What ho, and how wonderful to reconvene in such happy circumstances, for glory be, the new season will up and runneth soon enough. Huzzah! Surging left-wing runs, infuriatingly aimless headers, goalkeeping howlers, near-suicidal-but-ultimately-ok left-backery, oodles of Sky Sports stats, European adventures on Channel 5 and, of course, madcap, all-action seven-goal thrillers and the like. Again I screech from the rooftops, glory be. Emerge ye, pale and emaciated from the interminable summer months minus football, and bask in the warm glow of lilywhite once more.In common with on-pitch exploits, things in this neck of the interweb rather tailed off at the end of last season – apologies – and by way of admonishment AANP now currently swims resignedly every day against a heaving tide of spam. Still, onwards and upwards. For season 11/12 our heroes look even more polished and shinier than before, like some sort of re-booted Hollywood film series.
Massive, Gob-Smacking Marquee Transfers
Thus it transpires that despite needing a great big hulking brick outhouse of a striker capable of sticking out his rear-end, holding up the ball, elbowing aside various defensive types and thumping the little orb netwards, our transfer chiefs have instead tootled along in silence as Messrs Pav, Crouch, Defoe and even Keane return to Spurs Lodge to practise spraying the ball anywhere but the goal.
We have made one attacking signing, a whippersnapper by the name of Souleymane Coulibaly, who is reportedly fresh from scoring about 15 goals in five minutes at the U-17 World Cup. Underwhelming news for all those who have followed the careers of Tomas Peckhart, Adel Taraabt, Giovani et al. While I have dropped down on bended knee to plead to the gods of football fate that this chap does in fact turn out to be the second coming of Drogba, I am tempted to stick a fiver on him going on loan to the Championship and popping up at Lyon in four years time, before randomly appearing for AC Milan in the Champions League. Either way, this is unlikely to be his season.
Elsewhere, ‘Arry’s commitment to signing sackloads of decent players we don’t really need has extended to the goalkeeping position. Hard not to like Brad Friedel, but I’m not sure he is the solution to anything in particular. Still, if the best way to stop Gomes flapping around is to employ a genial bald yank to wheeze down his neck then so be it.
Back to the point. Difficult though it is to fathom, we would cope without him – we did a decent enough job following his early season injury vs Birmingham back in 09/10. As such, I would accept £40 mil plus Drogba, perhaps giving you all an insight into why my 9-to-5 job is a million miles removed from running a football club. However, rather than take the cash I would much prefer that Levy keeps his heels firmly dug in for the 27 days of the window, and the clean-shaven Jesus remains a lilywhite come September 1st. Just give us one more season Luka, and get us back into the Champions League…
Indeed, some would very persuasively argue that the launch of a football kit barely deserves comment anyway, but such has been the emptiness of these summer months. We seem to be in neither better nor worse condition than last season (aside from an injury to Sandro, which has me shaking an enraged fist at the screen on my computer box). Still time for changes in personnel, but for now the focus is presumably to get through 90 minutes against Deportivo without fresh injuries. Fingers crossed.
It’s hardly been the most frenetic week in recent memory, but as the hour-glass gently edges us towards 2010/11, the look-outs atop the parapet of AANP Towers have assembled in the boardroom to deliver their findings on the week’s happenings.Young Boys (Snigger)
It’s the draw that had a nation of headline-writers treading mighty carefully. Whatever fates befall us over the course of the next nine months, we can weigh it up against the good fortune meted out on 6 August 2010, when the Champions League gods decreed in their wisdom that our path to the group stage depended upon conquering these relative minnows of Switzerland. The White Hart Lane dignitaries duly trotted out the usual platitudes (you know the sort of gubbins - “Any team at this level will be difficult” et cetera), while various straight-faced Spurs officials have also been at pains to point out that they beat Fenerbahce in the last round, so let that be a lesson to the lot of us.
