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.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The Incredible Huddlestone

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part III

Incredible or just plain ordinary?

The supervolcano under the Yellowstone Park has been fairly consistent, erupting on schedule every 600,000 years or so. Considering the caldera is the size of the park itself, when it’s erupted in the past, to say that it bestowed apocalyptic disaster upon Gods green earth is putting it mildly. It's been 640,000 years since the last time it coughed up lava, so we are due another one pretty soon if you go on its timetable from the past three million years. Although geologists don't actually know with any certainty if it will happen again because apparently the molten below is cooling off and the reoccurring eruptions might have reached the end of their schedule. If so, it might be a million years or more before Mother Nature wakes it up. It might never erupt again.

Tom Huddlestone is a supervolcano.

He's big, doesn't move much but when he does he melts the oppositions defence with devastating consequences. But it doesn't happen often. You might be lucky to witness this marvel once every 10 games or so. When the next one is due, I couldn't say.

Actually, scrap this particular analogy. I've no idea where it's going, and I'd rather limit the amount of Partridge-isms I'm guilty of from one week to the next. So let's try this again.

Tom Huddlestone is a fat Glenn Hoddle.


Tom Huddlestone is like a lighthouse. Stationary, but manages to light up all before him.

No, no.

Tom Huddlestone is our Dr Manhattan. Big and powerful, but understated and misunderstood.

No, no, no!

Ok. Analogies scrapped. Stick to facts.

Tom Huddlestone is not the most mobile of players.
Tom Huddlestone is a very decent passer of the ball.
Tom Huddlestone has a cracking shot.
Tom Huddlestone is technically good.
Tom Huddlestone is versatile.

But is Tommy too slow, cumbersome and defensively a liability? Or is that an unfair description for the player, where his strengths are of a more offensive nature? If you stick him in the middle of the park and the Spurs midfield are under pressure, can he step up and get stuck in, much like the maligned Jenas is capable of doing (when he's on song) by running up and down the pitch and hassling opposition players?

It's the job of Palacios or Zokora (shudder) to bite the ankles of the opposing players and break down their attack or reclaim possession. But that doesn't mean other players shouldn't pull their weight (ouch). Lennon is superb at times, in nicking the ball back for us. It's not so much a case of getting stuck in though, is it? He's played centre-back in the past and he's got involved turning defence into attack, with a touch here and a 30 yard pass there. You can defend brilliantly by sending the ball across one side of the pitch to the other with the outside of the foot, releasing your winger or forward and giving the defence time to re-organise.

But what happens before the ball is back in our possession and we are on the backfoot? And there are questions around consistency. There is an argument that Tom does put in a shift, it's just that compared to others, it doesn't resemble one.

The problem with Tom is that he is far less dynamic than many players of similar ilk (creative/playmaking midfielders). Which means he is far weaker in less offensive areas than any other midfielder we have. Carrick could defend well, wasn't exactly fast, but was mobile. Pace, or more so mobility, is important. He doesn't have any. Or more to the point, to quote about a thousand websites, he turns slower than the QE2.

Tom is quite similar to Jermaine Jenas in the way of potential. Both highly rated as youngsters, both possessing qualities that are admirable. But are both over-hyped? Or do they excel in some areas, but not enough in others to be considered complete?

Tom is a regular for the U-21’s and performs well, chipping in with a goal every now and again. But he’s not a regular for Spurs. But does chip in with plenty of assists and a few goals when he does turn out in Lilywhite. Why? Just because he can deliver clever balls and Hoddlesque passes, does this warrant an inclusion in our starting line-up? And if it does, what would it mean to the structure and balance of the team? Well, for starters, the team would have to be built around him. Or at least compensate for his deficiencies. So Palacios responsibility would be to clear the area allowing Tom to play Quarterback.

Now, this might work if, let’s say, Tom was as talented as Hoddle. To make a player the main creative outlet of the team he has to be something a bit special, and I’m not sure he’s that good, potentially or otherwise. Comparing anyone to Hoddle is blatantly unfair, so to re-word the above, I'd say that to build the team around one player they have to be, unquestionable, class - if not 'world class'.

