Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Is this thing on?

Testing, 1 2 3.

Christ, I miss this fucking place.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Do you rate Pavlyuchenko?


I have moved off Blogger.

If you have http://dearmrlevy.blogspot.com/ bookmarked, please browse to:



See you on the other side.

Pavlyuchenko apparently requires surgery for a groin injury. You'll have noticed he hasn't played a part in our recent games and the last thing I can remember from him (other than a missed penalty in a reserve match) was some quotes based around a complaint that he is struggling to learn English. This is largely thanks to his every day routine of hotel - breakfast - training - hotel - dinner - bed. Gruelling work schedule taking its toll there for Roman.

It's been pointed out that the club should be doing far more to make sure he develops his linguistic skills. The player still 'thinks' in Russian which means he has to attempt to translate what he wants to relay to his team-mates from Russian into English. Which, according to the player, is time consuming.

I'm miffed. Just call out the players name. You're not exactly gonna find the need to stand on the edge of the box and scream, 'Hey Aaron, Aaron, please strike the ball with the outside of your foot and lay it into my path. I'm going to sweetly strike it to the left of the goal'.

A simple yelp will suffice.

Pedanticisms aside, he is probably referring to the aftermath of a broken down attack when he needs to explain to the player who passed the ball to the right when he (Pav) was running to the left what space he intends to run into next time round. Again, arguably, all he has to do is point and wave his arms about and even speak his disgruntledness in Russian. The likelihood is his team-mate will understand the complaint far more clearly than anything coming out of Robbie Keanes mouth.

There's a lot that hasn't gone right for Pav since his move to the UK. Arguably, the guy is tired having playing several months of football in Russia in the snow before the Prem had kicked-off. He hasn't done too shabby considering the start of the season we've had (two points, eight games), but although he has scored himself into double figures - he hasn't scored that many in the league. He's a bit slow, and sometimes his first touch isn't great and his long shot efforts are poor - but he seems to find himself in the right place at the right time and unlike Darren Bent, he contributes far more and appears to be more adaptable to Harry's tactics. He's a decent goal-scorer. Maybe not one worth £14M on current showing, but we always pay far more than what the player is truly worth. Problem, arguably, is he doesn't quite excel in anything in particular and can't be defined in the same terms of importance in the same way Keane or Defoe can (with what they can offer on the pitch).

Is he over-rated? Guess we can't really judge him until 10 games into next season. Although even a 'tired' player should be showing us a little bit more in the way of ability. But at the minute, the tired excuse and the injury issue saves him from the knee-jerk 'Get rid of him!' brigade.

I like Pav. He's comes across as a bit daft (maybe something is lost in translation) in interviews, but he plays with a smile on his face. You just get this impression he's only playing at around the 60% mark.

Arshavin is fairly fluent in English, but then he's also probably fluent in Spanish, German and Italian as right up to the end of the transfer window he probably wasn't that sure where his final destination would be.

So, I guess it's down to what Harry thinks and what he plans to do with Keane, Defoe, Bent and Roman when the season draws to a close and the summer months transfer merry-go-round kicks off again.

Surely Spurs can keep him behind an hour or so after training every day for a lesson in the fine art of speaking the Queens English? Just lock him in a room and stick a Only Fools and Horses VHS in the video player, and he'll be fine as dandy in a month.

Based on what you've seen and in comparison to our other forwards - and taking into account we have 4 players who strive to be first-team players - should he stay or should he go? In your opinion, has he shown us enough?

If anyone happens to bump into him in the Waltham Abbey Tescos - say hello. And compliment him on his choice of Louis Vuitton manbag........in English. If he shrugs and mutters something in Russian spank his bottom and state 'NO! Bad £14M forward who hasn't settled in England yet'. Give him a stern look and shake your head, before slowly walking away with a despondent swagger.

That ought to tell him.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Let's Relegate Newcastle United

Slow news day, so I'll take the opportunity to slate Alan Shearer. 7,500 people turn up to watch a training session which is nothing more than a carefully executed propaganda exercise (with less of the careful and dollops of the propaganda). The attendance was apparently quite low considering how folk in Newcastle don't have much else to do other than follow their football club and welcome the latest in a never-ending recruitment drive to find their true Messiah. Although it's best to point out that the Worlds Greatest Fans© are struggling to turn up for home matches this season with attendance figures falling. Which must surely be down to their teams performances on the pitch and all the unwanted boardroom politics off it. Which would make them 'fickle' and not 'passionate', not that the media or Sky Sports News know how to differentiate between the two. Unless of course the club is based in the south of England, and in particular, North London - where they are most definitely classed as fickle.

In the training session Shearer barked out instructions, which is a first as Dowie has apparently been coordinating things on the training pitch since their arrival at the club. More comically, he took part in a 5-a-side game and scored following it up with his textbook hand in the air trademark celebration. Rolling back the years there Alan. It's epically embarrassing stuff from the publicity-shy pundit. Not quite the same thing as Hoddle showing Beckham how to bend a free-kick, but still....transparent for all to see.

Dowie is the one with the experience in training and management (when you write these things down and read them back, it just seems to get worse and worse for them doesn't it?). Shearer is meant to be there as some form of inspiration. A testament to a brand new beginning. A figure head to galvanise the club. In reality it's a ploy to soften any potential disaster that might befall the club. If they go down, they will go down with a 'legend' at the helm. A legend who can't be held accountable thanks to the fact he only has 8 games to save them (1 down, 7 to go). He's going to 'walk away' from it at the end of the season, so either way its advantage Shearer. If they go down, he'll be thanked for his gallant effort. If they stay up, his ego and new founded managerial credentials will expand tenfold. From a personal perspective, it gives him an opportunity to experiment with management and see if he has anything in the way of ability for any future challenge. What better way to test the waters than with the gift of eight games from the struggling Toon fanboy die-hard Mike Ashley (who might or might not be a Tottenham fan).

Keegan left in the midst of controversy. Kinnear (wish him well) might only return in a non-management capacity. And as for Shearer? He'll be back on the Match of the Day sofa, faster than you can say 'relegated'.

He apparently asked the 'lads' where else would thousands turn up to watch their team train (apart from the fact some clubs get 20,000 or so for reserve and academy games)? This is apparently his way of illustrating the importance and passion Newcastle play in the hearts of the locals. I guess getting 45-50K for home matches isn't reason enough for players to try harder.

Sort of puts it into perspective when compared to our lot. Everytime a new man arrives at the Lane, he is also referred to as the new Messiah by the media. And pressure is always evident from the stands regarding style of football played. Which is why George Graham was never destined to be a favourite (along with rather more obvious reasons) and why Sam Allardyce lasted 5 minutes at Newcastle. There are some unnerving parallels between both clubs, although we have a habit of picking up silverware every decade. They just have a rather annoying habit of always beating us up at St James Park. Newcastle are there to make us feel better. For all the soap opera elements that Levy orchestrates, we are always out-done by our friends up North.

Thank you.

It seems like an age ago we did manage to beat them (2-1) in possibly the worst game of football ever up at their ground in the Carling Cup earlier this season. Sunday 19th April has the potential to be one of emotional dejection, if the barcodes win at the Lane. Because it would mean we have aided them in their fight for survival.

That is simply unacceptable.

So, welcome to the 'Let's Relegate Newcastle United' campaign. Stoke, Pompey, Liverpool, Boro, Fulham and Villa are the other esteemed members. The prime directive is simple: Defeat Newcastle and do not allow for sharing of points.

It's in our hands to wipe the smugness off the face of Alan Shearer and make Match of the Day a little more bearable for all next season (I've run into some legal problems relating to the 'We must deport Mark Lawerson' initiative. Will keep you posted on developments on that one).

Stoke up first. Thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

We're all going on a mid-table tour...

Seven games left. We are now deep into the business end of the season. Alas squeaky bum time is not part of our agenda. There is still however a possibility of a European push to add some extra spark to the fixture list, but looking at the games ahead and then looking back at the miserable start to the season and the various hiccups and mis-guided moments of alleged clarity (we're going down, we're going down) we've had along the way, it's safe to say...thank God we are safe. And we are safe. We are right? Of course we are. Couple more points here and there should see us finish top half. I'm looking forward to the nosebleed. As for Europe...it's akin to an injection of botox to a thirty-year old face. Completely unnecessary.

But still, plenty of potential shenanigans left in the season (West Ham at home, relegating Newcastle, City and Utd, Everton away....etc) so no need to throw your season ticket towards the directors box just yet. 630 minutes of Tottenham left to go.

Regardless of all this, it still won't stop some people from thinking about the summer months that lay ahead of us.

Which means having to brace yourselves for plenty of Lennon and Modric transfer stories, even though one has signed a contract extension and the other only signed for us last summer. And after the Berbatov and Keane epics, you'd hope our chairman doesn't allow for the usual gut-wrenching acceptance of departure of key players. Expect Liverpool to be linked to our little Aaron anyway. And Levy - JUST SAY NO. The Tottenham Foundation is rich enough from donations, thank you very much.

