Thursday, November 29, 2012

Passed to death, but new life in Kyle Walker

The renaissance of Kyle Walker has begun. After a rough nine months, which hit rock bottom when the 'PFA Young Player of the Year’ was subjected to mindless abuse by a minority of Spurs fans in the home defeat to Chelsea, the form is beginning to return. Class is permanent, they say, and the sudden revival of Walker adds credence to that maxim.

On Sunday, Walker saw off two West Ham wingers in his best display since Spurs blew that massive points advantage over Arsenal last season and three days later the jet-heeled right-back was the standout defender as Spurs repelled a late Liverpool surge for their second win on the spin. Walker’s goalline clearance from a blocked Steven Gerrard shot was nothing short of sensational.

It was a busy evening for Walker and co. The Brendan Rodgers’ passing model was in full flow. Returning talisman Mousa Dembele is still struggling for fitness but was often the glue that held Spurs’ sieve-like midfield together as the defensive corps were forced to work for long periods during sustained Liverpool pressure in the second half. Sandro was oddly ineffectual – the match literally passed him by – perhaps he had not fully recovered from the injury sustained against West Ham.

The skill and trickery of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique in an advanced role caused constant problems for a backline featuring Spurs’ fourth and fifth string centre-halves and an out of position Jan Vertonghen. Never forget that Younes Kaboul and Vertonghen are the starters at centre-half with Steven Caulker an able deputy. Spurs are lucky to have such strength in depth in this position, but the understudies were tested rigorously in this rivetting encounter.

Michael Dawson and William Gallas are not the quickest of operators and, while frequently wrong-footed, they both showed admirable powers of recovery in what became a backs-to-the-wall situation when Clint Dempsey was replaced by the listless Gylfi Sigurdsson in the second half. Gallas, while sometimes ponderous against clever forward play, still made some pivotal interventions which no doubt went unnoticed by those with selective myopia.

At times, the home defending felt frantic, almost calamitous, with under-pressure Spurs players dawdling on the ball outside the box when clearing their lines was the only and best option. With the pint-sized Jermain Defoe on his own up front, there was no ‘out ball’ on offer and, on those rare occasions the ball found the striker, he was often being manhandled by Martin Skrtel to prevent any onward movement. That omnipresent ‘clever defending’.

This defensive uncertainty made for a tense finale, but a thrilling game in hindsight. Gareth Bale had an eventful evening and showed flashes of his usual brilliance early on, finding Lennon for the opener after a marauding left-wing run and sweeping in a free-kick to give Tottenham a giddy 2-0 advantage on 16 minutes that looked frequently under threat for the rest of the game. For all their possession and positive play, Liverpool were thankfully toothless and Suarez reliant in the final third and perhaps it was no surprise that their reply resulted from Lennon’s goalline clearance ridiculously cannoning off Bale and into the net. The away side merited a draw, but from a home perspective it was refreshing to see Spurs hold on to a lead after this season’s flood of late conceded goals.

It would not be a fixture against Liverpool without Gerrard and Suarez collapsing in the penalty area when goalside of a Spurs defender. Tottenham were certainly fortunate that Phil Dowd, no lover of Liverpool, was the referee. Dowd’s first free kick for the 'Reds' was awarded on 44 minutes! Neither looked a spot-kick on review, but both players deserve credit for artistic impression and post-decision arm-flapping. The t-shirt printers in Liverpool will probably be busy today.

The booking of Bale for ‘simulation’ was instigated by the snarling response of Daniel Agger who has no ethical problems playing alongside the talented but toxic Suarez, arguably the most prominent simulator in modern football. It looked a free-kick, and certainly not a booking, from my vantage point in the Paxton End. Ironically, the free-kick which Bale scored from was not and courtesy of a trademark Dempsey ‘tumble’.

A rare lucky day for Spurs and a red letter one for the resurgent Walker.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Big Sam Theory (disproved by Defoe)

Scientists insist that Sam Allardyce was not responsible for the creation of the universe, even if the West Ham manager believes himself to be the centre of it. Some 13.75 billion years after the universe was created, a second big bang was audible in North London. The noise was the sound of Allardyce’s pre-match comments backfiring.

