Friday, June 15, 2012

New Spurs manager to be decided by ITV4 reality show

EXCLUSIVE: The new Spurs manager’s position will be decided via an ITV4 reality show. Every week in the boardroom, Chairman Daniel Levy will sit on a high-legged chair (with a booster cushion) and eliminate one potential candidate from the managerial race. Here we meet the contestants and analyse their prospects.

David Moyes 5/4 - Mad eyes. Looks like Gollum before he found that ring by the riverbank. A trained hairdresser, Moyes styles Marouane Fellaini’s afro on match days and would have little problem accommodating the wild barnet of Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Everton Chairman and theatre impresario Bill Kenwright currently gives Moyes 60% off West End tickets, a price Daniel Levy may be reluctant to match.

Roberto Martinez 2-1 - Will save Spurs from relegation in May with a 1-3 win at the Emirates Stadium, courtesy of a stunning Yakubu hat-trick. Will lead Spurs to the brink of relegation in the preceding months.

Andre Villas-Boas 3-1 - The Villas-Boas appointment is ruined by a bizarre bodyswap scenario involving John ‘JT’ Terry and Michael ‘Daws’ Dawson. The fake Dawson immediately leads a player revolt against the incoming Portugeezer and causes a furore when seeking to locate Sylvie Van Der Vaart’s ‘Private Box’.

Ralf Rangnick 8-1 - An anagram of Ralf’s name is ‘Who the f**k are you?’ Will undoubtedly get the job and be replaced by caretaker Alan Curbishley in January. Curbishley’s role will include cleaning the Paxton End toilets on match days and recovering the ‘wandering loo seat’.

Fabio Capello 10-1 - Fluent Italian speaker. Will understand parts of the ‘My name is Nicola Berti’ song. Still in London having failed to find an Italian speaking taxi driver to take him to the airport. Additional pasta dishes will be added to the training ground canteen menu much to the delight of Tom Huddlestone who subsequently loses 43lbs in body weight through eating a dodgy lasagne.

David Pleat 69-1 - Farah slack wearer, teddy boy haircut sporter, car seat contortionist. Tried and trusted like a pair of hush puppies you don’t want to throw out, Pleaty will immediately move Ledley King to a central midfield position via a Stannah conveyer belt. Introduces a 4-3-3 system. Soundbites include: “Scotty Parker is relishing his position in the threesome.”

Gilberto 200-1 - Spurs’ former Brazilian international is a shock choice as player-manager. Gilberto’s first act as boss is to drop himself.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Harry out! Moyes out!

Within moments of the last rites being uttered over Harry Redknapp’s increasingly divisive managerial reign, his potential replacements were being castigated. David Moyes doesn’t play the Tottenham brand of football, Andre Villas-Boas is a failed Mourinho lite, Roberto Martinez is greener than Kermit the Frog. Welcome to Tottenham. The new manager hasn’t got a chance.

Ever since I’ve followed Spurs, from Bolton to the Bosphorus, fans have desperately sought a change of manager. Redknapp out, Ramos out, Jol out, Santini out, Pleat out, Hoddle out, Graham out, Gross out, Francis out, Ardiles out…I’ve heard them all. The managerial door revolves only to spit out the latest saviour. Has a lack of continuity been the real reason for Spurs’ limited success over the years?

In the modern culture, Keith Burkinshaw would have been slaughtered in 1982 for ‘throwing away’ the league title (Spurs finished fourth after a gigantic fixture pile-up), European Cup Winners Cup (unsuccessful semi-finalists) and League Cup (defeated finalists in extra time). No doubt Bill Nicholson’s inability to win a second title with the most gifted team of a generation would have set the Talksport phone lines alight.

Harry is gone. And I must confess to mixed feelings. I have great appreciation for what he achieved at Tottenham. Harry was the caretaker manager who overachieved; he reanimated a dire Juande Ramos team and saved the club from certain relegation. Redknapp delivered us Champions League football and broke Sky’s ‘Big Four’ cartel. We beat the reigning European champions, won at the San Siro, defeated Arsenal three times in breathless affairs and found ourselves respected rather than ridiculed as was largely the case from 1992 to 2006.

But Redknapp the manager and Redknapp the personality should not be confused. The former delivered fourth, fifth and fourth place in successive seasons – a feat unmatched by any Tottenham manager in recent history. The latter didn’t know when to keep his own counsel. If a man ever required his own personal ‘mute button’ it’s Harry.

