Ink & A Stick

The ramblings of a man who should know better.

Archive for the category “Football”

Tottenham v. Liverpool: The choice of a new generation

By George Ogier

The corner of Twitter in which football blogging exists is an easy world to get caught up in. It is slightly removed from the real world and the word “news” has a different meaning. The rest of the planet is dealing with horrific scenes from Egypt and a desperation of certain people to have complete transparency in government.

Over in the football blogging suburb of social media we’re laughing at a terrible song from Spurs fans and an irate Gooner having a breakdown outside the Emirates stadium whilst nearly crying at the mention of John Cross. The central theme of this odd but hilarious outpouring is Arsenal’s lack of activity in the transfer market.

Once more pressure is being heaped on Arsene Wenger as his side looked ill-prepared for another season in the Premier League. Wenger himself recently asked assembled journalists who he should buy. The master of the transfer bargain appears to have run out of ideas.

FIFATransArsenal and Wenger are far from the only ones having transfer trouble this season. David Moyes seems to have adopted a buying strategy straight out of the FIFA 13 coaching manual whilst Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers is finding himself in a fight with rival clubs for the same players and losing out.

The problems facing these three coaches and in particular Rodgers and Wenger are being met with frustration and disappointment, particularly from the fans who worry that their clubs are stagnating. This is brought into sharper focus by the dealings of the board at Tottenham Hotspur.

So far this summer Spurs have added to their squad in impressive style. Midfielders Paulinho and Etienne Capoue have been a clear upgrade on the departing Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker. Attackers Nacer Chadli and Roberto Soldado give a Tottenham side too reliant on Gareth Bale some diversity up front.

One could argue that all four of Tottenham’s signings would have strengthened both Arsenal and Liverpool so why wasn’t there more competition for the contracts of these new arrivals? In the case of Arsenal it appears to be purely down to money and the reticence to part with it. As for Liverpool it seems that the reds simply aren’t the draw they once were.

Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs currently all have the same ambition. They are fighting for the fourth Champions League spot and of the “also-rans” outside the top three they seem the best equipped to get it. This means that the clubs have similar transfer targets. They can’t attract the real blue chip stars so are scrapping for the players just below that level.

This Supermarket Sweep-style bun fight has led to the clubs being in direct competition for the services of certain players. In recent times the short arm, deep pocket approach of Arsene Wenger has left Spurs and Liverpool competing in the name of player acquisition. Last summer it was Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey. This year’s tug-of-love centre piece is Willian, the playmaker/winger from Brazil.

As in the case of Sigurdsson and Dempsey it looks like Spurs are in position to win the race for Willian. This has prompted some Liverpool fans to accuse Spurs of hijacking transfer deals and lazily poaching prospects from the reds’ scouting policy.

Both claims are ludicrous. Regular viewers of Match Of The Day during the 2011/12 season would have noted the abilities of Sigurdsson and Dempsey. Similarly you only had to be vaguely aware of the Champions League over the last two years to have heard of Willian. The fact that Liverpool keep missing out on potential buys does send reality crashing through the doors of Anfield. History is not enough to attract big name players.

Nobody with any sense would suggest that Spurs are bigger than Liverpool. Indeed, the 18-time champions of England are one of the two biggest clubs in the country alongside Manchester United. However, recent transfer dealings have left the club open to questions about Liverpool’s standing in the game.

WillianAnzIt isn’t just Tottenham that are beating Brendan Rodgers to the punch. Earlier this summer the Armenian sensation Henrikh Mkhitaryan chose Borussia Dortmund over Anfield when a move to the north-west seemed almost nailed on. A side who once took Champions league football for granted now don’t even have the diminished allure of the Europa League with which to tempt players.

In fairness to Liverpool this summer has been an almost perfect storm for Spurs. They have been sitting on money that chairman Daniel Levy didn’t trust Harry Redknapp with and there are funds from the inevitable Gareth Bale deal to push further purchases forward. Deals that might have been carved out over two or three seasons are all happening in one window.

