28 May 2011

Harry Redknapp: A reappraisal

I’d like to dispel the myth that Tottenham fans fall into two camps: one that, along with a number of tabloid journalists, hails Harry Redknapp as a messiah, the man that turned us from relegation candidates to Champions League challengers, and the other that thinks he owes his reputation to a fawning media and consider him almost incidental to our success.

My position is somewhere between the two.

Harry Redknapp 1980 – 2008

Redknapp’s managerial career started at Bournemouth in 1983. They won the third division (now League One) in 1987, got relegated in 1990 and stayed there for another couple of years before Redknapp went to West Ham to be Billy Bonds’ assistant.

West Ham were lower mid-table when he took control in 1994 and lower mid-table when he left, but they did hit the heights of 5th in 1998-99. The excellent crop of youngsters were comparable to Manchester United’s from half a decade earlier, but the club had less money and less ambition and the board sold his best talents from under him.

Redknapp acquired a reputation for being astute in the transfer market, particularly with the double signing of Paul Kitson and John Hartson. Paolo Di Canio was snapped up for a mere £1.7m, but there were a fair number of flops too. Marco Boogers and Florin Răducioiu regularly feature on lists of the worst signings of all time.

His most impressive pre-Spurs managerial feat was at Portsmouth. He took over for his first spell at the end of a season where they finished 17th in the Championship. The next season they won the division. He stayed for a season and a half, consolidating their position in the top flight, then quit after a disagreement with the owner and went to rivals Southampton where he made an admirable effort to keep them up, but failed with the damage done before his arrival.

In December 2005 he left Southampton languishing in the Championship to go back to Portsmouth who were facing relegation themsleves. He started slowly, but in the end it was a miraculous escape. Pedro Mendes’ last-second scorcher against Manchester City made for one the all-time great Premier League moments.

The accomplishment was impressive, but it wasn’t done for nothing. They signed 9 players in the January transfer window: Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes, Noe Paramot, Benjani Mwaruari and Dean Kiely on permanent contracts and Emmanuel Olisadebe, Wayne Routledge, Ognjen Koroman and Andres D’Alessandro on loan.

They continued to spend money over the next three seasons, evidently money they didn’t have, finishing 9th and 8th (their highest league positions since the mid-fifties) and won the FA Cup in 2008.

A word on that FA Cup. Portsmouth beat second-tier Cardiff City in the final having only played one top-flight side to get there. In the quarter-final at Old Trafford Manchester United were denied an early stonewall penalty when Sylvan Distin barged Cristiano Ronaldo off the ball in the box. If it had been given it’s unlikely Portsmouth would have been in a position to win the match from the spot against ten-man United, Sully Muntari scoring a penalty with Rio Ferdinand in goal.

Some of his achievements may be more impressive than I’ve suggested, but the point remains that before Tottenham his career was far from glittering and whichever way you look at it it’s quite a contrast to the other managers at the top six clubs this season. Between them they have won 27 league titles (in England, Scotland, France and Italy) and four European Cups, while all Redknapp has to show for 30 years of management is three promotions and an FA Cup medal thanks to some dreadful officiating and one of the easiest draws in the competition’s history.

Tottenham Hotspur 2005-2008

While Redknapp was down in Hampshire Tottenham were quite shamefully and prematurely sacking Martin Jol, replacing him with Juande Ramos. What made Jol’s departure more palatable, aside from his underachievement that season and the one before, was the caliber of his replacement. Ramos won the UEFA Cup with Sevilla and qualified for the Champions League. He guided us to the League Cup win (and the 5-1 victory over Arsenal on the way), but in the aftermath of that triumph Tottenham completely fell apart and with the abysmal start to the 2008-09 season he had to go. Undoubtedly a top coach, but ultimately the fact that he couldn’t speak the same language as the players he was trying to motivate was unworkable.

Within hours of his departure Redknapp was put in charge. An underwhelming appointment.

There is an element of risk whenever a manager is hired, but in Redknapp’s case it was a bigger punt than Spurs needed to take. David Moyes, Sam Allardyce, Martin O’Neill and any number of foreign coaches had more impressive track records, but Daniel Levy chose Redknapp, getting rid of director of football Damien Comolli at the same time.

In Redknapp’s first game in charge Tottenham became the first visiting team to score four goals at the Emirates Stadium. 89th and 90th minute goals from Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon sealed a 4-4 draw in an epic north London derby.

We were bottom of the table, but it was only October and with one of the most expensive squads in the division we were never going to go down. The deficit took time to make up, but it duly was and Tottenham ultimately finished 17 points and 10 places above the relegation zone. We also got to a second consecutive League Cup final, which we lost to Manchester United on penalties.

Last season, Redknapp’s second at the club, he guided us to fourth place, breaking the former big four’s stranglehold on the Champions League places and holding off the world’s richest club, Manchester City. We also could have been in an FA Cup final were it not for a disgraceful Wembley pitch and poor officiating.

This season

The Champions League is billed as football’s promised land it fulfilled every expectation. A second-leg hammeringof Young Boys put us in the group stages and we took the competition by storm racing to a two-goal lead away at Werder Bremen before beating Dutch champions FC Twente 4-1 and playing the already legendary double-header against Inter Milan. Bale’s second-half hat-trick at the San Siro showed the fighting spirit Tottenham displayed for so much of the season. We beat them, the Europeanchampions, at White Hart Lane quite comfortably and beat Bremen 3-0 to seal top spot in the group.

