Oh how the fates toy with us, when it comes to matters of a left-back persuasion. Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be familiar with my dubious sentiments about that careering, out-of-control ball of limbs known as Danny Rose. So when the carrier pigeon poked in its head to chirp tidings from the lilywhite transfer office, conveying news of the signing of one Ben Davies Esquire, I did what any right-thinking, Danny Rose-abhorring chap would do, and promptly danced a surreptitious but merry jig.
Not that the life and times of Ben Davies is a particular pet topic of mine, far from it. In fact, beyond the most basic snippets of info, I would have to confess to being almost entirely ignorant of anything about the blighter. He does however undoubtedly possess one feature that in my eyes represents ten million nuts well spent – namely that he is not Danny Rose. This, by any metric, constitutes a forward step.
So ‘twas a distinctly bonny, blithe and gay AANP pootling cheerily about his business this week when the carrier pigeon reappeared – but this time its message was so dashed soul-destroying that I had a good mind to wring its neck, pluck every feather from its body and string it up from the window as a pointed warning to any other soul bearing similarly woeful news. And news does not get much worse – or more head-scratchingly baffling – than that Danny Rose and his kabbadi boots have signed on for another five years at the Lane. Another five years! Blinking heck. Another five years of ill-timed lunges, misplaced six-yard passes and errant crosses slapping into the nearest defender. Someone think about the children, for goodness sake.
I do of course exercise a smidgeon or two of dramatic licence here, for the chap is not entirely incapable when it comes to the germane issues around two working feet and a sphere. Nevertheless repeated viewings of the boy Rose do give the impression that God set out to create a runaway trolley, attached a few muscular limbs - during some sort of deific experimental phase no doubt – but gave up before completion and dumped the result in N17.
Gylfi Thor Sigurdsson Biffs Off
As part of the Ben Davies deal we also bid a teary adieu to Gylfi Sigurdsson, not the least of whose qualities include the middle name ‘Thor’. I was always rather fond of the chap (Sig, not Thor), and one suspects that in a parallel universe he has made a starting berth his own at the Lane. However, the Tottenham midfield is bursting at the seams, with attacking-minded chaps of his ilk spilling out all over the place, so the decision to shove him out is understandable enough.
The boy Vorm is inbound, since having a pretty dashed handy reserve goalkeeper now seems to be as fashionable as beards and skinny jeans. A competent chappie this Vorm, so one nods enthusiastically and hopes he enjoys staying out late on Thursdays.
Falque Out, Dier In
Our other transfer dealings have been very much on the low-key side of things. Once upon a time £4 million was almost enough to give the foundations of world football a meaningful shove, and pocket oneself a flamboyant, mulleted winger with a penchant for shoulder-dips. Now it seems, a similar sum will secure the services of a man with but one appearance to his name. Step forward (and wave goodbye) Iago Falque, a bean I would not recognise if he made an appointment and proceeded to give the reel-by-reel lowdown on his instagram page. Bundled off to Italy apparently, after that single appearance. Still, he was on the THFC squad list, and as such will forever be entitled to a free whisky at AANP Towers whenever in the neighbourhood.
A similar delight awaits one Eric Dier, who for another £4 million is toddling onto the White Hart Lane premises all the way from Portugal. An England U21 central defender according to the shady types who know such things. The law of averages suggests he will end up disappearing down the route trod by Antony Gardener, Alton Thelwell and indeed Iago Falque – but one wishes him well.
Precious Little Else
Beyond those it seems that preserving the status quo by is the latest fad. Inevitably, a couple of rumours have wafted along suggesting that we might join the merry band pecking away at the carcass of Southampon, but on the whole it seems that the Pochettino remit is to make the most of the treasures already at his disposal. No bad thing, given that by and large last season we seemed but one decent left-back and an in-form Lamela short of the Top Four, but until we bring in a fourth striker I remain a tad uneasy about things.
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Not quite sure how I coped before the World Cup, but by heavens life has been a struggle in the seven days since it finished. A handy opportunity however, to cast the eye over those lilywhites in action this summer, as well as various other bits and pieces at N17.
First-rate stuff though the tournament was, alas it was not the sort of World Cup to have wide-eyed maidens rushing to the top of their towers and squealing the good name of Tottenham. Au contraire, from a lilywhite perspective this has been a summer to elicit sneers of contempt from neighbourhood vagabonds.
For a start, one can say what they please about the performance of our national mob, but before a ball had been kicked a hefty thump to the pride was administered, make no mistake, by the decision to include not a single lilywhite amongst the 23 tasked with making England proud. Worse pickles befall the average Tottenham fan, it is true – left, right and centre on a weekly basis last season, if memory serves – but as the summer began this was certainly a fresh ignominy with which gloating rivals bashed us over the head.
Nevertheless, corners of various Brazilian fields were sprayed a Tottenham hue this summer, thanks to the efforts of a select few from around the globe. Monsieur Lloris did not do much wrong, and was not really to blame as his outfield colleagues waved their white flags and sidled home at the Quarter-Final stage.