Spurs are currently a far more attractive proposition for players looking to join a team with potential. Tottenham have finished above Liverpool for the past four seasons and twice in the top four during those years. Liverpool may have countless league titles and European cups but that means little in the eyes of a modern player. If history was a lure Nottingham Forest would have beaten Manchester City to the signings of Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo.

As with most sports, football is cyclical and no doubt the order of things will change again. Not so long ago Liverpool were signing Fernando Torres, one of the most sought after players in Europe. At the same time Spurs were buying Darren Bent and the rubbish Gilberto.

As it stands Spurs and Liverpool are 5th and 6th favourites to finish fourth this season. Brendan Rodgers is building a more than capable side at Anfield and Stoke City won’t be the only ones leaving the red half of Merseyside empty-handed this season. The reality of the situation is that currently Spurs are simply a better team and that alone is reason for players to choose Tottenham over Liverpool.

Jack Wilshere: “King” of the Arsenal?

By George Ogier

Wilshere1With less than a week to go until the new Premier League season kicks off we are deep in to preview territory. Speculation as to how the season will unfold is rife as everyone rushes to make predictions. Some will be looking at a wider picture of the league and others will be searching for fantasy football gold. Either way, opinions are everywhere.

Many clubs have made wholesale changes ahead of the new term but at Arsenal they’re playing a familiar tune. Fans want big name transfers and so far all they’ve got is a youth international from France. However, a quick trawl through newspapers and websites shows that one name appears to make or break Arsenal’s season. Jack Wilshere.

There is an almost mythic quality to the tales of what Jack Wilshere will add to an Arsenal side. He missed the entire 2011/12 season through injury and was only a sporadic team member last term. Despite that, Wilshere has attained a reputation as someone holding the fortunes of the club in his rather young hands.

In recent times Arsenal Football Club have had in their ranks some of modern football’s greatest midfielders. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Cesc Fabregas have all been integral to the way Arsenal play. It is a testament to the abilities of 21 year-old Wilshere that fans at the Emirates appear to hold the boy from Hitchin in similarly high regard.

There are just four days until Arsenal’s campaign begins at home to Aston Villa. The season hasn’t even begun and already Arsene Wenger is speaking of keep Jack Wilshere “wrapped in cotton wool”. It must be incredibly frustrating for everyone connected with the club that a player so talented seems so fragile, a talismanic figure laid low by perpetual injury.

There is a danger that Jack Wilshere risks turning into something of an excuse for Arsenal. Surely the club is simply a victim of circumstance without their best player. A quick glance up the Seven Sisters Road provides a quick exercise in “could have, would have, should have”. In Ledley King, Spurs fans have the ultimate caveat for the struggles of seasons gone by. “If Ledley had remained fit we’d have been a different team”. Is Jack Wilshere becoming the “King” of The Emirates?

In terms of footballing ability, Ledley King is many people’s pick for the most talented English centre back of his generation. Similarly, people have rushed to anoint Wilshere as the next truly world-class midfielder and the parallels between the two men don’t stop there.

Both King and Wilshere came through the youth teams at their respective clubs and each man was the heir to a throne vacated by a departing hero. In the case of Ledley he replaced Sol Campbell at Spurs when Campbell joined, ironically, Arsenal. It was Jack Wilshere’s lot in life to replace Arsenal club captain, Cesc Fabregas.

When talking about Ledley King two things generally stand out. Firstly the 2006 testament from Thierry Henry –

I don’t like defenders who hold the shirts of other players. The only defender here who doesn’t do that and sometimes still gets the ball off my feet easily is Ledley King. He is the only guy who doesn’t hold players. He will get the ball off you without you even noticing. For me, that is a good defender. He plays without any contact yet is somehow still strong and gets the ball without doing any fouls.”

Secondly there is that tackle on Arjen Robben –

In the same vein, Jack Wilshere already has a career-defining moment to his name. In February 2011 Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1. It was at the height of the Catalan giant’s powers and Wilshere bossed a midfield including Xavi and Iniesta. People were mentioning Jack in the same breath as the Pauls, Scholes and Gascoigne. Wilshere was to be the saviour of the England national side.

