Bentley, Pav, Campbell (with a guest appearance from Rocha, who not only is still alive, but is still, apparently, making a living as a footballer).
An objective observer might regard the 4-0 win (by our multi-million pound team, against a Chelski XI featuring such luminaries as Ofori-Twumasi, Ahamed and van Aanholt) as perhaps not such an amazing feat. Not that this minor detail – the truth – was going to stand in the way of whichever crazed zealot is in charge of tottenhamhotspur.com.
However, whilst deciphering the newspeak I raised an unhappy eyebrow at some of the finer details of our GLORIOUS WIN - for two of the goals were scored by young Fraizer Campbell.
Campbell in the Reserves: The Case Against
But the reserves? That should be the place for our own, permanently-contracted players, to get up to speed. For example, playing Campbell meant denying a chance to young Obika, who looked rough around the edges but pretty darned promising on debut vs Shakhtar a few weeks back. The reserve game vs Chelski, in which the result really did not matter, would have been a great chance for Obika to learn alongside Pav, Hudd et al. Instead, a Man Utd striker, for whom we have little further use, was given the full 90 minutes. I’m typing this with just one hand, because with the other I have made a small clenched fist of displeasure. Not full-blown rage, but definite displeasure.
“Я хочу оставить”
However, I can’t help feeling that Pav, Bentley and Hudd would have muttered sullenly under their breath when informed of team selection for this game. When Pav was banging them in for the Ruskis in the shop window of Euro 2008, he would not have been dreaming of a Monday night reserve game in an empty Leyton Orient stadium. Leaves me wondering what the Russian is for “transfer request”. Google translate might have the answer, because tottenhamhotspur.com sure as hell won’t.
It’s the flip-side of having a (relatively) settled first XI which is producing decent results. The non-starters, while together comprising a mighty fine (and expensive) subs’ bench, will get little more action than ignominious reserve games. No matter how ecstatic the reaction of tottenhamhotspur.com, I don’t think those guys will be too chuffed about it, and the exit door could therefore see a lot of activity come the summer.
I’m willing to make a placard, but a whistle and go on a little march along the High Road suggesting to the world that this was our best result of the season.Before you all go spluttering coffee over you computer screens and rolling in the aisles, consider the evidence. Sure, we have raised our game and earned draws against the top four – but those were fairly anomalous results, swiftly followed by apathetic defeats to teams that might well in the Championship in few months time.Wins against the teams at the wrong end of the table were always welcome, but frankly it’s a little embarrassing to get too excited about a win against a team of Sunday-leaguers and students. Like Hull, bless. For me, the real acid tests of our ability have been the games, particular those away from home, against Villa, Everton, and to a lesser extent Man City or even West Ham.
Bizarrely, we’ve taken maximum points from these away days so far. I’ll discount the Man City game, as that turned on a red card, and we haven’t yet travelled to Goodison, but the win at West Ham was a fitting result for a very impressive performance - and yesterday’s against Villa, falls under the same category, but with a bit more treacle on top. Solid defensively and creative going forward, against capable opponents. Far from just a backs-to-the-wall Alamo effort. Second half in particular we were in charge for long periods. It bodes well for next season.
Where Did It All Go Right?
A stat popped up on the screen yesterday noting that in all four league games in which we’ve led at half-time we’ve gone on to win. That can now read five in five. Here’s the technical bit - scoring the first goal forces the oppo to commit men forward. Genius! Maybe they’ll try that every week. It leaves great big open spaces of green, upon which Lennon and Modric gaze with the greedy glee of the Hudd let loose in a cake factory. All wonderfully reminiscent of the all-action-no-plot days of 5-1 wins and the like. So rocket science it most certainly ain’t, but the fact remains that we look mighty impressive on the counter-attack - best facilitated by scoring first.
Jenas, Jenas, Infuriating Jenas
One of his better days, and it still had me screaming at the TV and searching for someone defenceless to strangle. The burst into the area for his goal was reminiscent of Scholes or Lampard, and reminded us all of how good Jenas has often threatened to be. Credit also for his role in the second goal – having lost possession he tracked back 30 yards to win the ball, thereby starting the move which led to Bent’s magnificently-executed finish. I happily acknowledge Jenas’ work-rate and attitude – both first-rate.
And yet, “Jenas” remains a modern-day byword for infuriating, exasperating and the senseless infliction of violence by the infuriated and exasperated upon passing simple-folk. Which Spurs fan hasn’t burst into a torrent of the most foul-mouthed abuse upon seeing the lad sprint 60 yards, do the hard work and get into position, only to pass instead of shoot, or miss an open goal, or miss the ball completely and tumble over?
