Sunday, 28 August 2011

Not wishing to overreact, but I think football may be coming to an end

This is true: there are a few Premier League clubs who can buy players for £20m-£50m and pay them £100K-£250K per week.

But the vast majority can't. This overrides everything. That's not sour grapes. It's bitter reality.

If it helps, imagine James Alexander Gordon saying it. That's how true it is.

There will still be amazing games, shock results, delirious afternoons and glory nights - but, plotted on a graph over any meaningful amount of time, it is that economic fact that will determine who does what, finishes where and wins anything.

It makes football more predictable, more boring and, for the majority of us, let's call ourselves The Excluded, more depressing.

The key is to stop fucking caring. Because there's nothing we can do about this. We are New York and football finance is Hurricane Irene. (And, yes, that does throw up the tantalising possibility of evacuating).

There are degrees of disenfranchisement, of course. Spurs are relatively wealthy and privileged. And fans of, say, Macclesfield may well be tempted to sarcastically rub their eyes and do the fake boo-hoo thing at this point. But it's at our end of the spectrum where the most dramatic changes are taking place and where the greatest gulf is (currently) opening up.

Against Man City our attack was as toothless as a tinker and our defence was as suspect as a hoodie with a can of petrol. But whilst the match itself, like every other match, turned on bad decisions, good goals and poor finishing, the game, the game of football, is turning, in a wider arc, on the influx of billions and billions of pounds, from owners who have no history with or attachment to their chosen play things.

It is, frankly, as baffling as it is depressing. There is no logic to Man City's rise. It's dumb luck followed by brute force. Same as Chelsea.

For the next few days we will pick over the bones of our beating and we will fret about comings and goings. Essentially, we will be rearranging the deckchairs.

I'm not sure where that leaves us, what we have left to hope for, aim for or dream of. (Other than, as always, along with every other poor sod supporting every other crappy club, three points at Wolves next Saturday. Everything has changed, but some things remain the same)

Down, down, down we all go together. Not just to the bottom of the table, but to goodness knows where...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Let's finally get this season started, shall we?

Bit late for a Man Utd review, sorry. It was all right for an hour, wasn't it? And then it was very fucking far from all right.

One thing that struck me, though, as it has done many times before: there is something about Being Man Utd that just undoes certain teams, including us (if I knew what I was doing I'd have dicked about with the image so that it was an endless repetition of Tom Cleverly's face, not John Malkovich's).

I mean the names on a sheet of paper aren't exactly terrifying. The new keeper's clearly struggling to settle. Two of the defenders were Fulham and Blackburn players until recently - neither hailed as the best in their position at those far from gargantuan clubs.

In midfield Cleverly did okay at Wigan on loan last year and Young did okay at a Villa. Anderson's a bit fat. And up front, I mean, yes, okay, Rooney, but the main threat was Welbeck, another one who was out on loan last year, this time not exactly ripping up trees at Sunderland.

You could stick six or seven of those Man Utd players in Spurs shirts and we'd actually be a worse team. And they'd play like Spurs players. The magic would suddenly wear off. They wouldn't expect to win. The 'Being Man Utd' effect would be missing and they'd look like Fulham, Blackburn, Wigan and Sunderland players. It's bloody alchemy, is what it is. And bloody annoying.

But, of course, the season actually starts this weekend against Man City. And it's a great benchmark game for us. City will be top three this season, but our best 11 should still be able to give their best 11 (if such a thing exists) a run for their money, especially at home.

The biggest moment of the afternoon may, of course, come before kick off when (hopefully) Luka Modric's name is read out - presuming his slight mind strain has worn off.

Boos? Cheers? Indifference? It's a complicated one. If it can be orchestrated, I'd like us to greet him with a mass chorus of: 'Yes, on some level we understand your desire to earn more money and, let's face it, stand a better chance of winning trophies. Plus, admittedly, it's naive to expect much loyalty from all but a very few players these days. It's also true that Tottenham were here before you and will be here (or maybe a few miles up the road) after you - and as for the risks of keeping a disgruntled player at the club, in the dressing room, well that's a whole other headache. But, you did sign a new contract just last year and we have little doubt that an even better one is on offer if you accept that you're not going anywhere; that your future, for now at least, is here, so you'd better make the best of it. And, yes, when we're 14th in January we can maybe have another chat.'