That game should have been a launchpad for a glittering career. Sadly, it appears that the stellar showing against Messi and co. is turning into a tale of “what might have been”. It was more than two and a half years ago now and Wilshere hasn’t played a full season since.

Spurs fans like to hold Ledley King up as bastion of one club integrity and loyalty and Wilshere is making similar noises about remaining at Arsenal. Make no mistake about it though, had King stayed fit he eventually would have left Spurs. A fully fit and reliable Jack Wilshire would be hard to keep at The Emirates.

We have seen it unfold time and again with the likes of Berbatov, Van Persie, Modric and Fabregas. The true super powers of football make it almost impossible to resist and North London are getting left behind in football’s arms race. It is easy for the likes of King and Wilshere to publicly devote themselves to one club. There simply aren’t alternatives when you spend more time in the treatment room than on the pitch.

There is every chance that Wilshere might well overcome these injury troubles and go on to have a long and illustrious time in football. As it stands though he is fast becoming a crutch for Wenger and Arsenal supporters to lean upon. As a Spurs fan I maintain that Tottenham Hotspur spent too long getting hung up on the possibility of Ledley King rather than the reality. With Jack Wilshere there is a danger that Arsenal are going the same way.

Sympathy For The Devil: Why Brendan Rodgers makes it easy to side with Suarez

Respect and loyalty are difficult themes in football at the best of times but if you had to pick a man to fight their corner then it should never be Brendan Rodgers.

By George Ogier

Suarez1The summer months bring many things to the lives of people in Britain. A two-week love of tennis, a complete inability to use sun cream and the sight of grown men who feel it’s acceptable to wander around Tesco with no shirt on. A rise in temperature also brings another steadfast tradition, that of the drawn out football transfer.

In years gone by there has generally been one deal that drives people to complete distraction. However, this year we have hit the saga jackpot and there are three or four deals – or lack of – that are dominating the sports pages. The situation threatening to go nuclear this summer involves Liverpool and Luis Suarez.

Suarez wants to leave Liverpool and unsurprisingly Liverpool aren’t keen to let him go. Players that talented are hard to replace and Suarez recently signed a contract extension which puts the club in a slightly stronger bargaining position.

The general consensus appears to be that Luis Suarez is a ne’er-do-well who is holding a fine institution to ransom. The Uruguayan is an easy chap to take against with his mean reputation and history of race relations and general bitey-ness.

Chief football writers across the land are proclaiming that Liverpool are in the right and that Brendan Rodgers is simply trying to uphold the few values the game still has left. Henry Winter has called Suarez a “toxic cheat” and the Mirror’s David Maddock says that Suarez is a “spoilt man-child” who is “disrespecting Liverpool”.

Personally, I dislike Luis Suarez as much as the next person – as long as the next person isn’t a Liverpool supporter – but I am reaching a point where I’m beginning to side with the South American. It’s not a stance I’m particularly comfortable with but the alternative is almost too much to bear. The reason for this? Brendan Rodgers.

It is hard to find many redeeming qualities in Luis Suarez and it is almost as hard to take Brendan Rodgers seriously. From his role in Channel 5’s comedy caper Being: Liverpool to the relentless management gabble and incessant bum touching of Jonjo Shelvey, Rodgers is a difficult man to warm to.

As daft as those things were, Rodgers’ conduct over this Luis Suarez issue has sent the Antrim man into a whole different league of nonsense. We are treated to daily diatribes on the subject of loyalty and respect from the Liverpool boss. Another manager spinning these lines would make the story slightly more palatable but a quick look at Rodgers’ past shows a lack of self-awareness that is truly staggering.

You’re immediately on shaky ground if you put the words football and loyalty together in a sentence. Add players to that sentence and you will find yourself on a linguistic fault line. If you’re Brendan Rodgers and you talk about football and loyalty you should really expect to laughed out of the room.

When looking at the shortest managerial reigns in football you’d have to go a long way to beat Leroy Rosenior’s ten minutes in charge of Torquay. However, on the Dario Gradi scale of longevity Brendan Rodgers’ 192 days in charge of Watford is definitely at the Rosenior end.