In the last 16 we went to the San Siro again and this time a combative and highly organised performance got us a magnificent victory against AC Milan, who would go on to win Serie A. Again, in the second leg, excellent performances at the back and in midfield showed that we could win playing different ways. Real Madrid were too good, especially as we only had ten men for most of the first leg, and we made a dignified exit at the quarter-final.

At the start of the season we were hoping to repeat a top four finish and get to the knock-outs of the Champions League. Pre-season, with the extra money Manchester City spent and given time to reflect on how narrowly we’d finished 4th repeating the feat looked like a hard task, but two things happened in August to convince me otherwise.

First of all, on the opening day of the season we played City and were much the better team. Despite a number of new signings they were still the same negative team and we would have won that day, as we had in the previous four meetings, were it not for Joe Hart’s heroics.

Then we signed Rafael van der Vaart. The prestige of Champions League football had finally given us some pulling power and more importantly we now only needed one of our so-so strikers at a time.

In mid-February Niko Kranjcar scored a brilliant volley against Sunderland to put Tottenham three points ahead of Chelsea in 4th place. Despite some poor results at the start of the season (the defeats to Wigan and West Ham were the worst) we were in a good position and faced a favourable run of fixtures, but in the next four games (against the bottom four teams) we got just three points and before the season was over had drawn at home against West Brom and Blackpool.

Despite having a better team and rivals that had for the most part failed to strengthen we finished 5th scoring less and conceding more than last time around. Redknapp said we’d be challenging for the league and we didn’t. A run of one win in 10 games meant we finished the season a place lower and eight points worse off. The Champions League run ensured that this was our most enjoyable season in the Premier League era by some distance, but it obscures the fact that the league campaign was a failure and a missed opportunity. A backwards step without a doubt.

We were also humiliated in both domestic cups.

Lack of a decent striker

The key reason for Tottenham’s failure was the lack of a good striker. We didn’t win a league game by more than two goals all season and in only 13 of our 38 games did one of Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe or Robbie Keane hit the net. Nobody was expecting them to underperform quite so drastically, but it isn’t a complete surprise that this quartet proved inadequate.

The deficiency is primarily Daniel Levy’sfault. Targets were identified and he failed to capture them. It is true that there was little value to be had in the market – Andy Carroll at £35m and Fernando Torres at £50m show that – but even still, we had a huge hole in the team that wasn’t filled and for all our economising we ended up paying a higher price.

During Redknapp’s first transfer window he re-signed Keane and Defoe for a combined £27.75 million. Keane’s rapid decline may be unexpected, but it was frivolous and short-sighted to sign a couple of strikers so inept at playing together they once led to Grzegorz Rasiak playing for Spurs.

Six months later he spent another £10m on Peter Crouch and has had £14m Roman Pavlyuchenko at his disposal too. All four of them have a worse strike-rate than the previous season, which calls Les Ferdinand’s role into question and also reveals that they weren’t brilliant signings in the first place.

But the fact remains that the club needed a new striker in August and again January. The purchase was sanctioned, but never fulfilled.

Blame also lies at the players’ feet more than the manager. At times Redknapp appeared to be picking either Crouch or Pavlyuchenko based on the flip of a coin, but had either of them (or Defoe for that matter when he returned from a two-and-a-half month lay-off) performed consistently he wouldn’t have been so indecisive.

Where did he go wrong?

I don’t look back at this season and think about all the things we could have done differently. Playing Pavlyuchenko more often wouldn’t have guaranteed anything and whether you prefer Alan Hutton or Vedran Corluka it was hardly the deciding factor. Even the occasional game where Luka Modric played out wide or Gareth Bale was wasted at left-back don’t feel like major decisions.

Redknapp’s worst offence was freezing out Niko Kranjcar. Early in the season some swooning fans were baffled as to why he wasn’t in the team. Gareth Bale was having an extraordinary year, but as the season went on his reluctance to pick the Croatian even when Bale was out injured was baffling and stupid.

Kranjcar was excellent last season and while he isn’t as good a player as Bale he can certainly win a game as he proved two Saturdays in a row in February with a screamer against Bolton Wanderers and a lovely volley against Sunderland. He was sacrificed for a more industrious player in Steven Pienaar for the trip to Milan, but it is bizarre that he didn’t start another league game after that. At a time when Tottenham were struggling for goals why keep a man capable of scoring them on the bench?

Another player foolishly sidelined apparently because for non-football reasons was Aaron Lennon. Whatever happened in Madrid (I’m prepared to take Lennon’s word for it that he was ill and had been for the 3 or 4 days leading up to the game) shouldn’t have led to Lennon being dropped. He started on the bench against Arsenal, West Brom and Blackpool – games we needed to win. He was in good form, but became a casualty of not knowing what to do with Van der Vaart, a conundrum we wouldn’t have faced had we signed the top striker we needed.

Not a great judge of player

Every time a sycophantic journalist calls Redknapp a wheeler-dealer I’m reminded of the David Nugent deal. Only a month after signing him for £6m, a lot of money for a club at the bottom of the Premier League, he said he’d be free to leave if the right offer came in. Not only was it disrespectful to the player and financially irresponsible, but it showed how much of a myth the wheeler-dealer tag is and that his eye for judging player ability is not what it’s cracked up to be. Tottenham’s best performers over the last couple of seasons aren’t the players he brought in.

Luka Modric has been superb in central midfield. He is the best player at the club, but Redknapp’s initial judgement was that he was too lightweight to cut it in the Premier League in middle. He was shunted out wide for a long time, just like Bale only got into the team at left-back and even then it was only when Benoit Assou-Ekotto was injured. In all likelihood Redknapp would have sold Bale if he hadn’t picked up that foot injury before the transfer window opened a couple of years ago.