As well as that, he simply concedes possession too often. I was on special Jenas-Watch yesterday, and although he had some excellent moments around the oppo penalty area, his ability to misplace six-yard passes around the halfway line remains frightening. As mentioned above, I think we’re benefitting from a settled team selection, but in theory I’d still prefer Palacios-Modric in the centre and someone else out left.
Corluka. The lad defies physics. Visually, everything about him suggests that he’s as slow as an overweight sloth that’s been shot with horse tranquilizer. His legs just don’t move that fast. Watch Bent or Zokora – or, obviously, Lennon – and see how fast their legs move. One of the strange abiding memories in my head is of England-Switzerland at Euro 2004, when we scored our third – Beckham played the ball down the right, and Gary Neville shot into view, his little legs going like the clappers (0.25 on this clip). Corluka’s legs never move that fast. The dictionary defines the term “lumber” as “to move like Corluka”. And yet he’s always on hand to help Lennon on the right. They’re an amazing combo, and were brilliant yesterday. Trying to understand it is making my head hurt.
Date For Your Diaries
Credit to ‘Arry for taking off Didier. Yep, that’s right. On the 16th day of the third month, in the Year of Our Lord 2009, AANP Towers bestowed a shiny gold star upon the lapels of ‘Arry’s jacket. Our glorious leader may put the “Ary” in “mercenary”, and may blame everyone else for anything that goes wrong, but his substitution was brave and possibly saved us the game.
Although I rather like do-do-do-Didier at right-back, he was being ripped to shreds by that pesky Ashley Young. If Zokora were a dog I’d have marched up to Villa Park myself, pulled out a gun and shot him (to end his misery, not just because I hate dogs). It took bravery – and a yellow card – for ‘Arry to yank him off the pitch a good ten mins before half-time. A pat on the back, sir. Pats on backs all round, in fact - although not for Jenas. I just can’t, I physically can’t.
Been looking forward to this one for ages. Perhaps a bit of an odd choice for a grudge match, but I have been developing, over the last year or two, an intense hatred of Villa. It has gone almost unnoticed for months, but after a recent glance at the fixture list it all suddenly burst out in a torrent of completely unreasonable incandescence.Admittedly they’re not l’Arse – ironically actually, a win for us tomorrow would do a favour for that ‘orrible lot – or Chelski or West Ham. Can’t even point to narcissistic, persecution-complexed fans, as with Newcastle or Liverpool.
However, once the idea popped into my head it gained momentum, sped out of control and now has a life of its own. I hate Villa. I absolutely loathe them.
The reason? They’ve stolen our thunder. They’ve usurped us. Challenging the top four? Pushing for a Champions League spot? Spine of young English players? Those are our trademarks. We did all the groundwork for this. Just a couple of years ago, pushing the top-four was our exclusive territory.
Yet now, no-one remembers us - they just bleat on about how good it is for the Premiership that Villa are muscling in on the top four. It’s like inventing the paper clip and then seeing someone else patent it and run off with the money. That’s exactly what it’s like. So you can easily imagine the level of ire I now feel.
I guess a modern-day Freud would diagnose this, as with most of my gripes about Spurs, as a failure to step out of the glorious bygone era of Martin Jol (blessed be his name). The all-action-no-plot goal-fests, the scintillating one-touch counter-attacks, the English-speaking changing-rooms – and the fact that it actually brought us results. It was a perfect platform for us, to expand the elite into a top five. It was supposed to be the end of our perennial underachievement. I still haven’t quite accepted that we failed to push on, that the whole empire crumbled in a blitz of inflated transfer fees and bumbling Darren Bents.
So now we find ourselves back where we’ve been most of my life – mid-table mediocrity, with the occasional Cup run and very firmly rooted within this sceptr’d isle, with no need for a passport to mainland Europe.
Instead, it’s Villa who’ve run off and sold our paper-clips. Villa, with their ridiculous colours and odious, smug little manager. Worse, since I’m in a minority of one on this point, I’ve just had to stew in a corner silently, for months on end, muttering sotto voce curses and glaring at the league table.
As we clearly aren’t going to overtake them this season, the only solution is to vent some rage and deal them a bloody nose this afternoon. It will carry the same satisfaction as beating up the lad who stole your girlfriend. Not big, not clever, won’t win back the girl - but nevertheless, in a pathetic way it will make me feel a little better about life.
On a more reasonable level, this game will also provide a pretty good gauge of where we are, given the current confusion of whether we’re still in a relegation scrap or actually pushing for seventh.