Rodgers1Why did Brendan Rodgers leave so abruptly? He wasn’t sacked for under-performing, Rodgers had his head turned by an – at the time – more successful club. Jimmy Russo – then the Watford chairman – told local press, “once Brendan had confirmed his desire to discuss the opportunity and Reading had met the contractual compensation figure we were powerless to stop him doing so”. Well, isn’t that quite the familiar situation. In the weeks before Rodgers jumped shipped for the, ahem, bright lights of Berkshire he had assured Watford fans of his “100 per cent commitment” to the club.

Brendan Rodgers also likes to bang the proverbial drum when it comes to the subject of respect. Respect is a two-way street which Rodgers clearly didn’t fancy taking a stroll down as he agreed to loan Pepe Reina to Napoli recently without even discussing it with the goalkeeper.

It is hard to disagree with the notion that Luis Suarez has behaved poorly over his desire to leave Liverpool. However, the sympathy one might feel towards the club is diluted when we look previous departures in Suarez’s career. Liverpool bought him presumably knowing this background.

Agreeing with Brendan Rodgers on the issue of Luis Suarez is probably the right thing but Rodgers’ past conduct just makes incredibly hard to do. It’s a little like a man who has been imprisoned for violent crimes moaning that he’s been beaten up in the prison yard. You know it’s wrong but it is hard to get upset about.

Bale Sale: The shop window effect holds Spurs back

By George Ogier

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The biggest star in the Spurs team signs a contract extension to stay at the club. This is reportedly on the proviso that they’re allowed to leave if certain “big clubs”come calling. Real Madrid do indeed knock at a well-worn front door and then all hell breaks loose.

Bale1If you believe everything you read – and you’d have some odd opinions if you did – Daniel Levy has been at it again. In 2011 it was suggested that Levy had persuaded Luka Modric to sign a contract extension with a gentleman’s agreement concerning the terms whereby Modric would be allowed to leave the club.

In that instance it was Chelsea who made the initial move but Levy stood his ground and Modric joined Real Madrid 12 months later. Another year on and Los Blancos are back, this time for Gareth Bale and there is a depressing inevitability about the whole situation.

“Sources” have been busy in the last seven days. The latest line to come from people buzzing around Gareth’s recently streamlined ears is that Bale only re-signed for Spurs when Levy said that the PFA player of the year would be allowed to join Real Madrid should they want him.

Whatever the truth of the situation it is one in which Spurs fans have plenty of experience and very little enjoyment. Once again, the team shows signs of really being able to push on and once again the club looks likely to lose its best player.

People have pointed to the departures of Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Modric as a template for these wranglings but only the Modric saga is really applicable in this case. When Berbatov and Carrick joined Manchester United Tottenham were a very different animal.

When Carrick and Berbatov left Tottenham the club were routinely beaten by those in the sides in the top four. Spurs had almost finished fourth in 05/06 but that was due to the poor form of others as much a stellar Spurs season.

Last term Tottenham finished with their record points total in the Premier League. In any other year 72 points would have guaranteed a fourth place finish and even second place in some seasons. Spurs are now a match for any team in the top division and are in a position to build a team capable of great things.

This potential is brought into a slightly sharper focus when you consider the managerial changes at the top of the league. Four of the top six clubs and all of the top three have switched managers over the summer. It is reasonable to suggest that one of these changes won’t go as smoothly as expected and a talented but stable team could well take advantage of such upheaval.

Obviously I write this with a huge slice of bias but I genuinely think that Spurs are two or three good signings from being a real force in the Premier League. However, that claim comes with a large caveat and it is simply this. The club cannot afford to keep selling its star performers.

The idea of Gareth Bale playing alongside new signings like Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, and possibly Roberto Soldado is exciting for any Spurs fan. In a season where so many changes are taking place, keeping hold of a talented coach and a genuinely world-class player could make a huge difference.