The Manaus heat presumably did Lloris something of a mischief however, for no sooner had he landed back on European terra firma than he was signing himself up to another season of Just Missing Out On The Top Four with us. In a World Cup replete with impressive goalkeepers he was up there amongst the best of them, consolidating his reputation, and could presumably have bounced straight off to some CL team on the continent in a jiffy - so his rationale did perplex me somewhat I must confess. Not that he is likely to honour the full five years – presumably he will be off in a season or two for a health sum – but he could most certainly have toddled off this summer had he chosen.
Vertonghen (And Chums)
Back to the on-pitch stuff, and the other highlight from our lot was provided by Vertonghen, who against USA in particular could not have gone about his left-backery in more buccaneering style if he had done so whilst galloping along on horseback, with sword in hand and distressed damsel flung over shoulder. A goal in the group stages is also now proudly emblazoned across the top of his Linkedin profile, so little wonder that Belgium’s demise prompted reports that Barcelona were sniffing around Vertonghen Towers with a glass of sangria and a couple of brochures. Having shown all the interest of a particularly errant toddler being made to watch paint dry during his final few games at the Lane last season, I would not be entirely taken aback if he were to tootle off abroad, but one never really knows what goes on in the inner sanctum.
Vertonghen’s Belgian colleagues were rather more on the underwhelming side. Dembele was occasionally spotted puffing out his chest, letting the ball run away from him and barging folk over, and Chadli also dabbled in a few inauspicious cameos, but few skirts were blown up as a result.
On the Algerian side of the playground young Bentaleb could be seen studiously pinging the ball sideways and backwards and backwards and sideways, before the assorted grands fromage of Algiers presumably got wind of his ruse, and banished him to the sidelines for the knockout game vs Germany.
The most glorious failure was undoubtedly Paulinho’s, who impressively managed to establish himself as one of the worst of an absolutely rotten bunch of Brazilians. He does earn a bonus point for side-stepping the first half of the Greatest Comedy Show on Earth, but one can hardly protest that Brazil’s thrashing would have been avoided had Paulinho been patrolling the grounds from kick-off.
Transfers at N17
Aside from the World Cup, I may be in a minority but the fact that nothing but tumbleweed is currently rolling around the Arrivals Lounge at the Lane jolly well gladdens the AANP bean. Another 51 weeks of this and full-blown stability might actually break out.
I’m not insinuating that our squad is practically perfect in every way – if ever a club needed to knock unconscious its full-backs and stuff them onto a plane, BA Baracus style, it’s our lot with Rose and Naughton – but after the not entirely magnificent seven were scooped up last season, something a little more sedate might be in order this summer. If Pochettino can stick with what we’ve got and snake-charm the magic out of (or into, depending on your viewpoint) Lamela and Soldado I will sink the evening bourbon with a smirk of quiet satisfaction.
And finally, as is customary at this time of year, a new kit has been dolefully plastered around the interweb. Accepting the usual caveats (i.e. if they make Top Four and snag a trophy they can do it in stockings and suspenders for all I care) I fling this one into the pile labelled ‘Underwhelming’. The tribute to Bill Nick is a commendable touch, but otherwise, to this untrained eye, the blue lines across the front seem a tad unnecessary, and a collar might be nice. ‘Tis all much of a muchness in the final analysis – white shirt, blue shorts, heinously over-priced. (Although excitingly, the marketing bods have this year resorted to a Wild-Eyed Look of Rage approach to advertising, which makes a change from chaps standing around with arms folded.)
Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.
Don’t mind AANP breezing through your Sunday evening with a few musings on the lilywhite brigade busting their respective guts at the marvellous World Cup…
Like Djimi Traore proudly keeping a Champions League Winner’s medal stuffed alongside the small change in his pocket, and Ian Bell possessing one hundred caps for the England cricket team, there is something that makes me shed a small tear and wonder if there but for the grace of God about the notion that, should the hosts go on and win the whole bally thing, then Paulinho will be a World Cup winner.
Perhaps precisely because Paulinho is the heartbeat of said team do they look like they need a pacemaker and possibly some bypass surgery at present. The blighter has so far looked every inch the impotent midfield passenger, which has actually been vaguely comforting for those who like to watch their World Cup without worrying that the very fabric of the universe will collapse under the weight of absurdity of seeing him suddenly become some sort of footballing genius.
One never knows I suppose. The chap may be Pele incarnate in training, and simply under managerial orders to bob around the pitch like a man tasked with chasing his own shadow once the action gets under way.
Controversial though it may be, I have never particularly subscribed to the school of though that Benny deserves extra sprinkles on his ice-cream for being some sort of kooky, anti-establishment hero. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer my footballers to switch off their phones and concentrate on playing football first and foremost, with the notable addendum that full-backs jolly well ought to prioritise defending, with absurd haircuts and own-area Cruyff-turns a long way down the list.