I'll count us in, shall I?

We'll lose 2-1. Nasri will probably score. And watching that lot do the almost painfully unfunny Poznan thing will probably be enough to make me question not just what's happened to football, but whether or not mankind deserves to continue.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Reasons to be cheerful - three parts

1) Gareth Bale

Thanks to the ongoing Modric saga (Jesus, I'm not even calling him 'Luka' anymore. A year ago it was 'honey-bunny'), the speculation spotlight stayed away from young Gareth this summer.
It was, in fact, a mercifully quiet close-season for the lad who, just seconds after the final whistle at the San Siro last year, was more or less put up for auction at pitchside by the ITV team of pundits (Curly, Larry and Twat, or whoever was on duty that night), such was the level of assumption that a player that good simply couldn't or wouldn't want to stay at Spurs.
Thankfully, in the end, Bale spent his holidays in a chalet in Tenby with his mum and his gran, sipping tea, running up and down mountains in the morning and re-reading his Harry Potter books in the afternoon, tongue lolling constantly but quite charmingly out of the corner of his mouth.
Obviously he may have spent the summer roasting wannabe wags in that resort where Michael Winner and Simon Cowell go - Cunt Island, I think it's called - but in my mind he's a good boy.
And the real point is that he remains our boy.
Last year, whilst he hit some very high highs, he was sometimes not consistent or imposing enough in bread and butter league games. This year, we must hope, he becomes a great player who has the odd and totally understandable off game, rather than a good player who has quite a lot of not-much-better-than-average games (and the odd almost inexplicably brilliant game).

Inevitable downside because that's the nature of this blog, supporting Spurs and, let's face it, life: Still wonder if he might be a little fragile - or at least over-susceptible to injury. The new Darren Anderton, basically.

2) Rafa van der Vaart

I didn't swoon quite as wholeheartedly as some when the surprise signing lit up the start of our season last summer/autumn.
Me and Rafa just never really clicked. And he did fade a bit - in the second half of games and in the second half of the season. Plus, I always presumed he'd arrived here by mistake; that the first he'd heard of it was a profusely apologetic call from his agent at 00:05 on September 1st: 'Now, before you say anything, just hear me out...'
But, he scored goals, and he oozed confidence. He didn't seem like a Spurs player at all. He seemed surprised (possibly even angry) when we lost. And he relished big games - again, not a typical Spurs trait.
This year, he'll have done a proper pre-season, he's not sneakily looking at the back of shirts to know which name to shout during matches. So, rather like Bale, perhaps this year he'll be one of the Premier League's outstanding performers, from beginning to end - of matches and of the season.

Inevitable downside because that's the nature of this blog, supporting Spurs and, let's face it, life: He does fuck with our 'preferred' shape and system. To get the best out of him he cannot be a second striker in a rigid 4-4-2 - and do we have the tactical nous/flexibility to change?

3) Benoit Assou-Ekotto

Just because, really. Yes he's a much better left-back than pundits give him credit for, but that's because they tend to buy into a set of mutually accepted half-baked truths (or, just as often, cliches) about clubs, players, manages and not have the wit, insight or courage to deviate from them (In psychiatric circles it's know as 'Lets himself down with his final ball syndrome').
Anyway, who gives a fucking fuck what Steve Claridge, Alan Hansen or Garry Neville think about our Benny. We know that he's prone to the odd lapse, but he's also cooler than Fonzie in a fridge, fast, smart and always capable of springing into attack.
Plus, he's that rare breed: a modern footballer with a sense of perspective and honesty. Benny's no badge-kisser and the vast majority of us thank the lord for that.
Rather than trot our PR-approved platitudes, he knows he just happens to have ended up playing for Spurs because that's where his professional life has lead him, that's where he could get the best deal, and that's where he'll stay until a significantly better deal comes along. And while he's here he'll try as hard as he can because that's what he's paid to do.