Not to say I would not like to see him given a chance. But it’s asking a little too much for someone like Tom to 'carry the team'. It’s a bit like asking us to build the team around Bent by playing football like Charlton Athletic did in the days they resided in the Premiership - just because we all know he can score goals when on the break. Bent has a knack of doing so, but doesn’t offer enough to slot into a variety of forward roles which is required depending on the opposition. He’s a bit one dimensional. But what of Huddlestone? (not one dimensional, I'd go with a beefy 3D figure, tbh).

Even little Modric (did take his time to adjust which is understandable) gets involved with some of the dirty work – but he’s no defensive midfielder. So unless Huddlestone actually has an overwhelming negative influence on the team, there is no reason why he can’t play centre-midfield in a role that takes full advantage of his vision and skills.

Yes? Or no?

It’s a conundrum this one for the simple fact that he doesn’t play often enough. Let’s say Jermaine Jenas did not exist (I’ll give you a moment to climb down off your desk and pull your pants up and compose yourself........). Huddlestone would possibly get a more sustained opportunity to impress. The more games, the bigger the confidence, the better the communication on the pitch is with team mates. Coming off the bench, he’ll always be a decent impact player simply because of his sharp passing. But from his personal perspective, he’d want more than that. I want more than that. We all do.

Imagine if you will (I'm in fantasy mode today), Tom Huddlestone in Claret and Blue. Easy now. It's just a fantasy. He’d probably play every single week. That’s just an opinion, and West Ham fans might accuse me of over-rating him and that he’d never get into their team. Maybe. Possibly. But I guess that’s the point. He’s good enough, but good enough for whom? He is definitely good enough for someone. At some point in the next year or two, he'll need to be far more involved otherwise his progression will stagnate. Unless of course, what you see is what you get. Maybe there is no improvement coming. So, would you argue that his passing is that good, we can't afford to lose him? Or that the only thing he has is his passing ability and it isn't enough to claim a centre-midfield pairing - arguably one of the most important positions in the team.

Tactically, a manager will want his strongest 11 starting every week. Let’s say that includes Palacios and Jenas in the centre. If Jenas was unavailable, would Huddlestone slot in and give us the same type of thing, or more to the point, would he give us something that amounts to the same positive for the flow of the side?

Much like Jenas, he is good at some things, and not so good at others. Much like, well, most players. The trick is to maximise his abilities, getting the best out of him which will benefit the team. Harry has managed to do this with Lennon, a player who had an outstanding season, followed by a low-key one, and his now back to the type of form his potential has been screaming out for.

So how do we maximise Tommy boy?

Huddlestone - the quarterback? Sat in the middle laying off balls to both wings or dinking them forwards, with Wilson in the role of fullback, protecting him. Sounds immense on paper. And we've seen it in patches. I remember, when he first really started to push for a place at Spurs I considered him and Cesc Fabregas as the brightest midfield talents in the UK. Compare the two now. Ok, so Fabregas is a horrible arrogant piece of classless muck, but his ability as a footballer is unquestionable. But sadly the difference is fairly astronomical. The mucks influence is superior as is his general mobility. But one plays every week (when fit) the other is not first choice and excels (much like Jenas) against lesser opposition. But has done epically against the bigger teams too. Just not as often as, let's say, the scum that is Cesc.

Our midfield has always lacked spin. Palacios has brought us that. Lennon outstanding on one wing, Modric covering the other. So does Huddlestone - passing abilities aside - give us enough strength and assurance down the middle? Can he adapt to the pace of the game and the quality of the opposition? When he dictates, he is superb. And its those moments that have us asking the questions about his worth to the team. When the emphasis is with the opposition, that's when the concerns creep in.

If Huddlestone is around 60% of what we need from a player and Jenas is about 68% , then possibly both are nothing more than squad players and that we need to look at bringing in a more complete player, someone who is around the 80% mark and above. Someone like Carrick who gave us more than enough of everything. Or someone better. That’s no easy task. So an option would be to stick him in the team and run with it and just see where it takes us. If the talent is there and needs developing then first team appearances will answer the questions.

There’s also the option of playing Modric in the middle. But if we did, how would this improve on a Palacios-Jenas combination or a Palacios-Huddlestone pairing?

More on this in Part IV.

