All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

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.

Spurs – Middlesbrough Preview: Not a Cup Final, Not a Cup Final Performance

Up and down the better half of North London the deluded are insisting that our Carling Cup performance will prove something of a turning-point for the rest of our season. Earnestly they point out that we matched, and at times outdid the European Champions, or some version thereof – for 120 minutes no less. Replicate this and we’ll storm up the table. Times are a-changing. It’s even been mentioned, by the clinically insane, that we’re only eight points off a Uefa cup spot.Tut tut, come now – you ought to know better. Of course we played well on Sunday. We always play well in such games, that’s part of our infuriating, ingrained way. It’s the Tottenham way. Raising our game for a cup final, or a game against Man Utd, has never been our problem – so raising our game for a cup final against Man Utd was absolutely guaranteed to unleash the full fury of Jenas’ one good game of the season. Zokora and Ass-Ek similarly read the script and each made a jolly good fist of it too.

Should a performance of similar quality be produced against Boro tonight I’ll go buy a hat and eat it. Boro are the most soulless, unexciting and bland team I’ve ever known. It’s not that they’re outstandingly bad, dirty, comical or anything else. They’re none of the above. That’s their problem – there is simply nothing noteworthy in their identity. Their manager is soulless, unexciting and bland, they have no history and their star-player is One-Trick Downing for goodness sake. They’re not even offensive or in any way loathe-worthy. They incite no passion of any sort. They just subsist to make up the numbers and throw up the occasional completely incongruous result, like beating Liverpool at the weekend.

As such, they’re exactly the sort of team to whom we’ve been capitulating all season. In fact, we duly did precisely this in the very first game of the season, a standard which we’ve maintained throughout. Except when we play the top four of course, at which point capes are donned and crime prepares to be vanquished, as the entire team suddenly become superheroes and play out of their skin.

While it would be lovely to see us produce one of those opening-20-minute-blitzes which occur at the Lane every few months, a dour, scrappy affair strikes me as far likelier, and would be the perfect antidote to the optimism engendered by the spirited performance of Sunday. The game will also mark one of the last times this season that ‘Arry gets to moan about congestion caused by cup games. Sad times indeed. The laboured crawl away from the relegation zone continues.

Carling Cup Final Preview Mk II

That’s right. So excited, I’m writing a second preview.24 hours until kick-off, and naturally enough I’m bouncing off the walls. Yep, after the carefully-rehearsed exit from Europe, and the laboured operation to escape the relegation mire, over the last couple of days we’ve been able to devote ourselves to altogether cheerier fare.

My chat is generally inane at the best of times, but around the drinking-holes of London in recent nights I’ve become a kid on Christmas Eve, tactlessly steering every conversation towards the same topic. Any poor sod who has fallen into my field of vision duly has been pinned down and force-fed garbled cup final hysteria, delivered with ever-increasing rapidity and the wild-eyed stare of the unhinged. It is not an approach that has automatically endeared me to my fellow man. Nonplussed seemed to be the expression of choice on the faces of the unlucky souls subjected to this ranting. Nonplussed, merging into desperate glances for an escape route.

Still, a cup final is a rare treat, and as the clock ticks down towards kick-off, Spurs fans the world over are entitled to eschew the common rules of social propriety, and go a little nuts. Some appear reluctant to enter into the spirit of the occasion, seemingly unimpressed by the pedigree of the competition and more concerned about our league position. Be that as it may, but for the next few hours at AANP Towers, nervy excitement approacheth fever-pitch. Finger-nails are being shredded, chewing-gum annihilated, heart-rates gently nudged towards dangerously unsustainable levels.

No-one ought to begrudge us our day out at Wembley, and a few evenings of over-excited babbling beforehand. We long-suffering mugs have been shelling out all season, murmuring in disbelief, screaming in frustration, gawping in incredulity – and still going back each following week for more punishment. Football sure as hell owes us the occasional crack at glory, for toying with us thus, all year round. Football owes us, for the staggeringly atrocious Gomes blunders, the astonishingly mal-coordinated Bent misses and every infuriating mistake in between. No-one ought to begrudge us, and we ourselves ought to cherish these moments – it may be some time before the opportunity rolls around again.