Pavlyuchenko is another one who he did his utmost not to pick in 2009-10 until he had no choice. The Russian came in and turned our season around.

This year it was Sandro, a Brazilian international and South American champion. With Tom Huddlestone injured Redknapp preferred Jenas and Wilson Palacios and not just because Sandro had played a long season in his home country. He wasn’t even registered to play in the group stage of the Champions League, but when he finally played against Milan he was man of the match and went on to enjoy a superb last 3 months of the season. Admittedly he started quite badly, but it’s Redknapp’s job to spot how good these players are. Instead, like with Bale, he lucked out when injury left us with no choice but to play him.

I have a higher opinion of Harry Redknapp between transfer windows. He went after Joe Cole in the summer without knowing where he’d play, then in January Phil Neville, Charlie Adam, David Beckham and Scott Parker were on the shopping list. None are as good as the midfielders we already have. Pienaar arrived and while he was cheap his wages aren’t and he has added nothing we didn’t already have in midfield.

If we are lacking experience and leadership on the pitch then let’s get some up front or at centre-back, areas where we need to improve, not buy inferior players and crowbar them into the team.

Attitude toward the fans

Redknapp has always had a hostile relationship with the Spurs fans and for no real reason beyond taking boos of frustration personally. He is incredibly defensive in interviews and oddly refers to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and it’s fans as ‘they’ rather than ‘we’. He always talks in the negative. After one of the European wins he said ‘if you can’t enjoy that you shouldn’t be in football’. Who exactly didn’t enjoy it?

From the start he sought to create hype around himself mentioning the ‘two points from eight games’ statistic whenever we won, drew or lost a game for about 18 months. Realising that that isn’t relevant any more he has changed the line to a variation of ‘they weren’t qualifying for Champions Leagues before I arrived’. Always ‘they’. There are three things wrong with that statement.
1) It minimises the club’s rich history (even if he is correct in pointing out the relative mediocrity before his arrival).
2) It makes him the focal point of everything the club has achieved. Last season Heurelho Gomes, Bale, Modric and Pavlyuchenko all proved him wrong and helped us to fourth place. In other words – there is more to this team than Redknapp.
3) Targets change. Tottenham’s achievements are measured against those of Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City, not the teams who were at the bottom of the league in the autumn of 2008.

This week he reiterated that anyone who phones a radio station, and by extension criticises him, is an idiot. He also told Spurs fans this is 'as good as it gets'. If he feels he has taken the club as far as he can then he is talking himself out of a job.

At no point has their been any acknowledgement that we haven’t done as well as last year or as well as we should have. At the start of the season he said we could win the league. I wonder how he accounts for the 18-point discretion. Every time the poor run was mentioned, one win in 13, he either lashed out at the very idea of criticism or pointed to the amount of money Manchester City and Chelsea have, as if that was in any way relevant to our form against the bottom teams.

Martin Jol

In hindsight even Redknapp’s biggest supporters must agree that the club wasn’t in that bad a shape when he took over. He should be credited as taking a top six side and achieving a top four finish, which is great, but it was Martin Jol that genuinely turned Spurs from a mid-table side into top four challengers. Under he stewardship only a bout of food poisoning kept us out of the Champions League.

Jol would never have called us idiots, you can be sure of that.

It’s so difficult to judge his time at the club because of the role of the director of football. Some of Damien Comolli’s scouting has proven fantastic, some of it less so. The very best buys were Modric, Bale, Assou-Ekotto, Edgar Davids and Dimitar Berbatov, while the likes of Hossam Ghaly, Ricardo Rocha and Ben Alnwick are bad memories. No one has a 100% record in the transfer market, but when Jol had Michael Carrick replaced with Didier Zokora or had to pick Lee Young-Pyo or Gilberto at full-back he had a very hard job indeed.

Jol had Lennon, Huddlestone and Michael Dawson when they were inconsistent, learning the ropes, but Redknapp has had the benefit of the faith Jol put in them. Redknapp has Modric as the creative force in midfield where Jol only had Jenas. £12m Wilson Palacios would’ve been a first team regular in Jol’s time, but now he doesn’t even make the match-day squad.

Post-Spurs he challenged for the title in his solitary season at Hamburg, but ultimately finished 5th, and only had a year at Ajax too where there’s no escaping the fact that he lost the league title to Steve McClaren. However much he is adored by Spurs fans the jury is still out on him to some extent.

What the future holds

Now Redknapp finds himself as the bookies favourite for the Chelsea job, one of the most enviable in world football. At first glance he doesn't seem to fit Roman Abramovich's criteria: three of the four managers he hired were European champions or World Cup winners. The other was Avram Grant, so maybe Redknapp, in the short term at least, wouldn't be the most ridiculous appointment.

Throughout the season Redknapp has leveled thinly veiled attacks at the Tottenham board about wage structure and sought to dampen expectations. A similar lack of diplomacy at Stamford Bridge won't get him far with Abramovich. He has sacked better managers than Redknapp, that’s for sure.

His tenure at Spurs has always had a temporary feel to it and with Roy Hodgson making a hash of the Liverpool job Redknapp is the overwhelming favourite to be offered the England job after the 2012 European Championships.

I think he's well suited to international management. Gone will be the temptation to spend recklessly or the need to spot potential on the training pitch. He can watch Premier League games and pick a squad and if it's motivation they’re lacking Redknapp can provide it in spades. There's more to it than that, but at the very least I suspect he'll be able to keep the press on side and persuade the odd player against retiring.