Allardyce, once linked (by himself!) to the Real Madrid job, had been in bullish mood ahead of West Ham’s visit to White Hart Lane, predicting Spurs vulnerability and fatigue after Thursday’s excursion to Rome. ‘Big Sam’ was at least partially correct. The celebrations were exhausting.

Andy Carroll and the West Ham caravan rolled into N17 with the third best defence in the league. They rolled out chastened and pointless after Tottenham’s most encouraging home display this season. The old fluency returned after recent patchy performances. Jermain Defoe’s livewire run and finish just before the break sparked an enterprising second half where home goals looked as likely as they have all season.

The maligned Clint Dempsey suddenly came to the fore, rattling the bar before unlocking the West Ham backline with a clever dink that released the rampaging Gareth Bale for a crucial second. Shortly afterwards, the ‘US player of the year’ capitalised on some excellent defensive play by Tom Huddlestone and Sandro to set the scampering Aaron Lennon free before the winger’s unselfish cross brought Defoe his second goal and breathing space for Spurs.

After his heroics in Rome, Hugo Lloris retained his place in goal and showed cat-like awareness in the box, snuffing out rare West Ham attacks and critically denying a breakaway equaliser with a smart interception from a Kevin Nolan cross moments before Spurs took control via Bale and Defoe. A less than stellar clearance by Stephen Caulker denied Tottenham an elusive clean sheet, but Carroll’s pony-tailed nod was scant consolation for West Ham in their 'cup final'.

The last time they won at White Hart Lane was 1999. Back then celebrity Hammer Russell Brand was as high as a kite. He still had more perspective than Big Sam. Bang.

*** Despite previous indiscretions, I made another guest appearance on the excellent Fighting Cock podcast this week. Tune in here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The existential world of Monsieur Hugo Lloris

Until recently, one could be forgiven for thinking that Hugo Lloris isn’t real. Since rolling up to the Spurs training ground on transfer deadline day with his scarf tied whimsically into a cravat, the French national captain has made a handful of appearances rather than a gloveful of saves. The ‘Lloris or Friedel’ debate has raged with poor Hugo lost, at times, in pure existentialist despair, but the Frenchman’s one-man show in Rome appeared to finally provide a solution to Andre Villas-Boas’ seemingly unanswerable question.

A number of fine Lloris saves at Lazio’s Stadio Olimpico kept Spurs’ European dream alive though this is a little misleading. But for questionable officiating Tottenham would have already qualified for the next stage of the Europa League and further overseas adventures in 2013. Given Italian football’s long association with corruption and scandal, one cannot help but raise an eyebrow when three legitimate Spurs goals are chalked off in favour of one of its teams in two separate matches.

The conspiracy theorists among us may also point to the bizarre situation where a bloodied Kyle Walker was refused access to the field for wearing one of the club’s ‘blood shirts’. Number ‘49’ is reserved for those rare occasions where a player’s blood-soaked jersey is replaced mid-game, but despite being standard practice in the Premier League (and nothing untoward) UEFA officials used this impromptu shirt change as an excuse to deny Walker’s return for several uncomfortable minutes. Lazio duly exploited the additional space and almost scored.

Yet after Gareth Bale’s onside effort was ludicrously ruled out in the early stages, it was a nervy, backs-to-the-wall performance with Spurs offering precious little creativity outside an occasional sortie from the Welsh wonder and the clever promptings of pint-sized midfielder Tom Carroll aka ‘Modric Lite’.

Step forward Monsieur Hugo Lloris. The sterling performances of ageless American Brad Friedel have relegated the French national captain to the bench, unfairly in the eyes of many, but this was the game where Lloris justified French hyperbole with a string of super stops that put Spurs on the brink of the competition's last 32.

Only a home draw against Panathanaikos is required for progression in the tournament. Europa League games have been, in recent times, criminally underattended at White Hart Lane so please support the team and buy tickets here. At £20 they should be within most fans’ budgets. The 1882 movement will be occupying Blocks 32/33 and once more adding song and soul to the occasion. Be there.