Less of an occasion for the Man Utd lot I’d imagine. Just another day out in London for them, which really is underwhelming as most of them live in London anyway. And with eighteen other trophies on the go, and the Premiership title wrapped up in February, one suspects that tomorrow will rank alongside mowing the lawn and popping to the parents’ for a Sunday roast, in terms of excitement factor for their lot.

Massive day for us though. Win a big game and I can hold my head high in the office the next day. Win a trophy and I’m happy for a whole year. A trophy is like some sort of uber-penicillin for football, a cure for all ills. Rubbish result against Stoke or someone? I don’t care, we’ve got a trophy. Best players leaving for the Champs League sides? I don’t care, we’ve got a trophy. Season of optimism degenerating into a relegation scrap? We’ve got a trophy. House on fire, girlfriend left you, four horsemen saddling up? Who the hell cares, because we’ve got a trophy!

Winning that trophy has made it all seem worthwhile over the last 12 months – by hook or by crook or by penalties we need to get our mitts on it all over again today.

Carling Cup Final Preview: Spurs – Man Utd

Well if we continue to display that peculiar trend for producing performances directly correlating to the qualitiy of the opposition, we’ll have a ruddy good chance. Draws against Chelski, l’Arse twice, Liverpool and Man Utd themselves suggest that we’ve got it in us, somewhere.On paper, by the form-book and according to the general laws of physics that keep life ticking over across the planet, we really ought to get thrashed on Sunday. European (and, for what it’s worth, World) champions, and runaway league leaders; against our lot, who apparently only had two points when ‘Arry took over. And that’s as much negativity as you’ll prise out of me this time. The spirit of blithe optimism which has been at me like a fever all week is set to last until about 2.59 on Sunday, at which point, as is customary, frantic agitation shall make itself at home within my skinny frame.

On the team news front, we’re without Cudicini, Chimbonda, Palacios, Keane and Campbell (ineligible). Ledley, as ever, is being pieced together with blu-tac and sticky tape, Woody’s got stitches but that won’t stop him, and Pav has a groin strain, which might stop him, as he’s got a lot of fairy in him.

All of which is likely to leave us with Gomes; Corluka, Ledley, Woody, BAE; Lennon, Jenas, Zokora, Modric (or maybe a reshuffle with Bentley instead of do-do-do Didier?); Bent and Pav. With Dawson, Hudd, Gunter, Bale, Three-Touch, Bentley/Zokora, Giovanni and Obika amongst the subs.

Brazil 1970 it might not be, but as mentioned, nothing brings out the best in us like a game against one of the better teams around. A seeming lack of motivation to complement the obvious talent has irked me on and off all season, but it won’t be problem in a Wembley cup final. It’s been a slightly tortuous seven months of blind allegiance so far this season, but frankly that would make victory on Sunday that much sweeter.

Some Thoughts on Our Opponents

Man Utd are quite possibly going to field an understrengthed team. That doesn’t fool me. While it would be nice to imagine that they’ll be trotting out a team of Fraizer Campbells, I don’t doubt that they’ll still be pretty darned strong. Tevez, Scholes, Nani, O’ Shea – that sort of “understrengthed”. And they will also have the world’s most expensive and talented substitutes’ bench as a safety net, so few favours will be forthcoming. It matters not. We’ll match them, and better them.

I have to admit I enjoy watching Man Utd. Don’t like them as a team, find their arrogance face-slappingly obnoxious, can barely restrain the urge to kick the telly whenever their boss appears, and would happily lock that publicity-addict Bobby Charlton in a retirement home with no windows – but I enjoy watching them. You see, they play the Tottenham way.

I’ll just pause a moment to let the laughter subside.

