Sunday, May 27, 2012

Vertonghen talks move at Rik Waller speed

Spurs’ transfer dealings move like Rik Waller tiptoeing through a vat of treacle. The chances of you receiving a text from a fellow Tottenham fan yammering, ‘You won’t believe who we’ve signed!’ are negligible. You’ve known for weeks like an expectant mother eating pickled eggs and fearing the worst.

The pattern is achingly familiar. After a longwinded courting via the media, Spurs mount a ‘derisory’ bid (£3-£5 million below market value). This is balanced by an ‘outrageous’ demand by the selling club (£3-£5million above market value). Followed by an encouraging quote/tweet by the player (“Tottenham are a great club/my preferred choice/I love that High Road bagel shop”) countered by a regurgitated quote from 2011 stating that, “Thomas Vermaelen told me about Arsenal’s potential for greatness over moules and frites.”

This all-too-regular transfer impasse is hardly aided by the machinations of our beloved Chairman. Rumour has it that Daniel Levy once strolled into the Edmonton Poundland with 81p and walked out with a jumbo bag of Tangfastics. He’s immovable around the negotiating table. Like a skinflint at Christmas, he does not give. Okay, I’ll stop the analogies. Our Danny’s a bugger to deal with.

As a selling club, this business model works and pays handsomely. Manchester United paid £30.75 million for North Circular window-wiper Dimitar Berbatov and dished out £18.6 million for the tidy but unspectacular Michael Carrick. Neither of those purchases have set Manchester alight. Wilson Palacios hobbles like the lame dad from Frasier, yet somehow Levy prised £6 million plus from the pot-makers in Stoke. Wilson now warms their treatment table and bench on alternate weekends.

Add to the mix that Luka Modric was retained last summer after unrelenting speculation and an extremely odd media campaign in that already most curious of oracles The Daily Mail. The rebuffing of Chelsea’s dirty money was arguably the defining moment in Levy’s Chairmanship.

But purchases are a different matter altogether. The bids are either unfashionably late (50 minutes before the transfer window closes) or wildly optimistic (an alleged, barely believable £38.5 million plus offer for Sergio Aguero in the January 2011 window). After the unsavoury end to the last season, Spurs fans both measured and unrealistic are desperate for a boost or a reason to dream again. The highly-rated Jan Vertonghen’s apparent desire to join a club still stinging from a luckless season sans the tonic of Champions League football is an opportunity to make an early statement.

The last three seasons have cemented Tottenham as a contender. There is a Rizla paper’s difference between Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea in the league table. We’re no longer Fancy Dan lightweights or mugs any more. Of course, there have been valid disappointments in the last two campaigns and the club should have finished higher in the 2011/12 Premier League table, but the days of pinning your hopes on a mazy Stephane Dalmat run or Jose Dominguez nutmeg are over.

Spurs fans don’t need to dream, we can believe. But Daniel Levy has to share our vision. And the Tangfastics.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

John Terry and the gimp

Bring out the gimp. That masked individual from Pulp Fiction understands what it feels like to be abused by a narrow-eyed racist. Perhaps fortunately, I was nowhere near a Samurai sword on Saturday night.

In the event of a nuclear attack stand next to John Terry, you will walk away unscathed. The geezer’s DNA is 74% Teflon.

Tottenham’s luck is quite frankly laughable. Presumably, White Hart Lane was built on an old gypsy burial ground (I thought I spied some heather near the centre circle) because the only fortune we’ve had in 20 years was Quinton (and he buggered off to train with Chelsea).

Spurs somehow became the only Premier League side ever to finish fourth and not qualify for the Champions League due to The Blues’ gritty but unlikely triumph on penalties in Munich (the one time you want Germans to win a shoot-out…..). Add that atrocity to the suspicious poisoning before the pivotal, Champions League deciding game against West Ham in 2006, Pedro Mendes ‘goal’ in the back of the net at Old Trafford. Chelsea’s two awarded ‘goals’ that failed to cross the line…the list goes on and on. They should start putting up blue plaques to commemorate this shit.

While the usual suspects were quick to blame Harry Redknapp for this most unfortunate of failures, I can’t look past the uneven officiating Spurs suffered this season. It cost us third more than Harry’s sketchy end of season tactics. Most notably, the ‘assistant referees’ in the Wolves home game who allowed the away team to score from an incorrectly awarded corner and then disallowed Adebayor’s onside goal in the second half. On that second decision, I turned to my dad and whispered darkly, "The fix is in."