The veracity of such points cannot be doubted, but the fact remains that this could have been a jolly sight more difficult. It is a glorious chance, and having beaten Chelski, l’Arse, Liverpool and Man City (home and away) last season, we ought to be capable of steering past this lot over two legs.
Fare Thee Well Adel Taraabt
One or two may wistfully wonder what might have been, particularly if, say, injuries elsewhere had allowed him a run in the starting line-up à la Pav last season, but we at AANP Towers wish him well with a fairly ambivalent wave. I somehow suspect that in a couple of years time he’ll pop up in the Champions League for someone or other; however, for the time-being it’s the slightly less glamorous headlines generated by a £1 million move to QPR.
Eusebio Cup Champions 2010, Apparently
‘Twas with a mixture of pleasure and relief that AANP noted young Gareth Bale galloping down the left in precisely the manner with which he ended season 2009-10; while on t’other flank Aaron Lennon was similarly lively. The brow occasionally furrowed at the ease with which Benfica every now and then scythed through our central areas, but we emerged victorious, and picked up a peculiarly shaped ornament at the end of it all, as is our pre-season wont. With Ledley putting in a 45-minute shift slightly closer to home, this week can probably be filed under the heading “Satisfactory”.
What ho! A most warm welcome back to AANP Towers (which, if particularly eagle-eyed, you may notice has had a lick of paint since last time out). Apologies for the radio silence of recent months, but after a full season of blogging, plus one book a brief hibernation seemed appropriate. Truth be told however, in the interim period not a great deal has happened in the glorious all-action world of eleven men and a pig’s bladder.
THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH!!!
Or so we all anticipated, but once we had separated our Kevin-Princes from our Jeromes we quietly concluded that the World Cup was actually a pretty underwhelming affair. From a lilywhite perspective there was not too much reason to wave our flag in South Africa. Messrs Bassong and Assou-Ekotto achieved the impressive feat of starring in the very first team to get knocked out of the tournament, while elsewhere our various other representatives did pretty much as expected. Defoe poached; Sergeant Wilson got booked; Ledley got injured; and in the green of Mexico young Giovani looked fairly unrecognisable from the lad who occasionally dons a Spurs shirt.
Post World Cup there is bad news for all students of burst ear-drums at the North Middlesex Hospital: the powers-that-be have decreed that all vuvuzelas spirited into the Lane will be promptly confiscated and snapped over the knee of the nearest wild-eyed steward. A decision met with a gentle nod of approval by the folk of AANP Towers, who have been brought up to celebrate the good times with no more than a slight tipping of cap, sincere handshake and possibly a celebratory post-match bourbon.
Wasn’t Fourth Place Meant to Attract All The Big Names?
Ahead of our Champions League jamboree the expected flurry of comings and goings at N17 has not quite materialised. Our glorious leader has made clear that he only sees need for three new faces, to sharpen things up - a sentiment with which I‘m inclined to agree. In terms of squad depth the White Hart Lane garden already looks rather rosy, for the injuries came thick and fast last season yet we managed a fourth-placed finish, testimony to the fact that we have at least two Premiership-standard players for each position. Ahead of our brave new dawn, the sentiment around these parts is that the rigours of the Champions League require a couple of top-notch additions, to add some world class quality and give us an edge.Now AANP may not necessarily be the sharpest tool in the box, but I think – I think – that ‘Arry had something of a passing interest in signing Joe Cole. Apparently though, Liverpool came up with ninety thousand reasons a week why he should opt for Europa League football instead, at which news yours truly pursed his lips in disappointment. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that we have enough quality in the attacking midfield positions, and that adding Cole would only have created unrest, leaving someone to stew in their juices on the bench. For what it’s worth I’m not entirely convinced by that argument, as injuries and whatnot meant that everyone got plenty of game-time last season, in just three competitions. Moreover, as noted earlier, the Champions League campaign probably requires someone or other who can sprinkle some stardust over us.