It’s that one touch, defence-into-attack style. It first caught my eye in ’99, when the Beckham-Keane-Scholes-Giggs midfield supported the telepathically-linked Cole and Yorke upfront (with Solsjkaer and Teddy on the bench). Some team. The only other side to win a trophy that season was Tottenham. The key seems to be more off-the-ball movement than you can shake a stick at. When they attack at pace it’s all so fluid that commentators have given up trying to pin a label upon the formation. It’s no longer 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Ronaldo pops up in the centre, and Berba drops deep, and Rooney goes wide left, and Giggs drifts into the middle, and they bring on Tevez wide right; then five minutes later they all swap anyway and it’s just football in liquid form.

It’s football the way it’s meant to be played – the Tottenham way – and it tends to contain an end-product, unlike that other lot, up the road.

A couple of years ago, the halcyon days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name) only Spurs compared to Man Utd for entertainment and flair. The pace and movement of Lennon, Steed, Berba and Keane had everyone drooling. Our problem was generally defence, or perhaps protecting the defence. Hence, we’d ship in almost as many as we conceded, and 4-4 draws ceased to be anomalous. It was all action, no plot.

Man Utd, irritatingly, seem to have married the Tottenham way of attacking with an impressively solid defence. That would probably explain the slight but crucial disparity in league positioning and European pedigree. All action, but they stick to the plot too. Still, the speed of Lennon, and touch and vision of Modric keeps us in touch with our tradition of champagne football, and fingers are crossed all over the better half of North London that the signing of Palacios will give us the backbone to complement the fancy frills further forward.

I won’t notice at the time, I’ll be a bundle of nerves, but given the playing styles of both teams it could be one of the better Cup Finals of recent years. That said, I’ll most happily abandon the glory football ethos and settle for a long-ball, any-which-way war of attrition if it ends with Ledley lifting the trophy once again. Deep breath, calm the nerves – here’s hoping for a long night of celebrations and the world’s happiest hangover on Monday…

Spurs – Shakhtar Second Leg Preview: What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

Given that this season I’ve needed so little encouragement to bow my head in despair and slip into a straitjacket of pessimism whenever the Tottenham circus rolls back into town, it is strange and vaguely ironic that today’s most hopeless of situations finds me at my most optimistic. A two-goal deficit would be tricky enough for us to negotiate at the best of times. Throw into that a polyglot mix of overweight (Hudd), comically inept (Jenas) and internally-loathed (Gilberto) reserves, alongside a bunch of kids so young that they need parental permission to stay up for kick-off, and the tricky task ought to become Herculean in its magnitude.And yet somehow, I genuinely do feel upbeat. With the tie just about over already, the burdensome dread that I normally carry on my shoulders as kick-off approaches is strangely absent today. We’re two down, and sending out our kids and deadbeats – what’s the worst that can happen?

Actually, that might be a rather dangerous rhetorical question to bandy around. I close my eyes and the worst-case scenario unfolds… Start listlessly, concede a couple of early goals and the floodgates open. The heaviest aggregate defeat in our European history, or some such statistic. If it really does all go spectacularly wrong it could have catastrophic effects upon the careers of Obika and Townsend and the rest of our “triffic” kids. ‘Arry, and any other watching scouts summarily pass judgement upon them and their one chance at the big-time dissipates in 90 minutes of ignominy. They’ll go back to their academies battered shells of their former selves, psychologically scarred for life, and without a cat in hell’s chance of making the grade at the Lane, destined instead for a lifetime of ignominy in the footballing no-man’s-land that is Leyton Orient. (Not that any of this will have the slightest impact upon Spurs’ long-term future, as we never ease home-grown talent into our first team if we have the option of splashing out £14 mil on someone from a struggling Premiership side instead).

However, I really do remain optimistic that no such nightmare will unfold, and that, instead, we’ll put on a ruddy good, fearless, attacking performance tonight. Admittedly I can’t really see us winning the tie, as concession of one goal would leave us needing to score four. Nevertheless, after a season in which our underachieving first-choice rabble have been epitomised by Darren Bent – plenty of huffing and puffing without ever displaying real class – it would just be a typically illogical Tottenham thing to see our second-string of wastrels and street urchins produce a dazzling, energetic, motivated performance tonight. Before disappearing back to the substitutes’ bench, reserve team and youth league, rarely to be seen again.

