Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chris Hughton’s clipboard inducted into the Tottenham Hall Of Fame

Daniel Levy has made his most important signing of the January transfer window after purchasing Chris Hughton’s original clipboard for display in the new stadium’s museum (or its adjoining Sainsbury's). The celebrated clipboard will shortly be inducted into the Tottenham Hall Of Fame. “It was involved in more goals than Steffen Freund,” protested a club spokesman.

The deal for this cherished piece of club folklore was struck at half-time as Hughton’s Canaries ran yellow and green rings around a flatfooted Tottenham before a Gareth Bale wonder goal sealed a late, but ultimately welcome point.

“The clipboard is a big part of Tottenham’s talent light history in the Nineties and Noughties when teams like Middlesborough used to knock three past us in 30 minutes and no-one booed at half-time,” continued the club spokesman. “The erudite scribblings on that legendary stationery accessory almost singlehandedly kept the score in single figures.

“When the wild barnet of Gerry Francis grew out of control, Chris used its firm edges to comb that uncontrollable bird’s nest into a side parting. It was also present when Chris accompanied David Pleat on one of his regular shopping trips for Farah trousers or a touch of polished brass.”

The clipboard, which Levy swapped for Heurelho Gomes’ least favourite child, came with reams of Hughton’s original notes which provide a fascinating insight into Spurs' tactics in the Premier League’s formative years. Observations include:

“Chip the ball onto the crest of Ruel Fox’s head and it rolls into dangerous positions. Do not play to feet.”

“A can of Red Stripe takes the edge of Chris Armstrong’s brownies.”

“Placing a live stoat in Gregorz Rasiak’s shorts may encourage a more mobile performance”

“I wish we’d buy a bloody striker.”

How times change.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Levynomics: The curse and the cure

Levynomics, you either love it or hate it. The late transfer brinkmanship and relentless, almost brutal, negotiation are legendary. Tottenham’s deal hungry Chairman once visited Poundland and purchased two items for 34p.

Under Daniel Levy’s shrewd financial guidance, Spurs have shifted from mid-table also-rans to perennial top four contenders. But over halfway through the season our club is in an all-too predictable and strikerless place. With the transfer window creaking shut, the next four days could define a season. Just like last January. And the January before.

Spurs’ FA Cup traditions are equally notable, yet for the 22nd consecutive tournament those of a Lilywhite persuasion will only be watching the final on TV. For most of those fruitless years, Tottenham have played a full strength team, but misguidedly Andre Villas-Boas tinkered and Spurs succumbed to a spirited Leeds United who huffed and puffed and fought for every ball to earn a 2-1 win. A true fan takes these results on the chin.

Rejigging a defence expertly marshalled by Michael Dawson in recent weeks and playing a back five of relative strangers (featuring works-in-progress Steven Caulker and Kyle Naughton) was a gamble not worth taking. So far AVB has exceeded expectations as Spurs’ coach, and has my unequivocal support, but Harry Redknapp would have been crucified for his slapdash selections at Elland Road. Our domestic cup exits this season have been among the meekest in recent memory. Are we now ‘too sexy’ for our cups?

AVB has admittedly been hamstrung by the narrow yet financially valid Levy transfer policy which prioritises the balance sheet over fans’ less practical and often unrealistic desires. The charismatic Portuguese has yet to be backed by his new paymaster. Three strikers (Defoe, Adebayor and Kane) were deemed acceptable in August so how does ‘no strikers’ sound in late January? As much as it pains me, Jon Obika is not our savour like Paul Mahorn before him. The success of Michu and Christian Benteke this season has illustrated that bargains are available in a market of obscene price tags and unjustified hyberbole.

This is Levy’s business rather than his passion. Yet our chairman’s ambitious demands eclipse ENIC and Joe Lewis’ ultra-careful investment. We are punching above our weight. Levy and co effectively asset-stripped the squad last season and a competitive, yet admittedly overbalanced, first 25 is now demonstrably weaker. In the 2012/13 campaign, the Spurs bench features prospects and the unproven rather than seasoned internationals and is therefore ill-equipped for heavy squad rotation after a few key injuries. The mantra remains keep expectations low and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

But put away the razor blades and that collection of Sylvia Plath poems, this season still carries so much promise. An away draw in the next round to Manchester City logically suggests a Spurs exit a few weeks earlier than was perhaps inevitable. In the world of Levynomics, our away fans have saved £150 on tickets, travel and tequila. Reinvest the money as you will, you gorgeous diehards.

A top four finish and an extended Europa League run is still well within reach. However the season pans out, Tottenham will be in the top four mix in May, beyond many pundits and self-proclaimed soothsayers’ expectations. Late investment, for the first time in three January transfer windows, might just push us over the line.

Levynomics may yet be redeemed. Charlie Adam, Gregorz Rasiak and Michael Ricketts are on speed dial.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spurs overturn Fergie’s parked bus, a granny hugger rejoices

Sheer air-punching joy! Clint Dempsey scored a last gasp equaliser and I found myself embracing a woman in her seventies. It was my Wayne Rooney moment. We failed to exchange numbers, but the connection was undeniable. Almost a case of ‘Call me, maybe’.