In conclusion, Hudd does offer us something but if a player doesn't scream out 'FIRST TEAM REGULAR' just by looking at him, and you have to pose questions, then it's likely that he isn't quite what's required - simply because of the doubts. To counter that, if a player isn't given a chance, then he won't be any nearer to proving he can do the job. Sometimes players do not fit into certain teams because of the way the team plays. Which is why Tommy is as a luxury.

If Jenas and Zokora can play so often for us and be considered first team regulars - with all the doubts and concerns around their abilities (or lack of) then maybe it is only fair to give Tom a chance.

If it was the 1980's, he'd be a superstar.

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part I

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part II

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

And now for a commercial break....

"I categorically deny that I spat at anybody after the match. I have never done this in my whole career on the pitch, so why would I do it when I am not even playing?" - Cesc Fabregas.

We believe you Cesc. We all believe you.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Happy with Harry?

If you frequent Spurs message boards you'll have probably seen the rather special version of the league table with the Lilywhites sitting pretty in 7th place. What's that? We're not seventh? Oh yes we are. If the Premiership began on October 21st we'd be just three points behind Arsenal and seven points off a Champions League place. This alternate reality is one I would very much like to visit. Next season, yeah?

As superfluous as this table of accumulated points since Redknapp's arrival is in the real world, it does illustrate that we haven't done too badly under his man-management. Even more so when you consider that the reason we didn't pull ourselves out of the mire sooner was due to that dismal patch of successive away games that saw us lose points in the dying moments. Lack of concentration that has since been fixed.

It's taken some time to get here. Where here is, I can't say for certain, but it's better than sitting in or just above the bottom three. If anything, for psychological reasons. We can still be pulled back, but it's unlikely. Class, it seems, always manages to shine through in the end.

At times it didn't look likely, but that's more down to our lack of patience and general emotional knee-jerks. Whether you like Harry and his media-whoring or not, there is no doubt that he (unlike 'couldn't wait to get the hell out of here' Ramos) appears to care a little bit more about progression even if he does have his own personal agenda. Who cares as long as Spurs improve as a team.

The Honeymoon Period

When you sack a manager and bring in a new one you are reliant on the textbook reaction players tend to give when there's a new man at the helm, but that is not always enough. Thankfully, Harry got us plenty of points which arguably become the foundation to re-build the confidence of the team. That's plenty of points in games we did not really expect to win or even draw. Did we ride our luck? Yes. But luck tends to fall into your lap when you go out seeking for it. Prior to his arrival we looked a sorry bunch, completely absorbed in our own self pity.

Fortress White Hart Lane

We still need to turn some of the draws into wins, but we are no longer a soft touch at home. Get points at the Lane, and half of the job is done. It's the basis of any team looking to do well. In our case we needed to the points thanks largely to the fact that our away form required major surgery, which took several weeks to complete.

Aaron Lennon

I doubt Aaron is playing well because Spurs spent £15M on David Bentley. His (Bentleys) performances will not exactly inspire others to excel. Harry should take the plaudits for getting Lennon back on song. Absolutely no doubting it, he'll be the fans player of the year this term. Under Ramos, Lennon was one dimensional and without intent and purpose. Under Harry he has been a relentlessly outlet of speed and not so perfect but getting there end-product. It's the best we've seen from the lad.

Addressing the fundamentals

No steel in midfield? In comes Wilson. Need something extra up front? In comes Defoe. As a consequence of his injury, in came Robbie Keane too. How both will fit in when JD is back from his lay-off will take some hefty man-management skills to resolve but it's something I'm certain Harry will deal with, let's say, diplomatically. His handling of the Gomes situation, equally impressive. Signing Cudicini was an inspired choice as we can finally say there's competition for the number one jersey. Modric found himself finally playing in a position that allows him dictate and create. King playing in Prem games rather than UEFA matches. Jenas and Zokora more responsible when tasked with 'jobs to do'.

Harry has tinkered here there and everywhere to find the right balance through the team. With a little bit of luck and confidence returning, the team has naturally improved with each passing game. The Chimbonda signing (decent cover if he bothers to stick the effort in) might be the only shrug thus far. But (even those its a mockery) re-signing Keane has proved to be a justified transfer.


Took some tweaking to settle for his 'best' 11, but seems to understand the necessity of retaining a consistent team selection - one that can grow in terms of effectiveness with each passing game. I'm repeating myself.