***Best wishes and thoughts go to those Spurs fans injured in a bar in Rome on Wednesday evening. Despite its grand architectural beauty, the city has always fostered an unpleasant and unfriendly edge and this is only the latest in a long line of attacks on English fans seeking nothing more than a relaxing break and the entertainment of a football match. We can only hope that visiting fans of all clubs will receive better fortunes and protection in the future, but bitter experience suggests it’s unlikely.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The beautiful losers of Tottenham Hotspur FC

Support for many people relates to an office IT guy or a comfortable bra size. But not for me. Loyalty is the virtue that defines and separates the beloved and irrelevant in our lives. Too often this feels like a forgotten, almost alien, concept in modern football with its single serving fans drinking pitchers of Fosters on faux leather pub sofas and the online post-match rage, blame culture and insecure trolling from young men who have not yet known the touch of a woman.

For 90 minutes of a largely Emmanuel Adebayor-free game, I sang in the trenches. When other less hardy away fans fell quiet or filtered out of that soulless stadium, forged in the pits of corporate hell, I found empowering, Spurs-fuelled words to fill their absence. In the second half, real Tottenham supporters, the true and blue bloods, stood and joined me in song and an omnishambles of a game, punctuated by under-par refereeing, poor form and absent heroes, soon faded from view. We were back where we were supposed to be, singing and supporting, representing and validating the club that we love and cherish to the depths of our souls. The regular silence of Arsenal ‘fans’ (with their team clearly in command) was all too predictable. A hooped, old school scarf is not an indication of loyalty. It’s a statement of wankerism.

The calamity Kyles, Walker and Naughton, were thankfully withdrawn at half-time by Andre Villas-Boas and then fortunes, for the most part, improved. The hapless Naughton was, in fairness, playing out of position at left back but Walker now sadly resembles a human road sign. His best defensive moves this season have taken place on Twitter. He needs time off the field to regroup and return a better player. At the moment, he’s an accident waiting to happen. Anyone who doubts the corn-rowed brilliance of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, take a drug test now. This option does not apply to Jack Wilshere, the human equivalent of a Coke Zero.

One cannot help but feel a little sorry for Villas-Boas. There is a hefty asterisk associated with his early Spurs ‘failure’. The Portuguese is an inverted Harry Redknapp, an increasingly luckless individual whose every tactic or turn appears hampered by key injuries or Daniel Levy’s calamitous ‘everything must go’ summer squad sale. An anorexic, striker light bench will now weaken further in light of Adebayor’s suspension. We’re down to a solitary striker (as grimly predicted on this blog) for the next three league games. Lucy Pinder has greater options up front. And she could easily distract Jermain Defoe should West Ham field her next weekend. Dodgy Davids Sullivan and Gold certainly have form in this area.

The largely misleading 5-2, 10-man defeat may appear a life and death result now, but the Adebayor sending off (yellow or red?) and key injuries were mitigating factors. Spurs bossed the game with 11 men and half a team missing before old foe Howard Webb (who missed Mario Balotelli’s three-stamp on Scott Parker) rejoiced in an instant dismissal for Adebayor. Yet this is not an exceptional Arsenal team but a club in a tailspin that requires a one man advantage or the helping hand of a human billiard ball. For all Spurs’ limitations, we still have a more than decent chance of finishing ahead of celebrated heterosexual Sol Campbell’s favourite north London team.

As I zig-zagged through the shuffling red-shirted zombies on my way back to my local pub in Crouch End, I almost pitied the celebrating bug-faced hordes. Three points cannot cure personal deformity. Within a few games, South London’s finest will lose again and this brief sense of joy and entitlement will swiftly be replaced by limp-wristed threats of bin bags and those embarrassing ‘Wenger out’ protests.

Let them have their false dawn. I walked into that hellhole Tottenham and I walked out with Tottenham branded on my heart, guts and soul. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

AVB: Messiah…or fool?

Andre Villas-Boas is Tottenham’s most divisive manager since, er, Harry Redknapp. The Portuguese can do no right in some fans’ eyes and no wrong in others. Villas-Boas will inevitably make mistakes and their severity will dictate his future as Spurs boss; the only certainty is that his reign will not be defined by a 2-1 away defeat to billionaire bankrolled Manchester City.

At the Etihad Stadium, Emmanuel Adebayor’s substitution was greeted with anger and derision by pockets of the Spurs away support around me. I had called the change minutes earlier feeling that the effective Adebayor’s ongoing spat with City’s Pablo Zabaleta might have seen the Togo striker dismissed for a second yellow card.