Moreover, the whole attitude of the camp is a little different. Last week the game was lost before a ball had been kicked, so belligerently did ‘Arry insist that the match did not matter. The actual starting eleven selected last week, while weaker than normal, really was not the selection of inbreds and pre-pubescents many had anticipated. Gomes, Dawson, Zokora, Hudd, Jenas, Bentley – there ought to have been enough there to keep the tie alive. Rather than the choice of personnel it seemed to be the defeatist attitude that cost us. This week, inevitably, soundbites have been trotted out by the likes of Gomes and Giovanni about how determined the players are to fight their way back into the tie and so on. Vacuous untruths for sure, but, if repeated sufficiently frequently, I faithfully believe that the players might just lack the intelligence to realise that it’s all a lie, and instead go out there all guns blazing tonight.

There is no pressure upon the team to deliver. Young Three-Touch O’ Hara is likely to return, which should inject a bit of life into proceedings. And should we grab the first goal, the atmosphere will bubble up, and pressure will most certainly mount upon our Ukrainian guests…

While tonight is a chance for the youngsters to shine – aside, annoyingly, from Taraabt, inexplicably omitted from the Uefa list by Wendy Ramos – spare a thought for any older heads called into action. With Carling Cup final just three days away, 90 minutes tonight would pretty much guarantee omission from the side that trots out at Wembley on Sunday.  Gunter, Jenas, Hudd and especially Dawson are amongst the likely candidates for selection tonight – and disappointment at the weekend.

Hull – Spurs Preview: Part Two of ‘Arry’s Masterplan

Finally, I look forward to a Spurs game imbued with a spirit of sunny optimism! Huzzah – the good times are about to roll once more. Like a shallow secular kid the night before Christmas I can barely wait for the superficial short-term joys which tomorrow will bring!Anyone who has found themselves entangled within my web of doleful pessimism in recent weeks will know that AANP Towers has generally become a pretty sobering venue in recent weeks. Brows have been furrowed. Sotto voce curses have been muttered. The usual guaranteed spirit-raisers – l’Arse-directed Schadenfreude, surreptitiously kicking the shins of annoying toddlers, repeated viewings of captured bears dancing on hot coals – have failed to work their magic. Spurs have been rubbish, and no number of excuses, protestations or £14 million signings have been able to hide the fact.

Finally however, Spurs fans the world over have something to celebrate. For part two of ’Arry’s inter-domestic-European masterplan is now about to come to fruition. At first the idea was pretty difficult to stomach. Part one involved committing to defeat, in last week’s Uefa game vs Shakhtar, before a ball had been kicked. Impatient, short-sighted, pseudo-fan that I am, I foolishly failed at the time to appreciate the holistic strategy. Instead, disgracefully, I accused our intrepid heroes – and our intellectual behemoth of a leader – of betraying the club’s proud heritage. Shame on me. A thousand whip lashes across my scrawny back.

When a terrorist is angry he blows himself up. When an American is angry he pulls out a gun. But when an Englishman is angry he sits down and writes something – and by golly did my literary juices flow in the aftermath of Thursday’s debacle. Upper lips of Spurs fans across the land literally quivered with incandescence at the limp capitulation in Ukraine. It was not so much the decision to rest key players (Woodgate, Palacios, Modric and Lennon will, admittedly, be integral to our survival), as the quite public and premeditated decision to enter the game with a spirit of indifference. Shame on me. Shame on all of us who criticised this masterstroke.

For it was, to quote from the magnificent Ving Rhames in Con Air, a means to end, my hillbilly friend. The whole purpose of Thursday’s insipid cowardice was to save our energies for the Premiership! Starting with Hull away on Monday night!

So prepare to pop a few corks, kick your heels in the air and free the shackles from the wrists of Barrabas – because ‘Arry and the players are going to deliver the mother of all performances tomorrow! It will be a Rolls-Royce in footballing form, one-touch stuff ordained by the gods. Expect pretty triangles, defence-splitting balls and more movement than a swarm of mosquitoes on Ecstasy. Expect a return to the mesmeric all-action performances of years gone by. Expect a return of those players who are just too special to risk in Europe. The spirits of Ginola, Gascoigne, Hoddle, Ardiles and Greaves will be invoked tomorrow. Tackles will be won in wince-inducing fashion. The defence will be impenetrable. The attack will be irresistible. The opposition will sit down and steady themselves after 30 minutes, so dizzied will they be by the brand of meta-football that has been rehearsed by our first-choice team over the last week or two.