He doesn't squad rotate for the sake of it. Liked how he subbed Zokora for Corluka the other day when it become apparent that Zoko could not cope with Young. Compare that to some of Juande's random subs. And there seems to be a far more evident game plan. Yes, we've had to endure one or two 4-5-1's here and there. But that was a stop-gap rather than a solution.

Overall, he is doing the job he was paid to do. At the start of next season he won't be able to remind us (about 6000 times per week) that Spurs only had 2 points when he joined. What happens in the summer (and yes, I do know this season still has a few games to go) will be vital. He should not look to overhaul the squad. Maybe one or two key changes, but starting from scratch is best avoided. We have a decent defence. Decent forward line-up. It just needs a bit of tweaking here and there.

What do we do with David Bentley? This season is a complete write-off, but discarding him would be callous and a little premature. Even if he has been a non-event on the pitch. Once he starts doing the basics and playing like a footballer rather than attempting to be a superstar, things will come good for him.

King? Retiring? Don't believe the twisted rumours. He'll continue to be our part-time God at the back. Gareth Bale reclaiming form a priority IMO.

And as for dos Santos and Adel? Like to see both of them back at the Lane and in the first team squad. £4.7M is a lot of money to spend on a mistake. He should be given the opportunity in a more stable side. Adel is a player who needs to start more games. I'm hoping he has a storming loan at QPR.

Bent is likely to go. All eyes on Pav who needs to show us all what he is capable of after a good summers rest. I'm hoping he has a bit more buzz about him when 100% sharp.

Personally, and I'm sure most would agree, the most important thing is how we handle ourselves in the transfer market. We've overspent on the wrong type of players far too many times. But with no DoF and having re-signed (almost) everyone we sold the summer before - it's down to both Harry and Levy to make sure that we bring in players because they are unequivocally required.

I'll concern myself with all these points of discussion again after we see ourselves through the final 9 games of the season.


Monday, 16 March 2009

The Curious Case of Jermaine Jenas

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part II

Understanding the Goldfish

Jermaine Jenas is pretty much like the Bermuda Triangle. You know there's something in there, but it's completely lost. I remember when he was at Forest and how highly rated he was. Newcastle signed him and I can quite clearly remember being gutted about it. There was something exicting about him. A bit special dare I say. Get hold of a player with a good energetic engine who can run box to box, and you've potentially got a gem. Which is what Newcastle appeared to have. But things turned sour up at St James Park and Jenas looked towards London as an escape route.

When we signed him, many Spurs fans shrugged with uncertainty. At the time, we had a few central midfielders and arguably there were other areas that required assessment and improvement in the way of incoming transfers. Yet whilst Mendes, Davis, Murphy, Ghaly, Tainio have all been and gone - Jenas is still with us. Regardless of the manager at the helm (Jol, Ramos, Redknapp) they all rate him highly as do his team mates. Even Jose found the time to slot JJ into his fantasy football team. Yet many fans (Spurs or otherwise) just don't quite get the hype surrounding him and are basing this on what he produces on the pitch. But still, he is practically undroppable and always considered a first team regular. He also gets a fair share of England call-ups.

So why is it that a Spurs fan can't say with any certainty that Jermaine Jenas is a top drawer quality player?

What makes it even more confusing is when Jenas doesn't play. We seem to lack a certain something in midfield and yet when he does play we only ever dwell or notice his mistakes and errors. Unless of course, he plays very well and scores. We like him when he does that.

So is it simply our perception of the player? Is his work ethic understated? Bit like Carrick was initially. To agree with this, would be an act of self-patronising. Football fans (well, most of us) are not daft and read the game well. We haven't played the game, but that doesn't mean we are blind to it's finer details. We can spot a decent player and his worth to the side. We can right? I mean football, at a fundamental level, is fairly basic. It can't be that difficult to work out how productive Jenas is. Is it?

Is it? Yes. It appears so.

Jenas is the first one to be tagged scapegoat when things don't quite go right. He's an easy target for the boo-boys. But why exactly? Does he try less than everyone else? Is he responsible for the team not playing well when he doesn't perform?