Also brace yourselves for all the ITK and club insiders, that will surely be crawling out of the woodwork soon to tell us about potentially someone being signed but it's only 87% done so might or might not happen yet. I said I'd ignore them so that I could avoid another shitstorm like the one that took place during the last window. Remember the jihad directed my way? Happy days.

What might or might not happen with David Bentley is something that will also take up plenty of tabloid space between now and the summer and through out June and July. Did Harry whisper the other day that we are not going to sell any of our star players? Guess that means David has already cleared out his locker and is hitch-hiking his way back up North. Personally, I don't think he should go but as I've discussed a few times already this season - where can he play if he can't play right-wing? Can't see Lennon being dropped any time soon. Unless his form dips or he gets injured. If David is having personal problems, then fair enough, let him be. Let him sort himself out. When you set yourself such a high standard, it can sometimes be a struggle to reach it consistently. Those star-jumps were ace, and we've not seen the likes of them since.

But this is something we can all revisit in a couple of months. For now, I'd much prefer to enjoy what we have left of the season and hope the players strive for improvement rather than have one eye on how they plan to spend the summer months. We need to remain competitive at all times. Even when we are mathematically safe. None of this oh so typical switching off lark we experienced ponderously after last years Cup final and all the way to the death of the season and into the beginning of this season.

Palacios will be suspended for Saturday, which is a great shame. But a test to the depth of the squad, as we fall back onto the past. Yes, it's flux capacitor time with Zokora and Jenas pairing up in the middle. If West Ham win this, then expect a week long party in Green Street. If we lose, then I can imagine a vast majority of Spurs fans burning their season tickets and claiming celibacy from football forever. Such is the magnitude of this encounter.

Naaaaa, just fucking with you. West Ham fans might see this as a game of importance as they aim to surge ahead of some truly God awful sides below them to stake a claim for 7th spot, in a season where being average is enough to claim a ticket to Europe. And I don't blame them. They've had plenty of their own turmoil and quietly, in the midst of everything happening down at the bottom and right at the top, Zola and Clarke have got them ticking over fairly well in the middle section of the table. They've done enough to get them into a position that might event warrant the words 'successful season'.

I just want us to dick 'em cause it's fun, innit? Also because I'm still haunted by that 4-1 Easter defeat several years back. Put me right off my Creme Eggs.

Apologies for the textbook 'Spurs fans don't care about lickle West Ham as much as they care about us but by stating this it must mean that I do care otherwise I wouldn't bang on about it' preview of the Easter weekend game. I guess it's all down to one particular fan who sends me never ending texts that are meant to pass for 'banter' but appear to be of a more stalkerish nature in tone. Early in the season I was told it was 'do or die' at Upton Park for the both of us. And to think they call Spurs fans drama queens. I'm now being told this return fixture is a Cup final for European qualification. Some Cup final when we've gone from being almost season long relegation fodder to within a whisker of European qualification.

Best league in the world, innit? While West Ham have been picking up points and improving steadily, we've spent most of it being shit and yet we're what...4 or 5 points adrift of them? Shame we didn't beat Rovers. That would actually have made Saturday a potentially hilarious and ironic turnaround to our season and a rather fitting illustration of just how gash everyone below 6th is.

So step up, Didier Zokora and JJ. Dominate and boss the midfield with urgency, composure and menace. Let's brush the claret and blue aside and reveal in the glory bestowed upon the winners of a ding-dong derby match!

Jesus Christ, we're fucking doomed.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Two players and a referee walk into a pub.......

"What do you both want to drink?" Asks the ref.
"I'll have a pint", says one of the players. "Make mine a rum", says the other.
The ref then sneezes a 'Dummy's Guide to understanding Java' out of his nose and Deirdre from Coronation Street wakes up from her dream explaining the fundamentals of dark matter in spoken Hebrew to the badger with the head like a golf ball. He laughs and the squirrels feast on the dead carcass of themselves from the future. North Korea then star-jumps with a knowing nod and remarks 'Καλά Χριστούγεννα'.

Confused? Was that joke a little on the random side? Inexplicable and surreal? I personally thought it made far more sense than some of the decisions I witnessed during Saturdays 2-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers.

In particular, the foul on Palacios.

No matter how many times I watch it, all I see is Aaron Mokoena shoulder-charging Wilson Palacios face. Even looks like he shapes up to hit him as he runs towards our midfield powerhouse. Surely a red card ref, no? The right honourable Mr Walton didn't see it as such, but no surprise there considering what he did and didn't see through-out the afternoon. Whether it was the penalty he gave to us, the one he didn't give to Rovers or the second yellow to Palacios.

Allardyce (if you happen to notice) subbed the defender almost immediately after Mokoena flattened Wilson. Hmm...I wonder why.

Nothing has been said about this since (from what I've seen). And not a lot was made of it at the time either. Wilson (eventually) got up and got on with it. No damage done. I can't remember Andy Gray having kittens about it either. Mountain out of a mole hill then? Maybe I'm being too protective of a player in Lilywhite.

Or perhaps it does not require a re-visit based on the fact that Wilson does not wear the colours of Man Utd/Liverpool/Chelsea/Arsenal thus deeming the incident a non-event and a simple case of over-exuberance and Wilson's face getting in the way of very legal player-to-player contact.

The irony of later on having to watch Palacios get red-carded for basically attempting to avoid physicality with Dunn (and avoid a certain card) and thus falling to the ground and still receiving a card is completely and utterly lost on me. With Johnson of Pompey sent off for running in one of the other Saturday games, it's like some kind of weird experiment in anti-football where refs are following directives set by David Lynch.

Respect the referee? Sure I will. But only after the backwards talking midget in the room with the red drapes tells me to.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Blackburn 2 Spurs 1 - How did we manage to lose this one then?

Up against the hoofing anti-football of Sam Allardyce, for the sake of all things beautiful, we had to win. Unfortunately, the ugly won.

King (4 games on the trot) and Bent started, unchanged side. Hail consistency! Wasn't a tidy game by any means when we were in possession, but we played in some clever balls, Modric involved as often as possible. Got ourselves into some tasty positions first half. But we remained comfortable. All the way through to the second half and up until the final 20 minutes. Where it all went wrong.

Should have had this wrapped up in the first half. 1-0 up from a Keane penalty. A controversial one at that. Although at a stretch you could argue Givet leaned forward and didn't try to move his arm away. At a stretch. In all honesty, it wasn't a clear cut penalty and the referee struggled with consistency through-out the game (not giving Rovers a pen earlier for a handball by Corluka) - so no surprise when he ignored his assistants lack of flag waving and gave it. Not that I complained much.

There was more hilarity when Keane didn't quite place the whole of the ball on the white pen mark, which is fine, if you look at how most players take corners nowadays - placing the ball right on the edge is legal. One nil half-time. Job half done.

If only.

Second half saw us create more chances, none taken - but nothing overly decisive in the way of a killer killer pass. Nothing anywhere near ruthless. Gomes didn't have anything to do for 65 minutes or so. But the longer it went on, that horrid mist of ominousness began to cloud my confidence that all three points were safe.

Wilson, already on a yellow, got a second and his marching orders for basically pulling out of a tackle. He did not swing his leg, he pulled away to avoid committing the foul. But the ref decided it warranted a yellow and off he went. And you just knew that at 1-0 up and down to 10 men that things would go from bad to worse. It's the curse of mentioning 'Europe' one to many times in the past couple of weeks. That mist was now engulfing all hopes of sitting in that 7th spot, for a couple of hours at the very least.

And so, it went to shit. Rovers, galvanized pushed forward. We switched off and got sloppy. Gomes saved well from Warnock. But then cometh the 82 min, Rovers made it 1-1, and then 2-1 in the 89th.

Shocking stuff. Messy defending. Far too easy for Rovers. Final whistle, Diouf does his detestable best to rub it in. No Match of the Day for me.

I'll keep my final analysis simple.

First half was all good, just no second killer goal. Woody and King great at the back. Bent playing well. Lennon quiet but just doing enough to keep things ticking. Palacios involved, Modric not quite magical but effective. Second half, Lennon quieter. Palacios unlucky. Bent's positioning evaporated like a fleas wet fart in the Sahara desert. Still no second goal. Bad ref decision (to make up for the one that gave us a 1-0 lead). Team structure gets messy. Blackburn only have to get the ball into the box for our defenders to lose concentration where its needed. The End.

Blackburn are shit. Diouf and Allardyce. They make little attempt to play football. They are shit. We were not sharp or bang on form. But still possessed enough quality on the ball to win comfortably. We just didn't really have the application to do so. Disappointing as it is, and ironic that we could have gone 7th - but in the grand scheme of things, its a learning curve and a reminder that we have to be a certain bite to our play whether its against Chelsea or Rovers. The ref didn't help matters, but at the best of times, they don't tend to.