Inevitable downside because that's the nature of this blog, supporting Spurs and, let's face it, life: There's a nice little contradiction brewing here. Because of his honesty, because he refuses to pretend he loves the club, or us.... well, guess what, we love him! And I think he knows that, and I think he likes that. I even think he maybe values that. So, perhaps, completely by accident, he will end up caring, 'doing it for the fans', rejecting better offers from bigger clubs and seeing out his days with a blanket over his knees in the directors' box, revelling in his honourary, lifelong and specially created role: Tottenham's Director of Cool.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Talking Tottenham with @charlieparrish - Part 5

Right, it's time to type away the tumbleweed, get this blog back on track and attack 11/12 with all the vim and vigour of, well, our beloved Spurs, I guess. In other words: yeah, why not, might as well, contractually obliged etc.

This season's opening fixture is an intriguing encounter with @charlieparrish - not only a top Tottenham tweeter, but also a super cool blogger, here). As we emailed back and forth, London burned and Harry fiddled. The season started and our match against Everton was postponed. My spirits sank, while Charlie searched for a bright side...

SUCH SMALL PORTIONS (Dave): So, when we waved an apathetic goodbye to the boys at White Hart Lane in May, if you could, in Delapesque fashion, have thrown forward to the day before the season, what would you have expected to see?

For me, worst case scenario: some deadwood out, and a £20-£30m superstar added to a striking line-up shorn of Keane and Crouch. Best case scenario: A classy centre back in the style of King/Woodgate, maybe a quality right midfielder to put some pressure on Lennon - and two new strikers, one £20m+, one a super-promising 18-21 year old.

And what have we got? Brad fucking Friedel. Oh and a couple of others - I know you'll be excited by Coulibaly's showreel, but he's not the missing piece in the jigsaw, is he? So, I ask you, in the modern vernacular, double you tee eff?

A SPURS BLOG (Charlie): WTF, indeed. Firstly, I don’t think all blame can be Levy’d on Daniel. He’s an ENIC employee who runs the club in a manner that pleases his bosses, safeguards against financial ruin and keeps us in vastly gifted players. But while we haven’t changed, the Premier League’s financial goalposts have.

Levy can hare about Europe with dog-eared £25m cheques all he likes, but hamstrung by ENIC’s wage structure: it’s pointless. Selling a Europa League outfit blighted by a very public spat with its best player to Giuseppe Rossi, Fernando Llorente, Emmanuel Adebayor or Pablo Osvaldo is hard enough. But if you can’t even tease their greedy bone? Mission impossible.

And so a bracing reality quickly set in this summer. I was forced to ask myself: Is this as good as it gets? Rather than howling at the bone idle footballing pricktease, do I now, finally, embrace Pav? And do I mind squint really hard back to when Jermain Defoe was England’s darling? And when Crouchy nodded us into the Champions League? And when Robbie Keane… hang on, that’s a step too fucking far.

Of course, there’s always Levy’s Plan B. Wait until 31 August and see if one of his foes blink first. Should City show an as yet unseen ounce of financial care, they might be desperate enough to part-finance an Adebayor loan. Maybe, we tell ourselves, there’s a Van der Vaart-style coup sulking on a super power’s bench, ready for thieving.

But to finance any of this, we’re still told the deadwood has to be flogged. Problem is, they all appear as immovable as Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Step Brothers. Quite honestly, I’m starting to picture Jermaine Jenas hosting a goodwill-free testimonial in (just) four years time (that’s right, this will be his seventh season). Will no one relieve us? Surely Tottenham must appreciate values of transfer disasters and substitutes depreciate? Apparently not. And so we lurch into another season with barely a squad number changing hands.

There is, however, an upside to this. Our heightened security efforts have safeguarded the crown jewels for now. The sharks have spared us Gareth Bale for at least the fag end of 2011. Rafa – predictably and sort of endearingly – likes being the big fish in a medium sized pond. And who knows, Modrić might just knuckle down, lead us back into the top four and realise money and bandwagon-jumping ain't all that.

Sure, a 40-year-old back-up ‘keeper, Barcelona ball-juggler and ultra-raw YouTube headliner don’t represent the summer booty we wanted Harry to be talking up. But Kyle Walker could be the most exciting right-back that people make excuses for since Glen Johnson was at Portsmouth. Sandro should evolve into a cultured Nigel de Jong. A savvier Bale will learn to dodge the hackers. Lassana Diarra might somehow agree a £50k wage cut and instantly upgrade our options. There are positives available. They just involve, well, settling.