The pending court case could render all these ponderings redundant. The FA won’t give a convicted criminal the England job.

If he is with us for another year he's promised to 'give it another crack’. If we hold on to Modric, Van der Vaart and Bale (and there's no real reason we shouldn't) and buy a decent striker finishing 4th would be the minimum requirement regardless of how much Europa League football we play.

There won’t be room for any more excuses and if we finish 5th or lower Redknapp will have to shoulder some of the blame. If, however, he guides us to the Champions League again there will be little doubt about his credentials and even his fiercest critics will have to stand up and applaud. 

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23 May 2011

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Birmingham City 1: Pavlyuchenko brace sends Birmingham down

Birmingham City had a dilemma in how to approach this game. There were many combinations and a draw or even a narrow defeat might have kept them up, but as it happened, with or without Roman Pavlyuchenko’s last second winner they would have been relegated. Had we been up against a side going for three points as they probably ought to have been the scoreline might have been higher. They defended very well, but created little.

In the first half Sandro had a couple of efforts, one from the outside the box, the other from a narrow angle after a lovely bit of skill from Peter Crouch. Crouch went off with a head injury in the first half and Pavlyuchenko came on.

Danny Rose had another very good game. He made his way down the left with the ball, squared it to Pavlyuchenko who hit it first time from 25 yards out. The curling shot past Ben Foster and into the side-netting was sublime.

Birmingham finally came to life, but having been so negative for so long it was as if they didn’t know how to attack. In the 79th minute the ball fell to Craig Gardner, he caught it on his knee, let it bounce and hit a half-volley from outside the box. It was a fantastic goal, worthy of keeping them in the Premier League, but it wasn’t long before Wolves had their second and the draw wasn’t enough after all.

With Liverpool losing a draw was enough to seal 5th place and Europa League qualification, but even so it was good to end the season on a positive note. Rose headed Foster’s clearance into Pavlyuchenko’s path, he ran with it and 20 yards from goal belted the ball past Foster. Straight down the middle and into the roof of the net.  

Our very last kick of the season a brilliant winning goal. You never know, it might send Gareth Bale and Luka Modric off on holiday feeling good about the direction the club is heading in.

Despite his excellent brace Pavlyuchenko may have made his last appearance. It's all well and good having a player with ability, but he frequently contributes next to nothing over the course of a match. He's had chances this season and hasn't taken them often enough. If he'd played all the games Crouch played I don't think it would have been enough to make up the difference between 5th place and 4th, if it would have been an improvement at all.

Ledley King made his 300th appearance for the club, while Niko Kranjcar and Carlo Cudicini may well have been playing their last. 

We tauned the away fans throughout chanting 'You're going down with the West Ham’ and cheering every Blackpool, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves goal. There was a Birmingham fan sitting in the Gary Mabbutt Loung who dared to celebrate Gardner’s goal and he was met with derision when it became clear that that wouldn’t be enough.

After the final whistle the mockery stopped and we clapped the Birmingham fans and then everyone sang ‘Two-one, you beat the scum two-one…’.

In December we’d mocked Liverpool with ‘Thursday night, Channel 5’, now we were singing it with pride, tongue only slightly in cheek.

Luka Modric and Gareth Bale came back out to pick up the fans' player of the year and Junior Spurs' player of the year awards, while there was mention of Benoit Assou-Ekotto's Spurs of the Year award for ‘effort, attitude and performance’. The highlights reel showed all the great moments of 2010-11 of which there are many and every time Willam Gallas appeared on screen he got a cheer. The biggest roar was for Arsene Wenger throwing the water bottle. The players then did a lap of honour with their kids, Crouch got stuck in to the east stand fan who'd been berating him earlier in the game, and Rafael van der Vaart's son tackled Gallas’s and booted the ball at a steward.

21 May 2011

Tottenham Hotspur – contacting you via CD-ROM or not at all

CD-ROMs belong to a different era. One where the best Tottenham Hotspur can hope for is a top-half finish. Where Christian Gross is at the helm, Darren Anderton is out injured and Sol Campbell is our favourite son.

This week One Hotspur members received a disc from the club. It’s that time again - membership renewal (although mine was done automatically as I have a direct debit set up). Surely they could have included the link to renewal in the email announcing the CD-ROM rather than on it.  

It’s not a complete waste of time. The links to the affiliates websites are very skippable, but there are a couple of videos worth watching, even if the quality is no better than youtube and, if you use the CD-ROM interface to open them, in the wrong aspect ratio.

The first is a trailer for a forthcoming season review DVD to be included with the One Hotspur pack and the second is a goal from each of our 19 Premier League seasons. For the benefit of those who aren't members the goals are at the bottom of the page.

The package is novel and I enjoyed seeing my name on the back of the number 10 shirt, buy there is a serious issue at the club regarding correspondence. They don't reply to emails.

At the start of the season I bought a Manchester City ticket from the website and opted to have it posted. It didn’t arrive and I had to find out on a facebook group that tickets were electronically loaded onto the new membership cards.

I sent an email to ask for the £1 postage I’d paid to be refunded and I didn’t get a reply. I sent another and didn’t get a reply to that either.

A few months later I bought a ticket for Blackburn Rovers. For some reason my confirmation email came with a print-out attachment. I sent a messaging asking if this was necessary. No reply, and when I arrived at the ground sans print-out I had to queue at the ticket office to get a duplicate ticket (despite the fact that I had my membership card with me).