Alas, rather than Cole and Luis Fabiano, it appears that our big summer signing will be some Croatian goalkeeper, lined up as understudy to Gomes and Cudicini. It does not quite carry the glamour any of us had in mind when Crouch headed us into the top four last season, but there is still plenty of time before the blinds are pulled over the transfer window.
Erm… Scott Parker?
Otherwise it seems the transfer priority is to feed off the scraps thrown from Man City’s table, with Bellamy, Richards and Ireland amongst those ‘Arry regards as triffic little players upon whom he could not possibly comment.
Pretty quiet on the transfer front then, but as we’re not haemorrhaging our star players I’ll take that for now. It’s been nice to see various key personnel putting pen to paper in the name of the good ship Tottenham over the course of the summer. Messrs King, Bale and Modders have all committed, which makes a pleasant change from being nabbed by the dastardly Man Utd. Our glorious leader has also signalled his dedication to the cause, agreeing to a new contract just as soon as it became clear that the England job would be unavailable for another two years.
In Other News…
The other development of note this summer has been the official unveiling of our new kits for 2010-11. We at AANP Towers are rather partial to a splash of retro in our morning fruit-juice, and as such nod approvingly at the blue shoulder-flash, and the memories of Crooks and Archibald it duly inspires. Rather less enamoured of the great big daub of white across the thigh, but if that’s what the kids are doing these days who am I to object?
Forgive and forget – that’s the new motto at Spurs as injuries and suspensions leave ‘Arry with little choice but to draft the dastardly Hossam Ghaly back into the squad.
I have to confess that I didn’t actually boo Ghaly when he prepared to come on vs Wigan. This is primarily because I wasn’t even at the ground. However, as I listened to the jeers on the radio, I nodded my head in agreement, and as such I’m guilty by all-action-no-plot association. Mea culpa, folks.I’ve never really been one to boo my own player. I’m happy enough to dish it out to an opponent, in panto-villain style (Berba, take a bow son), and I guess I’ll boo the entire team off the pitch if they’ve been useless. I’ve sure as hell flung up my hands in exasperation and turned the air purple as the likes of Jenas and Doherty have repeatedly conceded possession and missed from inside the six-yard box. This however, merely confirms that I am a Spurs fan and I have a pulse.
If I were a player myself I’d be chuffed to hear the fans sing my name, a little nonplussed to hear the fans sing their hatred of a different team and pretty darn annoyed to hear a team-mate getting booed by his own. With a big cup game tonight, and whole-hearted support needed a la Seville 2007, the moral of the story, kids, is clear: let’s not boo Ghaly any more.
That said, I’m hardly about to roll out the red carpet for the lad. Aright, the whole episode was 18 months ago or more, and nobody died. However, in these days of minimal loyalty and over-paid players, I don’t think it’s asking too much for 90 minutes worth of effort and respect towards the fans. Ghaly certainly forgot about the latter during his strop, in front of thousands of people who shell out a hefty amount each week for the club. He’s made the right noises with his apologies, and hopefully he’ll put in some good performances for us – but does anyone really think he cares about Spurs?
I’ll politely applaud his name tonight, I won’t give him stick – or nod approvingly if others do so – but if he expects a hearty pat on the back and songs in his honour he can go buy a hat and eat it. No chance, sonny-jimbo. I’m just doing this for the good of the team. (No doubt the lad will be mortified to read this. That’ll learn him).
What better way to fill a 31st December posting than with some end of 2008 all-action-no-plot awards?
Let’s not beat about the bush - the calendar year 2008 has been largely woeful. No plot, and only sporadic moments of action saw us go into freefall after the Carling Cup win and head towards 2009 just above the drop-zone. However, you can’t take the all-action-no-plot out of the team, so without further ado…
All-Action-No-Plot Performance of 2008
Even this mundane year has seen completely mental 4-4 draws against both Chelski and l’Arse. However, for all sorts of glorious reasons the outright winner, by four clear goals is the 5-1 win over l’Arse. To quote the song - even Jenas scored! To see us tear apart the old enemy, to see them implode to the extent that they started headbutting one another, to see Steed sweep home the glorious fifth - and watching it all with a gooner mate, before returning to an office full of gooner mates… bliss.