On the pitch, relentless pressure told. Don’t let Alex Ferguson’s post-match hyperbole fool you. Rioja kills brain cells. A draw was the very least Spurs deserved. Tottenham registered 23 shots to United’s paltry six (managing 18 on target) and plugged away with delightful purpose when previous incarnations of our team would have folded.

In the dying embers of the game, I sensed an equaliser yet, with Spurs doggedly pounding on United’s back door, some ‘fans’ chose to leave early. Unless two impatient Victoria’s Secret models were coiled up at home on a waterbed, I fail to see a reason for an early departure. Even in this scenario the models should wait patiently. Sadly, these 'supporters' carelessly threw away an unforgettable moment. This was a notable Tottenham bookmark.

Almost-discarded skipper Michael Dawson was an absolute rock, leading a rookie back four by example, whereas the talismanic Mousa Dembele maintained his unbeaten record on the pitch in Spurs colours and dovetailed efficiently with the tenacious Scott Parker who adeptly filled a giant, Sandro-sized hole. Yet one man deserves a mention above all others. Our miniature speed demon.

Aaron Lennon is undoubtedly Spurs' player of the season so far. He fizzes, he feints, he creates. With the more touted Gareth Bale double and triple-marked by United’s defensively-inclined formation, the pint-sized playmaker was afforded extra time to make a difference and he did with aplomb.

Little surprise that Lennon possessed the calmness to find Dempsey in the injury time snowy maelstrom. When the American stroked home the equaliser, sheer mayhem broke out in the stands. Apparently, I was speaking in tongues. Every late, unmerited Manchester United goal, every fake penalty, every diabolically disallowed Spurs strike or bout of red-faced arm-pointing felt joyously erased by this moment. Carthatic? Just a bit.

Perhaps the greatest compliment was that United failed to take Spurs on and lined up defensively for the first time in living memory at White Hart Lane. Unbelievably, they 'parked the bus'. Their goal stemmed from a Kyle Walker miscalculation and a typically adroit Robin Van Persie header (an especially good day for his wife who knew Rob’s whereabouts between 4pm-6pm), but otherwise they rarely threatened despite Ferguson’s wine-addled ravings to the contrary.

Sadly, the United manager failed to emulate Martin Jol’s post-match graciousness in the Mendes fall-out claiming non-existent United ‘opportunities’ unrecorded on television or by the naked eye of spectators, a penalty for a Rooney topple (ignoring the fact Dempsey was clipped early by Evra in the second half but chose to shoot rather than keel over) and stating that United are the tragic victims of an evil linesman’s mysterious vendetta. It's a real tearjerker.

Oh shush. Four points in two games, you old melon. Can we play you every week?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Adebayor hits a barn door

Barn doors everywhere have breathed a sigh of relief when Emmanuel Adebayor has taken the field this season. A mixture of injury, fitness problems, poor finishing and worse luck have transformed last season’s top scorer into this campaign’s misfiring bit part player.

His farcical, crossbar hitting miss from a yard out at Sunderland was compounded by several other sub-par efforts that, in his sharper 2011/12 form, would have nestled seamlessly in the back of the net. If ever a player needed a goal to bolster his flagging confidence it was Adebayor and, against an improving Reading side, the Togo striker delivered with a hanging header that evoked memories of Les Ferdinand in his pomp. “It was important for him to score today,” said Andre Villas-Boas afterwards with classic understatement.

But, while his goal return has been minimal, never underestimate Adebayor’s all-round contribution and the testing time his movement, physicality and rubber-legged skills give opposing defenders. His presence adds a natural balance to the team and invites others into play. He also one of just two strikers on Spurs’ books and one hopes that Adebayor will decide not to play in the African Cup of Nations, otherwise Louis Saha might be getting that call again.

For the second match in succession, Spurs triumphed after falling behind to clinch a staggering seventh victory in nine league games. Michael Dawson’s deft header cancelled out Pavel Pogrebnyak’s surprise early strike before Adebayor’s overdue goal nudged the home side ahead. Clint Dempsey’s looping, deflected strike sealed the points shortly after Reading had enjoyed their most promising spell of the game and tested Spurs fans’ ever-fragile nerves. A whopping thirty Tottenham shots at goal (twenty on target) indicate that this victory was more than merited.

Since Villas-Boas switched to a 4-4-2 formation against Swansea and accommodated two strikers, Spurs have looked more fluid. It’s the system where Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon have always flourished and, thanks to the tireless Sandro and forward drive of Dembele, this is Tottenham’s most well-balanced engine room for some years. In Sandro and Lennon, Spurs possess two of the most underrated players in the game and yet their contributions have been long appreciated at White Hart Lane. Sandro has a greater tackle than John Holmes and stamina to match whereas there are few more exhilarating sights than watching the whippet-like Lennon run at pace at defenders. Aaron is currently in the form of his life.

Like a pacifist gunslinger, Spurs don’t do draws. Teams like Everton and Stoke may be harder to beat and show greater defensive resolve, but Tottenham’s ‘win or lose' mentality is more rewarding on the eye and in the points column.

So a new year has dawned and Spurs have kicked off 2013, as they ended 2012, with another win. Emmanuel Adebayor is also back in the goals and smiling broadly again. Barn doors beware.

*** There will be no post-Coventry City blog as I will be at Camp Nou next weekend to watch Barcelona and Espanyol lock horns in the Catalan derby. Normal service will be resumed after the QPR game.