Chris Foy wrongly disallowed Adebayor’s strike at Stoke (proven again to be clearly onside), overlooked two stonewall penalties and sent Kaboul off following an unusual intervention by the fourth official. Another Adebayor strike was wrongly chalked off against Chelsea where the away side’s equaliser was fashioned with help from Ashley Cole’s wandering hand. Mario Balotelli tap danced on Scott Parker’s head, wasn’t sent off then won and scored the winner from a Howard Webb awarded penalty. Moments after Jermain Defoe agonisingly missed putting Spurs ahead with a desperate outstretched leg.

Everton’s Royston Drenthe had a clearly onside equaliser disallowed against Arsenal and Marton Fulop emerged from the shadows on the final game of the season to throw in three soft goals and gift Arsenal a victory at West Brom. Just days before the Hungarian 'stopper' was released on a free transfer and seeking new employment. Oh, the luck evens out, does it?

The inevitable ‘Modric will go’, ‘Bale will go’, ‘Bond will go’ (okay, stretching it) comments flew around like manic confetti following Chelsea’s unlikely triumph. But Chairman Daniel Levy has never sold a major Spurs player with three years or more on his contract and I don’t foresee that becoming a habit any time soon. He might not have signed a permanent striker for two years, but Levy is the negotiator from hell. At the start of next season Luka Modric will probably be mowing his lawn. Personally, I’d have Luka shifting pints and pies in the Paxton at half-time. His English is more than acceptable. The queues might move a little faster.

Bayern’s toothless performance against an understrength Chelsea team was rewarded in kind. I understand Mario Gomez is in line to replace Richard Blackwood as the Donkey in the Shrek musical. If Gomez and Grzegorz Rasiak had switched bodies yesterday I would not be surprised. But the Pole’s quote for my new patio was more than competitive.

It was a toxic way to end a season that promised so much. But there was an air of predictability about it. I had lumped cash on Chelsea to ‘lift the trophy’ at 15/8 and had Drogba as an ‘anytime scorer’ at 11/5, and ended the night £174 richer. Scant consolation, but it will keep me in crack and glue for another day or two.
At 12.09am a valued reader of this blog and regular Sabotage Times contributor texted me, “I kne”. The sheer pain of the occasion had rendered him unable to type the final ‘w’. But sadly “I kne”, too.

So to the Europa we march once more. The good lady folk of Minsk will be preparing themselves for our arrival. Go on. Be there. Join the adventure. The chance of seeing new signing Yakubu light up Belarus is not to be missed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

It was all Jenas' fault

Halt the mass suicide. The football ‘Rapture’ has not started yet. Don’t believe the moody nutter wearing an ‘end is nigh’ billboard on Tottenham High Road. He’s clearly a mentalist. Put down that small bottle of colourful pills and return to your sofa for further instructions. Spurs (may) have qualified for the Champions League.

What a strange way to end a season, not knowing if its efforts will be rewarded or rescinded in a week’s time in Munich. The post-match atmosphere at White Hart Lane following Spurs’ 2-0 win over Fulham was confused, like a drunk who has been handed a Bacardi Breezer after closing time. Is this a good thing?

Should Chelsea triumph at Bayern’s Allianz Arena having beaten Barcelona (with what I would politely term ‘billionaire’s luck’) and overturned a 1-3 deficit to a lively Napoli then few can (fairly) begrudge them. Truthfully, the unfortunate/fortunate reign of Andres Villas-Boas allowed Spurs to nip ahead of a team that has paid scant regard to Michel Platini’s ‘Financial Fair Play’ rules with obscene wages and vulgar transfer fees courtesy of a Russian owner with the look of death in his eyes.

Meanwhile, Daniel Levy ‘saves money’ for either ‘the next manager’, ‘a new stadium’ or to preserve a ‘tip-top balance sheet’. Regardless of next Saturday’s result in Germany, a change in strategy is imperative before 2012/13 with Chelsea and other rivals resurgent. The ‘imminent signings’ of Jan Vertonghen and Loic Remy would revive my flagging faith in our chairman’s frugal transfer policy though I’m braced for Roger Johnson and Yakubu at around 11.55pm on August 31st.

It was a good season for people who enjoy ‘open marriages’. Robin Van Persie’s phenomenal (and disappointingly injury-free) campaign before his inevitable move for more money (but, you know, he’ll always love Arsenal) allowed the old enemy to clinch third by a single point. A ten point advantage was eroded in late February like a dash of bleach on a toilet bowl causing much consternation among Spurs fans. It’s worth noting, however, that Arsenal finished 21 points ahead of Spurs in 2009. The open bus-top parade down the Holloway Road is on hold for another season. Abou Diaby somehow remains on £70,000-a-week (though his lady friend has to be better looking than Jermain Defoe’s recent ‘companion’. Christ, he doesn’t even drink).