Klins1Whilst it is easy to get carried away with such dreams there is an ugly reality to consider. Players don’t join Tottenham because they think they can win things. They join because, like it or not, the club are a stepping stone. You would have to go back to 1994 for the last time Spurs signed a genuinely top-level superstar, and even then it was the already 30-year-old, Jurgen Klinsmann.

Tottenham are a bridge between smaller English or continental sides and the huge teams of Europe. Players join Spurs because they can perform in a good side and get noticed by better ones. Carrick, Berbatov and Modric all came from smaller clubs and moved on to bigger things.

The players who join and don’t move up the ladder find their level – Defoe, Dawson, looking at his subsequent career, Robbie Keane – and stay. Otherwise they drop off and are moved on, David Bentley, Helder Postiga, Sergei Rebrov etc. Spurs are a perfect shop window for talented, driven players and Gareth Bale is both.

There is one big difference between the Bale situation and those which have gone before. Gareth is good enough to help Spurs make the jump from stepping stone to a side capable of great things, few of Tottenham’s past stars have had that ability.

Even with that in mind we have to accept that Bale knows his own worth. By joining Real Madrid he could have La Liga and Champions League medals in less than twelve months. The Welshman would be joining a team already capable of winning the lot. Staying with a team that is clearly a work in progress, even if it moving in the right direction, is hardly as appealing.

As a Tottenham supporter I would dearly love Gareth Bale to stay at White Hart Lane. The romantic in me dreams of watching a side built around his talents for years to come. However, the realist in me knows that it an unlikely outcome. I just hope that the situation is resolved as quickly as possible.

Twitter: Careful what you wish for

It’s a dance as old as time, or perhaps just as old as autograph hunting. Wide-eyed fan approaches sports star/film star/pop star and is met with a barrage of hurtful and utterly unexpected abuse. Everyone has story or knows someone with a story of being unceremoniously snubbed by a hero.

Me? I was once told to “fuck off” by a star of Emmerdale in a nightclub in Leeds. She wasn’t a hero of mine and I certainly wasn’t after an autograph but to a degree I wear my “abused by a celebrity” badge with pride.

It is perfectly normal to be shocked in those situations. The personality of well-known individuals can often be just a media construct but as is the way these days, we often feel as if we know each of them personally. Twitter has broken down barriers even further and has been a remarkable tool in public relations.

Many “stars” from various fields of achievement now use social media to interact with their fans. It allows the famous to build a never before seen rapport with those that love them. In marketing terms it can be a dream too. Fans feel far more connected to their idols and are far more likely to buy into the idea of brands surrounding the object of their affections.

However, as recent events have shown, this can be a two-way street. Twitter has created a world where the disgruntled or the merely plain stupid can directly address someone in the public eye and be pretty sure their remarks will be read.

Olympic diving star Tom Daley was the subject of trolling on Twitter after failing to secure a medal at London 2012. The boy responsible for the abuse of Daley was arrested and received a formal warning for harassment.

Every day seems to bring a new “Twitter storm” and yesterday’s happened to involve the football club which I support, Tottenham Hotspur. We are currently in the midst of the usual pre-season transfer quagmire. Every team is trying to improve their squad are Spurs are no different.

One of the ongoing soap operas of the summer is the “will he, won’t he?” tale of Emmanuel Adebayor’s move from Manchester City back to Spurs, a club he played at on loan during last season. The major sticking point appears to be Adebayor’s wage demands.

Last season, the player’s parent club subsidised an enormous pay cheque. Adebayor was reportedly on £170,000 per week, £100,00 of which was being paid by Manchester City. It is no secret that Tottenham employ a rigid wage structure and fitting the Togolese striker into that as a contracted Spurs players has been tricky.

Understandably there are many Spurs fans that would love to see Emmanuel Adebayor sign permanently for the club. At times last season he was excellent and the club is currently down to Jermain Defoe and teenager Harry Kane as their only recognised strikers.

However, there are also fans that think Adebayor’s wage demands are too high and that the player who scored 18 goals in all competitions last seasons should take a huge pay cut to join the club. One fan, Dan Cohen felt so strongly about this matter than he decided to contact Adebayor directly via Twitter.