The obnoxious Zabaleta adroitly switched roles from mugger to victim with Adebayor the constant focus of his ire. It reminded me a little of the way Peter Crouch was targeted by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg. Villas-Boas duly made a ‘like-for-like’ striker change that was anything but. While Adebayor and Jermain Defoe technically play the same position they are poles apart as players.

The predatory Defoe offers greater pace on the counter, but in a game that was fast becoming a backs-to-the-wall situation cannot offer the focal point of Adebayor and his nous for bringing others into play. Clint Dempsey has proven as anonymous as namesake Eastwood’s film roles of late and was the preferred option among many fans for withdrawal. Yet a conventional 4-4-2 at City would have likely opened up the floodgates at this point. Dempsey for Defoe was not a realistic switch with bullish billionaires City in the ascendancy and their wing-backs pushing on furiously for the win. One glance at the sidelines showed Jake Livermore, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Tom Carroll sitting in tracksuits. The Tottenham bench looks thinner than Victoria Beckham on a beach holiday. Money is a great divider and, compared to City, we shop at Poundland and this financial disparity should always dilute expectations with a healthy drop of realism.

With many of City’s team and bench in the £20million plus bracket and Spurs stripped of midfield dynamo Mousa Dembele, defensive rock Younes Kaboul as well as player of the season Scott Parker and celebrated LOL-merchant Benoit Assou-Ekotto this away day was always a tough ask, especially given City’s long unbeaten run on home soil. Positives were the welcome return of Sandro who put in a characteristic ball-breaking performance, the overdue inclusion of Adebayor in a Premier League starting line-up and some spirited stops by the ageless Brad Friedel.

It is fair to say that Villas-Boas’ tactical acumen has not come as advertised. He is certainly guilty of negative substitutions in positive positions. But he has been hamstrung by injuries and Daniel Levy’s ‘careful’ spending policy (Spurs were again in the black in the last transfer window having moved on star players Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart for that ubiquitous ‘good deal’ while once more sidestepping a pressing need for an additional striker).

AVB cannot yet be labelled messiah or fool; he merely requires the time neither of those individuals have.

Friday, November 9, 2012

1882, Muamba and Defoe (love, life and goals)

This was a time when it felt good to support Spurs again. For one night at least, the magic was back. That unique Tottenham voodoo hung heavy in the air…exhilarating forward play balanced by a dose of slapstick defending. Songs were sung with passion and gusto, the football flowed and that old European magic crackled in the air.

The dearly missed White Hart Lane atmosphere, which in recent months has been sucked into a vacuum of boos by parasitical glory fans and OCD hand-sitters, returned like an old love with a wink and a smile. And how we loved it. Positivity is infectious.

This was so much more than an enjoyable 3-1 romp over Slovenian champions NK Maribor that kick-started Spurs' Europa League campaign. It marked the invasion of Block J by the vociferous 1882 movement and the emotional return of Fabrice Muamba to White Hart Lane less than eight months since his heart stopped beating for 78 minutes. Miracles can happen. Maybe modern football can be saved. Don’t stop believing just yet.

The sight of Muamba in tears as he visited the site of his near death experience was humbling and inspiring in equal measure. Somehow the former Bolton midfielder found the composure and grace to thank the Spurs fans on a night where many would find the mere thought of words overwhelming. His half-time intervention was almost divine and the goodwill seemed to spill over into the second half where Spurs finally took control of a game they had dominated, yet threatened to throw away, courtesy of Jermain Defoe’s sparkling hat-trick.

The 1882 movement commandeered Block J of the Shelf and set the tone for the evening with their songs and boundless enthusiasm, inspiring fans in all stands to raise their voices with pride. The ethos of 1882 is to support Tottenham and the team regardless of the fortunes unfolding on the field. They represent a modern twist on the true, old school support that once pumped through the arteries of White Hart Lane on matchdays before the vulgar marketing of the Premier League and cynical trophy purchasing of oligarchs and sheikhs.

“For many reasons the atmosphere at White Hart Lane has dwindled. Last night it felt like we had our Tottenham back,” explained 1882 standard-bearer Flav from The Fighting Cock podcast. “For 90 minutes, we sang our hearts out and it was honestly one of the most enjoyable experiences at Spurs that I've ever had. When Maribor scored there wasn't the usual deflation and silence as the away support revels in their glory, last night we were singing before Hugo Lloris picked the ball out of the net. And I think the players reacted to it. There was no tension in the air, just positive reinforcement, and the players played with confidence. The 1882 movement is open to all Spurs fans, young and old. Just bring your lungs.”