Talking openly about contract negotiations when the mother of your Chairman has just passed away is either ill-timed or tasteless. Stating that the players would be distracted by his own contract situation a mere eight weeks after claiming they were unaffected by the unrelenting ‘Redknapp for England’ speculation was either astonishing front or infuriating hypocrisy.

Levy hired and stood by Harry with the HMRC’s court case hanging over him, but as soon as England were ‘interested’ Redknapp was distracted like a golddigger who spots a potentially wealthier suitor in the corner of her eye. A new deal was on the table for Harry in February. He chose not to take it. Loyalty swings both ways.

Offering a 65-year-old man a lucrative three-year contract after Spurs' late season slump was never on Levy’s agenda. Harry had already burned his bridges by this point. But it’s a big call by the Chairman. And, despite reservations about Redknapp’s recent conduct, I am not convinced it’s the right one.

On the pitch, Redknapp largely delivered and elevated the club’s status from also-rans to contenders. For years, Spurs struggled to break into the top eight and yet the two managers who broke this slump, Jol and Redknapp, were sacked by one man following top five finishes. Should Levy, again, fail to back the new manager in the transfer market then his own position should fall under scrutiny.

With Manchester City and Chelsea on a different financial playing field and Manchester United operating at a consistently unreachable level, fourth was arguably the glass ceiling of Tottenham’s ambition. Redknapp’s recent fourth place finish is something the new manager will struggle to emulate. The knives are already being drawn by Harry’s friends in the press. The days of favourable Spurs media coverage have drawn to a close. Expect a far rougher ride when the results fail to go our way.

If David Moyes leads Spurs to a creditable sixth place finish next season the usual suspects will want him out. Some fans will hate him, others subject him to personal ridicule. He’s Scottish, he’s a ginger, those bulbous eyes are swelling and poised to pop out of his head. Within two years, Moyes will be blowing his compensation money just like the others and his critics will look forward to another new manager.

As we know, the next relationship will always be better.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The curious devaluation of Luka Modric

In case you missed it, Luka Modric is part of an ongoing auction on The lowest unique bid will secure you the services of the Croatian international midfielder for football or possibly cleaning and maintenance purposes.

The current winning bid has supposedly come from Salford pensioner Sir Alex Ferguson, according to that oracle of truth ‘The Sun’ newspaper. It’s a done deal. Negotiations were quick and painless as they always are with any transfer involving Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy.

A nose bleed high £40m offer from Chelsea was knocked back by Levy last summer, but he is apparently happy to take £15m less a year later. Modric has dropped in value by a whopping 37.5% and is now available in a ‘Buy one get one free offer’ alongside Tom ‘Superfly’ Huddlestone. United are throwing in two crates of Ms Coleen Rooney’s delightful fragrance ‘Butterflies’ to sweeten the deal and these will be used to scent the Paxton End toilets on matchdays.

The ‘facts’ fail to add up. United don’t actually need a new central midfielder having signed arguably a better one in Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa (he actually scores goals). But it’s hard to doubt a story with no original quotes or in-depth information when the word EXCLUSIVE precedes it in eye-catching capitals.

If you were taken in by the above Sun story, I suggest you steer clear of Nigerian princes (at least until Yakubu has signed on August 31st). Yet people still fall helplessly into the same old trap. Click the story, buy the paper. Robert Maxwell (Google him if you are under 30 but think ‘fat Rupert Murdoch’) once told my dad, “It’s just entertainment”. I was still a fresh-faced kid in those days and not yet working in the media but my old man had several connections in the national press and an involvement with the Sugar/Venables takeover of Spurs in the early 1990s.

He was therefore dumbfounded when he read a story by a journalist he knew very well stating that Tottenham were interested in signing flat-footed striker Kerry Dixon (under 30s think a slovenly Kevin Davies without goals or elbows). “That’s just not true,” said my Dad. The journalist replied: “Oh, I know. I’m just doing a favour for his agent.” Soon afterwards, the old man was surprised and amused to find a speculative conversation he’d had with the same hack regarding potential Spurs transfer targets was later an ‘exclusive’ in the same popular daily paper.

I was (un)fortunate to later forge (an all too appropriate word) a career as a journalist and swiftly learned that often what we read and absorb is intentionally fabricated or the product of fanciful/drunken minds. Other journalists choose to dig deeper than the bowl of peanuts waiting on the top of the bar. Read carefully and you will learn who they are.