@Sheyiadebayor why don’t you u come to work with me for a few ‘years’ to really see what it’s like to earn your weekly wage #greed #COYS”

Rather than just ignore this seemingly inoffensive request, Adebayor fired back with a less than refined response.

@DCSuperSales because u shit and stupid that’s why you earn that!”

Taken at face value this would seem like another footballer acting like a complete moron but I’m not entirely convinced that’s fair on Adebayor.

Had Mr. Cohen merely suggested that Adebayor join him to see how fans get by on much less money there would have been no response. As soon as he accused Adebayor of being greedy there was an element of “baiting” about the tweet. Lo and behold, Mr. Cohen gets a rise.

Suddenly there is a sweeping “we don’t want Adebayor at our club” sentiment from Spurs supporters. “Look how he talks to Spurs fans!” some wailed. Adebayor’s sentiments might have been crude but he was merely responding to an unsolicited remark about the way he chooses to act within his professional life. It’s not really anyone’s business what he gets paid.

Football fans are always at a disadvantage in situations like this. Primarily because of a love for the club involved. Most fans care little what a player earns turning out for another team. Conversely, when it comes to their beloved outfit there seems to be an assumption that anyone would and should crawl across broken glass to don this particular shirt.

No football club is unique or special on a wider scale. Of course it appears that way to its supporters but the rest of the world couldn’t give a rat’s . I love my daughter very much and think that she might be the most amazing addition to the human race, ever. Nonetheless, it is just me and her mother that think this, nobody else is obliged to care. The same applies to supporting a football club.

Why shouldn’t Emmanuel Adebayor hold out for as much money as possible? He’ll be long time retired and once he is, in the minds of those who praise and abuse him now Adebayor will be a distant memory. I’m not particularly fussed either way if he rejoins the club. I trust in Daniel Levy to do what is best for Tottenham Hotspur, I’m certainly not going to get my undies in a bunch about wages and loyalty

However, Adebayor’s wages are not the issue here. The issue is social media and how fans choose to use it. This episode can be summed up in one sentence. Fan baits Adebayor, Adebayor responds, fan runs off whining about mean old footballer.

If you address someone directly, whether it be face to face or on the Internet you clearly intend for them to be aware of your opinion. If you make derogatory remarks about a person in the same circumstances it is churlish to then complain if they react in a way in which you find distasteful.

Twitter has been fantastic at opening up avenues of discourse in ways we could never have imagined and we have a responsibility to use those avenues carefully. By all means criticise someone but don’t be surprised if one day they bite back.

Stop Your Euro Moaning

The two years of waiting for an international tournament are over. It’s here! Euro 2012 got off to a cracking start last night as Poland and Greece drew 1-1 and Russia walloped the Czech Republic 4-1.

Months of anticipation were finally rewarded and not a “cagey opening game” in sight, brilliant. However, in spite of all the excitement swirling around, one thing seemed to be just as prevalent as an appreciation of the game. Moaning.

This wasn’t moaning about tactical naivety though, it wasn’t even a complaint about the petrol station ball chosen by UEFA. No, once again we were treated to the incessant whines about how bad terrestrial TV’s coverage of football is.

Standard gems along the lines of “oh look, Alan Shearer knows nothing” opened proceedings. When the BBC had the temerity to show an interview with an England player during half time we got “Poland are playing Greece. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about Scott Parker”.

Firstly, Alan Shearer being a bit simple is nothing new, we have known this for a while. You might as well remark on the fact that you blink, on average every four seconds. Secondly, it should come as no surprise that a national broadcaster with no rolling sports news channel should show an interview with an integral national team member when it has the opportunity.

Many fans have benefited from the fact that certain bloggers lock themselves away for weeks on end poring over the intricacies of the Greek squad. The previews on offer from independent sites have been more detailed than ever before and this is undoubtedly a good thing.