41 points is safety territory. It will have to wait another week.

Mark this one down to a footballing hangover. Learn from it, stuff West Ham next week.

I'll leave you with this gem from Allardyce:

"Doesn't matter how you win as long as you win"

There you have it people. It's not about playing football on the ground, pinging it around to feet, flowing pushing forward with style. It's just about winning. Touch.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Back to Reality.......3 points at Blackburn please

I'm excited, are you excited? Premier League football is back and we don't have to wait as long as others thanks to Saturdays 12:45 kick-off. I'll be tucking into my breakfast around that time. Mug of tea in one hand and face stuffed with egg, bacon and toast. The good life. Andy Gray commentating would complete me.

I don't miss Blackburn away. Always found myself travelling up there by car, which as some of you may know is a hideously long journey. Especially for a 0-0. I'm a Sky Sports man tomorrow (it's part of the contract when selling your soul to the devil).

Palacios a main concern for the away trip, jet-lag being the likely reason if he's not present in the starting line-up. He played a part in Honduras 3-1 win over Mexico that saw the end of Sven. No team news just yet, so I can't confirm whether England International Darren Ashley Bent will be fit and available for selection.

Win this and any lingering concerns of relegation will be banished. I'll be shaking my booty in celebration. 41 points is safety territory. My hips don't lie. We can probably start to salivate at the possibility of a 7th spot finish. We've picked up points some cheeky points when not expected to do so. All I'm requesting from Harry and the players is to not lose any points where we are expected to pick them up. It's a test. One that needs passing.

Elsewhere, congratulations to Aaron Lennon for claiming the PFA player of the month award. Well deserved. Even if some of the lazy journalists who prioritise completing a match report in time for a deadline and base their analysis on generalisations and sound bites (rather than actually watching the game) don't quite rate his rate of improvement. At international level at least. I read one or two references to 'end-product' or lack of. Really? Sure, he has a habit of fizzing the ball when on occasions cutting back and playing it 'inside' would be preferable. But the boy done good against the Ukraine. When his team-mates decided to give him the ball. Criticism was best left for the ones who deserved it. Johnson and Cole come to mind.

Be afraid...be very afraid

Don't usually talk about other clubs, but everyone has an opinion on Newcastle United. Bit of a gutless move this by Shearer. An exercise in inflating ones ego. If Newcastle stay up, he'll be a hero and might well walk away from it (he's claiming he is there for 8 games only) as the inspired legend of the club saving them from the hellmouth of Championship football. If they do go down it wont be because of him. He'll have done his best and at least galvanised the crowd in the short term.

The Newcastle board should have appointed someone far earlier or Shearer should have stepped up after JK went into hospital. Or would that have meant far too many games for Shearer and the possibility of actually being responsible if his team were relegated?

Imagine Shearer on MotD next season having 'saved' Newcastle from the drop? The smugness will be unbearable. He'll be able to give us insight on other managers experiencing problems at their clubs, because 'he's been in the dressing room from the perspective of first team coach'.

That's why our priority this season should simply be this: Thrash Newcastle United at the Lane and save our Match of the Day as a consequence.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Magnificent Moddle: The little man on the left

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part VI

Magic Mullet

So here we are, at journeys end. Although it's more of a beginning than a conclusion as the Spurs midfield is bound to go through another change or two cometh the summer months and the usual giddy transfer shenanigans that we never seem to go without. No knee-jerking please Mr Levy.

From Part 1 through to Part V - I looked at the current set of central midfielders at the club and attempted to dissect the conundrum: Who should sit in the middle?

Palacios is the only 100% certainty. Jenas the current preferred choice alongside him. Which leaves Zokora, Huddlestone and O'Hara on the bench. Taarabt, on loan at Q.P.R., is a player who I would like to see ahead of all the three just mentioned in a creative capacity from next season.

So Palacios remains the anchor in midfield. The player tasked to do the dirty work, get the tackles in, protect the back four and allow other players the freedom of expression. He gives us some much needed breathing space and confidence in that other players don't have to worry too much if they happen to lose the ball in an offensive position as Wilson will be there to fix it. A defensive/holding midfielder is one that's been lacking for a while. Zokora simply doesn't excel in the acquired abilities needed to boss the midfield. Great athlete, limp footballing brain. Wilson does not have the passing range of a Carrick, but although both have similar responsibilities - both go about their business with completely different methods. In fact, they are nothing alike. But either system works. I will try to avoid going over old ground, so feel free to read up on the previous parts for a more detailed analysis on specific players and their attributes.

What has to be asked is who gets paired up with Wilson in central midfield? It's a simple answer to the final question of this series, but one with some minor complications. Here's why the conundrum isn't quite solved just yet:

We do not have an out-and-out left-winger.

We haven't had one for an age. Ironic that we've struggled to sign players for these two key positions (DM being the other) or simply got it wrong with the players we did sign. We've failed to find the right player for the left. And then we go out and buy a right player (David Bentley for £15M ) when we've already got Aaron Lennon - plain ridiculous - more so when Aaron retained his right-wing place and Bentley was slotted out on the left - which didn't help his already fragile confidence. Only Spurs, eh?

So with Wilson in the middle, with the players available, the best option (which Harry finds agreeable) is to have Jermaine Jenas partner him and play Luka Modric on the left.

I've not discussed Modric in detail yet during the course of this series. Best to leave the jewel of the crown till the end, and as we're at the end, here goes...

Modric, ideally, would prefer to play in the middle of the park with Palacios. It's a more natural position for him to be central. Add to the mix a defensive/offensive combination with Lennon out on the right and XXXXX (please God, not Downing) on the left and the balance would be unquestionable in comparison to some of the sides we've put out over the past couple of seasons. But as we do not have a left-winger, and we can't say for sure if we will be purchasing one (although if Boro go down, expect IT to happen) the logical option would be to have Modric out on the left-hand side. He is more than capable there.

What this does is change is the dynamic of the midfield in comparison to how it would work if Modric was in the middle of the park with Wilson - which is what most want to see. Having Jenas out on the left as an alternative? Hush. So the dynamics? Let me explain...

Palacios remains the anchor, but having Jenas in the middle gives us a player with an abundance of energy who can run box to box and defend and attack. It's almost a ying to a yang. One player inhales (Wilson) the other exhales (JJ). The role of Jenas is adaptable depending on the tempo of the game. In an ideal world its perfect, but we know that Jenas is erratic and lacks self-belief to turn potential to product. But for now - out of all the options we have for that position, its best to have JJ there.

The other options, you'd shrug at in a second.

Zokora in the middle with Palacios? That would be like having a litter-bug following a road-sweeper around.
Huddlestone? Wilson would need to clone himself to help compensate for Toms weaknesses.
O'Hara? Nope. Decent late sub for a couple of positions, but not an option alongside Wilson.

So, Jenas it is. Which means Modric - who isn't a natural left-winger - can (still) play on the left but with the twist of drifting in and dictating play. Jenas, adapting to the game at hand, will work with Palacios to make sure the midfield is protected and the opposition hassled while Modric drifts in and does what he does best. Play incisive balls, create and orchestrate. At times this requires JJ to be instinctive in his responsibility for the team. Allow me to place my fantasy-hat on my head. Now, take JJ out of the equation and imagine Essien alongside Palacios. Or Gerrard. Imagine the difference and impact this would have? Fantasy-hat off, the reality is somewhat rooted to the ground rather than floating up in the sky. JJ is neither one or the other but on form, he has enough about him to cover the ground and participate rather than be a passenger. He has a chance to really shine now, before the summer arrives and decisions are made. For now he is the best player we have who can support Wilson in the current midfield set-up.

What does this mean for the team, and in particular Luka? In essence, Palacios and Jenas are there to make sure Modric has the freedom to play football. It's a pretty simplistic viewpoint I know. A generalisation based on the fact that Luka is out on the left and has far too much talent to be stuck there - and the emphasis has to be to get the little Croatian involved as much as possible, on his terms. If the middle two do their job well, then it will snow rainbows. If it doesn't, expect a heavy downpour of misery. Which is why Jenas is perceived as the weak link. Stronger player, and we wouldn't worry so much,

If Jenas excels, maybe we won't look to change the system and purchase a left-winger. Maybe drifting in from the left will suit Luka in the long run. But its doubtful. The little man can handle himself just fine so sitting in the middle of the park and getting stuck in won't be too much of an issue for him. He took time to adjust to the English game, not helped by our woeful form and lack of structure. And he'll improve further in a consistent winning side (something Harry has began to flirt with in recent games). A base of operations is far more prominent from the centre than out on the wing. Although it's in no way a disadvantage. It's not quite a free-role in the purest sense of the term, but it's tricky for the opposition to mark a player who darts and dinks inwards.