Defoe’s clinical hat-trick saw him move to 126 goals in Spurs colours, inching him ahead of Teddy Sheringham into eighth place on the all-time goalscorers’ list. One day Tottenham will name a lounge after the celebrated ladies’ man allowing the next generation of young women to joust with the legendary ‘little swordsman’. Matchdays will always be, er, busy in JD’s lounge.

The pint-sized hitman certainly benefitted from the presence of Emmanuel Adebayor, whose touch and physicality freed up space and occupied the overworked Maribor defenders. Central midfield featured an unfamiliar but strangely effective pairing in midfield Tom-Tom Club Huddlestone and Carroll. While they differ in stature and experience, both have an eye for a telling pass and were heavily involved in Spurs' more incisive approach play. Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon revelled as roadrunners on the flanks of the 4-4-2 system that has served their reputations and Spurs so well in the past; food for thought for Andre Villas-Boas as he copes with injuries to key players and tinkers with the starting line-up.

A number of appalling decisions from Finnish referee Antti Munukka, and a dreadful mix-up between Hugo Lloris and Kyle Naughton that briefly levelled the scores, failed to dampen the party. Why can’t all matchdays be like this one? They can, you know. All you have to do is sing and love the shirt.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Yid Army vs The Society for Wack Lawyers

The only offensive thing about Tottenham tends to happen on the field. Yet it is not the recent non-performances of ‘AVB’s blue and white army' that have raised the ire of the Society of Black Lawyers. Blue and white…can I say that? Or is the term racially offensive to Smurfs?

According to the Society, Spurs supporters are guilty of anti-semitic abuse at White Hart Lane. Should the word 'Yid' be uttered after their self-imposed November 20th deadline (the first match is somewhat laughably against peace and love merchants West Ham) they are calling for the Metropolitan Police to take action. The Club defended Spurs fans in a strongly-worded statement that can be read here.

Reread the term 'anti-semitic abuse' and one key word should leap out at you…‘abuse’. When Tottenham fans sing ‘Yid Army’ (at away games, I might add) who exactly are they abusing? The non-Jewish, milk white fans of Sunderland or Stoke? You will not see Spurs faces scrunched up with racist anger. The mood is proud and celebratory, defiant. The word Yid was taken back and adopted by Jewish Spurs fans and their sympathisers in the 1970s and worn as a badge against abusers from clubs with a history of racist abuse like Chelsea, West Ham and Millwall. Three clubs whose fan conduct holds less of a concern with 'the Society of Wack Lawyers'. Gas noises from opposing fans or hate-filled ditties about genocide rank lower on their agenda. To directly quote the philosopher Raymond Wilkins, “My word.”

There are parallels elsewhere. The 'N word' was reappropriated by rappers and urban blacks after stepping out of the grim shadow of slavery and years of institutionalised racism. It is featured in virtually every hip hop song in my music collection. It is also regularly parroted in more commercial hip hop and has silently filtered into the mainstream. Will Jay-Z be arrested by decree of the Society on his next visit to London? Perhaps the rap mogul should enjoy an extra bottle of Cristal on his next private jet from New York, just in case.

The key point here is who says it and how it is said. If a black person affectionately uses the 'N word' as a form of endearment to another that is clearly very different to a Nick Griffin wannabe screaming it with hate bulging in his eyes. The term ‘Yid’ is never spoken with hate among Spurs fans, but a sense of camaraderie and affection. I know many Jewish Spurs fans who proudly sing ‘Yid Army’ and refer to themself as a ‘Yid’ - by what token will they be prosecuted? According to the aptly named Peter Herbert, who chairs the Wack Lawyers, "That's not acceptable either." It should be noted that Herbert represented the shoe bomber Richard Reid in a ‘humanitarian capacity’.