My ‘insider’ advice is don’t allow yourself to be too irritated by hearsay dressed up shoddily as journalism. If a story has no quotes from an original source, coherent, detailed information or a byline (distrust the ubiquitous ‘By Sportsmail Reporter’) then it’s probably best disregarded, fish and chip paper.

So what is Modric worth? Gifted player, Spurs midfield conductor, looks like the lead singer from Journey. But does he truly affect games, in a ‘world class’ manner befitting such a hefty price tag?

It can easily be argued that 15 neat Modric passes mean little in comparison to one deflected yet game-changing Frank Lampard goal. Luka has all the tools to be a top player, yet the goals, those signatures of brilliance, remain oddly absent.

Arguably, £25 million is a fair fee, just don’t tell those chancers at Rest assured, master salesman Levy will take Modric’s eventual purchasers to the absolute cleaners.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Harry Redknapp should (probably) stay at Spurs

Here follows a cautionary tale. Back in August 2004, I was travelling back from Spurs’ shock 1-0 win at St. James Park courtesy of Cameroonian mentalist Thimothee Atouba’s long range scoop shot. My mate Hugh and I had bought numerous cans of Guinness from the shop on Newcastle Station. I’m not sure how many tins we purchased but I do recall the girl filling a large black bin liner. Shortly afterwards, Hugh became teetotal.

On that victorious homeward journey to Kings Cross, we were sat on a table of four with an uncharacteristically articulate Newcastle fan who was, nevertheless, dumbfounded that his side had lost to ‘no offence - a crap team like Spurs’.

“Bobby Robson’s got to go. His tactics have become embarrassing,” he told us with conviction as I offered him a sympathy can of Guinness. The previous three seasons Newcastle had finished 4th, 3rd and 5th (sound familiar), but our fellow traveller felt his team should be higher, possibly champions, despite lifting their last proper trophy when my dad was running around in short trousers. Newcastle Chairman Freddy Shepherd shared this fan’s opinion as shortly afterwards Sir Bobby was sacked and the Toon duly crumpled to a 14th place finish. Within four seasons they were relegated.

Harry Redknapp’s more forceful critics (perhaps wishfully) assume his replacement would improve on 4th, 5th and 4th place finishes (our best consecutive league positions in the modern era) and that may be the case. But that Guinness-fuelled trip back from Newcastle keeps nagging away at me. It could, quite easily, go the other way, too. With no obvious outstanding (realistic) candidates, sacking Redknapp would represent a significant gamble by Daniel Levy. As one Spurs fan told me this week, it could be a case of ‘Better the devil you know.’

The Times reported on Tuesday that Redknapp had hired Wayne Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford to (somewhat optimistically) negotiate a new three-year deal. Harry only has one-year remaining on his current contract and, at his advanced age, it’s understandable for him to seek job security or one last ‘big earner’. Equally, after Tottenham’s late nosedive in form – attributed, in part, to Redknapp having one eye on the England job - it’s acceptable that Levy would feel indifferent about offering such a generous commitment.

The possibility of Harry accepting a lucrative job in Qatar was, again, mooted. But the Middle East is one hell of a commute from Sandbanks. No doubt the Qatar link has been leaked by the Redknapp camp in a bid for better terms. A short-term post at Chelsea would seem a far more realistic option. Anyone who leaves the Portsmouth job to sign for arch-rivals Southampton, only to return to Fratton Park is, quite frankly, capable of anything.

A move across London might displease supporters of the Champions League winners but would meet with strong approval with influential dressing room figures Frank Lampard and ‘Teflon’ John Terry. “JT? Triffic player. Triffic leader. Fortunately for me, Sandra’s in her sixties or JT would be all over that. I’ve known Frank since he was a foetus. Yeah, he’s filled out a bit since then.”

In the modern era, Spurs have always been a club of snap judgments and blurred realism. We’ve had more false dawns than an Essex nightspot. Pick up any October tabloid from 1988 to 2008 and you will find an article with a ‘Spurs in crisis’ border. West Ham’s ‘Fleet Street’ fanbase used to repurpose the same gag on an annual basis. ‘What’s the difference between Tottenham and the Star of David? The Star of David has six points.’ Put aside the verbal diarrhoea and confusing tactics for one moment and Redknapp’s reign has brought a refreshing, almost unnatural, stability to the club. Dare we rock the boat?