Friedel is one of the finest ‘keepers in the land, while in the last couple of years I’ve undergone a Pauline-like conversion to Heskeyism. He may not be able to score if he visited a brothel, kicked out every other punter and then signed the deeds for the place, but he has a majestic ability to treasure the ball, occupy defenders and involve his chums. In the various areas of grass between these two players I have to admit, between gritted teeth, that that darned English spine has a combo of guile in Barry, and oodles of pace in Young and Agbonlahor.
A good test for us without a doubt, and a pointer for next season (sigh – how depressing to waive this campaign, in mid-March, and already peer towards next season). We’ve honed the baffling skill of matching the top-four, yet we are frequently out-scrapped by the rubbish thud-and-blunder bunch around the drop-zone. The only true gauge of our standard therefore seems to be Villa and Everton.
There’s a great big Uefa Cup-shaped hole in my life at the moment. Instead of working myself into a frenzy of midweek worry, pessimism and nerves, I’ve been at a loss for something to stimulate the usual heart palpitations. Had to resort to half-heartedly watching Liverpool in the Champions League, throwing stones at small garden animals and generally twiddling my thumbs.Listening to England’s heroic failure in the Test Match served as a gentle reminder of the life of a Spurs fan, but generally this cold-turkey approach to the lack of Uefa Cup has not been a bundle of fun. However, I have endeavoured to use the time constructively. With no cup games, midweek distractions or ineligibility mazes to navigate we have the opportunity to settle upon fairly consistent team selection over the remaining ten games in the season. The permutations in defence remain numerous, but something approaching repetition has occurred across the middle, with Lennon on the right and Modric wide left, flanking Jenas and Palacios in the centre.
The Midfield Conundrum
First things first – no-one in their right mind would question the eligibility of Palacios for a central midfield berth. Not to put any pressure on the lad, but if I ever bump into him I’ll pull out a pen-knife and scratch the words “our saviour” all over his face, but backwards, so that he’ll be reminded every time he looks into a mirror.
With that out of the way I turn to Jenas. Is this really the man we ideally want complementing Palacios? He has the appropriate attacking mentality to go alongside Palacios – far better him than, say, do-do-do-Didier. However, to put it diplomatically, he has not exactly made mind-bogglingly stunning progress since his emergence as a precocious under-21 starlet all those years back. (There, I did it – a full sentence about Jermaine Jenas without any hint of rage or vitriol. I demand a gold star).
More pointedly, deploying Jenas in the centre shunts Modders out to the left, where his impact is undoubtedly diminished. In the grossest practical terms, he’s got less pitch to play on when assigned to the wing. He may weigh less than his own shadow, but the guy is patently a class above the rest. Give him a central role, the freedom of the pitch, the freedom of North London. Our team ought to be built around him.
A Modric-Palacios centre would therefore leave us needing someone on the left. I’ll resist the urge to grumble about the sale of Steed, dagnabbit, and instead examine those who are still keeping the bench warm at the Lane. Brylcreem Bentley, Three-Touch O’ Hara, the genetic experiment that is Bale – even Jenas himself… Personally however I’d give young Giovani a run of games and see what he’s made of, but I get the impression that ‘Arry would rather organise six fixtures a day for the rest of the year than let Giovani establish himself.
Scarily, if no solution is decided upon, by default we’ll end up with One-Trick Downing this summer, fro around £13.9 million more than he’s worth. For that we could buy back several Steeds, or, dreamily, maybe even pinch Joe Cole.
Hypotheticals aside, the question from now until the end of the season revolves around what is preferable – Palacios-Modric in the centre, and A.N. Other wide left; or Palacios-Jenas in the centre and Modric wide left? I vote for the former.
Where Does This Leave Hudd?
I fall into the latter camp, regrettably so as I have minimal patience with fat people (JUST EAT LESS). When he first emerged I had Hudd down as Carrick Mark II, a player who could feint his way out of trouble with a dip of the shoulder, pick passes dripping in gold and strike a shot with the force of an exocet missile. Far too often however, his passes go astray, although a healthy portion of blame here should go to team-mates’ lack of movement.
Still, the frustration remains. He’s not a tackler, runner or dribbler, and does not have the energy to compensate for mistakes. He most certainly has the capacity to boss games, but too often this only seems to happen when we’re already two goals up (whereas, for example, Modric seems to dictate games far more regularly). Hoddle or Ginola may have been deemed by many to be luxury players, but they were regularly genuine match-winners too. How often have we said this of Hudd? How often are we likely to say this of Hudd, particularly in the bigger games?
Strange how I have found myself mulling this point because of the absence of European football – the precise stage upon which I reckon Hudd is best suited. Lovely bit of irony with which to wrap up. Tally-ho.