The season could (and probably should) have been much better, yet only a few weeks ago an ailing Spurs looked nailed on for sixth with Newcastle and Chelsea picking up points like teenaged drivers. This is a small comfort to some and a great comfort to others. I can understand either argument. However, Chris Foy’s scandalous performance at the Britannia Stadium arguably cost us third, as did several wrongly disallowed Adebayor goals (notably vs Chelsea, vs Wolves, vs Stoke) while Jermain Defoe’s misplaced slide at the Etihad Stadium ultimately defined a season.

So is the glass half empty or half full? Did Spurs blow it or nail it? Honestly? The truth lies somewhere inbetween. I won’t be topping myself though inevitably there is someone out there who still believes it was all Jermaine Jenas’ fault.

Should Bayern Munich beat Chelsea next Saturday, you might see me parading around Highgate Village in lederhosen with an open can of Lowenbrau. I’ll buy one for you, too, if you ask me nicely. Otherwise, I’ll be back at White Hart Lane in August full of mad love and loyalty, just as before. Look forward to seeing you there.

Yakubu and Roger Johnson can't wait to get started.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I (don’t) love Martin Jol

Not on Sunday. Certainly not when Jol’s Fulham stand between Spurs and a return to the Champions League. There has been a suggestion by some fanciful dreamers that Jol will be happy for his former team to win. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jol is still nursing puncture marks a few inches below his shoulder blades after he was stabbed in the back by a small balding man we all know in October 2007. The Dutchman had just delivered two fifth place Premier League finishes after SIXTEEN straight seasons where Spurs lounged in seventh place or below. Generally, below.

Yet in a tawdry episode that rankles with many fans to this day, the Jol era was abruptly ended during Spurs’ home UEFA Cup defeat to Getafe not long after Chairman Daniel Levy and entourage were spotted in Spain courting (then) highly-rated coach Juande Ramos at the Hotel Alfonso XIII hotel in Seville. Levy justified his position on the official website with the woefully misguided quote: “I am an ambitious chairman.” A statement which has not been reflected in the transfer windows of the last two seasons.

Spurs had started the 2007/8 campaign sluggishly (some things never change!), but it was a measure of the Dutchman’s immense popularity that when rumours surfaced of his imminent sacking an online petition generated more signatures than the one that demanded Spurs not abandon Tottenham for the charms of Stratford. Fan support wasn’t enough to save Jol and Levy failed to turn up at the press conference to announce the unfortunate Ramos’s arrival leaving 2007’s fall guy du jour Damien Comolli to sheepishly conduct proceedings.

Jol was by no means the perfect manager. Those with memories longer than the average goldfish will remember some dire away performances and a consistent failure in the big matches. He also flirted heavily with the manager’s positions at Newcastle and Ajax. It is said Jol’s secret meeting with Newcastle was the primary motivation for Levy seeking a coaching alternative.

But under the Dutchman’s stewardship, fans and the manager shared solidarity, even in tricky times, and this cannot be underestimated. Early results under Ramos showed promise but he assumed control shortly before a run of winnable home games where Jol, too, would surely have triumphed. But after the joy of the Carling Cup semi-final and final victories over Arsenal and Chelsea (essentially achieved with Jol’s team), Ramos’s dour brand of football degenerated into the worst I have ever seen at Tottenham. And that’s saying something!

In October 2006, I was fortunate enough to share a flight back to Stansted with Jol and the first team the morning after Spurs’ 2-0 triumph over Besiktas in the cauldron of the Inonu Stadium, Istanbul. The players had been allowed by Jol to celebrate the win and were in a highly relaxed mood, mingling with fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

Halfway through the return journey, Jol strode down the aircraft to shake hands and briefly exchange words with those lucky Spurs fans at the back of the VIP flight. For whatever reason, the big Dutchman chose to engage with my dad and I and spoke to us for almost twenty minutes despite Chris Hughton’s repeated attempts to ferry him back to the front of the aircraft!

Jol was remarkably candid and answered any Spurs question one could conjure with refreshing honesty (unlike someone else we could mention!). The insight was fascinating. The Tottenham manager was incredibly frustrated that Levy had not stumped up the wages to pay for Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov (then at Wolfsburg) who he felt would provide the perfect ammunition for compatriot Dimitar Berbatov. The Spurs team had been crying out for a left winger for several seasons and yet transfer window after window never managed to buy one (sound familiar?). The cracks in the Jol-Levy relationship were already apparent.

