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.