Frankly I can’t wait. I have the urge to find a meadow of daisies and skip through it. I want to discover a small cute unicorn, rear it, care for it and finally slaughter and eat it. I want to rob from the rich and give to the poor; help old women cross busy roads; and with a cheeky smile offer sweets to small children. Thanks to the genius of ‘Arry’s masterplan, tomorrow we’ll all finally have something to celebrate. Isn’t life just peachy?

Shakhtar – Spurs Preview: Another Game We’re Trying to Lose

Outwitted by a footballer. Not really the sort of thing to proclaim from the rooftops and highlight on my CV – for footballing folk are hardly regarded as the great intellectual giants of our time, no matter what David James and Tony Adams would have you believe. However, whichever way you look at it, ‘Arry Redknapp laid the simplest of traps, and with astonishing naivety I fell for it hook, line and sinker.The occasion was the build-up to the cup game with Man Utd. With a twitch of his head and a moan about his squad size, ‘Arry fed me the line that he would play his weakest possible team. I – still reeling from the news that  the word “gullible” had been removed from the dictionary – lapped this up a little too zealously and indulged in a typically tedious diatribe about the ignominy of it all, laying into ‘Arry, invoking the club’s 126-year tradition, the full works. Come kick-off and the “weakest possible team” did not materialise. While Woodgate was rested, the team sent out was of general, moderate-to-strong capability, boasting Modric and Pav, with not a Rocha in sight.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and ‘Arry is making similar noises prior to our Uefa cup game. He’s bleating on again about how he’s stuffed the team bus with kids from the Acadmey squad – but I’m not buying it this time. As Dubya put it, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again. ‘Arry reckons Corluka, Pav and Keane are all cup-tied – a likely story. He’s claiming that Lennon, Ledley and Three-Touch O’ Hara are all out injured – pull the other one. Jermain Defoe is apparently both ineligible and injured – the lady doth protest too much, methinks. And Woodgate, Cudicini, Palacios and Modric are all being rested tonight – oh you tease ‘Arry, you mischievous scamp. Not only have you played that ruse before, but to omit our ten best players against a team whose last competitive result was a win against Barcelona – well that would be the most suicidal plan since Bruce Willis did the honourable thing in Armageddon (or perhaps Deep Impact).

Alas…

Alas, it’s actually true. It could be Alfie Patten and friends – and his kids – lining up in lilywhite tonight. There will probably be some recognisable faces on show (Dawson, Jenas, Hudd, Chimbonda, Zokora, Gomes etc) and it will be nice to see Dos Santos finally get a game, and reacquaint ourselves with Bent’s look of disbelief as he shins wide, but let’s not kid ourselves. Although Shakhtar are just returning from a winter break, our sub-strength team will struggle. Over two legs, we’re heading out. We’re doomed (which might well become the new subtitle of this increasingly morbid forum of woe). I know, I know – we have bigger fish to fry, with Premiership games mounting up (Hull away on Monday) and the Carling Cup final to come (a week on Sunday). Logic was never my forte in scholarly days, but even I see the sense in omitting key players tonight and next Thursday, in a Uefa Cup competition we’re miles away from winning.

But still. For years and years I’ve enviously watched as other teams – not least l’Arse – have gone on their merry midweek European jaunts, and yearned for the day when we could do the same. And when we finally made it into Europe, it was amazing. European nights at the Lane are awesome, they absolutely rock, and I shall happily slap in the face with a wet fish anyway who suggests otherwise. Successive seasons of it has me addicted. And now we’re just going to throw it all away? (If ever there was a time to become sufficiently tech-savvy to insert an audio clip of an anguished howl, this is it.)