I sent an email to complain about that and the lack of correspondence to a different email address. I also wanted to draw their attention to the chaos caused by the cutbacks in stewarding at White Hart Lane train station post match. Against Chelsea the lack of organisation led to accusations of queue-jumping and a fight broke out. Like the ticket office customer services didn’t reply either.

It's another example of modern football clubs taking the undying devotion of fans for granted. What other institution would so willfully ignore paying customers?

I've finally decided to send them a letter about the issues above and their appalling disregard for fans. If someone at the club is physically holding my complaints in their hands perhaps they'll be less inclined to dismiss them.

1992-93 - Jason Cundy's flukey 45-yard lob

1993-94 - Darren Anderton, wearing number 9, finishing off a lovely move against QPR.
1994-95 - Jurgen Klinnsmann’s delightful scissor-kick against Everton
1995-96 – Ruel Fox tearing down the right-hand side, puts a ball in which Chris Armstrong chests into Teddy Sheringham’s path and Sheringham scores an exquisite lob. 
1996-97 – A Sheringham free-kick against Middlesbrough
1997-98 - Klinsmann's last goal for the club, a fantastic half-volley from Les Ferdinand’s chested lay off

1998-99 – Frank LeBeouf makes an error, which David Ginola takes full advantage of. 

1999-2000 - Steve Carr's belter against the European champions. Spurs 3 Man Utd 1. One of my favourite memories as an adolescent.

2000-01 – A brilliant run from Gary Doherty and Sergei Rebrov scores the most delicious curler with the outside of his foot. 

2001-02 – Spurs fans olé each pass before Christian Zeige scores a diving header to put us 3-0 up against Manchester United. Don’t mention the final score…

2002-03 – Zeige’s free-kick versus Arsenal. 

2003-04 – A belter from Frédéric Kanouté against Everton. 

2004-05 - Erik Edman stops the ball and then redefines what a human being can do with their foot. Fully 40 yards out and hit so hard that Jerzy Dudek didn't have time to react.

2005-6 - The best of Robbie Keane – a couple of superb little flicks. 

2006-07 – Paul Robinson’s goal-kick goes straight in. 

2007-08 – The ball comes off Ricardo Carvalho’s back, but there was nothing lucky about the finish. Keane curling it past Carlo Cudicini to end Chelsea’s title challenge. 

2008-09 – Probably the best of the lot. David Bentley controls the ball with his first touch, then belts it up into the air and past Almunia with his second.  

2009-10 - A ball dropping out of the sky, Danny Rose on the run strikes it so sweetly and the net bulges. Our first league win against Arsenal for over a decade.

2010-11 - Gareth Bale's Hoddlesque volley against Stoke. Breath-taking technique. If there was any debate about whether he should be playing at full-back it was settled with that strike.

19 May 2011

Liverpool’s future is worryingly bright

Last season was the first in 39 that Tottenham managed to finish above Liverpool. After two decades as the dominant club in the country, two more where they won trophies but not the league, it looked like they were heading for a proper decline.

It happened quickly at Leeds United. They were champions when Brian Clough took over for an ill-fated 44-day spell. In the 11 seasons leading up to his appointment hadn’t finished outside the top four having won the league three times, finished second five times, won the League Cup, the FA Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup twice. Clough was sacked in the Autumn of 1974 with Leeds 19th in the table and they didn’t win another trophy until 1990 spending much of the interim in the second tier.

Rarely has a signing so perfectly encapsulated the direction a club was heading in like Paul Konchesky going to Liverpool. A functional full-back and so painfully unglamorous, the type of player Liverpool went in for when Graeme Souness was in charge. With Roy Hodgson at the helm they had a journeyman manager that had done well at Fulham, but looked out of his depth at a crumbling Anfield.

John Henry bought the club and freed them from the Hicks-Gillette nightmare, but even then there wasn’t much cause for optimism on the pitch. They were manaer-less, had an unspectacular squad and faced a second successive season without Champions League football with five teams in the division clearly better than them. Jamie Carragher's charge up the all-time appearance list was indicative of their disappointing recent past and bleak future.

Then January came. Tottenham were occupying 4th, through to the last 16 of the Champions League and desperately looking for a striker. Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll were two (of many) players on our radar and they both went to Liverpool. The double coup bodes well for two reason:  

1)   Liverpool’s new chairman is prepared to spend money

The net spending may have only been a couple of million once Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel were sold, but considering Alan Pardew may not get any of the Carroll money to spend on new players and even at Manchester United Alex Ferguson hasn’t seen all of the £80m from the Cristiano Ronaldo deal, it is significant that the club are willing to put their hand in their pocket.

2)   They are efficient

Liverpool identified targets and went out and got them. Tottenham, by all accounts, picked a dozen strikers (mostly based in Spain) and waited until the last day before tabling inadequate bids in. Carroll has monumental task in justifying that astronomical £35m price tag, but in the long-term it is better to overspend on a striker than to skimp and miss out on Champions League football because of it.

They now have a permanent manager and a great one. Kenny Dalglish is the last manager to win the league with two different clubs. He has four league titles and two FA Cups. He may have been away for a while, but evidently he hasn't missed a beat. They're third in the 2011 form table and have scored more goals than anyone else.

Suddenly people are talking about a squad that looks like it could challenge for the league next season. That may be premature, but they could certainly recapture a place in the top four. Suarez has had an electric start to his career in England, Maxi Rodriguez is back in form, Pepe Reina is now happy to stay and Lucas Leiva has gone from a laughing stock to a very credible midfielder.

