Rather gloriously, Jermaine Jenas has got his knickers in a twist regarding referee Howard Webb’s moment of glory on Saturday, and has now been asked to explain himself by the FA. (nb that’s Jenas who has been asked to explain himself, rather than Webb…)Anyway, back to the barely controllable fury of our sideways-passing warrior.
“One thing which struck me about it was that he [Webb] didn’t even think. It was like he’d already made his mind up when he came out for the second half that he was going to give something,” quivered our intrepid hero.”I think it was a case of a referee crumbling under the pressure at Old Trafford really. The atmosphere, the occasion, the importance of the match, a lot of factors take their toll when making decisions.”
Well huzzah for JJ, the most unlikely of heroes. Unfortunately, the powers that be have taken a rather dim view of these comments, asking Jenas for “an explanation”, but I’m proud of the guy. It reminds me of the nerdy, goody-goody kid at school suddenly snapping and going beserk at his headmistress while awestruck classmates watch on, brimming with a new-found admiration for the blighter.
Admittedly it’s hardly on a par with Lee Bowyer starting a fight in an empty room, or Roy Keane yelling “Take that, yer c*nt” before snapping the legs of a toddler who’d sneezed in his direction. Nevertheless I warmly applaud Jenas and give him my full support on this one, as he queues up for a detention slip alongside Bowyer, Keane, Bellamy and the rest of the school trouble-makers. Not that I condone criticism of the ref – no matter how ignorant, biased, blind, dim-witted, retarded and inbred a ref has to be to drop a clanger like Saturday’s penalty award, I refuse to criticise him. However, just the fact that Jenas was sufficiently flustered by the affair to talk his way into trouble really warms my heart. It shows he cares.
My schoolboy gullibility long ago faded away, and has now been replaced by the overly bitter and twisted cynicism of a bile-filled old man. As a result I know longer believe in the existence of Father Christmas, the A-Team or footballer loyalty. No matter how many times they kiss the badge, and no matter how long their contract, it just seems beyond the boundaries of credulity to expect footballers genuinely to care about their team. They’re on a limited career-span, so they’ll make their money with whomever coughs up. It’s a different world from fans. Rather than bemoan lack of player loyalty I just accept it, even when they stick two fingers up at the club then come crawling back six months later.
Hence, I’d figured that after the final whistle on Saturday they all just trotted off to the players’ lounge to fight over Danielle Lloyd and sort out the Faces guest list. The notion that the penalty decision still rankled with one of them is a flabbergasting but enormously welcome development.
More so as we’re such a soft-touch team anyway. I’ve been brought up on a diet of pretty passes and fancy flicks from Hoddle, Redknapp (Jamie) and Modders. I still eye Palacios with confused fascination, as if he’s a creature from another world, so unaccustomed am I to a player in lilywhite putting himself about. All the more reason then, to pinch myself as I read and re-read Jenas’ tirade. Well, it’s more of an apologetic clearing of the throat than a full-blown tirade, but the point is that he cares. Like we do. Winning means something to him, and losing hurts. His talent may be questionable, he has me tearing my hair out every week, but by golly he’s committed to the cause. Good on you, fella.
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.
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.
Tossing a coin is a lottery. Russian roulette is a lottery. The National Lottery is a blinking lottery. A penalty shoot-out is not a lottery, you hear me?Get a penalty during 90 minutes (or indeed extra-time) and hands are slapped and little jigs danced. Admittedly such joy is promptly replaced with unbearable tension and biting of nails in the build-up to the kick itself, but the point remains that during the course of a game, a penalty is seen as a cracking opportunity to score. There ought not to be any reason why the same twelve-yard pot-shot suddenly becomes a moment of doom-laden hopelessness during a shoot-out, prompting managers to concede defeat and reducing arrogant bling-toting players to spinless, mal-coordinated naysayers.
Nor is the actual taking of a penalty a complete lottery. Admittedly, the nervous tension of a 90,000-bodied stadium, and millions upon millions of TV spectators cannot possibly be replicated on a training ground. However, practise 50 spot-kicks in the week leading up to a Wembley final, and if called upon you would at least be comfortable with the technique, run-up, spot you’re aiming for etc. Heaven forbid however that the players actually dedicate themselves thus.
This isn’t a complaint about the outcome on Sunday. I actually thought that with Gomes in goal we stood a pretty good chance in the shoot-out. And I give credit to Bentley and O’ Hara for having the cojones to step up. I’m just disappointed still. Actually, make that gut-wrenchingly devastated, and absolutely livid, but with what I know not. Dagnabbit that should have been our cup. And now on top of it all I have to listen to every man and his dog tut sympathetically and tell me that it’s ok because it was all a lottery anyway? SOD OFF AND LET ME STEW IN MY OWN MISERY.
It’s a futile, and mildly pathetic rant, but I either slam it down here in literary form, or burn with red-hot pokers the eyes of the next person to inform me sagely that penalties are a lottery.
Levity to one side – temporarily – as this is an attempt to diagnose the core problems at Spurs…I read very recently (with apologies to the author, as I can’t for the life of me remember where) that there’s a problem with the very mentality at Spurs. It’s not just on the pitch, in games like Burnley away, but could be the air about the place as soon as players join. There’s a celebrity/pop-star/big-time Charlie mentality. Players think that once they’ve joined Spurs they’ve made it. They’ve signed for a famous club, with tons of money, a decent history and a strong fan base. It’s a high-profile platform to show off their flair. They’ve got huge wage packets and the glamour of London, with WAGs and tabloids following them around.
The attitude can seep through on the pitch, on nights like Burnley away, when they don’t fly into tackles like their lives depend on them, but instead assume that a goal will come one way or another, just because we’re the famous Premiership club. Burnley’s players are not technically better - if they were they’d be in the Premiership and have the international caps that our lot have. However, Burnley’s players treated the game like it was the highlight of their careers, a life-or-death issue - the sort of attitude a Premiership player should adopt every week, and the complete antithesis of the Spurs players.
At Man Utd, for example, just being at the club is not enough - it’s about winning the Premiership and Champions League. At Spurs, it seems to be enough to trot out every week, win, lose or draw, and enjoy the occasional slice of glamour. The glamour off the pitch, and the glamour of the occasional cup run or televised win against the top four.
There is a quote from our ‘61 double-winning captain, Danny Blanchflower, that is part of folklore at the Lane, and is practically our second motto: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”
We fans are very familiar with it, and I suspect the players and management may be too. However, I can’t help thinking it’s been misinterpreted over the years, as an excuse for not getting their hands dirty. Blanchflower was saying that the game is not only about winning - he was not saying “winning is unimportant as long as you play stylishly” (which we aren’t doing anyway).
Yes, we have a tradition, important to the identity of the club, of trying to play attractive football, but for goodness sake winning is also important, and winning will not be achieved without hard work. The two go hand in hand. We fans are as guilty of this mentality as anyone else. Spurs fans are notorious for impatiently demanding success, insisting that we’re still one of the big teams - and demanding stylish football.
I’m inclined to think that the players have the same mentality - maybe the backroom staff too. The club’s obsession with flair, glamour and revelling in glory has left them blinded to the fact that achieving this glory first of all requires hard work.
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