All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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The Week’s Tottenham Transfer Murmurings

Ruud van Nistelrooy – While I’ve always been keen to hurl down some funky shapes on the boogie floors of London’s finer night-spots on a booze-fuelled Saturday night, I’ve been honest enough to admit that I’m not a natural on the dance-floor. No, really. But by golly if I were, I would have danced an impromptu jig of delight at the news that we’re sniffing at Ruud van Nistelrooy. And I would have added a most inappropriate Michael Jackson-esque whoop at the news that this thoroughbred could be acquired for the thrifty sum of £1.25 million.£1.25 milion! No footballer can be bought for that amount these days. It’s like the football equivalent of 10p. Once upon a time 10p would at least buy a packet of chewing-gum, and £1.25 million would pick up a young but decidedly average English centre-back. Now, however, both sums are worthless in isolation and Anton Ferdinand costs £8 million. We could probably fund the RvN purchase by selling Gilberto. (Although RvN’s wages would presumably be astronomical.)

After the lamentable, waking nightmares that have been the Cisse and Kenwyne Jones rumours, the van Nistelrooy whispers are sounds as sweet as a Julie London solo. It may only be a short-term solution, but that’s fine with me – long-term contracts mean precious little these days anyway, and besides, who amongst us mere mortals can predict who will still be at the Lane 12 months hence? No, short-term is fine. We certainly need a physical presence to coax the best out of Keane/Defoe, and someone who is a proven goalscorer at Premiership level is all the better. I would quite happily see RvN, Keane, Defoe and young Obika as our four of choice in attack next season.

Sulley Muntari – Inter have rejected an ‘Arry bid for him, so sayeth his agent. Should this be true, the custodians of AANP Towers would nod in approval at ‘Arry’s wise judgement, but Jermaine Jenas may well furrow his brow, while T. Huddlestone Esquire would probably choke on his burger and chips, and nuggets, and sausages and beans, and onion rings, and dessert, in disgust. ‘Arry has said he’s targeting probably three key players this summer, and if one is a central midfielder it spells curtains for the likes of JJ and the Hudd.

Incidentally, there was also an extremely enthusiastic response chez AANP to the rumours of Mikael Arteta being snooped after; but alas, this is probably my fabled naivety coming to the fore once more – for, as has been pointed out elsewhere, such a rumour is probably the work of a dastardly agent angling for his client to get a pay-rise. There’s little chance of Everton selling the blighter. Would love to see him alongside Palacios though, would be like an improved version of JJ.

Didier Zokora – The futures of Jenas and Hudd may be uncertain, but that of do-do-do Didier appears to be gaining clarity, with the phrases “Sevilla” and “£5 million” being bandied around with care-free liberality. This seems mutually beneficial. He’s done a decent job for us, but with Palacios doing the business there is little scope for Zokora at the Lane, and he’s thinking about his international career, with the World Cup less than a year away (less than a year – huzzah!). It’s a decent sum for us to pick up too. (Apologies, I ought to have sprinkled in there somewhere the phrase “loyal servant”. Most remiss of me.)

David Bentley – Elsewhere, the brain-hurting sum being used to take Little Miss Ronaldo to Madrid has livened up what has, in truth, been a rather moribund football week, and given everyone a chance to demonstrate their knowledge – or lack thereof – of European footballers, by trying to name possible Man Utd targets to replace the little princess. I won’t bother explosing my own ignorance, but it did occur to me that, had this happened last summer, one David Bentley might well have been a name on a few lips. It’s a long time in football, is a year.

Barca – Man Utd Champions League Final Preview: All Action, Please

Ah The Champions League. That inescapable anthem. The meaningless group games. The same teams each year – some of whom actually are indeed national champions. And money, everywhere. Advertising money. TV money. Salaries. Transfer fees.The All-Action Way

With this thick layer of cynicism building up around the Champions League I find it genuinely refreshing to look forward to tonight’s game. Two teams who generally play the right way. The all-action way, full of movement, interchanging and technique that has grown men drooling.

It’s all action for sure, but, at least in Man Utd’s case, there is a darned good idea of plot too, in the form of Rio and the Serbian psycho, protected by the beaverish midfield three. The excellent Radio 5 Live preview last night made an interesting point, namely that in the absence of their suspended, ridiculously over-attacking full-backs – Abidal and Alves – Barca will be forced to field a couple of understudies at right and left-back, and therefore might be more cautious, and consequently a darned sight tighter at the back than they usually are. Interesting point.