Still, the main reason they've got so close to us is because of our own poor form over the last 3 months. If we’d signed Suarez, or even Carroll, we probably would have held on to fourth place. The league double over them confirms that we are still the better side and the wins over Inter and AC Milan also indicates that we have underachieved in the league and should be more than a point above them.

The difference between 5th and 6th on Sunday isn’t particularly significant. The Europa League is unlikely to take the toll on domestic form Redknapp has suggested, nor will it help or hinder attracting players.

Much more important is what happens in the summer. If Tottenham can keep Gareth Bale and Luka Modric (Rafael van der Vaart has already signaled his intention to stay at the club), get a quality striker or two and a goalkeeper, we’ll be in very good shape.

Next season we’ll start roughly on par, which is very disappointing as less than a year ago Liverpool looked like no threat at all. The competition for Champions League places is more exciting than ever and it isn’t far fetched to envision both Tottenham and Liverpool getting there next season. We need to prove that we aren’t one-season wonders, while at Liverpool Kenny Dalglish will be trying to get Liverpool back on their perch.

15 May 2011

Liverpool 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2: First Anfield win in 18 years puts Tottenham in Europa League driving seat

Who’d have thought that we’d be going into the last game of the season still not certain of finishing above Liverpool? After the start they had it’s incredible that we’re only a point above them. Kenny Dalglish has done a fantastic job there, but the turnaround owes more to Tottenham’s dismal start to 2011 than what’s gone on at Anfield.

It seemed like Ledley King’s lack of knee cartilage had finally caught up with him in the last year. He picked up a groin injury at the World Cup and hasn’t played at all since October. Today he started in William Gallas’s absence and was brilliant. In the first half particularly Luis Suarez was left frustrated as King beat him to everything.

In the 9th minute Rafael van der Vaart scored a brilliant opener. Luka Modric’s corner was headed out to him on the edge of the box. After the bounce he chested and volleyed it past Pepe Reina.

Skrtel put a peach of a ball across the six-yard box for Andy Carroll, but the big Geordie messed up his header and it went well over. Luis Suarez came close with a free-kick as well.

Five minutes into the second half Van der Vaart went off with an injury after attempting a chip. Jermain Defoe replaced him.

Five minutes after that Steven Pienaar went shoulder to shoulder with John Flanagan on the edge of the box. If anything Pienaar exerted more force than the Liverpool player, but got the penalty. It was the wrong decision, not the kind that got Howard Webb an MBE. Modric put his penalty down the middle and scored.

The second half wasn’t packed with action as Tottenham close the game out impressively. Jonjo Shelvey’s and Steven Pienaar hit good long distance efforts and Michael Dawson turned a dangerous ball over our bar without knowing much about it.  Shelvey gave Sandro a nudge and he went into the crowd landing on a kid’s head.  

Whether you’d like to be in the EuropaLeague or not it was essential for us to win this game. Liverpool are mentioned among next season’s title contenders, while Tottenham are quietly being written off as one-season wonders. This was a reminder that while Liverpool are no doubt on the up, Tottenham are still the better side.

Even more important is the way the players see the club. We can’t offer Champions League football or huge wages, but if they think the club is heading somewhere we might be able to keep them for a year. A performance and result like this ought to persuade them that we are. 

14 May 2011

Europa League qualification: Much to lose, little to gain

“I cannot imagine playing in the Europa League. That is the worst that can happen… Even winning the Europa League would not mean anything for me."
Arjen Robben

"The Europa League is rubbish and we have got to avoid that.”
Franck Ribery

Harry Redknapp has dwelled on what we have to lose by playing in the Europa League next season, but the bigger problem is that there’s so little to gain. Tottenham’s heroic 4-3 defeat to Inter Milan in the Champions League group stage generated more interest in England than the entirety of the Europa League this season.

The expansion of the Champions League slowly destroyed the former UEFA Cup and the rebranding hasn’t saved it. As recently as the turn of the millennium when Ronaldo demolished Lazio, Galatasaray beat Arsenal on penalties and Liverpool and Alaves played out that wonderful 5-4 it was strong, but despite the praise Sevilla and Zenit Saint Petersburg garnered on their respective roads to victory there’s no escaping the fact that in the last five years Fulham, Rangers and Middlesbrough have got to the final. Hardly Europe’s most glamorous names. It’s very much the continental version of the League Cup.

Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Cup

This isn’t the competition Tottenham won in 1972 and 1984, and not just because of the name change. Our return to the competition in 2006 was very enjoyable, but having had a taste of the Champions League since, the thought of going back isn’t exactly mouth-watering.

During the Jol-Ramos-Redknapp era (or, more accurately, the Levy era) our two best points totals when were achieved when we weren’t involved in European competition.

2005-06 – 65 (5th place)
2009-10 –70 (4th place)

By contrast in the three years we were involved in the UEFA Cup our Premier League performance was as follows:

2006-07 - 60 points (5th place)
2007-08 - 46 points (11th place)
2008-09 - 51 points  (8th place)

Those statistics don’t take domestic cup runs into consideration (in 2008 we won the League Cup and in 2009 we finished runner-up), transfers or managerial changes, but while this is hardly conclusive (and avoiding the Europa League doesn’t guarantee anything domestically) it is clear that playing fewer games is advantageous.


As Spurs fans we’ve hardly been showered with trophies over the last couple of decades, so maybe we shouldn’t turn our nose up at this one. The idea being ‘if it’s good enough for Atlético Madrid it’s good enough for us’.