Yes, yes, yes, YES – I know, it’s far more important that we stay in the Premiership, stop yelling that at me. But the all-action-no-plot devil on my shoulder continues to poke me with a stick and repeat to me – “What’s the point if we’re not striving to climb the table and get into Europe?” I’m aware that I’m displaying the all too familiar Spurs Fan’s Irrational Impatience™, far more harmful than good to the team, a wretched curse of generations up and down the High Road and many miles beyond. I’m aware that this all a means to an end, and that the Uefa is being sacrificed so that we can come back stronger next season – but here and now, in the build-up to Shakhtar away, it doesn’t soften the blow. Shakhtar over two legs is not insurmountable; I just hope that if we do lose we at least go out with a fight.

This season we’ll scramble free of the drop, lose the Carling Cup final and finish like all the rest of them – mid-table, no trophies. Why retain our Premiership status if that means existing in a dull rut, alongside Middlesborough and Fulham and all of the other most boring and soulless sides in the universe? What’s the point of surviving, if we then go on to live our lives in a dull void of unfeasible blandness and nihilism. We’re in danger of becoming Middlesborough I tell you. Middlesborough! Is there a more depressing thought in football?

The odds of us winning the Uefa this season were always a tad long, but at least we were in it. Who knows when we’ll next have the chance? By next Thursday night we’ll be out of the Uefa. Next Sunday we face the best team on the planet, in the best form in their history, in the Carling Cup final. After that we could well have become Middlesborough.

I feel like Ray Liotta at the very end of Goodfellas.

“And now it’s all over. That’s the hardest part. Today everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. After I got here I ordered spaghetti with marinara sauce…and I got egg noodles with ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”

 

Spurs – Arsenal Preview Mk II: Ominous Signs as Spurs Fan is Peed Upon

A Spurs fan is p*ssed on, barely 24 hours before the Norf London derby. It’s an omen I tell ye. Cracks will appear in the sky, four apocalyptic jockeys will saddle up and all hell will break loose at the Lane today, so run for the hills, God help you all. I sneer in the face of those who suggest I’m overreacting to the fact that my four month-old nephew urinated on me as I held him yesterday.And baby-related trauma is not the only portent of momentous significance to have emerged in the build-up to this one. All-action-no-plot etchings of Spurs cockerels have been mysteriously appearing across the sandy beaches of Perth. Alright, that’s not really so mysterious, given that I’m frequently to be found next to said etchings, with sand-encrusted finger. And while it may all be a bit tenuous, as the clock ticks down towards kick-off – and the search for a bar that will show the game out here in Oz becomes increasingly frantic* – I find myself preparing as if I’m in some way involved. Admittedly my preparations tend to comprise little more than retreat into a shell of pessimism, but it’s the same before every game, and exacerbated before a game against that lot. The fact remains that we fans do prepare, as if we can make a difference, even when on the side of the world. (Insert tedious comment about the contrasting attitude of the players around here).

Like anything I do will have the slightest bearing upon events at the Lane today. There’s some sort of mentalist theory that if a butterfly flaps its wings in London it causes a hurricane in South America. Personally I find that as believable as a profession of loyalty from a Premiership footballer, but nevertheless, the fact that I’ve been weed upon for the first time in my life, just a day before a North London derby – well, it must be some sort of prognostication of doom, no?

Possibly more relevant to the outcome of the game is the second debut of Robbie Keane. Penalty miss ’07 aside, he’s been something of a bête noire to the other lot, and the odds must be short on a roly-poly and badge-kiss celebration at some point today. For all the rights and wrongs of his departure and return I’m glad to have someone of his mentality in the team for a game like this. In other areas, headline-writers will be disappointed to note that ex-Gooner David Bentley will be viewing things from his beauty-parlour back home rather than the pitch, due to a one-game suspension; while lack of match-fitness may deprive l’Arse newbie Arshavin from crossing scimitars with national striking partner, but categorical non-friend, Roman Pav.

Should we triumph today, on the back of my urinary dousing, a new pre-match ritual may be born…

 

* = A more positive omen is that I might have found a place that’s showing the game live here in Subiaco, Perth, one of the sunniest, but least all-action places on earth. Fingers crossed.