The Society of Black Lawyers is an interesting concept. If I formed the Society of White Journalists, I would be swiftly (and perhaps rightly) wrestled to the ground by a mob of outraged Guardian columnists. I find it odd that anyone would wish to define their profession along racial lines. This country does hold a rather skewed outlook on racism. Its definition is too often simplified to ‘white on black’. But it is the abuse of anyone on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Anyone who knows or loves someone from a Chinese or Asian background can tell you that they suffer racist abuse on a daily basis. It’s deeply wrong yet action is rarely taken because the Asian mentality is to ‘get on with it’ and, unlike the Society of Wack Lawyers, they do not have a political agenda or an eye on career advancement.

Selective morality and outrage is rife in Great Britain. It is an extension of the middle class guilt complex where people seem to revel in sitting around and being appalled by everyone else. Even a handful of calls to the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) merits an investigation leading to some quite ludicrous complaints from easily offended people with too much time on their hands.

Recently, an H&M advert featuring a woman wearing a fairly modest bikini on a beach was investigated after a complaint that it was ‘overtly sexual’. Anyone who saw the ad at their local bus stop would have found their mind turning to their summer holiday or an impromptu shopping trip. Yet the case was pursued and unsurprisingly found to be harmless by the ASA, much to the bemusement of H&M and anger of a plain-looking woman in dungarees.

The use of the word Yid by Spurs fans warrants a constructive and reasoned dialogue between Tottenham supporters (in particular those of Jewish heritage), the Club and the wider Jewish community not a grandstanding lawyer. Yet its utterance at White Hart Lane is relative small fry compared to the ignorant racist abuse that takes place unpunished in life and at football. Maybe the woman in dungarees should complain about the disgusting gas noises and Auschwitz chants. People seem to take note of her ravings.

*** On Thursday night, Spurs will host Slovenian Champions NK Maribor in a game that is pivotal to the team’s chances of progression in the Europa League. This game will also mark the 1882 Movement’s invasion of Block J of the Shelf. For one joyous night at least, jeers (and silence) will be replaced with cheers at White Hart Lane. When Block J starts rocking tonight, be inspired and join the @lovetheshirt massive in song. Read more about the movement here. Get involved, people.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Against Modern Tottenham

A trip to White Hart Lane is fast becoming a toxic experience. You’ll find more atmosphere in a Virgin Train’s quiet zone or during nap time at the local nursery. The only time fans raise from their slumber is the now traditional half-time boo or end of match catcall. A sense of entitlement is palpable in the air. There are plenty of reasons to be against this interpretation of ‘Modern Tottenham’.

Tensions are threatening to boil over amongst supporters with differing views, arguments and petty spats are now commonplace between the perceived ‘nouveau fan’ and those with a greater tolerance (or perhaps experience) of crap results, but one glance at the Premier League table shows Spurs lounging in…fifth. The season isn’t over (if you go by the league table) and many of the club’s best players are stretched out on Ledley’s old treatment table hoping for a surprise invite to Daniel Levy’s luxury pool.

Yet few can deny that Haringey Council’s highest capacity library is a cause for concern. Not so long ago, White Hart Lane was rocking during home matches. It was a source of pride, especially given the dinner party style experience at Highbury and the Emirates, that the passions of our home crowd could carry a mediocre team to better things. A pure, unrequited love for Tottenham, its traditions and history burned bright within us and warmed our wounded souls.

We were relative beggars, enjoying slim pickings and savouring the rare football morsels thrown our way. A taste of success has warped perceptions. The home seats are now awash with unrealistic expectation and a dash of delusion, too many in attendance expect a feast when anyone who has supported Spurs for more than a month should know this particular menu is predictably unpredictable. Shit invariably does happen.

Booing your team with the game still hanging in the balance makes little sense to me. If only similar energy had been expended ‘supporting’ the team against Wigan on Saturday. Over 35,000 Spurs fans belting out rousing Tottenham anthems might have inspired the team to something special or at least made that experience more memorable for those unfortunates in attendance. A different, more negative approach sends everyone home unhappy. Very few people in life respond well to biting criticism, footballers are no different. If everyone at work labels you a twat tomorrow then you will probably understand the feelings of the Tottenham scapegoat du jour. Apparently, the Wigan defeat was either Friedel, Walker, Gallas, Huddlestone, Sigurdsson, Dempsey or Defoe’s fault.