Before 1992 fans wouldn’t consider finishing in the top four to be more important than winning a trophy. You can’t hold a league position over your head or parade it in an open-top bus, but it is the true indicator of permanent progression and the harsh reality of 21st century football is that a lot of cups aren’t worth what they used to be.

On the other side of the argument there is the idea that winning breeds winning. Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho recognise that getting a trophy under your belt can be beneficial in creating a winning mentality, but our recent experience at Tottenham has been to the contrary. Immediately after winning the 2008 League Cup the team won 3 of the next 20 league games and our two best players jumped ship for bigger clubs.

Redknapp’s attitude

Whether the Europa League is a good or bad thing shouldn’t make a difference to our approach in the next two games. Finishing fifth is preferable to finishing sixth and beating Liverpool at Anfield after such a long wait would show that we aren’t just one season wonders. With morale flagging after the defeat at Manchester City I’m sure the manager and the team will make every effort to end the season on a high. If things look bright going into the summer break perhaps the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modrić won’t have their heads turned. One thing’s for certain, Europa League qualification won’t help or hinder us in keeping them.  

Whether Redknapp will have the same attitude if we are playing in Europe next season is less certain. He has been very negative about the prospect so far and is not averse to throwing a game if he doesn’t consider it important. This season a virtual reserve side was humiliated against Arsenal in the League Cup and the 4-0 thrashing at Fulham wasn’t the performance of a team that had made the FA Cup a priority.

In 2009 Redknapp wanted out of this very competition so badly that he put a second-string side out against Shakhtar Donetsk four rounds from the final. I’m not prepared to spend £40 to go and watch a competition we’re likely to only make a half-assed effort in.

After the dizzying heights of a season in Europe’s premiere club competition it’s difficult to get excited about it’s inferior ancillary. Next season the Champions League final is at the Allianz Arena, home of Bayern Munich. The Europa League final is in Romania.

11 May 2011

Daniel Levy to blame for Spurs’ backwards step

Daniel Levy’s custodianship of Tottenham Hotspur has seen the club rise and rise and it’s fair to say that he has been furnished with a lot of praise over this period. He is prudent and when people ignorantly talk about Tottenham ‘doing a Leeds’ or suggest that the finances perhaps need to be look at a little closer, they soon find out we are in rude financial health.

A fair amount has been spent on transfer fees (even if, perversely, the failed fringe players often cost more than the regulars), but the wage structure is sensible and a lot of money has been recouped. Few clubs can claim to have got value for money off Tottenham. Consider the following: Dimitar Berbatov  £30.75m, Michael Carrick £18m, Robbie Keane £19m, even Anthony Gardner at £2.5m.

The Rafael van der Vaart signing showed that while Harry Redknapp has the wheeler-dealer reputation, Levy is much more deserving of it. £8m for one of Europe’s most impressive attacking players. It was proclaimed one of the best deals in years, as fans of better clubs than ours wondered why their chairman hadn’t signed the Dutchman.

In the same August transfer window Tottenham needed a striker more than anything and didn’t get one. Redknapp had already spent £27.75m on Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe a year and a half earlier and £10m on Peter Crouch six months after that. He also had  £14m Roman Pavlyuchenko at his disposal, but none were quite good enough to lead the title challenge Redknapp promised.

In January Robbie Keane was released on loan and the trio left at the club were doing even worse than expected. To finish in the top four again we needed a quality striker. This wasn’t just Redknapp’s opinion or the fans’, Levy sanctioned the purchase of an attacker and failed to deliver.

While other clubs identified targets and made the deals happen (Manchester City signed Edin Džeko on 3rd January, Liverpool signed Luis Suárez on the 28th) Tottenham were making inadequate bids all over the place (mostly in Spain). Some of the names and numbers may not be completely accurate, but this is what was reported from reliable sources: Andy Carroll (£23m - £25m), Fernando Llorente (£26m - £33m), Diego Forlan (£13m - £17m), Alvaro Negredo (£17m), Guiseppe Rossi (£30m - £35m) and Serio Aguero (£38m).

Very few people got value in the transfer window, the £50m spent on Fernando Torres is evidence of that, but missing out on Champions League football is a greater cost than overpaying for a player.

Defoe, Pavlyuchenko, Crouch and Keane have scored in 11 of our 36 league games this season. None can really claim to have been underused by Redknapp, or to have seized their chances when they had them. Their poor form is by far the biggest factor in the failure to secure Champions League qualification.

And failure to sign a single striker wasn’t even Levy’s biggest crime of the season. If there was any doubt as to whether he considers Tottenham Hotspur Football Club anything more than a subsidiary of ENIC International Ltd there isn’t any more. 129 years of history were less important than a bit of extra revenue and better transport links. If he’d had his way Spurs would have left Tottenham and gone to east London. Others may disagree, but I’d rather support a club with integrity than a soulless, successful one.

Unfortunately this isn’t over. The club is in a shameless legal battle challenging the decision to award the Olympic Stadium to West Ham and have talked about looking for a new site for a stadium, not necessarily in N17. The Northumberland Park Development has been inexplicably abandoned and throughout the process fans have neither been consulted nor kept informed.

If Redknapp’s position is under scrutiny and Defoe’s, Crouch’s and Pavlyuchenko’s, Levy’s should be as well.  

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10 May 2011

Manchester City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0: City secure Champions League spot

In the opening game of the season, Tottenham versus Manchester City at White Hart Lane, it seemed little had changed in the three months since we’d beaten them to a top four finish. They were still negative and we were still a better side.