All-Action-No-Plot Haircut of 2008
David Bentley will throw a right strop if he doesn’t win this one, having worn out the mirrors in the dressing room, and openly dedicated more time to flicking his on-off fringe than fighting for the badge. Jermaine Jenas went through a Samson phase early in the year, growing his hair, miraculously becoming half-decent, only to cut it short and become rubbish again. The winner is therefore Jermaine Defoe’s brief flirtation with the Wembley arc - across his head.
All-Action-No-Plot Goal of 2008
Robbie Keane’s late equaliser vs Chelski springs to mind, and Jenas’ late strike vs l’Arse is likely to be forgotten despite its quality, but the one that really made me leap out of my seat was Brylcreem boy David Bentley taking time out from his hectic schedule of personal grooming to thoughtfullly silence the Emirates with a 40+ yard uber-volley.
As I blogged at the time: Coca-Cola once ran a bunch of posters, showing grown men who ought to know better getting rather carried away at football matches. The line was something along the lines of “One day you will see a goal so beautiful you will want to marry it, move to a small island and live there with it forever.” That’s Bentley’s goal, that is. I want to marry it and have lots of baby wonder-goals with it.
All-Action-No-Plot Celebration of 2008
With Robbie Keane dispensing with the intricate gymnastics, there aren’t too many stand-out nominees. Woodgate’s lumbering jog of exuberance in the Carling Cup final epitomised how we were all feeling, but the best celebrations came around 12 hours later, as Lennon, Jenas, Hutton and, most memorably, Ledley King stumbled out of Faces, with traces of blood barely detectable in their alchohol streams. Classy.
All-Action-No-Plot Moment of 2008
The look on the face of my gooner mate Hawthy as we spanked them 5-1 was priceless, but let’s face it, that would have counted for precious little if we hadn’t completed the job a few weeks later at Wemberley. It might not have been aesthetically pleasing, but seeing Woody get punched in the face by the ball, which then apologetically stumbled into the empty net, as Woody himself and Berba went slipping and sliding around the turf - I just wish I had been sober enough to remember it more clearly.
All-Action-No-Plot Chant of 2008
Take a bow the Dinamo Zagreb ultras (and there won’t be many times in my life that I come out with that line). We didn’t understand a word of what they said - just as well, I’d imagine - but their song was so good that the Park Laners adopted it as their own, for 15 crazy minutes.
All-Action-No-Plot Manager of 2008
Sigh. This will have to be won by default. Wendy Ramos masterminded the 5-1 over l’Arse, and won us our first trophy in nine years - then undid all the good work and sold Steed. Whereas ‘Arry arrived on a chariot of media goodwill, somehow stumbled across a string of welcome wins, but has since rather lost the magic touch. So the All-Action-No-Plot Manager of 2008 award goes to my boss at work, for giving us wine on the morning of Christmas Eve.
All-Action-No-Plot Young Player of 2008
How old do you have to be to be “young”? I’d say, completely arbitrarily, that 27 is still quite young, so anyone born in the ’80s qualifies for this award. Therefore Ledley wins it, as he lifted the cup for us, which is more than anyone else can say this millenium.
All-Action-No-Plot Player of 2008
As hinted by the preceding award, we’ve not exactly been blessed with stand-out performances this year. Can’t really give it to Keane, after his dastardly exit to his “boyhood club”, Berba had an average year by his standards. Jenas had a bizarrely purple patch at the start of 2008, but normality was soon restored and he quickly became rubbish again. Therefore, the true “player” of 2008 was the man who played away on his stunning wife, the numpty - and got caught, the numpty. Ashely Cole, you dirty cheating rat, show your face and claim your award.