On the flipside, there is little value in being a ‘happy clapper’. There are several perplexing issues ongoing at Spurs. As much as I like and support Andre Villas-Boas, he appears to think tactics are a packet of small mints in a transparent plastic box. Playing a solitary striker at home, especially one who can only hold his balls up at Faces nightclub, makes precious little sense. The Tottenham way is to risk and attack, fail or succeed gloriously, and the largely turgid, conservative displays at White Hart Lane this season do not fit this ethos or sit comfortably with me. I want to be entertained not sedated. To date, AVB’s tactics remaining oddly rigid and devoid of flair. But it’s early days. Hang in there.

Tottenham are a team in transition. Frustration must give way to patience. This season is a team rebuild and, whatever your thoughts on our new manager, he has been hamstrung by injuries to key personnel (Mousa Dembele’s fitness is now, almost farcically, linked to our fortunes) and chairman Levy’s shrewd/tight-arsed transfer policy (delete as applicable) makes every transfer window feel like a 45 second shopping spree at Iceland. Just grab the nearest Sigurdsson!

In the interim, cast aside your grievances and back the team. We are all Spurs fans after all. True support can make an unbelievable difference. Turn the clocks back to ‘Old Tottenham’. It’s a far better place to be.

*** I was fortunate enough to be invited back as a guest on The Fighting Cock podcast this week. It’s the sixth-rated podcast in the United Kingdom and an audio opium den for strung-out Spurs fans. Listen or miss out. You can hear my insane ramblings and more coherent opinions at The Fighting Cock.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Striker light Spurs!

Striker light! We find ourselves in the same place again. Confused and blinking, like an alcoholic turning away from the first rays of sunlight. Keira Knightley has more up front than Tottenham.

Spurs’ long-running allergy to strikers proved costly once more as, from a position of apparent security, a mish-mash team imploded in the last 10 minutes and crashed out of the Capital One Cup conceding two late goals to an unambitious Norwich side. A late penalty miss was extra salt in the wound with competent spot-kick takers Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanual Adebayor since sold and injured. Today Rafa’s face peered knowingly from the November page of the official calendar.

A prospective home draw against Aston Villa made the elimination more galling, especially with only Chelsea and Arsenal remaining of the more fancied sides in the quarter-final line-up. A realistic shot at silverware has been needlessly squandered.

Jermain Defoe, the only fit striker on Spurs’ books, was perhaps understandably wrapped up in cotton wool for the trip to Carrow Road. No recognised striker played until Defoe’s belated introduction on 90 minutes. With Adebayor still frustratingly crocked and already planning his travel to the African Nation Cup, the sheer farce of a Tottenham squad with a solitary striker has reared its head. Can someone contact Louis Saha on BBM?

Yet Tottenham bizarrely boast four goalkeepers (three over thirty - 31, 39 and 41) in their basic 25-man list; the squad is unbalanced, like an elephant and an ant on a see-saw (apologies to legendary hip hop lyricist 'the Gza'). At the start of the season, Andre Villas-Boas defended 'his' decision to have a trio of strikers, championing rookie Harry Kane as the third frontman. Spurs fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. We’re okay with three strikers. Phew.

Wait a minute! ‘Clipboard Chris’ suddenly waves some late cash and a bag of Werther’s Originals in the direction of N17 and Kane is dispatched to Norwich on a season long loan with no hint of a replacement. Kerching! The deadline day signing of Clinton Dempsey was some appeasement. But, as we’ve already seen this season, the US international is a forward-thinking midfielder rather than a striker who can lead the line. Oddly, no-one from the youth ranks has been promoted to take Kane’s place on the bench.

The reliance on solitary fit striker Defoe and the world class runs and finishing of Gareth Bale is a concern. In the continued absence of Adebayor, you look at the team and wonder, ‘Who will score the goals?’ The Norwich and Southampton games have illustrated, somewhat alarmingly, that Spurs are too often toothless in the final third and unable to make long periods of possession count.

There is always an upside, however. Teams who reach the League Cup Final have a tendency to peak too soon and unravel in the final months of the season. Spurs’ post-2008 Carling Cup winning form was an unmitigated disaster whereas 2011 winners Birmingham were subsequently relegated and last year’s finalists Liverpool and Cardiff fell away alarmingly in the home stretch.

Late cup elimination is hard to swallow, especially for those die-hards who travelled midweek to East Anglia, but nothing three points and a performance against Wigan won’t heal, striker or not.