So, tell me, Dave: what do you expect from our non-moving squad?

SSP: Blimey Charlie, I’ve read that four times and I’m not sure if it’s depressing or inspiring.

It’s true, certainly. We are seriously hamstrung by the wages we offer and by the quaint old notion of fiscal responsibility. In fact, if you drill further in it becomes even starker.

Remember ‘big-spending’ Blackburn? (Sometimes mentioned by the City/Chelsea apologists). A local businessman bought the team he supported and spent a quite hefty amount of money to make his dreams come true. And cried his eyes out when he did it. That’s fine. It didn’t cause a seismic shift, it was just a nice story.

Man Utd? Spend gazillions, sure. But have also spent 50 odd years becoming the biggest brand in world football. There’s a correlation between what they spend and who they are (and even what they earn).

Now, we’re through the looking glass...

When the identity and motivation of owners is frankly baffling, quite possibly dubious, then we’re soon lost. It becomes a pin in a map and a roll of the dice. It’s footballopoly. And whilst it may look glamorous and thrilling – it’s actually grubby and depressing.

Anyway... What do I expect? Sixth. If we can sign a big name striker and maybe a central defender, we’re back in the mix for the top four. But as things stand, we’ve stood still and gone backwards.

Now then, my beloved Luka: I reckon he’ll be with us at the start of this season but not the start of next. What do you think?

ASB: I’m going to hop straight onto Luka. I think he’ll stay with us, at least until January. Levy’s clearly gone into Liam Neeson-in-Taken mode on this one: no one, not least Chelsea, are going to fuck him about. He will find you, and he will kill you. Levy knows that this is his final shot at keeping us hanging with the big boys. The last season we’ll be able to keep the wolf from the door. Relent, and we too become a Jack Walker’s Blackburn-style nice story. Cheeky Cockney finally gets shot a rejuvenating a sleeping giant, saves them from relegation, leads them to the promised land, plays cavalier football, and slays some European giants on their charming Champions League run. Then of course comes the miserable chapter: club can’t quite make the leap, best players abandon ship, cheeky Cockney evades jail, hops on the Metropolitan Line to Wembley and we’re suddenly Aston fucking Villa.

What would I like to happen, however? Well, I’d tell Chelsea they either find £35m (I’d allow a wry smile if we claimed the same compensation as Arsenal did for the far-superior Fabregas) or throw in Drogba. Because I can’t stand Luka’s whining a moment longer. And I’m not entirely convinced we’d drop down a Premier League social strata by replacing him with a Diarra, or even a Parker. In fact, playing two solid central midfielders could even enhance our prospects.

Obviously though, the fug of negativity polluting the club should he leave would be unavoidable. The press are determined to paint this as a black and white situation: lose Luka and we’re doomed, keep him and we’ve got a puncher’s chance of gatecrashing the party again.

Savvy to this, Spurs fans – so often pilloried as mardy moaners – deserve enormous credit for cheering his name against Bilbao. As do the players for publicly voicing their hope that he stays. And so does Harry. Constantly commending Luka’s attitude and character in the press is actually a masterstroke. He’s craftily backed the Croatian into a corner with sheer goodwill. Of course, believe this weekend’s press and apparently Harry now wants shot of his po-faced playmaker to fund moves for Rossi and Adebayor.

Bigger picture, I expect another ding-dong battle for 4th to emerge with us right in amongst it. I think, like last season, though, we’ll lose out. Possibly right down to 6th. However, should Adebayor secure this unlikely loan deal (honestly, if City part-finance our greatest team hole, they’re bigger idiots than any of us suspected), perhaps Christopher Samba beefs up the defence and Diarra somehow rejects PSG’s petrodollars, then I think we’ve got the best Spurs team in years. I think about a potential: Friedel; Walker, Dawson, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Sandro, Diarra, Bale; Van der Vaart; Adebayor and that’s exciting. And more than enough to see us challenge Liverpool and, yes, Arsenal.