It makes little sense, it’s been manic and much of it beggars belief - 2008 has been quite an all-action-no-plot year. God bless ye merry folk, and all the best for next year. See you in 2009!
‘Arry may have a good reputation in the transfer market, but I’m not sure that Craig Bellamy was what I wanted to pull out of my Christmas stocking.
As I indicated when waving goodbye to Paul Stalteri lsat week, being a nice guy has precious little to do with footballing ability. I nevertheless have my misgivings about Bellamy, the very antithesis of a “nice guy”, a man so charming that when on a team-bonding trip to Spain in his Liverpool days, he attacked a team-mate with a golf-club. The loveable rogue. Further evidence of Bellamy’s troublesome character is that he’s had about 45 different clubs during his 10-or-so-year career. Not sure that’s the sort of influence one would want in a dressing-room, although if he’s happy to lamp David Bentley for lack of effort it might not be a bad thing.
In terms of footballing ability he has his attributes - having played for both Liverpool and Newcastle he is undeniably a good striker at Premiership level, with pace to burn and an eye for goal, and he’s also eligible for Europe, which is handy in the absence of the cup-tied Pav.
A huge signing is unlikely in January, so cut-price strikers from hard-up clubs (Bellamy, or Crouch or Defoe at Pompey) or strikers on winding-down contracts (Owen, Hesky) would probably be top of ‘Arry’s attacking shopping list. Those eligible for Europe would be particularly keenly sought, which might rule out the Pompey pair.
The £6 mil bid for Bellamy is only the opening gambit in what is certain to be a highly entertaining transfer puppet show, particularly with ‘Arry pulling the strings. Who knows what our squad will look like a month down the line?
Around about the time of my earliest memories of the all-action-no-plot universe - I’d say approximately 1987 - all I wanted for Christmas was the toy truck thing from Thundercats. For John Bostock and other unfeasibly young Spurs players, Thundercats was the greatest cartoon ever. It followed the extremely action-packed lives of a bunch of heroic human-feline hybrids who were armed with a sword which grew bigger if swung around occasionally, and an absolutely brutal truck, with great big claws that could plough through walls and generally cause mass destruction en route to achieving a greater good. The truck rocked, and a toy version was exactly what any sensible, well-adjusted six year-old all-action-no-plotter would want for Christmas. However, that yuletide my parents rather perplexingly bought me a She-Ra*annual instead.
The Spurs management seem to pursue a similarly baffling transfer policy. As the January window approaches I can’t help but hope that the dream present will be bought, a modern-day Thundercats tank, to sit in front of our back four and boss the midfield. However, those with the power to buy will almost inevitably purchase something unnecessary, unwanted and completely inappropriate. Such as Younes Kaboul, the Premiership equivalent of a She-Ra annual. Like Kaboul, and indeed my She-Ra annual, the new signing will be peered at out of politeness, put on display once or twice in the following weeks, then left to gather dust.
For years, as long as I can remember, we’ve needed a defensive midfielder. The Premiership equivalent of a Thundercats tank thing, with great big moving claws, and the capacity to plough through walls and generally cause mass destruction en route to achieving a greater good - it’s exactly what Spurs need. Didier Zokora is not such a beast. He may have his moments, and a penchant for those Benny Hill-esque dashes upfield. He may occasionally offer an extra body in defence, causing confusion in opposition minds if not exactly instilling fear in their hearts. He may even, most surreally, be courted by Real Madrid and their fabulous new manager Wendy Ramos, whilst also catching the eye of that doyen of English management, Tony Adams, at Portsmouth - but Didier Zokora is not the defensive midfielder par excellence that Spurs have been crying out for since the days of the three wise men and the ad hoc duvet in a manger. Zokora really ought only to be keeping the seat warm for someone else.