A player is either crap, average, good, very decent, great or world class. Yet Jenas is very decent as far as people in the game are concerned and between crap and good if you listen to the fans. Well, the problem and frustrations - at least from the fans perspective - is that we all know Jenas could be great or close to it. Maybe not great, but very very good. I'm defining that by what we - in the stands - consider to be top drawer, rather than what a manager or a team mate thinks.

Someone like Ledley King for example, is a great player for Tottenham. Why? Well he not only excels at what he does, he does it consistently and makes a massive difference when in the side. And his errors are so rare, you can count them on one hand. But not everyone can be of Ledders high standard. Which means fans are likely to be have less patience for someone who is not as good. And equally so for someone who could be a lot better. But with King, there is no mistaking his quality. You can assess Dawson in the same manner and conclude that although he has clumsy moments, on form (and high on confidence) he is an excellent defender. But with Jenas, its all a bit clouded. Everyone is in agreement (management and players and fans) regarding King. It's not the same case with JJ.

The fact is, Jenas has all the qualities you would wish to bestow on a midfielder. He's an outstanding athlete. He can cover every blade of grass, such is the lads energy levels. He can tackle, he can pass (I'll come back to this, so stop laughing) and he has a knack of getting into the box at the right time to claim a goal (much like he did against Villa on Sunday). He's pulsating when he surges forward and you can clearly understand why people cite him as a box to box player because he can get stuck in at both ends of the pitch. We miss him when he doesn't play because he can be the connection between the midfield and attack (not so relient on this nowadays thanks to Modric).

Box to box is also another way of tagging a player who is not quite a DM and not an out and out attacking midfielder (or simply a 'complete' midfielder). I say not quite, because even though Jenas has all the qualities, for prolonged periods of time they are all wrapped up in potential. He's potentially this, he's potentially that can only get you so far before people start to question why it remains all boxed up and hardly ever displayed.

Lampard is not the worlds greatest footballer. Talent wise. But he scores plenty of goals and his work rate and influence on the game is up there with the best. Sure, he has had some excellent players doing the donkey work around him, meaning that he can express himself as he wishes out on the pitch. Gerrard is far more complete than Lampard is - although you'd still get people slag off the both of them for being over-rated. But the fact remains they both scrub up well defensively and both create and score goals.

Now compare Jenas to the both of them. You might think its a redundant exercise to do so, but Jenas is meant to be of similar ilk to the two aforementioned players. He possess all the same qualities they do. At least that's what the label says.

Jenas has the engine, he has a bit of everything defensively and offensively but he does not excel in any of his abilities to the standard and consistency of Lampard of Gerrard. Now and again he does stick in a class performance. Whether its a high octane running of the show with a goal or two or a digging deep and battling hard fought display - he can play to a very high standard. But not week in, week out. Even though Lampard and Gerrard might not do it to a very high standard every single week - they do it infinitely more times than Jenas ever does.

Jenas is dynamic...at times.
He has all-round abilities. He can defend and attack. He scores goals and assists.
Stamina? An abundance of it.
Can he tackle, pass and shoot? Arguably, yes.
Can he retain possession? Debatable.

Being able to do a bit of everything is just half of what's required. The rest is all in the head. He has decent awareness and vision, but his passing doesn't always come off the way it should. What he also lacks is the most important element that is required. Confidence. Tinged with arrogance.

Jermaine simply doesn't believe he is as good as people tell him he is. So regardless of all the abilities you might possess, if you can't display them when it matters, then the excuse that the potential is there is nothing more than a day dream that will never come true.

Jermaine Jenius

His composure and concentration lag behind when he is low on self-esteem. We've seen how plenty of times his performance has degraded when the crowd have got on top of him when his has been below-par. On other occasions he has has run the show, scored scorchers and has everyone beaming with pride.

Jenas lacks basic mental strength. And because of the expectations we have, it's far more apparent when he misplaces a pass. His general lack of consistency means on occasions he also misses a tackle or just backs away from one altogether. On other days, he is relentless. And because its so obvious when Jenas is on form and not on it, nobody tends to notice if he is in-between the two. Again, if you look at the Villa game - although he scored - he worked hard in midfield, made one or two mistakes in possession, but put in a good shift for the team. He does this quite often, and many tend to ignore the work, other than say his manager and team mates and the odd fan. The rest ask what it is exactly he does for the team.