Dave, tell me, who do you think will come and go in the next two weeks?

SSP: Fair points on Luka.... but we both know you wouldn’t be so damn rational if was your beloved VdV.

I honestly don’t know who will come and go in the next week or so – but what I hope is that Crouch and Palacios go to Stoke, and players like Keane, Hutton and Bentley just go. To Lidl, maybe. Or on an unwittingly ironic cultural tour of Skelmersdale. Just not here. Not anymore.

Then let’s steal Gary Cahill from under the noses of Arsenal and grab some European hotshot with ridiculously over-confident hair who I will barely have heard of but who makes more cosmopolitan supporters go weak at the knees and marks his debut by smashing the winner at Old Trafford – followed by a wild-eyed, hot-blooded, awe-inspiring celebration that banishes forever the memory of rather awkward and wholly unconvincing cartwheel/roly-poly mash-ups. (These things are important).

Do that, and yes, okay, we’re battling and maybe even beating Arsenal and Liverpool in the, ugh, race for fourth. But we won’t. We’ll start limply and tail off to sixth at best. We will finish les than five points north or south of Bolton. We will be beset by injuries and, at some stage, watch a midfield four of Jenas, Livermore, Bentley and Kranjcar.

This isn’t our year, Charlie. Nothing feels right. The club is being distracted and divided at all levels, from the boardroom to the forums.

The season being delayed by damage to our infrastructure will turn out to be horribly telling...

ASB: Very true. Whether it’s his lack of goals or occasional habit of being robbed of possession in unfortunate areas, Luka and I always remained colleagues, not close friends. Which is why I won't be mourning when he takes his 4 goals a season and terrible hair off to West London's soccer Disney World.

I hear your consternation, Dave. I really do. But I refuse to acknowledge we’re suddenly a terrible team. One £15m+ signing and the mood pendulum swings right back to “Ossie’s going to Wembley” levels.

I want our boys to be up against it. To be reading paper after paper writing them off and hearing Liverpool talked up as superiors. Harry’s half-arsed title wibbling didn’t suit them last year. They looked stressed against weaker opposition at the Lane, burdened by their hot mid-week dates. Should our dark horses break into a canter and we sign a striker and suddenly a 4-2-3-1 formation finally works, then we might just be on.

So, let’s stay strong, Dave. I know we’ve got a petrifying opening fixture salvo and the stars aren’t aligning right now, but this is Tottenham: who the Christ knows what’ll happen, who we’ll sign or how we’ll play.

Oh, and please don’t remind me of this come Tuesday night when Hearts are celebrating their famous scalp.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Not a season preview

For work, I recently had to do thumbnail previews for all 20 Premier League teams. It was part of a sponsored piece of contract publishing, so the content was necessarily a little anodyne, but here's us:

Tottenham need to do two things this summer: hang on to Luka Modric and sign at least one world class centre forward. Both are easier said than done. But whilst the Spurs board and management are clearly giving task number one a right good go, the lack of activity regarding the second part of the process is beginning to frustrate. A centre half to compensate for the loss of Woodgate and King’s ongoing battle of wounded knee would be nice – a centre forward to compensate for the current crop being rubbish is absolutely essential. Two years ago Spurs broke into the top four and hinted at becoming part of English football’s true elite. Last year they took a faltering step backwards. This season will go a long way to deciding whether they can be part of a new ‘Big Six’ – or just a bit better than Everton.

And here's Arsenal:

Ross and Rachel got together quicker than Cesc Fabregas and bloody Barcelona. This year it looked certain they’d finally fall into each other’s arms but now… not so much. Samir Nasri also seemed halfway out the door, only to be hauled back in and made to see out his contract. All of which means that the only significant departure to date has been Gael Clichy – and even that can’t have been too significant because Arsene Wenger immediately declared he didn’t need replacing. Gervinho has arrived to bolster a striking line-up that last season looked a little lightweight, except when Bendtner played, when it just looked shit. But still no snarling centre back to shore up a sometimes comically brittle defence. The ‘Arsene Knows’ banners still fly high at The Emirates, but if he doesn’t deliver this year, some slightly less complimentary messages may start being scrawled.

I'll maybe put some more up over the next few days.