Our need for a holding midfielder is hardly rocket science, yet it seems to have bypassed one manager after another. Instead, in recent years we’ve seen Bent, Bentley, Modric, Giovanni, Kaboul, Prince-Boateng and Pavluychenko brought in - all players of some quality, but none of whom have addressed the real problem area. To paraphrase Alanis Morissette, it’s like needing a spoon, and spending about one hundred million pounds on a set of fancy foreign knives. More idiotic than ironic.
A Thundercats truck of a defensive midfielder is not the only thing we need this Christmas - with ‘Arry seemingly unconvinced of Gareth Bale’s quality it seems we might pursue a left winger/midfielder, as well as another centre-back, striker, goalkeeper and possibly a couple of full-backs. A full team then. ’Arry has a good reputation in the transfer market, and has been at the Lane long enough to get an idea of the squad deficiencies - he certainly moans about them enough - so maybe, just maybe, we’ll get those things we truly crave this Christmas. Or, alternatively, maybe we’ll tear off the warpping paper and have to feign surprise as another unwanted player is brought into the squad, soon to be discarded, with Younes Kaboul and the She-Ra annual.
*She-Ra was He-Man’s female cousin
An early Christmas present from ‘Arry Redknapp and Daniel Levy has seen Paul Stalteri’s contract terminated, by mutual consent. That angelic melody you hear emanating from north London isn’t some choir putting in last-minute preparations for a festive performance of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, oh no – ’tis the sound of an exuberant all-action-no-plotter toasting the demise (not literally) of another one of our seemingly infinite line of inept full-backs.
Paul Stalteri appeared to be a thoroughly decent chap – not prone to diving, whingeing or fussing generally. He scored three goals, each of which, strangely, I remember well – a blinder in the FA Cup, a tap-in vs Man City and, most memorably, the late winner at West Ham, to cap a hugely satisfying comeback win last year. He hasn’t moped or mouthed off this season about being on the fringes and beyond – as such I wish him well, at his delightfully-named new German club, Borussia Monchengladbach.
And with the formalities out of the way, can I reiterate how glad I am to see the back of the latest in a long line of, at best, distinctly average full-backs. While showing sufficient co-ordination to be a sportsman, and being full of willing, the guy was of limited ability going forward, and made far too many mistakes to be a defender. Off the top of my head I remember him faffing around in the last minute v Sunderland a few years ago, getting caught in possession in his own box and conceding a goal that saw us lose 1-0. Then, when we were winning 1-0 at l’arse with five mins to go I recall him being shrugged off possession by Henry who galloped away and scored, while Stalteri pleaded for a free-kick. Those are just the first two which spring to mind, but there were several more - indeed I recall that season looking back over my fixture list and racking up the number of points he alone cost us. No plot, for sure, but not much action to compensate either. And why on earth was he wearing the number 7 shirt? The shirt of Best, Dalglish, Beckham and Paul Walsh – which idiot thought it would make sense to give it to a mediocre Canadian right-back?
Using the flawless, scientifically proven “who-would-buy-him” gauge of a player’s quality, it was telling that last season he went on loan to a relegation-battling Fulham, and this season is as likely to end up in the Championship as in the Prem. I reiterate, he seems a nice chap, but as we’re trying to win football matches, not host garden fêtes, I don’t think his niceness is too relevant. The sooner ‘Arry can get rid of the other sub-standard players in our squad, the better. Half-decent players may be sufficient for the likes of Middlesborough or Bolton, or any other team aiming to avoid relegation, play depressing football and occasionally scrap a win against one of the top-four. At Spurs however we want to be pushing towards Europe and winning silverware. As such we ought to signal our ambition by bringing in players who will be tempted to head off to Old Trafford in a couple of years.
There have been some encouraging signs in the last few days, with Gilberto already on his way out (huzzah!). Personally I’d like to see Ricky Rocha, Hossam Ghaly and Assou-Ekotto follow suit. Jamie “Three-Touch” O’Hara gets a reprieve, as he’s young enough to push on, as, perhaps does Kevin Prince-Boateng, although neither have ever really blown up my skirt over the last two years. Stalteri certainly meets all relevant criteria for ejection. He may be Canada’s national captain – and quite possibly their greatest ever player – but at full-back, being an established international is hardly a guarantee of supreme quality (Erik Edman and even Vedran Corluka spring to mind).