Spurs – Arsenal Preview: Idle Musings on ‘Arry’s Reign

This feels almost like the build-up to a cup match. Providing respite from the usual painful and laborious business of scraps against fellow relegation strugglers, we can all sit back on Sunday and marvel as our wondrous heroes miraculously forget how average they’ve been all season and suddenly improve their game ten-fold against l’Arse. The other lot are by no means invincible, or especially pretty these days, so we may indeed be able to secure the delusory yet priceless bragging rights for the rest of the season.The derby at the Emirates earlier this season was ‘Arry’s first official game in charge of us, so it would be tempting to view this return fixture at the Lane as a barometer of progress. However, a disclaimer is in order: win, lose or draw there’s not a lot that can be read into a game vs l’Arse. Should we win, or draw playing well, we’ll need to remember that l’Arse at home is never a true indication of our quality. Should we lose or draw luckily we’ll have to admit that there are still new faces in the team ‘Arry’s rebuilding. Any game vs that ‘orrible lot is something of an anomaly – much like a cup game.

However, as we face again his first opponents why not indulge in a spot of nostalgia, and hark back to that grainy black and white era when Ramos was jettisoned, ‘Arry was first installed and we skipped up to the Emirates for the start of a brave new ear. The bare statistics of ‘Arry’s reign to date do not look especially encouraging, as we’re still only a point of the drop zone. Tempting though it is to do the Spurs thing and leap to the nearest wildly inappropriate conclusion (in this case “’Arry’s useless, let’s sack him”, rather than “’Arry’s our saviour, give him the job for life”) it would be more useful – albeit rather dull – to adopt a measured approach.

On a general level, ‘Arry’s arrival has brought us a run of good luck and decent form in patches, but there have been enough insipid displays to serve as a warning that this season may yet end in disaster.

Credit where it’s due, one of the key problems appears to have been solved: goalkeeper. Let’s not forget quite how horrendous an issue this had become – once upon a time there was weeping and gnashing of teeth whenever we conceded a corner, so poorly judged and executed were Gomes’ forays off his line. He deserves enormous credit for his improvement, and ‘Arry probably merits a pat on the back here too, if only for brining in Tony Parks to work with the eternally wincing Brazilian. Meanwhile Cudicini has turned the position into arguably our strongest, an astute signing, even though it may, ironically, signal the end of Gomes’ Spurs career.

Other areas have been addressed rather less well. Amidst accolades of ‘Arry’s unique man-management technique, Bentley’s wonder-goal at the Emirates was supposed to catalyse the pretty-boy’s transformation into some sort of footballing deity, heir apparent to David Beckham as a fixture in the England team and terroriser of defences across the land. Fast forward three months, and for all the fancy flicks and brylcreem he’s put on display, we’ve yet to see the best of Bentley. A cross duly marked against ‘Arry.

Our esteemed manager continues to switch between 4-4-2 and 4-5-1, suggesting possible uncertainty about the approach he wants to adopt. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I guess he’ll settle upon a formation once he has his favoured personnel in place and raring to go. However, while he may blame the squad he inherited, I still think a good enough manager would by now have found a formation that works…

Sorry, I almost slipped back into “Sack-the-manager” mode. What I meant to say was that it’s still early days, an excuse we’ll probably have to accept until the summer, when ‘Arry really gets to shape the squad in his own image (ie ugly and with a twitch). Some of the problems having already been deemed insurmountable, he’s made a beeline for the transfer market, rather than try to use the players already at his disposal. Wafer thin midfield? Transfer market. No idea how to get Pav and Bent working together upfront? Transfer market.

While I think they’re all shrewd signings, it irks me a little that he couldn’t have squeezed more out of the crop of multi-million pound internationals he had at his disposal when he took over. Maybe that would have been asking too much of a full-time manager with several decades of experience in the English game.

However, these are just idle musings. It remains too early to pass judgement on the man’s time as Spurs manager, and one home game against the other lot should not colour opinions too much one way or t’other.