You've probably read that and disagreed with me, proclaiming Jenas was average/poor on Sunday. It's a tricky one this. One fan says one thing, the next the complete opposite. Yet both fans witnessed the same game.

You can probably pick out any other current Spurs player - past or present - and you'll find it easier to state whether said player is/was a decent for us. Apart from say Darren Bent who also splits Spurs fans into differing sections of opinion much like JJ does.

So we basically have a player who chokes/suffers from mental blocks. A player who can have an outstanding game, but usually against lesser teams. A player who looks a lot worse when he does play poorly virtue to the fact that so much more is expected from him. When he doesn't play, we tend to lack a spark in midfield. When he does play, he frustrates people with his see-saw composure but can also delight thousands with moments of magic.

He can pass. He can't pass. He can tackle, he can't tackle. He goes missing, he runs the show. The bloke is an enigma. Or maybe he isn't. Maybe Jenas is simply an average player who excels now and again rather than a player with all the ability in the world who doesn't show it week in week out because he lacks belief. There's a difference between the two. The latter can become a great player, the former never will.

Maybe its more simplistic than that. Maybe JJ's abilities are not good enough to match his awareness of play. Or maybe its the other way around and his decision making is shabby and erratic and he panics and goes for the wrong ball/pass/shot.

So what of Jenas and our current midfield? Having signed Wilson Palacios - a far better proposition for the DM position than Zokora - can Jenas (with the man-management of Harry Redknapp) discover self-expression in a more balance side and sustain it? If he does partner Wilson, then Modric has to drift in from the left-hand side (his under-rated versatility coming in handy), which makes him a little less effective than possibly starting alongside the Panther in centre-mid. Or does having Modric on the left-hand side mean that the responsibility of creative outlet is down to him and Jenas role is simply to hassle the opposition midfield (aiding Palacios) and support the forward line while Wilson sweeps up and protects the defence? Having an enforcer in the centre of the park would allow Jenas to wonder forward more directly (box to box) and cause a bit of trouble for the opposition. Something he did more than well against Villa.

Jenas role in the side has to be defined but as the side continues to evolve under Harry and the midfield begins to take shape we'll know if having him in the middle with Palacios is the way forward.

Some would suggest that Huddlestone should be given the opportunity. Yes, Huddlestone. You know, the big bloke with anchors for feet. More on that particular discussion in Part III.

Definition of Jenas role placed aside, there's still the questions concerning his self-confidence. If he doesn't get over it, he'll always yo-yo between the acclaims and the boo-boys. At the minute, that's good enough for a place in the Spurs team.

Can't say I'm any closer to solving this particular conundrum.

Deconstructing the Tottenham midfield conundrum - Part I

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Villa 1 Spurs 2 - Snapshot review

A lickle match report following on from the minute-to-minute coverage of the game:

Well done to all. Great team performance. Especially the second half.

Well done to Harry for the selection and half time team talk. Thought we weathered the storm really well in the first half and taking Zokora off who struggled to handle Young was a great decision. Team looked very balanced in comparison to previous away day outings.

Modric drifting in from the left and Lennon absolutely the sex on the right wing. Wonderful unplayable ball into the box for Jenas to get his head onto. Keane is Keane. Dropping deep, pushing forward. And Bent deserves some credit today for his work ethic especially with the counter-attacks we mustered up. Guess his agent told him to put himself in the shop window, considering it was live on tv. Yes, 15 goals. But let's be honest. This game is exactly what Bent lives off. Counter-attacking football, running down the channels. Slow the game down to something a little more intelligent, and he struggles. Still, for this type of away day job, it was a job well done.

Jenas performed very well today. There, I said it out loud. Palacios not so great but forgiveable. I'm talking about his passing which was at times clumsy and sloppy. He still hasn't performed to the standard of the Arsenal home match but was fairly strong today and worked well with JJ. Modric had his moments, but was relatively quiet compared to what we know he can do. But these are not complaints. They all deserve credit.

As for the defence, BAE was superb. King and Woodgate, brick walls. The only leak came when Carew beat Woody for the Villa consolation goal late on.

Midfield improved immensely in the second half, but I guess Villa made it a little easy for us to boss it. Still need to work on our possession play and when the games pace is slowed down we sometimes struggle to adapt.