Over the last week I’ve written in celebration of the fact that Gilberto will never play for us again, and bemoaning the fact that in physics-defying fashion Assou-Ekotto has managed to cement his place in the team as a regular. What is it with Spurs and rubbish full-backs? As far back as I can remember – that’s around late-80s – we’ve always had useless full-backs. A seminal period of my youth was Brian Moore commentating - badly - on the Big Match on ITV on a Sunday, with its funky electric guitar theme tune, and Mitchell Thomas, back-pedalling as an opponent advanced, clumsily conceding possession and tripping over his own bootlaces. Fast forward twenty years, and where Mitchell once stumbled now we have Stalteri, Gilberto and BAE. We’ve always had flair midfielders, and we’ve always had sub-standard full-backs. It just seems to be a Tottenham thing. The likes of Carr were the exception rather than the rule. The rule was Austin and Edinburgh, Gilberto and Stalteri.
Some may argue that full-back is hardly the most important position, and there is something in that. If a good team is going to carry any mediocre player, full-back is probably the one (I should know, I was that mediocre full-back for a few years at school…). A full-back’s mistakes can be rectified in last-ditch fashion by the centre-backs and ‘keeper. However, a top-notch, defensively-sound, attackingly potent full-back can dictate the entire dynamic of the team. Whereas BAE does the bare minimum – and occasionally less – by paroling his touchline and not getting much further than the halfway line, the likes of Bosingwa and Cole bomb on, nullifying the oppo’s winger, creating width for his team-mates, whipping in inviting crosses and generally shoving the entire passage of play a good 20 yards up the pitch.
Such descriptions have rarely if ever been levelled at Stalteri, so I shed no tears as he wanders out of N17 for the final time. Frankly, I hope that we be the first of a number of departees, over the coming weeks.
Good grief, what a productive week. West Ham away and Man Utd at home could quite conceivably have ended in nul points (and would almost certainly have done so under Wendy Ramos). Admittedly the second half vs Man Utd increasingly became a backs-to-the-wall effort, but we did create some chances, and a clean sheet against the European champions, with an attack of Berba, Ronaldo and Tevez, is no mean feat.
That feat becomes even less mean when it is remembered that we began without King, and lost Woodgate to the most innocuous looking injury early on. We’ve been rather spoiled by an injury-free year for Woodgate, but the manner in which he picked up his “knock” - with no-one around him - was rather worrying, and memories of the original, definitive “Sicknote” came flooding back. Whereas Sir Les would get injured every week because he’d get concussion from nutting someone’s right boot, Anderton just didn’t seem to be built for football, and his weedy little legs rarely took the strain. His sinewy frame and gaunt face gave the impression of a man built of elastic bands tied around twigs – with the result that if he strained too hard he would snap. It had slipped my mind until Saturday, but Woodgate’s history suggests that he is similarly constructed. Hence, in the finest tradition of Anderton he incurred an injury seemingly just by landing, after jumping a foot in the air, and off he went, clutching his back and grimacing, like a grandfather who’d overdone it a wedding disco.
The resulting ad hoc back-four of Zokora, Assou-Ekotto, Corluka and Dawson hardly instilled me with confidence at first glance, but my goodness they did well. A lot of Dawson’s recovery tackles may come about because he erred in the first place, but he still made those recovery tackles in fine style. Zokora I single out for particular place, not only because he was thrust into unknown territory at left-back, but also because he was up against the newly-crowned Ballon D’Or winner, Little Miss Ronaldo. Perhaps, with his pace and penchant for an occasional 80-yard run, right-back could become a more regular spot for Zokora, in the absence of so many other options. Assou-Ekotto had his usual perfunctory, unspectacular game, although rather more eye-catching this time on account of his new hairstyle, which looked a bit like the grid from that board game “Battleships”. Gomes was quality. I’ve been one of his biggest critics, but the lad had a blinder – the spectacular leaping saves obviously catch the eye, but I was most relieved/impressed by the fact that he didn’t fail to connect when coming for corners. Bravo, sir.
