A dog is for life, not just for Christmas – but thankfully a rubbish foreign left-back can be offloaded in the January sales. Having already cast a beady, all-action-no-plot eye over the possible arrivals at N17 next month, here’s a cursory glance at those who might have pulled on the famous lilywhite for the last time…
Gilberto – This Brazilian international (I jest ye not) was publicly sacked by ‘Arry after the egregiously bad error vs Spartak. Seemingly the latest in a growing line of mediocre foreign full-backs jettisoned by Spurs, he’ll no doubt be picked up by a half-decent European team (a la Lee Young Pyo, Erik Edman, Timothee Atouba, Paul Stalteri…). Woudln’t be surprised to see him end up in the Champions League next season, because football’s a funny old game.
Jamie O’ Hara – Controversial one this. Young “Three Touch” O’Hara’s work-rate is appreciated down the Lane, but lack of first-team opportunities have prompted grumblings of discontent. While he’d be worth retaining for his fight (we’ll need it in the coming months) and just to keep squad numbers healthy as we compete on several fronts, I personally wouldn’t shed too many tears, if we sell him. Let’s face it, Three-Touch would attract the likes of Hull, Boro and Fulham, rather than Villa or the top four, so is he really good enough for us?
Kevin Prince-Boateng – Hard to believe this lad won German young player of the year a couple of seasons back. Given squad number 23 by ‘Arry, which is probably more than the minutes he’s played this season. It therefore seems certain he and his intriguing Mohawk and well-illustrated arms will be on show on someone else’s sub bench by February.
Ricardo Rocha – Is he injured? Is he in the reserves? Is he still alive? Will be sold to the first club that remembers he still exists. Unbelievably, he’s been capped by Portugal. Ricardo Carvalho he ain’t.
Adel Taarabt – Will be a shame to see young Tarbuck go, his cameos were always entertaining, and occasionally effective (eg West Ham away last year). Still only about 8 years old, it might pay to send him out on loan rather than sell him off. If he could cut out the excessive step-overs and work on the end-product, he’d step up from being the skilful kid in the playground to being an effective Premiership-level impact sub.
Hossam Ghaly – Not sure too many people have forgiven him for throwing away his shirt, the scoundrel. I certainly haven’t. How dare he. Good riddance in advance. (And more to the point, he didn’t set the world alight when on loan at Derby last year, so he can’t be that good).
Darren Bent – A Bentley-esque long-shot this, but there have been whispers that he’s on his way out. It wasn’t so long ago that he was knocking them in for fun at Charlton and other hopeless teams - personally I think that with some decent service and a strike partner to help him out he’d be more than adequate at Premiership level. However, he’s English which means that Aston Villa want him. Seven million is the number being bandied around, which wouldn’t be terrible business if we could bring in Defoe.
And some less likely movers and shakers…
Dider Zokora: Wanted by Real Madrid. Honest. I know this because a message announcing it was delivered to me by a flying pig.
Aaron Lennon: Another Real Madrid target according to some drunk, stoned tabloid writers with too much time on their hands. A few months ago he probably would have been on his way out, but several dips of the left shoulder and bursts towards the by-line later and he’s very much part of our plans. Not going anywhere in January.
Jermaine Jenas: Oh that someone would take him off our hands. I’d pay other teams to take him off our hands. Bless him he tries – he’s certainly trying – but the odd decent game in a dozen isn’t enough. Had a brief spell last year when he grew his hair and became amazing; but alas, like Samson, a haircut deprived him of his wondrous power, and he became rubbish again. Bizarrely rated by successive England and Spurs managers, surely there’s someone out there willing to stump up, say, £7 million for him?
Heurelho Gomes – A couple of months ago we couldn’t have bundled him out of the door fast enough, but since then he’s upped his game and been one of our most consistent performers – the team’s poor recent form has been despite rather than because of Gomes. They say form is temporary and class is permanent – and it’s still a bit early to discern the category under which Gomes’ good performances fall. However, he’s doing a sterling job at the moment, let’s not make him cry again.
Roman Pavluychenko and David Bentley – Alright, I’m being silly now, but neither of these guys have justified the inflated fees we shelled out last summer. We won’t sell them because we’ll make nowhere near the amount we paid for them, so like it or not, we’re stuck with both. Still, unlike Jenas, both have at least previously shown flashes of genuine quality – let’s hope 2009 sees them both rediscover such form.
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.