Other sub-plots of note: Van der Saar has gone all Obi Wan Kenobi – an old man, whose powers are waning. His flaps and fumbles are increasing in frequency. I’m not convinced that Giggs is an adequate understudy to Fletcher in the role of midfield hustler-and-harrier. Barca’s insistence on passing to death outside the area rather than have a pop from distance (an affliction which curiously hampered Spurs in the spring months) has generally proved detrimental to their cause against English opposition. Pretty to watch though.

Early Goal, Please

Naturally, there is the worry that after all the anticipation, this game degenerates into a dour, disappointing affair. However, an early goal ought to do the trick, and really open up the game. Although last year’s final was watched through an increasingly hazy cloud of alcohol, I do recall it being a generally entertaining affair – thanks, in no small part, to the early-ish opening goal. A pleasant contrast to the FA Cup Final between the same two teams the previous year.

Rooting For Man Utd. Sort Of.

I won’t particularly mind who wins, as it doesn’t concern Spurs, but I suppose I’ll be edging towards Man Utd. As with many of the greatest arguments of mankind, my reasons are threefold:

1) The patriot in me always likes to see English teams win European trophies. (Unless it’s l’Arse. Or Chelski).

2) Rooney. The man’s a genius, and I’d love to see him boss the game of games.

3) Generally a fan of the Man Utd style of play. Liquid football. In last year’s Champs League Final they produced one of my favourite pieces of football ever – Rooney picked up the ball at right-back (!), motored forward 40 yards, then pinged a diagonal cross-field peach of a ball to Ronaldo, who pulled it back for Tevez (I think) to diving head, saved by Cech, before Carrick blasted the rebound goalwards, where it was headed clear by a defender. Or something like that (alcoholic haze, remember). Absolutely awesome football. I just stood there ogling, as if it were a svelte brunette tying knots in a cherry stalk with her tongue.

Then in the semi vs l’Arse there was something similarly mesmeric in Ronaldo’s second goal – the backheel, Park’s burst, Rooney’s perfect pass, and Ronaldo again, sixty yards from his starting-point, finishing it.

More of the same tonight please.

Everton 0 – 0 Spurs: Redknapp In “Change-Of-Personnel-And-Formation” Shock

There are lies, damned lies and statistics, but a scoreline never spoke a truer word than Everton 0-0 Tottenham yesterday. We edged the first half, they edged the second half and neither ‘keeper had a serious save to make.There were some interesting sub-plots though. ‘Arry Redknapp has developed a serious allergy to change of any form, either before or during games. No doubt therefore, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth to accompany the twitches when he found that changes of both personnel and formation would be enforced.

With BAE and Lennon injured (some sort of twinge meant Bentley could only manage the bench), and Palacios absent – for desperately sad reasons – ‘Arry was forced to experiment. So experiment he did, with psycho-Scot Hutton, human-simian hybrid Bale and the incredible Hudd all playing the full 90 minutes; Defoe and Keane together upfront; and the whole lot of them jumbled together in a brand spanking new 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation.

Some experiments are blisteringly successful. Alex Fergusons’ deployment of Ronaldo as a striker helped turn Man Utd into possibly the best team on the planet. Alexander Fleming’s poking and prodding gave the world penicillin. Jeff Goldblum’s character created an awesomely slick piece of kit in The Fly, even if the ensuing bedlam did rather shift attention from its genius.

By contrast, the results of our new 3-5-2 were rather less spectacular than all these. It did the job, but is unlikely to be repeated if we have the personnel for 4-4-2.

 

The RegularsThe change in formation ultimately did not make a huge difference to the regulars. Every now and then Gomes’ wires got frazzled and he went a little mental. Trying to dribble round forwards, dropping crosses in his six yard box – that sort of thing. Comfy enough though, and another clean sheet. A fairly serene afternoon too for the centre-backs (it appears that Ledley found something more exciting to do in late-night London afterwards).With the season’s end approaching, Modric has the look of a superhero being gradually exposed to kryptonite. He’s still way ahead of other mere mortals, but his powers are waning. Passes which earlier this season were lined in gold are now being overhit. It’s fair enough – he’s worked non-stop all season. The spirit remains willing as ever, but the flesh is starting to look weak. Send the boy somewhere sunny for a couple of months, and let him put his feet up. Somewhere sunny that all provides an all-you-can-eat-buffet. He needs to put some meat on those bones.