Modric is showing glimpses of form that warms the cockles. A little bit of Ossie, a little bit of Hoddle. In truth its just a little bit of flair and creative output we love down at the Lane. It's an imperative ingredient for any team that displays comfort when unlocking the oppositions defence. Luka has a skeleton key.

Berbatov gave us that something special before he moved to pastures new to look after orphaned squirrels, and Keane can provide sparks - but we have needed a constant pipeline of passing for some time and in Luka we have that. Whether its down the middle or on the left-hand side - he can provide the magic.

Luka has vision, great touch, superb passing ability and can score the odd goal (not enough, but I expect him to hit the back of the net more often from next season). All the 'he's too weak for the Prem' nonsense was exactly that. He has fight in him. Might not look like he does, but he does.

Obviously the problem we might have is when Modric or Palacios or the both of them do not play. Which is why it's important that Adel Taarabt's development is made a priority. Harry called him a genius, and I'm holding out he was talking about football and not a reference to comedy. Zokora and O'Hara will have to do in any possible absence of Wilson from the starting line-up. Bostock is a couple of seasons away from the first team (at a guess).

So as things stand - Wilson and Luka are dead certs for the starting eleven. Jenas third in line. Three 'central' midfielders then. And Lennon guaranteed the freedom of the right-side of midfield (where this leaves Bentley, other than sitting on the bench, is up for debate).

The Fab Four. Modric Palacios Jenas Lennon.

Might seem unbalanced but its far from being so. It's not perfect, but it works. It works because the players play for each other. Everyone has a responsibility. It's a unit.

What happens next is dependent on who slaps in a transfer request in the summer and what we do to replace them? We have some useful kids in the academy and reserves. Do some of them get promoted early? Or do we look for more experienced players to come in to play back-up? We'd need to, if say Huddlestone and Zokora go. Jenas might walk if we draft in another central midfielder. And if that happens, then Luka and leftism will have to rule supreme.

Whatever Harry decides it has to be strategic, tactical. It has to either provide depth to the squad or improve the midfield. We have a tradition of just buying players without a thought-process behind what that player will do to the equilibrium of the side. Just to reiterate, the only two positions that should be considered for evaluation is where Modric and Jenas play.

Either both stay where they are and we sign squad players or we shift Modric into the middle and purchase ourselves a left-winger. Or we keep Luka on the left and buy us a more complete and established all-round central midfielder to partner Palacios.

So the conundrum has evolved a little, but remains with us. The question that now requires answering is simply.............Do we need a left-winger?

The Magnificent Seven - Part I

The Curious Case of Jermaine Jenas - Part II

The Incredible Huddlestone - Part III

Palacios answers the question: "Yes he can" - Part IV

The Lilywhites on the outside looking in - Part V

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The 'New White Hart Lane' - Looking good on paper

The club have released more progress updates on the re-development plans for the new stadium. So far there is little to be critical of. Yeah, yeah....you heard me right. I guess this is as close as a pat on the back (that's just a single pat of hand to back) I will get to giving our esteemed chairman. Please do not take this as a form of weakness from myself. I'll still be greeting him with a water balloon, as per usual every Monday morning as he drives into work. No reason in either of us getting slack.


There's perhaps one or two minor design quirks (what's with the wavy upper tier?) and no apparent news of whether the Cockerel on the ball will re-appear on the new east stand but all otherwise looks good (isn't this also a good time to think about a statue for Sir Bill Nicholson?).

The general re-generation potential for the local vicinity will also go down a storm. Upmarket Tottenham, eh?

Here's a quick look through some of the updates below:

  • 58,237 capacity - Wonderful. And with a possible 45k+ being made up of season ticket holders (meaning less of the corporate ilk), the new stadium will have no excuse to ever be on the quiet side.
  • Fans being kept together to retain the 'camaraderie which has built up over the years' - This is a simplistic master-stroke. One of the most important ingredients and vital to retain the current atmosphere WHL is capable of. Have to say, of all the things announced by the club, this one makes me smile the most. Evidence that the club actually listens to the fans.
  • Stadium 'bowl' tightened to maximise atmosphere (8.2m from the pitch) - Compared to Arsenal, City and Wembley we'll be far closer than the three of them to the pitch. Not as close as we are now, but close enough. Which is a nice touch.
  • Re-location of the away fans - Interesting this, as the away supporters will be moved from the South-West corner where they preside now to the North-East corner of the new stadium which means the new North stand (or new Paxton if you want) will be, in-effect, the new Park Lane - as long as they move the Park Lane residents to the new North stand. That would make the new South stand a family designated area (as having them sat next to the away fans would not make sense). You dig?
  • New public square on Tottenham High Road - Nice touch. Can imagine a sing-a-long or two occurring here.
  • New supermarket with parking - Guess the locals will like this one, and might even mean an improved pre-match diet for me personally.
  • Only concerns are the travel aspects where several 'hoped' improvements are subject to 'discussions'.

Check this for more info:

PDF Guide from Tottenhamhotspur.com

Or just visit the official site.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Supernova Darren Bent

There are many unexplained things in the universe. Many of which are beyond the realms of human understanding. We simply do not have the capacity, for example, to understand the concept of what existed before time itself. Not that time exists anyway, as it’s simply a measurement we use to govern the passage of existence from our own perspective. If there was a big bang, what existed (using the concept of time) a second before it happened? Or an hour before? Does one universe expand infinitely forever or does it eventually collapse in on itself and implode, then explode…creating a big bang and the birth of a new universe? Are we the first universe of its kind or are we the result of the millionth big bang? Was there ever a definitive beginning? If there was, then how can the nothingness that existed beforehand be defined?

These unanswered questions do not stop us from completing our mundane schedule of sleep, work, eat, relax, sleep, eat, procreate, sleep, work.....and so on. And by the time human life exhausts itself from existence, the universe probably won’t even know we existed in the first place. We are pretty insignificant - one planet in a universe of billions upon billions of galaxies.

It’s quite probable that there are other planets out there that have allowed for life to evolve. And their version of life may be incomprehensible in comparison to ours in about 1000 different ways - like the mixture of chemicals on their own planet, their conception of time and their rate of evolutionary progression. Billions and billions of planets. Billions of societies. Billions of lives being lived.

And yet out of all the billions in the universe, Planet Earth is the one that manages to birth Darren Ashley Bent. The one and same Bent replacing the injured Carlton Cole in the England squad for this Wednesdays World Cup qualifier against the Ukraine. A cosmic event equivalent to a rock the size of a penny disintegrating in the earth’s atmosphere.

There are probably a billion Darren Bents plotted around the vast expanding space above us (I'm basing that on the assumption that alien planets play competitive sports). Some might even possess an abundance more all-round ability to their game that just having a knack of being in the right place at the right time to witness a ball bounce of a shin and into the net.

But more than likely, they are not too dis-similar to the version we have on this planet.

A lucky star.

Darren - fingers crossed for Wednesday. I hope you come off the bench and score with your bum.

Bent - a-ah - saviour of the universe
Bent - a-ah - he'll save everyone of us
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Bent - a-ah - he's a miracle
Bent - a-ah - king of the impossible

Monday, 30 March 2009

Lost in translation: Upson wants to be King?

Ledley gets selected for England. Harry has a fit. Fabio explains he wanted to see King for himself within the England set-up. King arrives. King leaves. Harry has another twitch aimed towards Fabio, who cites the Hutton injury issues to call Harry a hypocrite. Words still exchanged via exaggerated tabloid articles, including the possiblity of King perhaps being selected for England in the future. In what type of capacity, who knows.

It then all went quiet for about 20 seconds, and Matthew Upson decided that his opinion on the subject was so important, he shared it with us. Not Rio. Or Terry. But Upson. Here's the quote:

“The Ledley King situation is difficult as he is a fantastic player and everybody sees his performances. It is amazing how he can perform at that level without training.

But when you come here with England, there is a big emphasis on the training. We turn up on Monday and the training is intense, full-on. You have to recover in the afternoons because we do that all week. It would be difficult to excuse a player from training and then play him in the team. That would not fit in with the culture of the squad"

Hilarious. What culture of the squad is Upson refering to exactly? The one that sees us losing penalty shoot-outs or the one that sees players who shine for their club but fail to do so for their country when it really matters? King can handle himself just fine, whether it's rolling out of Faces nightclub or sticking Drogba in his pocket for 90 minutes - he can out perform most even if his knee is held together by blue-tac. Whether he trains or not is neither here or there. Except that it probably does mean playing for England is a broken dream. Yet, Upson still felt the need to railroad our Ledley via the red tops. Such is the concern of the young lad that he'll fall even further behind in the pecking order.

Culture of the squad, it appears, is to look after ones own agenda.