Elsewhere on the pitch… Modric continues to look like he’s adapting to the English game with every passing match. Thudd performed an impromptu castration upon poor old Pavluychenko, which prevented what might have been a cracking goal (has Thudd ever scored any other sort of goal?) Bentley still looks like a flashy boyband member who has yet to prove he can walk the walk. However, his early long-range volley was a further indication of the renewed confidence that ‘Arry seems to have instilled in the team.
So positives aplenty, but all the jolliness is rather tempered by a glance at the league table, which shows that we’re still only a point above the relegation zone. This despite an unbeaten record against the top four this season* which makes all the more infuriating our losses to Stoke, Boro, Sunderland etc. The top half of the table remains tantalisingly close, but we will require a string of wins, rather than the win one, draw one, lose one cycle we seem to have adopted. The Prem takes a back seat for a few days as Spartak Moscow are next up, which at this rate is likely to see me make my debut in defence. Point needed to progress, I feel confident.
* = Pedantry alert – I’m aware that Villa are actually fourth at the moment, but for all intents and purposes I’m shoving l’arse into that little group.
This Juande Ramos affair just becomes increasingly surreal. There always was an air of mystery about him and his band of merry man - primarily because they all seemed to be mute - but this was compounded by the arrival of new faces and ever-changing tactics; followed by his reappearance at Real Madrid of all places; and now the press reports that he’s eyeing up Dider Zokora of all people! What the hell is going on? With the increasing number of loose ends, bizarre sub-plots and unanswered questions this is beginning to resemble one of those ultra-complicated episodes of The X-Files, which finishes without resolving anything, leaving you mildly irritated and wanting to kick the television (or in this case Damien Comoli).
I don’t particularly want to re-open the debate of whether or not he should have been sacked etc. There are strong cases to be made for both sides of the argument. On one hand he steered us out of relegation trouble last year, demolished l’arse and then won the Carling Cup, with some shrewd tactical moves during the final vs Chelski, whilst generally maintaining an attractive style. Given time he would probably (maybe) have settled down, created a team he liked and made us Uefa cup regulars. On the other hand, he let the players give up the season after the Carling Cup final, was to some extent responsible for a dubious summer transfer strategy, was unable to settle upon formation or personnel after the best part of a year in charge and oversaw our worst start to a league campaign since woolly mammoths roamed the earth. Nor could he be bothered to learn the language after a year, not even to the comical-but-endearing extent of Claudio Ranieri/Phil Scolari. I’ve even heard it suggested that his success in Spain was due more to the Director of Football he had in place at Sevilla. Who knows?
Instead, I watch his career from a distance, with respect and a certain degree of bewilderment. Did he really think that Modric, a man who weighs less than his own shadow, was right for the midfield holding role? Does he really rate Zokora as the best player at the Lane? Has he really ended up at the biggest club in the world?
I suspect that even the most restrained Spurs fans, and indeed English football fans, would have raised an eyebrow at that, but if you tilt your head to one side and squint a bit, it does make some sense. It’s mutually beneficial – once Real decided to sack Schuster they needed a fairly safe pair of hands just to see them through to the end of the season, while for Ramos himself it’s a pay-day a useful CV point after the Spurs debacle, with not much to lose and something to gain. If it works the contract could be extended, if not there’s no commitment beyond the end of the season. Think Joe Kinnear with paella.
In a parallel universe maybe it all made perfect sense, and the Carling Cup win simply catalysed bigger and better things for the club with Juande in charge. Here and now however, I feel drunk just thinking about it. Good luck to the man, but roll on Man Utd under ‘Arry.