The 3-5-2 allowed Keane to play as a genuine forward, and he even had a shot in the first half. However, he seems to have forgotten what the role requires, as was epitomised in the first half when Lescott slipped and Keane was rocking on his heels rather than devouring the leftovers. Unable to get the hang of playing in attack, he dedicated most of his energy to the one the aspect of his game in which he remains peerless – that pointing and shouting lark. Defoe looked sharp though. More food for thought as next season approacheth

 

 

The HopefulsSo what of the squad players, suddenly given rare opportunities to shine?The use of three centre-backs allowed Bale and Hutton, as wing-backs, to play to their strengths (bombing forward) while providing enough insurance to expiate for, if not exactly mask, their weaknesses (defending). Both made a pretty good fist of attacking, in the first half in particular. Neither were thoroughly convincing when defending, and I’d feel rather jittery if they were deployed within a conventional back four, but there were no real alarms. Still no win for our anti-alchemist, Bale, after almost two years in lilywhite.

The reversion to three in central midfield indicated that Palacios is so important to us – and the rest of our central midfielders so meek and mild – that it needs two men to compensate for his absence. A reserve of some sort, either young starlet or sage veteran, is needed in the summer.

Given that he had the platform of a three-man central midfield it was disappointing that Hudd failed to boss the game. He had his moments, pinging around a few of his usual dreamy Hollywood passes, but was a little too casual from short-range, fairly regularly poking six-yard balls into touch. It was the sort of performance that leaves the jury scratching their heads and waiting for the next piece of evidence.

Nice to see each of these chaps get 90 minutes though, and one wonders what the future holds for them. I expect that Bale will stay, at least until he finally registers a win for us; Hutton will hang around until the January 2010 transfer window to fight Corluka (quite possibly in a literal sense) for the right-back spot; and Hudd will hand in a transfer request citing his hunger. For first-team football.

 

Sunderland – Spurs Preview: Not Good Enough for MoTD

A bit of a bonus game this. Somehow, amidst the hurly-burly of all those cup excursions, we’ve earned ourselves a game in hand – and the opportunity to haemorrhage blood from the nose by hitting the dizzy heights of tenth, within five points of West Ham in the likely Uefa spot of seventh. Even more excitingly, with ours being the only Premiership fixture tomorrow, does this mean that we get an entire Match of the Day to ourselves? Crumbs, they can show the entire game! Sunderland-Spurs would normally be tossed out to Tony Gubba to paint a tedious shade of grey, but if we’re the only game we’ll get the brilliant Steve Wilson, and his impeccable combo of excitement and reason!Alas, it’s not to be. They’re not giving us Steve Wilson. They’re not even giving us Gubba. There will be no MoTD at all this Saturday. They don’t deem our game sufficient to keep the programme on air this week. The ignominy.

More mundanely, the match itself – nigh on impossible to predict. This season, and indeed just the last few weeks, has seen on display every one of the multiple personalities of that strange schizophrenic beast that is Tottenham Hotspur 2008-09. Woeful defeats to Burnley and Shakhtar; creditable draws against l’Arse and Man Utd; impressive wins against Stoke, Hull and Boro. Gazing into my crystal ball the only words that appear are “confused.com”.

The trip to the north-east will throw up some friends past, present and quite possibly future. I personally vetoed the summer sale of Steed, but unbelievably it went ahead anyway, and he might well offer a pointed reminder of what we’re lacking on the left. Teemu Tainio I expect to make less of an impact, if he’s even fit, while Chimbonda is unlikely to be the most popular man in the stadium come kick-off. Nothing new there, then. The most interesting sub-plot will be about eight foot ten and playing up-front for Sunderland. A good chance for all of us to get 90 minutes of Kenwyne Jones and make some snap-judgements about whether he’ll be worth the £14 million odd we’ll probably bid for him in the summer. Don’t’ strive too hard to impress us, will you Kenwyne?

And Now For Something Completely Different… 

Little Miss Ronaldo (to Taylor): “You’re rubbish.”
[Pretty subjective, but if anyone is entitled to make that call it’s probably the World Football of the Year]

Taylor: “Yeah? Well you’re ugly.”
[Genius! Talk about touching a nerve. Take a bow son]

Little Miss Ronaldo: “You’re still rubbish.”

Taylor: “And you’re still ugly.”

Impossible to read that without smiling. I can’t help thinking Ronaldo went home and cried all night into his pillow after that. Heart-warming stuff.

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