So seeing BAE let his man drift away from him, ‘track back’ a good 15 yards behind play, fail to close down attackers as they prepared to shoot and then languidly dangle a leg whilst turning away as the aforementioned shot pinged in, was all a little too much for one of my delicate constitution. Nor was I amongst the throngs howling in delight as he aimed an idiotic headbutt at a team-mate, of all dashed things. Absolutely hollow of head, that chap.
Mercifully the fine qualities of sanity and solidarity were waving merrily at us from between the two French sticks, where Monsieur Lloris had gone about his business mopping up the dregs in suitably dignified fashion during the two French wins. Not that he was required to do an awful lot, but as he has managed to go 2 games without assaulting the nearest team-mate he qualifies as one of our most successful lilywhite ambassadors.
Vertonghen & Chadli, Belgium
Appallingly enough, the day-job prevented AANP from the serious business of casting a discerning eye over the assembled lilywhite hordes in the Belgium-Algeria match. However, there was something dashed predictable in flicking to online text commentary to learn that Chadli had been withdrawn from proceedings at the halfway stage, on the grounds of invisibility.
A penalty conceded by Vertonghen in the same game suggests that, at least in terms of headline-making, this was a slightly underwhelming day for the great and good of N17’s Flemish contingent, and Vertonghen was duly relegated to the bench for his sins, appearing for around half their second game and hardly covering himself in glory there either.
As mentioned, no comment on Algeria’s first game, but midway through their second and young Bentaleb seems to have been rotated 90 degrees by his national manager, a masterstroke that has him passing sideways and sometimes even forwards, as opposed to the usual backwards thing peddled ad nauseam at the Lane.
A hearty “What ho!” and pat on the back to our newest glorious leader. Primarily for the sake of idling away the hours until the World Cup begins, AANP has cobbled together some thoughts on this Pochettino blighter, some communicating the general line of ‘yay’, others the less salubrious conclusion of ‘nay’.
Huzzah - He’s Not Tim Sherwood
‘Genetically Not Being Tim Sherwood’ is a positive on the CV at the moment. Not that I want to denigrate Sherwood too heavily, he doubtless did his damnedest for the lilywhite cause, but it seems to have been in the best interests of the club to have him bundled up in a sheet, hit over the head and shoved behind a sofa. Out of sight, out of mind.
Enter stage left Mr Pochettino, the sort of canny fish who seems a little less likely to turn the manager’s job at Spurs into a real-time video diary of how he is making things up as he goes along, and is also considerably less likely to be so angry at life.
All things considered, with talk of van Gaal and Ancelotti about as speculative as a Paulinho 20-yarder, and AANP deeply suspicious of De Boer’s record of umpteen consecutive titles in a Dutch league that is not exactly worshipped far and wide as the pinnacle of European football, we can probably be happy enough with this. Indeed, the general reaction amongst Spurs-supporting chums has been to give an understated nod of satisfaction and invite the man into our homes with the offer of a free splash or two of bourbon. He has our blessing.
Huzzah – He Has Premiership Experience
‘Tis also to be celebrated that the chap has some familiarity with the inner recesses of the Premiership. Last summer’s recruitment of umpteen players who had never previously set foot on this fair isle turned into a bit of a fiasco, while previous grands fromages who arrived at N17 as complete strangers to the country seemed to spend a mite too long squinting at the road signs and making sense of tea containing milk, when all along we really needed them to fit snugly into the official club blazer from day one. So where Messrs Gross, Santini and Ramos wasted time scouring their Pannini sticker albums to work out who played in which position, Pochettino can swan in already knowing his Lee Proberts from his Michael Olivers.
Huzzah – His Southampton Team Played Some Entertaining Stuff
One of the main selling points of this blighter is that he seems to have a penchant for good old swash and buckle, when it comes to style of play. Whether or not things will materialise thusly at the Lane remains to be seen, but on a scale of George Graham to Brazil 1970 he seems the sort of chap likely to give a knowing wink when it comes to the tactics board. Heaven help us if we go down the road of ‘Dawson Manning A High Defensive Line’ once more, but things should be fun to watch when we trundle forward.
Huzzah – He Gets The Best Out of Players (Apparently)
A little secret just between friends – a couple of years ago AANP had never heard of either Luke Shaw or Rickie Lambert, while Jay Rodriguez was known to me as the chap who made that film in which Salma Hayek danced around in her skimpies with a snake before everyone turned into vampires (you know the one) and Lallana was the sort of dish that would give me a rum tummy while on holiday. It turns out that Pochettino knows exactly how much spinach to feed these sort of chaps to turn them into the next over-priced young English talent to weaken our knees, and such alchemy would be welcome at the Lane.
Talent is currently oozing out of the sides of our squad and forming unsightly puddles on the ground, but by golly if you pop eleven of our lot onto a pitch together they all start digging at the earth as fast as their little hands allow and bury their heads in the ground before you can bluster “But this is £100 million pound of international talent, dash it.” Someone somewhere needs to beg, steal or borrow the best out of Lamela, Townsend, Chadli, Soldado (Naughton, admittedly, is a lost cause) et al, and Pochettino has previous in this department.