In my tenure as a Spurs fan, the club have sacked or ousted Juande Ramos, Martin Jol, Jacques Santini, Glenn Hoddle, George Graham, Christian Gross, Gerry Francis, Ossie Ardiles, Terry Venables, Peter Shreeve and the mystifying Doug Livermore/Ray Clemence double act. David Pleat made more comebacks than Freddie Krueger often creating similar nightmares.

I feel uneasy about adding Redknapp to that list unnecessarily without an outstanding replacement in sight. Is Pleaty still available?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tottenham crowned Financial Fair Play European champions!

When it comes to window shopping it would seem Daniel Levy favours Primark over Prada.

As the spending of the nouveau rich City and Chelsea spirals wildly out of control with irresponsible transfer fees and madcap wages amid a Pan-European economic crisis, Tottenham have opted for pragmatism in the transfer market believing (quite possibly praying) that UEFA Napoleon Michel Platini’s incoming Financial Fair Play regulations will see sensible spending and good business practice recognised and rewarded. Yet loopholes are, inevitably, already appearing. Will Levy’s careful spending policy pay off?

In the last two transfer windows, Spurs have shifted Pavlyuchenko, Crouch, Palacios, Hutton, O’Hara and Keane at an estimated £36 million. In that same timeframe, the club only BOUGHT two players; Parker (£5 million) and raw prospect Falque (£1.5 million) alongside high end loanee Adebayor and a host of bargain basement free transfers (most notably Friedel, Saha and Nelsen).

So Spurs essentially made a minimum of £29.5 million on transfer deals over two windows. And that doesn’t factor in the host of lucrative loan fees received (for Caulker, Corluka, Pienaar, Naughton et al) which effectively hamstrung the charge for Champions League football in the dying embers of the season. Was that short-term gain worth the long-term sacrifice?

Life and football are seldom ‘black and white’, always a shade of grey, but my feeling is that Levy has taken a circumspect transfer policy a step too far. It would obviously be ludicrous to emulate City and Chelsea’s profligate transfer policy without a billionaire owner (setting aside if that’s ethically acceptable – no doubt if Hitler was alive that Nazi gold would have been invested in a certain East London club), but spending incoming transfer funds is hardly a foray into financially obscene waters.

Tottenham’s notoriously bottom heavy squad should see plenty of capable benchwarmers moved on this summer with Bassong, Pienaar, Bentley, Kranjcar, Jenas, Gomes, Corluka, Dos Santos bringing in, at a conservative estimate, £30 million in disposable income. But will these monies be reinvested? Our recent experience suggests ‘no’.

The sale of the mercurial but over-valued Luka Modric for £40 million could introduce two or three game-changing players into the Spurs side. Add that to our departing squad members and Tottenham could potentially have £70 million to blow by merely repurposing current assets while still retaining key performers like Bale, Lennon, Sandro, Kaboul and Walker. Yet the last two seasons have hinted that incoming funds are more likely to disappear in a puff of smoke into the ubiquitous Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, the slow motion stadium project or an increased quality in the West Stand bagel.

This week Deloitte published the Premier League wage bills from the previous season (2010/11). The top five ‘employers’ were Chelsea (£191m), Manchester City (£174m), Manchester United (£153m), Liverpool (£135m) and Arsenal (£124m). That Spurs (£91m) manage to compete on such an uneven playing field deserves credit.

Sadly, football is no longer a competitive sport. Titles and trophies are bought rather than earned. Ethically dubious billionaires engage in a vulgar wealth competition while clubs like Spurs play by the old rules and punch above their weight without reward. A restrictive wage policy (which I believe should be alleviated for three marquee players such as Bale, Adebayor and an incoming star) means we will always be fishing for a secondary catch. Maybe Harry was right. This is as good as it gets.

I’m not advocating irresponsible wages (Hazard’s public whoring for more money illustrates how far our sport has fallen) or obscene transfer fees just a simple reinvestment of the monies the club receives via transfers. Is that really too much to ask?

Maybe Levy has played a blinder, but the nagging suspicion is that ‘money’ always finds a way to negotiate the rules. In the next few seasons, it’s inevitable that Spurs will be crowned Financial Fair Play European Champions. Too bad no-one else bothered to enter the competition.