Tottenham were dominant that day, but crucially failed to find the net and that lack of goals has been the story of our season. Tonight Manchester City secured Champions League qualification in a similar match.

Spurs had 62% possession and Manchester City played how Inter did at the Camp Nou last season. They let us have the ball knowing how difficult we find it to put it in the back of the net. The right one anyway.

Harry Redknapp isn't known for his tactical adeptness, but the starting 11 today was particularly strange. Sandro, Wilson Palacios, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart crowded the midfield, with Aaron Lennon on the right. He's picked lopsided teams before and got away with it, but tonight Danny Rose, hardly an experience full-back, was left exposed.

Heurelho Gomes picked up a back injury in training, so Carlo Cudicini came in and made a number of good saves, the best with his testicles, perhaps as a tribute to the Brazilian

Peter Crouch played up front alone, but with most of the balls into the box hitting City defenders he had a hard time. He was weak in the air, broke Pablo Zabaleta's nose and scored an own goal. James Milner and Adam Johnson combined on the short corner, Rose was slow to react and Crouch put Milner's low cross into the net.

Pundits and journalists looking for a narrative within the game certainly found one in Crouch who sealed City's top 4 finish a couple of yards from where he sealed Tottenham's a year ago.

Lennon was the brightest spark in the Spurs team and after turning the left-back put the ball on a plate for Modric. He dragged a shot wide, which he should have scored.

Palacios went off with an injury after half and hour and Redknapp brought on a wide midfielder, but the wrong one. We're desperately struggling for goals, Niko Kranjcar scores them, but inexplicably he won't use him. Steven Pienaar came on instead. and He kept drifiting inside to an already packed midfield, created little, but did have a good header, from a Lennon cross of course, which Joe Hart got down low to save.

With three minutes left Patrick Viera raced through and chipped the ball over Cudicini, but another ex-Arsenal player was there to head it off the line. William Gallas has been our best defender this season and even hobbling he gave his all.

So it's over, but even we'd won tonight it was unlikely to have been enough. Now we go to Anfield to battling Liverpool for a spot in the Europa League. The trouble with having been in the Champions League is that everything else seems so crushingly small time in comparison.

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Tottenham Hotspur 1 Blackpool 1: Top four finish unlikely despite Everton favour

It’s not that this match was ever a foregone conclusion (we've hardly had a comfortable win all season let alone lately), but it’s fair to say that Everton versus Manchester City looked the more important game of the day.

Patrick Viera missed an open goal before Yaya Toure put City one-nil up. Then in the space of seven minutes Sylvan Distin’s header was too much for Joe Hart’s weak wrists and Leon Osman got on the end of Phil Neville’s exquisite chip and headed in. The Everton result was never a gimme, we lost at Goodison Park in January, but it did feel like a huge reprieve for City not to have won. Unfortunately Tottenham didn’t capitalise on it.

If Harry Redknapp really wants to play two forwards he'd be better off pushing Rafael van der Vaart higher up the pitch, but instead he was on the right and it was Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe that started up front. Again it was at Aaron Lennon’s expense. Danny Rose made only his second start at left-back and did very well in the first half, so much so that it’s feasible he could be Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s back-up next season, rather than going out on loan. He put in one decent cross, Gareth Bale put one in too that Defoe and Van der Vaart couldn’t quite get on the end of.

We played a lot of good football, particularly in the first half, but there was no end product. Michael Dawson and Luka Modric had good long range efforts deflected over. Charlie Adam had a volley and a strike from distance saved. Sergei Kornilenko made his debut against us when Blackpool won in January and he was arguably man of the match, but today he looked a different player and he headed over from 6 yards on
24 minutes.

Lennon came on for Pavlyuchenko at half time, who had been anonymous, and with his first few touches put Van der Vaart in for a good chance, but the Dutchman lost his footing.

Sandro played really well and Luka Modric was excellent as usual. He played a one-two with Defoe, gave it to Lennon on the flank, and when the cross came in got on the end of it and headed over.

In the 62nd minute Bale’s season came to an end with a particularly unpleasant Adam challenge for which we didn’t even get a free-kick, let alone the red card Adam deserved. Kevin Keegan said that he meant it and unsurprisingly Ian Holloway came out and defended his playing referring to it as it a late tackle, but it wasn’t a tackle at all. The lumbering oaf tried to put himself between Bale and the ball and if Bale got hurt, so be it. He came down hard with his studs and all of his body weight on Bale’s ankle and gave him ligament damage.

I’m not for a moment suggesting this is a silver lining, but it has occurred to me that we no longer have to worry about big bids coming in for Bale in the summer.

With a quarter of an hour (and six or seven minutes of stoppage time to go) DJ Campbell had a close range shot saved by Heurelho Gomes and from the resulting corner Michael Dawson, having had the lightest of touches in the back, quite histrionically threw his arms in the air and handled the ball. Adam, who shouldn’t have been on the pitch, took the penalty and Gomes tipped it round the post. Gomes twice failed to get hold of the ball from Adam’s corner before clattering into Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Contact was minimal, but Gomes should never have been so far out of his goal. Adam put the ball the other way and scored.

Defoe got the ball from Modric, took a couple of touches and buried it in the bottom corner from 25 yards out. It was too little too late.  The draw means that even if we beat City, Liverpool and Birmingham we need City to get no more than two points from their last two games.

Tottenham are likely to miss out on Champions League football and it’s because we haven’t been good enough, but on Saturday, like the previous week against Chelsea, things just didn’t go our way.
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