All the sort of thing to put hair on the chest you no doubt agree. However, the long-suffering lilywhite in me has accumulated cynicism by the lorry-load over the years, so it would be highly amiss not to pore over some of the seedier aspects of the career of Pochettino, and howl a prophesy of doom accordingly…
Show Us Yer Medals
In an ideal world, young people would dwell beneath rocks and other convenient crevices until they had something useful to contribute, the only member of the Cyrus clan whose music blared from phones on public transport would be Billy Ray, and Spurs would be managed by a chap with more awards, trophies and medals than you could wave a large stick at. Alas, the Pochettino managerial trophy cabinet is not exactly full to brimming at present. Admittedly, lashings of experience and a sack full of sparkling jugs and whatnot were of little help to Capello when he took charge of England, so such things are no guarantee of success - but the deal would be that much sweeter if Pochettino were a proven title-winner. He will just have to start the habit at N17.
One Good Season
Do 18 good months at Southampton a Top Four manager make? If he had been managing in England for five years would he now be regarded as on a par with, say, Pardew circa 2013 or Pardew circa 2014? The point being, the chap is still a little wet behind the ears, and it is rather difficult to average out his performance when there are but one a half seasons over which to pore.
Can He Handle Proven Players?
‘Tis one thing administering a thousand lashes (or indeed a bedtime lullaby, as the case may be) to young wide-eyed bucks like Shaw and Lallana, who are still making their way in the big wide world, but whether or not Pochettino can command the respect of seasoned millionaire internationals like Paulinho, Adebayor, Vertonghen and chums remains to be seen. AVB’s approach to handling the more experienced chaps at Chelski backfired spectacularly, and his Adebayor gambit here at the Lane was not much better; Pochettino will dashed well need some bright ideas if he does not want to wander back to his office one day to find a bucket of water perched atop the door and some sort of coup taking shape on the training pitch.
This Man Lost to Tim Sherwood. Twice.
Not the be-all and end-all of things by any means, but to lose once to Tim Sherwood can be glossed over as being a mite careless, to lose twice, in the space of half a season, is the sort blot that no man of substance ought to have on his escutcheon. It ought to matter not in the grand scheme of things, but it is not terrifically encouraging, what?
Well, there is no verdict as such – sorry to mislead. The chap is here, he seems a bright enough young egg, let’s rally around and cheer him to the rafters.
There is possibly more pressure on Levy than Pochettino with this appointment, but in defence of our follicly-challenged supremo, the appointments of AVB and now Pochettino point to a certain type of manager and set-up.
Moreover, the five-year contract suggests that Levy genuinely does want to perch in his hammock with feet up and a good book, without having to march down the High Road and firing and hiring everyone within sight each time the clocks change. Amen to that. Should we finish mid-table, then the rumblings of discontent will no doubt begin again, but I rather hope that even if we miss the Top Four (as seems fairly probable) and rather make a hash of things all round, we nevertheless persist with the manager, personnel and style.
Credit to Tactics Tim for managing to appear genuinely shocked and enraged when he bounced into work earlier this week and found the locks changed on his office door. ‘Twas a move that one suspects had been planned by Daniel Levy within nanoseconds of hiring him, and accordingly, barely had the lights been switched off after Ledley’s marvellous testimonial before the team of burly sorts were yanking Sherwood from his chair and flinging him headfirst through the nearest window and out onto the High Road.
Seasoned visitors to AANP Towers will doubtless be aware that around these parts we greet Sherwood’s removal with a cheery wave and care-free whistle (even if it has had the regrettable side-effect of him popping up in every dashed nook and cranny to wave his fist and rant about how well he would have done if he had just been given more time. Someone gag the chap and hide him behind a boulder until after the World Cup.)
The epithet on his N17 tombstone ought probably to capture that his pointed observations about the fighting spirit – or lack thereof – amongst our heroes did briefly locate a very pertinent nail and bash it squarely on the head. Alas, painfully under-qualified, seemingly incapable of filtering his thoughts in even the crudest fashion before they tumbled out of his mouth and without any tactical masterplan beyond ‘Pick Bentaleb,’ the blighter fairly quickly drifted into caricature, seemingly finding fault with everyone but himself.
Sherwood’s points tally may suggest a fairly successful tenure, but the statistics can be interpreted in various ways, and while I have the floor I bang drums, ring bells and wave placards at the fact that we ended up more points adrift of the Top Four at his departure than we were at his arrival.
On top of which performances swayed between fairly mediocre and downright awful, we continued to take ritual drubbings from any team with the faintest inkling of quality. My particular bête noire about the whole dashed thing was the absolutely maddening tendency to fiddle with personnel and tactics on a weekly basis (bar that almost religious devotion to selecting Bentaleb), seemingly just to prove a point to anyone who cared. It all seemed rather apt that in his final match Sherwood plucked a lucky chappie from the crowd and popped him into the hot seat, for his own managerial career at the Lane could not have been more neatly summed up.