Bolton – Spurs Preview: A Total Lack of Perspective

A criticism often levelled at Spurs (and indeed England) fans is that life is always either a triumph or a crisis, without any middle ground or hint of perspective. It takes an impressive strength of character to accept criticism, and luckily I possess such humility in abundance (modesty is one of my many attributes). Therefore I can detect an element of truth in this charge. Indeed, I suspect that most Spurs fans would appreciate this line of argument. Win, and we’re world-beaters, on course for European qualification and en route towards the Champions League within two years (that’s winning the whole thing, as opposed to just qualifying), whilst playing the vintage brand that would have Jairzinho et al glancing enviously over their shoulders.The alternative to this blistering optimism is doleful, morbid pessimism, of the brand I’ve been perfecting in recent weeks. Lose a couple of games and the only possible solution seems to be wholesale changes. The players – whom we’ve never rated in the first place – aren’t fit to wear the shirt, they don’t care, they’re not good enough. The tactics are wrong, the management is clueless, the best thing for us would be relegation so that we can start from scratch.

Results and performances this season have naturally given us a good excuse to adopt the latter approach and become prophets of doom. Few players are exempt from criticism, second-chances are rare and “perspective” is a curious word from a bygone era, whose meaning no-one really remembers. Hence, despite the fact that Bent is often played in a formation badly suited to his style, he is now subject to rather wildly disproportionate abuse whenever he misses. Elsewhere on the pitch it is conveniently ignored that Hudd requires movement around him to strut his stuff. Instead, following the Burnley and Man Utd losses, queues have been forming of those keen to banish him to the bench or reserves.

I’m amongst the worst culprits here, all too easily and willingly swept up on a wave of short-term sentiment. It could be argued that in this multi-million pound industry there is little scope for the “patience” necessary to allow players to settle, squads to gel, formations to be tinkered with. It could also be argued that the club has had twenty-plus years to get out of the transitional period, so anyone lecturing me about patience ought to have DVDs of the miserable mid-1990s seasons shoved into every available orifice. However, this ignores the fact that, however we got here we are now, again, rebuilding, and the process will take time. And even as I type those words, I pointedly eject them from my mind, to make room for more completely unrealistic, short-term analysis.

In the build-up to the game against Bolton, the scales inevitably tip towards the side of buoyant optimism. Five consecutive away defeats, in all competitions, can be conveniently glossed over, because we have, finally, produced the champagne football of which our players’ CVs suggest they are so capable. It may be six months late, but our push towards European qualification has begun. Having done it once this week, there is no reason why we can’t continue in the same vein on Saturday, and twice a week every week thereafter.

Even Spurs fans claiming to have a sense of perspective will calmly insist on the back of four points from our last two games, and within such a tightly-congested table, that we’ll probably maintain this form and be pushing for the top six by May. What do you mean it was only 45 good minutes out of our last five games? What do you mean it was only Stoke at home? Are you blind, or mad, or a complete footballing imbecile? Was the evidence of that first half not enough to convince you that we are quite patently one of the biggest teams in the country?

The truth, inevitably and rather unglamorously, is somewhere in between. By all accounts the first half versus Stoke was indeed extremely impressive. Replicate this consistently, and we will steadily progress up the table towards the neon lights of the top six – as would any team which regularly played well.

A degree of perspective with regard to the players similarly throws up some rather unspectacular truths. Irrespective of the formation, Darren Bent’s finishing has frequently been hurried and inaccurate. While the limitations of his team-mates have done him no favours, Huddlestone needs to develop other aspects of his game (fitness, off-the-ball movement, tackling) in order to complement his passing ability and fulfil his potential. And so on.

Frankly I feel unclean to ponder Spurs’ situation in such a grounded and sensible way. The All-Action-No-Plot mentality is about the mindless pursuit of glory on the pitch, and the complete absence of perspective from the stands. Therefore, a draw away to Bolton would not be an acceptable step towards stability and security of Premiership status; it would be an opportunity for me to sharpen my knife and lay into Zokora/Bent/Bentley/Ass-Ek/Arry/all of the above (delete as appropriate).

(nb a vastly more reasonable assessment of our current plight, and the lack of perspective at the club, can be found at “The Game is About Glory” – The Core Problem With Spurs?)

 

 

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