Jamie, Adel and John: The Lilywhites on the outside looking in

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part V

The Outsiders

Palacios. Modric. Jenas. Zokora. Huddlestone. Taarabt. O’Hara. Seven players. One massive conundrum. At least, that’s how it all started out back in Part I of this series. I’ve not touched on the worth of Adel and Jamie just yet (will do in a sec), but arguably thus far, only Palacios and Modric….and at a push (one that has Spurs fans split) Jenas are forming the basis of the new-look Spurs midfield. More on this in Part VI (the concluding article). Decided to extend this series by one rather than fit it all in this blog entry.

So for now, the backups.

Jamie O’Hara. Adel Taarabt. And John Bostock (which makes it eight in total, but whoever heard of the Magnificent Eight?). All three players sit in very different categories with regards to first team selection.

O’Hara is a first team player, if not a first choice player.

Bostock is a youth player and looks a real talent, but won’t arrive in the first team for another season or two. Depends on how his development progresses and whether Harry opts for yoof in the Carling Cup games next season. Reality is - he's not a backup player to the first team. Not yet. But One for the Future©.

Taarabt is an enigma. In the sense that some rate him others don’t. Clever feet, clever brain, not so clever decision making – but that’s not a negative. It's a learning curve. Going on loan to Q.P.R. is the best thing for him at the moment. Starting games is vital, and that’s something that was not happening for him at Spurs. It’s one thing show-boating in the reserves, another performing in the Championship. A competitive hard-working league is the best place for him to adapt his silky skills into a more realistic environment, so his understanding of when the basics are more important than the flicks gets programmed into his creative head.

Time for a closer look at the thrilling threesome...

O’Hara, an ex-Arsenal youth player, but one who would wear a Lilywhite shirt under the red and white of the South London club when playing for their youth team before making the short journey across their swamps to the bright lights of White Hart Lane. There is absolutely no doubting Jamie’s passion for the club. He’s a fan. If I was Premiership class (I'd play behind the front-two in a free-role creative play-making capacity...obviously) and you stuck me in the Spurs team, you’d love my intensity and spirit and commitment. I’d give it 110% and some. Jamie has that level of urgency in his play. What he doesn’t have is the polished all-round abilities to match his heart, that would surely make him a first-choice regular.

"Did ya just pinch me bum?"

If you take a look at successful sides, most of the players never supported or support the team they are representing. It’s not a necessity. It would be nice to have that (love for the club) in every single one of our players – if we did, we’d have accumulated more than 2 points from the opening 8 games. But players should have instilled in them the right amount of graft as a given. They are professionals on a ton of money, they should never get anything less than 100%.

Fantasty football, yeah?

Jamie would probably give 110% no matter the club he played for because that’s him. He gets himself about a bit on the pitch, flying tackles and the like. He’s high tempo. But is he high class? Nope. We love him because....well, because he loves Spurs. But he’ll only ever be a decent squad player – a backup. Someone to come on in the final 20 minutes or perhaps start a Cup match to lower league opposition. I’m not sure he’ll progress any further. Hope I’m wrong. So I’m not stating anything amazingly insightful here. Possessing intensity, spirit and commitment is great, but doesn't account for much if you don't excel in other areas of your game.

Taarabt is Marmite. You love him or ....you know, but why anyone would hate him is beyond me. Have we become so impatient? Isn't Adel the quintessential Tottenham player? Ok, so he plays like a flash thirteen year old in a playground, ball stuck to his feet, trying to dribble it past everyone twice. If Adel was around when we sat up in 4th spot in that giddy season, he’d have made an impact. Much like he did against Utd earlier this season when Modric oh so nearly scored. It was Adel who started the move with those clever little feet.

'Potentially' World class....right?

But in other cameos he has frustrated the home support or just made us laugh out loud with his audacity and his naivety. But he doesn’t lack ability. Or self-belief. He has it in abundance. Storming performance for Morocco a month or so back on his debut. And not too shabby for Q.P.R. so far. He’s also stated he wants to return to Spurs and fight for a place. It’s difficult to know whether he will always just be the flash kid in the playground, a combination of Timothee Atouba (you’re perpetually worried he’s about to lose the ball) and Zidane (he thinks, we wish).

Next season, when back at Spurs, Harry should have him on the bench and start him when it’s safe to do so. He has to play games in the Prem for his raw potential to be tested, which means he should train with the first team squad and our coaches make sure that he matures and improves his decision making and composure. Shining at QPR will do him no harm at all.

The problem I have is that at other clubs, you see players touted as potentially world-class and they make their first team debuts early and shine and continue to do so - and prove they are on the road to possible greatness. We have had so many false dawns with much hyped players. And some are always stuck in limbo, never quite making it beyond the bench. If he is good enough, he should play. At the moment he isn't because of one or two immature traits. Iron them out, and we might just have a brilliant player on our hands. One that can change the game with a blink of an eye and a dink of the foot.

As for Bostock. It’s too early to make any assumptions – and to be honest, I’ve not seen enough of him. What I have seen, he’s been impressive and his UEFA Cup appearance (at the age of 16 years 295 days, the youngest ever Spurs player) this season showed that he was worth the battle with Palace to claim his signature. He's composed, refined and confident. An England U-17 captain and definitely not a player who will disappear into obscurity. He looks the part. Absolutely no need to rush him. Or is there?

To break into the first team at the age of 16/17 you have to be something extraordinary. Arsenal (Cesc) and Everton (Rooney) both stuck their young prodigy's into first team football early. For all the hype, we never do. Arguably you could state that Fabregas wasn't rushed. He was ready for it, such is the ability of the spitting Spaniard.

Show us your dance moves

Again, responsibility falls to Spurs, but in the academy and in Alex Inglethorpe – I have faith. Our youngsters have claimed a few tournament successes over the past year and have fared very well in the ones they haven’t won. We do - hype aside - have proven quality at this level. Yes, I know, that doesn't mean they will all make the grade. But we've been pretty starved of academy promotions in recent years (I know Bostock came from Palace, but you get where I'm coming from - remember Owen Price and Michael Malcolm?).

Like most kids, once they start to make reserve appearances and knock on the first team door – you can only hope Spurs are in a decent position in the league and strong enough to allow for the young one to make comfortable appearances in the Prem. Asking a young player to perform in a struggling side can be soul destroying (Bale, Gio). A blossoming team is safer ground for promotion. Which is why Bostock hasn't played a bigger part this season.


O’Hara – Decent squad player, but not of a standard that would have Palacios sweating any time soon.
Taarabt – Young, ambitious, talented – but still naive and made up of raw potential. Has to play a part next season ‘at’ Spurs, off the bench and in the CC games.
Bostock – Ask again in one year, but we might see more of him in CC games next season (possibly along with Dean Parratt) – but still a few seasons off from first team football.

I know I’ve spoken about Huddlestone already back in Part III, but he deserves to be mentioned again. Last week he tapped himself up by suggesting he might need to look elsewhere for first team football. Newcastle were linked with him over the weekend in the tabloids (although why anyone would want to go there...) although that’s probably just a journo making stuff up just to fill the page.

Hudd performed well for the U-21’s – he usually does. He controlled the midfield in his usual nonchalant manner, which does get mistaken for looking a little on the lazy side. He played the ball well offensively and got stuck in defensively, winning a few tackles. And he scored and got to wear the captain’s armband for the second half. A confident all round performance then:

Huddlestone, and his accurate precise passing range, saviour of young England.

So why do we not rate him again? Oh yeah. He’s too slow.

Unless the entire midfield is built around him, and aids in compensating his lack of mobility – then maybe a transfer away is the only conclusion to this Tottenham midfield question. He has the technical ability but it’s not enough, and his weakness are too apparent for him to stand all on his own. Works in the U-21s. Might even work if he played his football abroad. But not over here where football is 1000mph. He needs protection.

So can he stand up and be a man? That's down to him. Not sure you can quite learn that on a training pitch.

Tom is a superb passer of the ball can hit a sweet volley. But whether it’s the lack of that much maligned mobility (of if you prefer to criticise him as being too casual with no fire in his belly and killer instinct) it’s apparent that he is lopsided when counting his positives and negatives. If you can’t move you get side-stepped. If you get side-stepped you become nothing more than a passenger. Compare him to other players of his ilk who start Prem games and you get to see the gulf in difference.

Personally, I don’t think Hudd is ‘too casual’. It's just a fallacy. He has an unflappable quality about him. Hoddle was always cited as being too casual, but what a player – not just with his passing or getting the tackles in (which he did more than people give him credit for) but his effort/application was unquestionable. That’s the crux of it with Tom. And it's why the question about 'standing up' to it is still left unanswered.

Whether you are casual or 110% in the way you play – you can get the same job done as long and the application is there. Is Huddlestone showing enough that suggests his effort can improve? It’s also a fallacy to suggest his build stops him from achieving acceptable lateral movement to keep him competitive in games. He shed a load of weight, he got himself into great shape. So unless he requires specific training for mobility – I can’t see what else he can do about it. If you don’t have the application, you’ll stagnate.