Levy – The Opposite of the A-Team
So as sure as the seasons ping along in well-ordered fashion, we find ourselves looking for a new manager. Back in the ‘80s, if you had a problem and no-one else could help you nipped off to the Los Angeles underground to bring on board a ragtag bunch of soldiers of fortune. Daniel Levy however seems increasingly determined to style himself as the opposite of the A-Team, with no inclination to see whether a plan will come together, and seemingly precious little patience to invest in a plan in the first place. Hannibal and chums would presumably have been out on their ear before their first fist-fight had Levy hired them.
With each passing day the £100 mil shopping spree, removal of AVB and hiring of Sherwood seem less like part of a prepared strategy, or even a considered contingency plan, and increasingly like the teenage AANP flexing his muscles for the first time on Championship Manager. Quite what Levy will do next is anyone’s guess, but in the decade or so that he has been in charge it has not been massively clear what, if anything, the chap is getting at. Directors of Football, plain-speaking English rogues, European tacticians, bright young things, gnarly veterans – Levy no doubt wants us in the Top Four, but there is now something reminiscent of a crazed general adopting increasingly extreme behaviour as all around him things go awry, before finally placing a gun to his own head and giving one final, manic laugh. Crumbs, he had better get the next appointment right.
“I hope you’re right. I really do.”
Thus spake surly space lady Ripley, in the Muppets-based whodunit Aliens, when informed by a cocksure chum that everything would turn out just tickety-boo (shortly before things actually went rather awry, when one examines things objectively). Her sentiment of mingled hope, trust and wariness might well be mumbled at the gleaming bonce of Master Levy, for as non sequiturs go this is one of the ilk to have me howling with frustration. Just a few weeks ago we were still contenders for the Top Four, and even now on Christmas Eve we are but four points off said land of milk and honey, but this whole bizarre episode seems to have achieved such a recalculating of aims and ambitions that Top Six is now seemingly the accepted target. What the dickens sort of masterplan is that?
Our all-seeing chairman may well deserve a stern word for letting the guillotine drop without giving much thought about how to dispose of disembodied heads. Ridding the Lane of AVB was not necessarily a bad call, given the style of play we had been sucked into, but it served little purpose if nobody adequate were lined up. Presumably the 18-month contract will be terminated six months in, with the accompanying Levy death-stare, should our heroes fail to progress to the heady heights of sixth by the season’s end, or should someone with but a modicum of experience become available, but it seems a strange approach to shrug shoulders, close eyes, jab a finger onto a 2002 squad poster and accordingly entrust a season and a half to Sherwood. Few top-half teams would appoint Tim Sherwood as Master of their Universe, so it frustrates the bally juices out of me that we have done so.
If ever there were a time to be a fly on a wall, it was during negotiations yesterday, notwithstanding the potentially fatal effects of cold weather upon the poor blighters’ life-cycles. If I understand correctly Sherwood seems to have talked himself into an 18-month deal on the basis of one home defeat to West Ham, one madcap victory against a Southampton team whose defence and goalkeeper seemed to be playing the wrong sport, and through use of the bluff that he wanted it long-term or not at all. All of which suggests to me that Sherwood is one of the greatest orators of our time. Should the walls come crashing down on this curious little experiment then a career as FBI negotiator-in-chief blinking well ought to beckon.
Thus concludes the diatribe however. Time to back the chap, and hope that things turn out better for us than for Ripley and her chums (spoiler alert – they didn’t make the Top Four, if you follow my gist). If the Southampton selection were a gamble based on the fact that he knew not whether it were his last game, his new longer-term contract might encourage him to indulge in a tad more circumspection, in the form of a more recognised holding midfielder. Playing two in attack has already born fruit, the squad is certainly strong enough to rub shoulders with the great and good, and with a festive fixture-list that could be more foreboding we are but one string of wins away from a media meltdown about 2014 in fact being a lilywhite year.
AVB: An Epitaph
Here at AANP Towers we like to see a good, clean contest, with batsmen walking as soon as the finger goes up and a man nobly stepping aside when some bright young bounder on a horse bends his cannon and makes off with his wife. In such circumstances we cannot help but stiffen the lip at the demise of a manager just three shakes of a lamb’s tail into a season.
That said, not a tear will be shed around these parts. The £100 million pound mob were peddling a style so bereft of life that by yesterday evening it had eaten away approximately 78% of my very soul, which was a far from ideal state of affairs. On top of which, every band of rag-tags and hoodlums (hoodla?) with body-art on their arms was swanning up and knocking our lot to kingdom come. Given the circumstances, it is difficult to imagine a murmur of discontent from anybody involved.
So AVB is now swimming with chums of a piscine persuasion, and with that particular king dead we might as well toddle on to the next point on the agenda – the gentlemen whose services may imminently be volunteered.
He has such lovely hair. But coiffeur aside, this suggestion generally meets with a wary eye and murmurs of warning - understandably so, as Hoddle made rather a pickle of things last time out, and has since drifted into the ether of TV studio mumblings. However, if we want our Tottenham back the blighter knows our style inside out. His sterling work with England in ’97 and ’98 merits a ticked box, and while he did admittedly benefit then from a cracking group of players the 2013 vintage at the Lane seem a similarly fruity bunch.