Great to see us being ultra-pro with the time wasting at the death. Nice to be in that position and work it a little to guarantee no late show heartbreak.

Fantastic three points. Villa look dicked for 4th spot now. Three points off 8th spot. Four points off 7th. Six points off the bottom three. Happy days.

Villa v Spurs - Live text blog coverage

Coverage of the Villa v Spurs game in BBCesque minute-by-minute commentary will be attempted. Guess it's dependent on whether I'm busy throwing furniture at the walls and cursing the footballing Gods.

Team news? Well, Zoko looks set for the right-back position in place of out-of-form Corluka. BAE at left-back. Someone remind me again why we signed Chimbonda? King and Woody in the centre for us and Darren Bent starts with Keane up front.

Do we ever win up there? Hardly. Do they have players that might cause us the odd problem or three? Yes. Ashley Young. Too expensive for us at £8M.


Need Palacios, Jenas, Modric and Lennon to be completely on song this afternoon.

So, be back here for 4pm for the alternative text update of the game.

This blog article will be updated every few minutes from 4pm onwards.


15:57 - Captain Obvious with this statement, but as long as the defence hold it together and the midfield look to push the ball forward and attack (rather than sit back and pass the ball sideways) we might have a chance of nicking something here. I fancy Villa to come out all guns blazing. We need to avoid conceding anything silly in the first 20 minutes. Another blatantly obvious statement is - the chances we do get presented with - need to be slotted away. You hear that Darren? Between the sticks thank you very much.

16:04 - VILLA 0 SPURS 1. Lovely! After a fiery start to the game (couple of offside decisions against Villa, and a deflected harmless shot from Palacios), Lennon whips in a great cross which Friedel helps onto JJ's head. 1-0. Great stuff from us. Nice tempo and pressure. Our players looking up for it. This is going to be tasty.

16:10 - This is taken from the BBC website:

The boy has been on fire recently and Aaron Lennon is the man of the moment again. The flying winger roasts Zat Knight down the right-hand side and whips in a great cross that Paul Robinson can only palm straight to Jermaine Jenas, the midfielder heading in from close range to give Spurs the dream start.


16:11 - Villa have woken up. As expected, they are the ones applying the pressure now. Dealing with it fine. Have to watch that boy Young. Tight marking please.

16:13 - What was I saying? Young ghosts past Zokora, lays it off, ball pings about and is is eventually cleared after a shot on goal from Barry. Open game at the minute. We are not looking too shabby. Need to get the ball to Lennon more.

16:16 - Bloody hell. What did Harry stick in their pre-match water? Wonderful Robbie Keane ball releasing Darren Bent who cut inside and almost pulled the trigger but was brilliantly tackled. Ball falls to man of the moment JJ who has a crack, but it's well blocked.

16:20 - Almost 20 minutes on the clock. Villa dominating possession wise, but we look useful when pushing forward. Young is the key for them. Always looks dangerous.

16:23 - Is it too much for me to ask for a cheeky second goal? Maybe a Jenas scissor-kick or a Bent chip? Villa caught offside again. They will get the run of play at some point.

16:27 - Sideshow Bob defending well for us. Villa still pressing forward. Bit relentless from them at the moment. We are not helping matters with sloppy balls in the middle of the park. Can we try to fizzle the tempo down a little by playing possession football? Guess we need to hold onto the ball for more than 3 secs to do that.

16:29 - Bloody hell. Young doesn't even look like he needs to try and get past Zokora. It's that easy (nutmegged). Nice break from us. Not the greatest ball from Modric to Lennon. Missed opp that.

16:32 - Ooh, bit of possession from us and a little time-out spend in the Villa half. Ends with a Jenas shot that was easily plucked out of the air by Friedel.

16:36 - First sub of the afternoon. Zokora is going off. Seems our man Zoko - better right-back than central mid - is being replaced by Charlie, probably tactical rather than due to an injury. Young has pretty much had the freedom of the wing so far.

16:37 - 61% possession for Villa so far. Always comes down to the midfield, and at the moment they are second best to the home side. Then again, the emphasis is on them to come at us. Guess a little patience is required. No doubt we'll get another chance to break - but whether its still 0-1 to us when that happens is all dependent on how well we defend and if Villa can manage that final ball. Something that's eluded them.