It's quite possible the problem is not in his gut, but in his head.

Huddlestone is at that cross-roads. I want him to be a success, but he’s nothing more than backup at the moment. And that might well result in him being someone else's conundrum next season.

In the concluding Part (VI) of this series - the (not so) Magnificent Seven become the Fabulous Four, led by a certain magical Croatian...

The Magnificent Seven - Part I

The Curious Case of Jermaine Jenas - Part II

The Incredible Huddlestone - Part III

Palacios answers the question: "Yes he can" - Part IV

Friday, 27 March 2009

Things to get you through a weekend without Tottenham

Does the International break bore you?

England are playing this weekend. Am I the only person who finds it all a bit of a bore when there are no Tottenham games to go to or watch on TV? Don't get me wrong, I'm as patriotic as the next fan...but only for qualifying games and tournaments (when we actually manage to get there).

Friendlies never get my juices flowing. If I can't shout, scream and generally have my emotions soar, dip and ripped apart then it's not really football. Something needs to be at risk. And I don't find pride is when its just a warm-up match. Even if it's in preparation for an important game (next Wednesday) against the Ukraine. Saturday's (against Slovakia) still a friendly. A glorified training session.

Yes I know, Aaron Lennon might play, and if he does well he might (just might) make an appearance next week. Although if you take a quick look at the Beckham feature article on the BBC site you'll note that he has every chance (Becks that is) of playing as Walcott and SWP are not in the squad.

Cough? Forgotten someone perhaps?

And with the debate about whether King should have or should not have been called up by Fabio dragging on and on (you honestly think 'arry isn't going to talk about it some more?), I can't help but look ahead to our next Prem game against Blackburn. Proper bread and butter football.

I don't have Setanta at home and the local pub that shows live games is usually full of West Ham fans who will no doubt be out in numbers carrying around replicas of the Jules Rimet and banging on about '66 and celebrating in the streets that they invented modern day football.

I'd rather avoid it all tbh. But will definitely make the effort for the Ukraine game. For sure.

So to get me through Saturday, I've devised a list of potential activities to help me avoid the overwhelming boredom that would otherwise consume me. Feel free to suggest your own.

1) Work out the points accumulated in the opening eight games under Ramos and then calculate the points accumulated by Harry Redknapp from the time of his appointment till the present day and based on Harry's points to games ratio, work out where we would be had he been manager at the start of the season. Then device a What If Premier League table that will have us within touching distance of a Champions League place and then work out whether we can claim 4th spot based on our remaining fixtures and who we would need to buy in the summer to help consolidate the challenge domestically and in Europe. Then post all my findings and analysis on a Tottenham message board and watch it grow to 100 pages in a day with around 3000 replies. Just for kicks.

2) Throw eggs at the home of the person who wears the current Chirpy mascot outfit at home games. WE DON'T LIKE YOU. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? I want the original Chirpy back. The one that doesn't look he's possessed by a demon with a smug Adam Sandler complex.

3) Watch my Sky+ recording of the Arsenal v Spurs 4-4, replaying the final 10 minutes several times to catch the various reactions of the Spurs players and the fans - specifically at the point before and after Lennon equalizes. Then using my TV capture card, create a montage video of the glorious evening with Tina Turners 'Simply the Best' as the soundtrack. Then upload to Facebook and Youtube and then update Twitter every 5 minutes, linking to the video, and posting inane hilarity about how busy the London Underground was this morning and what I had for lunch.

4) Begin legal proceedings to sue West Ham United. The other day I had what I can only assume was a very dodgy lasagna which blatantly gave me the runs and a chronic gut. This resulted in a Vietnamesque flashback in a packed shopping centre - ala Sgt. Elias - falling to my knees, hands aloft, screaming in agony at the returning realisation of how close we came to a dream qualification into the elite of European football. A dream destroyed by a Benayoun top corner finish.

As nobody was ever charged or held accountable for poisoning the Spurs team, and as West Ham were the opposition that day and inflicted the defeat on a side ravaged by ill health, they remain the only ones responsible for my emotional upheaval that resurfaced in such an undignified and public way.

I'm after a reasonable pay-out. Equivalent to what Spurs lost in Champions League revenue. That should cover the trauma and rehabilitation.

5) Walk up to random strangers and state '2 points, 8 games'. The message must be spread to the non-believers.

6) Go round my parents for lunch and refuse to sit down on the sofa. If my dad manages to talk me into sitting down because I'm making everyone feel uncomfortable, I will do so. Then wait until he walks away, then stand up and burst into song: 'Stand up if you love mums cooking, stand up......'.

7) Travel up to Manchester, sneak into Dimitar Berbatov's back garden and then use my state-of-the-art tranquilizer gun to shoot all the squirrels in the vicinity. Who you gonna feed now, Berba? Hey? Who you gonna feed now?

8) Watch my Sky+ recording of the Spurs v Chelsea 1-0. Then using my TV capture card, create a montage video of Modric and his performance, to the music of 'Diamond Lights'. In addition, morph highlights of Moddle into highlights of Hoddle, subtly suggesting that Modric is the new King of the Lane. Then upload to Facebook and Youtube and then update Twitter every 5 minutes to make sure people are fully aware that I'm 'online', either sat in front of a pc or texting updates via my mobile phone.

9) Search through all Bit Torrent sites and Newsgroups for a soft copy version of the Tottenham Hotspur Opus. Come on! Surely someone must have scanned this and uploaded it to the internet? You can find practically anything on-line. Whether it's DC or Marvel comics, books, novels, screenplays, about a million PDF's and random user-guides, every piece of software, music, pornography and movie you can possibly imagine......but no bleeding Opus? Further proof that nobody has actually bought a copy, because if let's say 10 people purchased one, at least one of them would have shared this with the www. It's 2009 ffs. People don't even bother buying Playboy anymore, they just wait for some else to scan and upload it. So I'm told.

10) Stand near the living room window, and pretend I've got Setanta by booing every few minutes. People walking past will assume Ashley Cole is playing shit. And this will bring much joy to the world.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Palacios answers the question: 'Yes he can'

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part IV

The Panther Strikes

When Spurs signed Wilson Palacios, some people scoffed at the transfer fee. There’s no doubt it’s extortionate considering he spent time on loan in Birmingham’s reserve team having been bought for a million or so by Wigan and then sold for £12M - £14M not long after. But when we spend on average £12M - £16M on must-have players that turn out to be fluff from a belly-button rather than a tail from a scorpion, when a player does have sting, you don’t much care about the cost involved.

Fingers still pointed towards us with the suggestion that Wilson is yet another in-form player Spurs have signed on a knee-jerk reaction. Then he dominated Arsenals midfield in the NLD and any doubters shut their mouths and moved back into the shadows.

Wilson Palacios is nothing like Michael Carrick or Didier Zokora or Jermaine Jenas. There’s a bit of Davids in there with regards to intensity. There’s a bit of a lot of what’s been missing from our midfield.

He grafts, he gets the tackles in and hassles and bullies the opposition giving them little time to stick their foot on the ball and dictate play. He also knows when and where to commit fouls. Naughty but necessary at times when our backs are up against it. What type of midfielder is he? Why is it so important to tag him with a label? He’s a panther not a pussycat. That’s all that should matter.

Too many times we are left wanting in the centre of the park. Jenas is maligned because he runs forward with the ball and loses it and suddenly we are under pressure at the other end of the park. But it’s usually because the opposition stroll down the middle with impunity. Having Palacios – a player of his ilk – anchored in the area between defence and attack, waiting to pounce, gives balance and structure to the side. Which breeds confidence. Never happened with Zokora in the middle because he isn’t of the same assured standard. As discussed in Part I, Didier lacks discipline and a footballing brain. Wilson marshals his area which allows the likes of Modric to express himself creatively in the full knowledge that if the ball is lost, they still have to get through Wilson.

His best performance for us thus far was against Arsenal and also arguably against Chelsea's might (Ballack, Essien, Lampard). His distribution is not perfect by a long-shot. But his reliability is. And he’ll get better as the team improves. It’s simplicity really. He knows what his responsibility is and he does exactly what he has to do. Modric isn’t the only one to blossom. Jenas also looks better for it. There is absolutely no doubt that the money spent on him was worth it. We’ve actually signed a player that we required to help remove the deficiencies of the side.

As mentioned, he is not a Carrick type of player. But times have changed and our creative outlet comes from Luka and at the moment that’s from the left-hand side which means Jenas role is one of ambiguity as he can support Wilson in midfield and also make the most of his box-to-box traits by supporting both Luka and the forwards. For the first time this season, there is actual fluidity through the team as you’ll see Robbie Keane drop deep if need be to support the midfield and link-up play.