AANP Rating: Gives the impression of a man who knows his after-dinner port.
Blessed with similarly lovely hair, and also a chappie whose playing career suggests he knew a thing or two about the finer points in life. Laudrup may be a little green behind the ears in this managerial tomfoolery – and history suggests that leaving a fresh-faced type in charge of our troops is not necessarily a guarantee of success – but he has his Swansea mob playing football the right way, has some experience in England and a nice shiny pot at home to impress the slew of nubile young women who possibly trail after him.
AANP Rating: Young enough to have his way with the fairer sex, sufficiently debonair to light a cigar afterwards
Crumbs. I dare not say a bad word about this chap lest he track me down, and disintegrate my insides purely through the medium of an inscrutable stare. That said, I’m not a huge fan of the old bean. It all seemed a bit dour and funless when he managed England to humiliation, and if the last few weeks has taught me anything it is that humiliation without any fun is the worst sort of humiliation. Let’s at least get humiliated in a blaze of glory, what? However, disciplinarian that he is he might be inclined to pick one strategy and stick to it, which would be progress of sorts. None of this Capoue-up-front nonsense.
AANP Rating: The sort of blighter to sink a few neat whiskies and eyeball his guests if they do not do the same.
He once turned and looked at me after he scored. We had a moment. Striker to striker. One for the dreamy idealists I think, as this would equate to a romantic swoon in managerial form, but with fairly limited substance behind it in terms of club management. He seemed to have a rip-roaring time managing Germany to the brink of glory on home turf in 2006, and I have no idea how he is getting on with the States, but he has just nabbed himself a four-year contract. All things considered this seems like the dreamy gamble that, right now, will not amuse Levy.
AANP Rating: Likely to be the one dancing atop a table, gin-based cocktail in hand. Which is not really cricket.
Might be worth a knowing nod through a smoky haze and a charged glass. Hiddink kept his head down and the muck off his shoes while sipping from the poisoned chalice at Stamford Bridge, only losing once (to our lot, bizarrely enough), and yanking the FA Cup en route, before being shoved out. The CV is sparkly enough, and my spies tell me he is currently loafing around at home doing crosswords at present.
AANP Rating: Picks the appropriate vintage for each dish in a five-course meal.
The unfortunate truth is presumably that, despite the rigorous scientific compendium upon which these findings are based, Levy is likely to make his own call on this one, hard-nosed renegade that he is. So be it. If nothing else, chewing over the identity of the new man at the helm will give us all something to do while the young folk are spilling over the dancefloors at this week’s Christmas parties.
Admittedly there is a vague whiff of pointlessness about musings on a pre-season friendly, but what else to do while swinging from the AANP hammock?
Starting at the top, the lad Soldado seems to know his right from left and other requisite basics. The upper-body strength he showed in shielding the thing from opposition defenders met with a decisive nod of approval from this corner of the interweb, and his movement was also suitably nifty. He will presumably face penalties under greater pressure than yesterday, but nevertheless it was good to see the lad adopt the Shearer approach of blasting the thing into a corner, as opposed to, for example, the Adebayor jig-and-spoon.
The AANP Verdict: Jigging merrily on the threshold of striking eminence.
The cut of Paulinho’s jib is also to be tentatively admired. The imp had the air of a Rottweiler that had actually gorged itself on raw human flesh but three hours previously, and was therefore content to lurk and snap with menace, without ever fully committing to the unspeakable acts of clinical savagery of which he is no doubt capable. He also displayed enough technique and attacking intent to elicit excited murmurs of “a complete midfielder” from the sages of N17.
The AANP Verdict: Looks entirely capable of holding his own when the club’s midfield contingent engage in high-stakes Scissors-Paper-Stone
Of young Master Chadli the prognostications are a little less ecstatic. The excitable bounder did seem decidedly happier with life cutting in from the left, as opposed to his more central role in the Monaco debacle last week, although the trick of cutting onto his right foot did wear a little thin after its umpteenth production. It may not therefore be the worst idea in the long and illustrious history of the club to bend the young whippersnapper over the knee of Brad Friedel and give him half a dozen hearty lashings, as a means of conveying in a friendly and constructive manner that gazing around and occasionally flicking the ball towards a fellow lilywhite is a viable alternative to keeping his head down and trying to take on everyone.
The AANP Verdict: Not yet the irrepressible dandy one would hope is being primed for a full season in one of the triumvirate of attacking roles, but that glint in his eye is encouraging.
Beyond the new arrivals there were also frequent opportunities to charge glasses and toast the returns of a veritable gaggle of highly-esteemed luminaries.
Monsieur Kaboul was released from his year in captivity looking older and wiser, but every inch as capable of cracking open skulls by the mere puff of his chest as he ever was pre-injury. So giddy am I at the prospect of Kaboul and Vertonghen undertaking central defensive matrimony this season that another dram of bourbon is absolutely in order tout de suite.