16:44 - Crikey. That break away almost happened. Bent into Keane, didn't quite get to him. Then moments later, another break into the box - Jenas into Modric - Luka has a shot rather than pass to Keane (or was it Bent? I was jumping around the room at the time). Think he went for the right option in the end. Could have been 0-2 that. These are the chances we have to take.

16:48 - See, only Spurs can do this. We have possession in midfield. Jenas plays a smart ball into the path of Palacios who proves to everyone he can't quite pass. Villa break, cross goes in, Heskey hits the bar with his effort. Phew.

16:49 - HALF-TIME, VILLA 0 SPURS 1. Not the best from us, but don't agree with the pro-Villa commentary from Sky Sports who seem to think we have been lucky/shit in possession. Yes - we've struggled to retain the ball, but we've been more than useful when getting into the Villa box and in comparison to their efforts on goal, I'd say its fairly equal. If anything, as the away side, we haven't done too badly. We are 1-0 up, and could have had another. Villa will argue they've had plenty of chances to be leading this game. Until they get that final ball right, I don't care.

17:06 - Here we go. We need to get a grip in centre-mid as Ledders and Woody are having to deal with a little too much to expect them to see out the 90 minutes without any additional team support. Double up on Young (ooh) and don't give the git any time on the ball. If we avoid a second half battering and push forward - give it to Aaron, then we'll score again. The longer Villa are frustrated, the more counter-attacks we'll get. Football management? Piece of piss.

17:09 - Villa start with some intent. Couple of corners. Come to nothing. Is it me or does Palacios look less of the panther, more of the Cheshire cat?

17:10 - Muhahahahaha! VILLA 0 SPURS 2. Staggering stuff. For all Villas effort, all we need to do is break and score. What did I say? Give it to Aaron. The boy storms into the box, Wilson has a crack, its saved by Friedel and Keane places the ball goalbound, and that man exquisitely finishes from about half an inch out. 'ave it! We look up for a third now.

17:16 - Lennon shaves the top of the goal with a cracking shot from outside the box. I'll only start to dance around the living room when we notch a third.

17:19 - Bent is on what now? 15 goals? Guess this means we need to offer him a new 5 year contract. Knows where the goal is, innit? Well worth the £15M we paid for him. Reckon we should offer Charlton an extra £5M as they were blatantly hard done by.

17:22 - Also, special mention to Bradley in the Villa goal. Two assists this afternoon. Well done that man.

17: 23 - 52% possession for us in the second half (thank you Sky Sports). Modric has a blast at goal, Friedel this time dealing well with it. Far better second half performance from the midfield. Fancy another goal.

17:27 - Talking of Sky Sports, is anyone laughing out loud with me at the overly bias commentary gashing out of the gob of Andy Gray? Embarrassing stuff. But then not unexpected. 2-0 up and hardly an ounce of credit. "The biggest smash and grab I've seen", sure Andy, sure.

17:33 - About 20 mins left on the clock. We are still giving it a go. Villa, a little deflated. This is a more than decent away day performance from us, in comparison to some of the shambolic displays of recent months. Harry will be able to live off this for 3 months at least.

17:38 - Playing some decent stuff. Ooh, Andy Gray has just paid us a compliment! Almost the perfect day. King and Woodgate have been top class today. Actually can't fault anyone at the moment for effort.

17:43 - O'Hara on for Modric. Can you smell the three points? I can smell the three points. 5 games unbeaten, eight minutes away. Very quiet at Villa Park now, other than the dancing singing away fans. I'm a little giddy.

17:46 - Oh shit. Shit shit shit. VILLA 1 - SPURS 2. I jinxed it. Carew with a header, no chance Woody (defending) and Gomes. Andy Gray creams himself. 84 minutes on the clock. Christ this will be gutting if we lose 3 points and go home with 1.

17:50 - Final minute of the game now. It's ominous this. Villa pegging us back. But we survived. 3 mins of injury time. Andy Gray feels it's time enough for the home team to score. Hey Andy, is it time enough for us to hold out for all the three points?

17:54 - VILLA 1 SPURS 2 FT. YES! GET IN! Relegation? We laugh in your face. And the face of Andy Gray. Whoop!