Players playing for each other. Its still early days still. And it's obvious the evolution has only just began. We've stuck our heads out from beneath the water and crawled out of the ocean and onto the beach.

Palacios in the middle and Lennon on the right are the only certainties (IMO), which means the midfield is yet to be set in stone. Modric, out on the left, might find himself central alongside Wilson – with a new left-winger (Downing?) taking over on the wing. Personally I’d stay clear of Downing. He’s a decent enough player but faith has to be placed on Gareth Bale who I think might have a future on the left side of midfield. It’s a risk, but no bigger than signing Stewart Downing. We’ve been burnt by the Bentley signing, and just don’t see how the Boro boy is worth the same amount of money, considering Bentley is only worth half of the price tag we paid for him (and he still hasn’t repaid a quarter of it out on the pitch).

Bentley can’t beat a man, neither can Downing. Their strengths are in their ability to cross a ball, and land it on the foot or head of a forward. But Downing is not that good (he's not right?) to warrant a massive fee and the usual dollop of over-whelming pressure that goes hand-in-hand with signing for Spurs. Bentley’s problems are more in his head than his feet at the moment, and although some would like to see him sold on, he should be given the chance next season to prove his worth. £16M for a bench-warmer (if that's as good as it gets for him) is oh so typical of us, and if that ends up being the case, then we may as well sell him. If he rediscovers his form then we have a player who can cross the ball. The problem is, if Lennon is fit, David won’t get near the team. But this is altogether another discussion for another article.

If Modric stays slotted into the left-hand side with the freedom to drift in-wards, then that means a possible target in the summer will be another brand spanking new central midfielder. If Modric and Lennon are the creative sparks then signing another imposing DM might be the answer. Again, I say ‘DM’ in the broadest sense. There are players who can tackle and play-make. Having someone alongside Wilson who is as strong mentally and physically, but with the added bonus of possessing a decent passing range, then we’ll be laughing.

Or maybe a Carrickesque type player who can provide defensive support, but also Hoddlesque passes. Palacios and Carrick, hmm. Try it out in FM2009 and let me know how it works out. I guess this would be a good time to mention the name of Huddlestone again. Shame oh shame the mobility is lacking for Tom.

So am I asking for the moon on a stick with regards to having two big, strong central midfield players bossing the centre-mid? Yes. Yes I am. Two brick walls are better than one. By having a midfield that's hard to break down and one that can own that part of the pitch is the basis for dominating matches.

That will mean that Zokora, Huddlestone and O’Hara will be nervously waiting on whether they have a future or not. Adel and Bostock are both potentially future first-teamers – so it’s obvious that another signing would open the exit door for two players at the very least.

In Part V I’ll look at the young pretenders to the midfield conundrum and a concluding analysis on who should play where and who needs to go.

What is certain is that Wilson Palacios is one of the pieces of the jigsaw. The piece right in the middle.

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part I

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part II

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part III

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ledley crowned King of England.....long live the King?

Tuesday afternoon round-up of the past weeks highlights.

Spiffing weekend with the win against Chelsea. Feet firmly back on the ground, right? I say that because even I got a little giddy with our victory. It amuses me that the tables have turned a little in our advantage. The little club from West London, with history you can trace back a couple of years, don't much fancy playing us. Suddenly we are flirting with the possibility of Europe, which appears to be winking in our direction and playfully lifting her skirt up, teasing us with her continental cheek. This has got some Spurs fans trembling at the knees with excitement. And this is the exact reason why other fans hate us. Far too emotional for our own good. A month or so back, relegation was still a word people shared in worried conversations, scared to ask where the next three points might come from. A week in football is a long time blah blah blah.

It's great that the players have finally settled and we are playing with confidence. And it's equally great that such is the non-event in the way of difference between a team just above the bottom three and one just below 7th spot in the table, that we can go from relegation fodder to potential Europa glory in the space of two games. No point on dwelling on what could have been had we picked up more points in the opening eight games (refer to Harry Redknapp for further analysis on this). I'm happy with anything above 10th. And if we did qualify for the soon to be revised version of the UEFA Cup, I don't believe it would be a distraction to getting it right in the Prem (which should be the overwhelming priority next season). Sure, we can kiss goodbye again to Saturday 3pm kick-offs, but considering how weak the opposition teams appear to be in the early rounds of the competition, we could use it to blood some youth players and reserves. Never say no to Europe. Time they gave the competition an extra twist. Winners qualify for the Champions League. Considering there are more runners-up and 3rd, 4th placed teams than actual champions, I don't see what harm it would. Apart from making the rich richer.

Still unbeaten against the Sky Sports Top 4 this season in the Prem. Only defeats (overall) coming in both Cups against Man Utd. Villa (who spent some time in 4th place) also beat us at the Lane. Strange old season. All that's left is for Robbie Keane to score a last minute winner in front of the Kop on the final day of the season, handing Man Utd the title. Can he play in that game? Someone mentioned how the FA will not allow it due to 'conflicting interest' (being the fact that he can pick up a winners medal due to appearance made for Liverpool, if the Reds win the league). Cant believe he would be interested in doing so considering his experience up there.

Aaron Lennon has signed an extension. I touched on this briefly in the match review for the Chelsea game. The fact he has signed on for a further two years and has stated he is happy at the club means exactly that, and there is no conceivable way for him to leave the club this summer, regardless of any possible £20M bids from Rafa or anyone else. From a business sense, it's obvious that the extension means if the player is sold then we can get more money for him. From a football perspective, he has extended his contract which means he does not want to leave the club. Which means that the club must laugh in the direction of anyone who comes knocking. There is no Robbie Keane or Michael Carrick reasoning on Aaron being sold this summer or the next. Memo to Levy. The door isn't just closed. It's double locked.

Same applies with Modric.

Congrats also to Aaron on his England call-up. Well deserved. Sparkling form, the type that makes him undroppable for Spurs. The more he develops the more unplayable he'll be for the opposition. Good news for us. Good news for the 3 Lions.

Talking of business sense, we've announced record figures for the six months ending on the 31st December 2008 (so that doesn't include the outgoings in the Jan transfer window). Levy via the official site:

"In a period of global economic recession this is a considerable achievement and we acknowledge that both the strength of our business and the fantastic loyalty shown by our supporters have helped ensure that these results have not been materially affected. We have benefited from having a robust business that is well financed and has continued to be able to support investment in the first team."

Yes, all very good. Well done. But this doesn't exactly turn me on. It's grand that in these days of debt-ridden football clubs we are in very healthy nick. We'd be even richer if we didn't spunk our money on players with inflated transfer values. So arguably, as strong as we are off it, we haven't been equally strong on it. But that has more to do with the people employed by Levy than it has to do with him directly, although he is still responsible. I'm not attempting to dig for the sake of it, but considering how much the club charges for tickets, it's no bleeding surprise we're so strong financially. We have a loyal fan base and regardless of the recession the country is going through, we don't appear to be turning our backs on the club as fans. So as long as the new stadium plans push ahead and we double our capacity, we'll be even richer. Which means even more money to spend (waste) on players we don't need. I guess my point is, when you are running a club like Spurs there is no excuse for running it into the ground.

What Scholar did was criminal, and what happened at Leeds, laughable. My criticism of Levy has always been the way he appears to confuse business decisions with ones of a footballing nature. Decent figures for sure, that won't look as bright when you subtract the transfer deals and the money spent on other ventures that will benefit the club in the long run (i.e the training ground facility). Merchandising is also down (I guess the irony in buying a Spurs mug is too much for some in the current climate) leaving Sky TV revenue and season ticket sales the only constant any club can rely on.

Consistenty ON the pitch is now required, so all the smart accountancy can support the only real progression fans care about.

Nice to see Adel and Gio doing well at their respective clubs (on loan) in the Championship. Adel, notching a winning goal for QPR over the weekend, is getting rave reviews for his quick feet and clever play. Has to be part of our squad for next season. Gio is also a player that the club should hold onto. If anything because getting rid of him before he has had the chance to prove himself at Spurs in the Prem is harsh. But when you compare Adel's comments about wanting to return to Spurs to prove himself to Gio's who is far more ambiguous in where his future lies - you wonder if a decision has already been made on the latters future.

Hutton is on the way back. Looked good in his warm-up, which took place outside a pub with his dad.

King for England? Harry is furious. I can understand why. On paper you'd have to be concerned as a Spurs fan if King plays a part for England on the pitch. It would probably mean he can't play for Spurs the following week. Not sure what Capello wants out of this. If he took King to a major tournament, would he be there to cover? And if he did, it would still be a case of waiting for his knee to lose the swelling. Maybe I'm biased, but why Woodgate isn't in the squad as an alternative to Terry and Ferdinand is a complete mystery to me. As for King, if it wasn't for his dodgy knee he'd be number one choice. Brilliant player who deserves an international career, but will never have one of any real substance. Personally, I think having him part of the England squad is nice recognition to what he has achieved as a player who has 'retired' from full training. But if there is a chance he will play, Ledders will have to consider the risks. Spurs has to be his priority. Being his bread and butter. Which is probably the reason Harry is a little pissed off.