Spirits also soared, and no doubt unborn infants leapt for joy in their mothers’ wombs, when Sandro bounded back onto the turf and looked around for an unsuspecting Spaniard to crunch. The winning combination of boyish enthusiasm and gladiatorial aggression remains undimmed, and he earns a bonus point for that engaging Beard-Bald combo.
Young Master Rose has never ingratiated himself into the inner circle of AANP favourites, and considering that said inner circle is now populated by several dozen bodies it says much of the askance eye with which I view him. All momentum and dubious ball-control, rumours of his improvement last season at Sunderland do not wash with this particular Park Laner.
The Townsend cameo, for a second successive week, had the juices flowing. As with Chadli he does not necessarily always pick the Distribute option when Dribble ‘Til The End Of Time remains on the table, but the lad has sparkle-dust in his boots, mistake ye not, and I rather hope that his contribution in 13/14 extends to more than just a flurry of fleeting substitute appearances.
The rarely-vaunted AANP Pre-Season Wishlist will follow in the coming days, but until then a hearty adieu.
My goodness these have been busy times at N17. A striker has finally been brought into the fold, seemingly only two and a half years too late, and reportedly a bit more in the poacher mould than the brick outhouse we have craved, but this is not the time to pick nits. Young Chadli has also arrived, and although the assembly instructions that came with this lad suggest that he is for squad depth rather than tearing up the Premiership week in and week out, he being of the jolly handy coterie of Belgians currently invading our shores we can probably express some optimism.
These young folk and their peccadilloes. Rumour has it that young Master Bale is toying with the quite preposterous notion of plying his trade elsewhere, as if the prospect of weekly Europa League action is not enough for the hottest young property in British football. Someone talk some sense into the lad.
Still, heart-warming consolation has been offered in recent weeks by witnessing the fruits of that ‘special relationship’ of bonhomie and understanding with Madrid, which was struck up a year or two back as part of the Modric sale. Those fun-loving rogues have injected much-needed humour and amity into the summer’s proceedings with the decorum of their enquiries. On a frivolous note however, I do sometimes wonder if the prestige of Real slightly obscures the reality that they have not won the Champions League for over a decade. Something like a more glamorous version of Liverpool, over-dependent on reputation and history? Just an idle thought.
Back o the Bale nonsense, for here at AANP Towers we men of honour consider such parchment as Four-Year Contracts – of the ilk signed by Bale last summer – to be more than the mere fashion accessories, and as such I am all in favour of Messrs Levy and V-B politely clearing their throats and bluntly refusing to let the lad scarper. This coming season I want to see our heroes make the Champions League, and this seems a darned sight likelier with Bale than without.
On the subject of £80 mil, I can hardly see us using it to bring in a player worth £80 mil, or for that matter two worth £40 mil. In fact were we to sell Bale this very evening I would be amazed if we brought in two £25 mil players by the end of the transfer window. No matter how many bags of cash are flung in our direction, the players brought in will not be as good as Bale, because we have neither the lure of CL football nor of sky-high wages. The party line in this neck of the interweb is therefore to reject all offers, hang on to Bale and make the Top Four next season, which might at least then give us another bargaining chip when attempting to bring in top-notch purveyors of the trade.
This was a rummy one. Admittedly Caulker trails Vertonghen, Kaboul and possibly Dawson in the centre-back pecking order, and at present he has the flaws in his game one would expect of an Under-21, but with Europa games flying at us from all angles and Caulker a work in progress there would have been a fairly solid case for his retention. Still, one presumes the Brains Trust have a something up their sleeve on the central defensive front.
My Spurs-supporting chum Ian was not presumably not alone in expressing a sentiment nearing full-on delight that we will no longer be treated to any more 20-yard volleys looping off the Dempsey shin and into the North Stand. A little unfair on the blighter I appreciate, for if nothing else he had the knack of poaching jolly important late goals against Manchester clubs. However, his exit is vaguely akin to the demise of a minor supporting cast member within the first 30 minutes of a half-decent action film. And when we have Hudson, Vasquez, Hicks et al manning the barricades, who particularly cares about the various nameless marines who were dragged to their doom in that early carnage scene?
Tactically however one might raise an eyebrow at the Dempsey sale. Goodness knows who fits where within our attacking axis, what with Bale potentially thither rather than hither, and Adebayor potentially extending that languid stroll all the way to the exit, but between Lennon, Chadli, Sigurdsson, Holtby, Townsend and potentially Dembele I suppose we ought to have enough bodies to fill those attacking spots, albeit not necessarily of the quality of title challengers.
The Monaco Defeat
Somebody somewhere is presumably banging on the door of the N17 ticket office and demanding a full refund for their season ticket following yesterday’s muddle in Monaco. Precious little can be read into a game that had the look of a Europa qualifier at kick-off, and went downhill from there, with one of the few seniors (Defoe) limping off early, and AVB seemingly plucking lads from the travelling lilywhite support to scurry around as subs by the time the clock ticked to 90.