The Dutchman confided that Spurs had identified three striker targets in Berbatov, Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt (then a hot goal-scoring property at Feyenoord). Notably, he seemed less keen on Berbatov than the others. Jol spoke with genuine passion about European competition in stark contrast to this season’s throwaway performances in the Europa League. He felt Spurs could win the tournament and, bar some highly dubious refereeing against Ramos’s Sevilla, we probably would have lifted that trophy. Until my dying day, I will believe that was a bent match and will never forget Teemu Tainio telling me the following morning at Seville airport, "The referee was shiiiiiiiit!"

So Jol’s return will bring back many happy memories, but if you do share my fond feelings for the big Dutchman I suggest you don’t make these apparent during Sunday’s must-win game and focus your support solely on the current Spurs team. They need your support not Martin. We don’t need a repeat of the Jol idolatry that took place in sections of the away support at Craven Cottage. Not appropriate. Anything that undermines Tottenham on Sunday could cost the club a Champions League place and Jol’s lively Fulham team are more than capable of taking advantage.

I do love Martin Jol (I understand he throws good parties). Just not on Sunday.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

CSI Birmingham: Danny Rose ‘ate my hamster’

Alex McLeish is a dead ringer for CSI Miami’s David Caruso (or a gecko that has been freshly dipped in orange juice). In today’s post-match press conference, McLeish apparently referenced Tottenham’s ‘missing girls’ which briefly sparked a nationwide manhunt only for authorities to belatedly discover that the incomprehensible Scot was talking about Spurs’ profligacy in front of goal.

The misunderstandings continued apace. After rookie left-back Danny Rose scythed down occasional father-beater Alan Hutton and was red-carded on 50 joy-free minutes, he suffered a torrent of inexplicable online abuse.

In defiant riposte, one wag quipped and flipped a famous Sun headline ‘Danny Rose ate my hamster’ which after a couple of edited retweets was rapidly transformed into ‘Danny Rose mates with Abu Hamza’. The Daily Mail went apeshit.

So is Danny Rose a shoebomber-in-waiting? Are Harry Redknapp and Kevin Bond ‘an item’? Is that long drive from Sandbanks one big uncomfortable lie? Are Tottenham, as a club, finished and out dead on their feet? No.

Everyone hoped (and prayed to any deity bored enough to listen) that Spurs would short circuit the over-defensive stagnation that has punctuated Villa’s season (more draws than an incontinent pensioner). But it didn’t happen. Force majeure maybe. A deflected Villa goal, one rash tackle and more missed shots than a drunken cheerleader were unfortunately timed, at best.

Maybe Harry Redknapp should have played more strikers. Maybe Daniel Levy should have signed them. But we bite the bullet or the pillow and move on because next Sunday against Fulham a win guarantees fourth place and offers a pretty decent shot of securing third if a weakening Arsenal falter at The Hawthorns.

We demand our players should not give up under pressure and neither should we. Get behind the team and roar them over the finishing line.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A shadow lifts from Tottenham

A shadow has lifted from across the souls of Spurs fans. After a turgid spell of just 14 points from 14 games and more opposition clean sheets than an Anne Widdecombe away break, Tottenham are stirring from their late season slumber.

Dark clouds are clearing. Harry Redknapp’s painful flirtation with the England manager’s job is over. Two wins and six goals have materialised in just four giddy days. Even the pantomime villain Sol Campbell has retired. Apparently, it was ‘hard to walk away’. Well, the big girl’s blouse has been losing pace for years.

Sandro is back, thumping his chest like a recently uncaged beast. After a season restrained on the bench and treatment table the Brazilian’s eyes are wild and hungry. In his heart, blood pumps the very spirit of belief. The jet-heeled Aaron Lennon is once more leaving plough marks on the right flank. Dutch master Rafael Van der Vaart has rediscovered his shooting boots while a rejuvenated Luka Modric is again pulling strings and conducting the midfield orchestra.

Welcome back, Tottenham. How we’ve missed you. The infectious grin on the face of Emmanuel Adebayor has returned and been passed on germlessly to the faces of the fans.

Spurs’ 4-1 triumph over Bolton, their first ever in the league at the Reebok, has revived a flagging season. The foundations were built on Sunday with a 2-0 victory over Blackburn, but now a win over Aston Villa this weekend, coupled with a Newcastle loss against title-chasing Manchester City, will ensure at least fourth place. Should Arsenal drop any points in their final games, two Tottenham wins will deliver third. The fortunes of football change like the tides.

There are no certainties. Twists and turns still remain. But the spirit of optimism that accompanied the first half of the season has returned. Take me off suicide watch and take that Smiths CD to the charity shop. I want to see how this season ends.