But alas, it's over before it's began and King is back at Spurs to continue his 'individual training programme'. So he won't be taking part in the friendly on Saturday. And will probably never be called up again. What England's medical staff and Fabio thought they could do with the lad is anyones guess considering how well known his problems with fitness are.

England can live without him. We can't.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Caption Competition: Spurs v Chelsea

"Hey Didier, thought you should know, the game ended 10 minutes ago"

Spurs 1 Chelsea 0 - It’s so quiet, it’s so quiet, it’s so quiet....over there

When I heard the game was delayed because of a suspect vehicle in the Park Lane, I thought maybe Harry had parked a bus. Typical that our first 3pm Saturday kick-off since forever didn’t take place till 3:30pm. But who cares anyway? Sun was shining. And the delay allowed me to tuck into a cheeky burger pre-match.

Excellent performance. I don’t care that Chelsea were sloppy at times. We competed and created and deserved the points. What we have at Spurs is a team. One that works hard and one that has players in the right positions with a complete understanding of what their responsibilities are, individually and as part of a unit. It’s taken some time to get here, and there is no doubt it can improve further. Just makes a mockery of some of the concerns we had in recent months. Confidence breeds more confidence which leads to self-belief and good form. Form that reflects the quality we do possess rather than a shadow of it which saw as falter so pathetically early in the season.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a team of square pegs slotted into square holes. Rejoice at the simplicity.

And it’s no surprise that it's coincided with the arrival of Wilson Palacios. Lost to Bolton on his debut, but since then we’ve remained unbeaten. Sure, his distribution wasn’t great today and it’s definitely an area that requires improvement, but Wilson’s work ethic is quite simply outstanding. His positional sense and strength in shielding the ball allows other players to go about their business knowing that the Panther is primed for attack if any of our forward play breaks down. Modric is the obvious benefactor of our new midfield enforcer.

And as for Luka, yet again we find ourselves with a brilliant player, one that’s imperative to any sustained progress we plan to make from now into the start of next season. Juventus and his agent can go take a running jump.

First half saw us have a couple of chances, both from Robbie Keane, both efforts well saved by Cech. Chelsea’s efforts equally dealt with at the other end. It's plain to see this is not the unstoppable, unbeatable Chelsea crafted by Jose. It’s a great feeling to know at half-time that there’s every chance we can beat them. One league win in thirty-eight games (that’s nineteen miserable years) and it’s Chelsea who don't quite look to have the better of Tottenham.

Second half, with Chelsea knowing about Utd’s loss away to Fulham, most would have expected a storming start from them. One with intent and purpose.

Instead, Bosingwa decides to play his way out of the penalty area rather than allow the ball to go out for a goal-kick. Messy passage of play sees it cleared, but only as far as Woodgate's head. Seems Football First and MotD both over-looked the (under-stated) header to Lennon, who dinked and crossed superbly for Modric to strike a cracking ball beyond the reach of Cech into the corner. Great play from Woody. Great play from Aaron. Great play from Luka.

His performance deserved that moment. Could have added a second when Lennon again crossed for again for him, this time Luka hitting the shot into the ground allowing Cech to collect with ease.

As expected, Chelsea far more forceful in possession after going 1-0 down and there was a moment when I almost conceded that we would need a second goal to win this because surely Chelsea would equalize. Almost did too. Staggering Gomes saved from John Terry. Match-winning stuff from the Brazilian. Then we countered, breaking with Lennon released out on the wing, only to then see him balloon the ball into the crowd. Had he zipped in a composed cross Bent or Jenas would have it 2-0. Heart still in mouth.

Chelsea continued their pressure in the 4 minutes of injury time. Plenty of nervous incident.

Anelka effort saved Lampard corner, Alex heads it into the ground, oh no no no, off the bar, phew, Gomes flicks it away Ball out of play,
Keane tells the fans to hold onto the ball
Malouda effort,
another corner, Ballack turns and shoots, blocked off the line

Final whistle.

Still unbeaten against the ‘Top 4’. Our defensive record this season remains impressive (compared to last season’s antics). Unbeaten in six games. Three points from a European place. Nine points from the bottom three. Highest league position since August 2007, which is actually depressing coming off two successive 5th spot places, but it wouldn’t be Tottenham if there wasn’t a transitional period slotted in every couple of years. And just in case you’ve forgotten, we only had two points from eight games when Harry took over.

Surely this warrants a DVD release-party on an open-bus, paraded on Tottenham High Road?

Match Ratings:

Gomes – 8.8 – Has come back to reclaim the number one jersey, and has done so with some solid performances. Yeah, we know what he is prone to doing (spilling the ball, missing punches) but he’s cleaned up the calamity and is pretty solid between the sticks. His save from Terry was fantastical. He blocked almost everything else, apart from the Alex header, but even lady luck flirted with the Brazilian today. Lovely.

BAE – 8.6 - The perfect illustration of a player coming back from injury, playing through the hard times and continued to be selected allowing him to find consistently good form. Not the greatest defender or attacking fullback, but bloody reliable and dare I say.....good. He's come along way from the liability tag most bestowed on him.

Corluka – 8.6 – Man City sold this player...why? Looks half-asleep, but plays like a lucid dream: Always in control. Defended well, attacked even better when supporting Lennon. Anyway back for Hutton?

King – 9 – Can only play one game per week. Anyone who has any doubts about him should be declared clinically insane. A colossus at the back for us. Quite content with his one game every seven days if Dawson can cover with the type of form he has shown recently.

Woodgate – 8.8 – When you have a rock playing alongside a colossus, its happy days. King and Woody are an exceptional pairing at the back. Reads the game superbly. Touch wood (oh the pun, the pun) he has escaped major injury concerns and has also been a model professional for us. Something that some people said he'd fail to do when he made his move from Boro to London.

Jenas – 8 – Frustrating at times. Makes you wonder why the generosity with the 8/10. Misplaced passing aside, he worked his socks off. Looks to play the forward ball and was mentally on the level required, rather than sitting by a corner pin rocking backwards and forwards very slowly. He can thank Wilson for the new founded spirit. When JJ puts in this type of shift, it's easy to see why some might under-rate his effort but if you watch the game, he doesn't stop running. And in games like this, anything less is unacceptable.

Palacios – 8 – Distribution nowhere near perfect, but the man has adamantium in his bones. Completely unbreakable. And this is Wilson on about 75% of what he can do. Against top tier opposition you need someone who not only has grit but excels physically. He didn’t look out of place up against Essien (a far more complete midfielder), Ballack and Lampard. Fantastic buy, and I no longer shrug with disapproval at the hefty price tag.

Lennon – 7.9 – Quiet(er) performance today, but you can’t help but believe something good is going to happen when he runs with the ball. As seen with his assist to Luka for the goal. Having signed a two-year extension that will keep him in Lilywhite till 2014, I’m hoping Levy understands the importance of a ‘just say no’ policy to the likely bid(s) from Liverpool or whoever else in the summer. He's agreed to an extension. He has publicly stated he is happy at Spurs. It’s impossible for him to leave the club. I just feel the need to state this out loud via words in a blog article. He can not leave the club.

Modric – 9.2 – Playmaker, creative midfielder, magician. Cracking goal, cracking performance. We have ourselves a brilliant midfielder who will get better as the team continues to improve. Dictates the tempo for us. It’s ridiculous that some believed he was too lightweight for the Premiership. Hoping to see a lot more goals from the little man next season.

Keane – 7.9 – Worked hard and as Harry pointed out, came deep (we all know how good he is at that) to support the midfield and link up play. Not his day in front of goal, but did exactly what was required, just without the polished touch.

Bent – 7.9 – Played very well. Effort was stupendous. Might have lacked a touch here and there and sometimes displayed weak decision making, but hassled the Chelsea defence relentlessly. When he plays like this, you can’t fault him too much. And I’m not going to be critical just because I don’t see him at the club next season. He is not right, from game to game, as a first choice forward, IMO. But he can do a job. It's just that for the fee we signed him for, he should be first choice. Which is why I expect us to cash in on him cometh the summertime.

Redknapp – 9.5 – Balanced side, no unnecessary tinkering going into the game. Got the players up for this and tactically was spot on.

If we continue to improve, then I hope to see us boss the minutes after we go up a goal - against any opposition. When we're under pressure, we sometimes don't make it easier on ourselves by putting our foot on the ball and slowing the pace down to suit us. But this is a general observation. Chelsea are not exactly going to make any game comfortable for the opposing team.

It's just gone 2am, and it's pitch dark outside. Sun is still shining though. COYS.