Lloris, Walker, Lennon and Dembele played most of the game - but Daws and Vertonghen were injured, as was Holtby; Sandro and Kaboul are not yet fit; Paulinho and Soldado are apparently still too sparkling new to be allowed to run around and get dirty; while all sorts of intrigue surrounds the non-appearances of Bale and Adebayor.
For what it was worth, Livermore and Zeki Fryers found themselves promoted to first-choice centre-back pairing, and looked suitably flummoxed, the poor lambs having to contend with £50m of that Falcao chap amongst others. Further up the pitch the new lad Chadli pottered around a little forlornly, and Harry Kane’s legions of admirers will have been thrilled to observe their hero for almost the entirety of proceedings, even nabbing himself one of those goal things. But ultimately the whole episode was fairly pointless. I’m rather impatient for the real thing to begin now, truth be told.
With a month or so until the new season lollops into view ‘tis a tad disconcerting no doubt that the Ghost of Transfer Windows Past is beginning to make disconcerting noises, for yet again there is no real sniff of a new striker, which already suggests that this is veering into final-hours-of-the-window territory. Hopefully one that will be more successfully revisited in the next few weeks, but until then we have one or two matters to pop into a Petri dish and pore over.
Paulinho (and Indeed Dembele)
Welcome to the fold Master Paulinho, a masterly career-move and not just because membership of the lilywhite elite earns you the right to an honorary bourbon at AANP Towers any time you jolly well please. A Brazilian axis of Sandro and Paulinho looks likely to bulldoze everything in its path, and while that may not fit the stereotypical image of his twinkle-toed samba-dancing compatriots it ought nevertheless to equip our heroes swimmingly for the hurly-burly of Premiership jousting.
On an equally exciting note, the arrival of this particular bounder potentially allows AVB to flash a knowing grin and, at the opportune moment, play The Dembele Gambit. Regular visitors to the AANP abode during the sepia-tinged era that was Season 2012/13 will be aware that snorts of displeasure were regularly to be heard in response to what was at times a mighty disconcerting lack of creativity in the final third. Admittedly the derring-do of the marvellous young Bale often papered over this particular crack by virtue of his subtle delivery of 30-yard howitzers to net, but the issue remained: our heroes lacked the requisite nous to thread camels through needle-eyes and defence-carving diagonal six-yard passes into the area. As a result the orb was typically shunted sideways – or popped out to Bale – while envious glances were shot at the likes of Mata and David Silva elsewhere. Holtby and Sigurdsson fought the good fight with plenty of willing, but without necessarily quickening the pulse (or, indeed, scything to ribbons opposing defences), while Dempsey’s 20-yard contributions tended to consist of volleys gently looped into the stands.
For such reasons then should we allow ourselves no more than an understated nod of satisfaction at the prospect of The Dembele Gambit being effected, for while he may not be high priest amongst footballing conjurors he nevertheless has a penchant for dipping his shoulder, beating his man and thrusting deep into the fleshy underbelly of a newly-promoted defence.
On a less salubrious note, alas, the arrival of Paulinho could result in a quivering of the upper lip and firm valedictory handshake with young Master Hudd. Whether or not Scott Parker features next season Hudd will certainly not be first choice in a squad already including the Sandro-Paulinho-Dembele triumverate, and one presumes that at 26 he will want to spend his time doing more than absent-mindedly twiddling his locks on the bench. Debate has raged since dinosaurs roamed the earth as to whether Hudd’s immobility renders him baggage (and dashed heavy baggage at that), or whether his Hodd-esque passing ability merits regular involvement, and at AANP we have been ticking the box marked ‘Hodd’ for years and years. However, murmurs around a move to Sunderland or Fulham have been increasing in volume, and the presence in the ranks of another pass-picker extraordinaire, in the form of youthful urchin Tom Carroll, would soften the blow of a Hudd exit. Frankly though, I could tap away at this keyboard for a further aeon and ‘twould make minimal difference, for the chap’s fate will almost certainly be decided by those residing beyond the four walls of AANP Towers. A shame.
The other development of note at N17 has been the release of a new kit. Not altogether unsurprising, for the young rascals could hardly take to the pitch minus any apparel whatsoever. Nor indeed is the choice of colour a huge shock, what with lilywhite upper-body wear seemingly have been in vogue amongst our heroes for well over a century. Nevertheless, it would be remiss to let proceedings end without casting an austere eye over the latest sartorial choice. And exhale with relief, all ye kit-designing interns of Under Armour, for the home kit at least gains an upturned thumb from this corner of the interweb. (A mild untruth actually, for initially the dawning of a new kit was greeted with an unconcerned shrug and forty winks). A return to blue shorts is certainly preferable, but a whole heap of further brownie-points has been gaily sprinkled around for the choice of blue socks, for a man adorned thus seems to carry the authoritative air of one who knows how to tame a lion and fling a distressed damsel over his shoulder. The choice of away kit blue I can comment on but briefly, having had the retina scarred by that first glimpse, but as has ever been the case, if they ensconce themselves within the Top Four this season it will matter little what knitwear they select while so doing.