Podcasts have taken centre stage ahead of the tournament alongside these blogs too. I now know that I can probably run faster than at least 25% of Croatia’s starting back four following injury concerns over Dejan Lovren. I have also been reminded that Ashley Young’s alleged predilection for web cams is best avoided in Poland and Ukraine.

On top of this there’s even a regular video update from Scott Johnston, the brains behind the excellent TheFootyBlog. With this wealth of information at your fingertips I have one question. Why on earth are you stupid enough to even watch the terrestrial TV build up to games, let alone whine about them like a child who’s had a toy taken away?

An analogy I have used before is that you wouldn’t buy a shirt you didn’t like just to sit around moaning about how bad you look whilst wearing it. Why on earth would you subject yourself to the inane nonsense spouted by Chiles, Shearer and company? We all know what time the kick off is and we know how long half time lasts. Save your blood pressure and just don’t tune in until the game starts.

The coverage provided by the BBC and ITV isn’t intended for the more knowledgeable fans. It would be nice if this wasn’t the case but both broadcasters operate on a tight time schedule. This doesn’t leave much room for in depth tactical analysis and in all honesty, most fans just don’t care about it.

You can draw parallels between the football blogger and the train spotter. I use trains a lot and I quite like them. They generally get me from A to B with little fuss and that suits me perfectly. However, there are people that can tell me what year the train was made, how many journeys it’s taken and the route history of the driver. I appreciate that this information exists but I’m just not that interested.

Football bloggers can tell you exactly why a 3-5-2 formation can be tactical suicide. Or where Franciszek Smuda buys his barczsz and uszka and how it impacts his choices on a holding midfielder. The truth is that the average fan couldn’t give a rat’s chuff about this sort of detail. They’re quite happy for Alan Shearer to tell us that “he’ll be disappointed with that” when a striker misses from 3 yards. And you know what, that’s OK too.

We live in a world in which knowledge is available like never before. It’s incredibly easy to find football coverage tailored to your tastes. Rather than let your blood pressure go stratospheric at the sight of Mark Bright, just mute the telly and give us all a rest.

Thank You & Goodbye: Why the game is up for Harry Redknapp.

When a debate surrounds an emotive subject it can be hard to view it from a rational standpoint. When the subject of the debate is Harry Redknapp it becomes, for many Spurs fans, almost impossible.

When Redknapp was appointed by the club in 2008 I had my misgivings. I didn’t particularly like Harry as a man and I was less than impressed by his managerial track record. However, Spurs were in a sticky situation at the foot of the Premier League table with only tw…oh, you’ve heard this one?

The 2009/2010 season saw my expectations blown out of the water. A natural pessimist, I was stunned when Tottenham finished fourth and ultimately qualified for the Champions League. Even Redknapp’s biggest detractors had to concede, this was an impressive achievement.

I was almost immediately back on the anti-Harry offensive though as Redknapp signed former Chelsea and Arsenal defender William Gallas. I was even proved wrong about that as after a stuttering start Spurs beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, Inter at home and Milan over two legs.

It was a strange sensation but I was coming around to Redknapp’s side. It made me feel a little like I needed a bath but as fickle as fans are, the success of your chosen team generally supersedes the moral high ground.

After a shaky opening to this season there was some more judicious signings and Spurs went on a run in the league that saw them lose just one game in nineteen. This included victories over Liverpool and Arsenal. Even when that spell came to an end with defeat at Manchester City the team bounced back to beat Wigan.

Next up was Liverpool away during Redknapp’s court case for tax evasion and Spurs garnered a fortunate point at Anfield. Redknapp was acquitted of all charges shortly after that game and celebrated by watching his rampant team destroy Newcastle 5-0.

Spurs had created a ten point gap between themselves and Arsenal and talk of a title race including Spurs was on. There was even a cherry on top of that cake. Fabio Capello had resigned as England boss and Redknapp was many people’s choice to succeed the Italian. Everything was truly coming up “Harry”.

Since that Newcastle game Tottenham have taken six points from a possible twenty-seven. This has included the ignominy of watching Spurs throw away a two goal lead to lose 5-2 against Arsenal. There has also been the small matter of a 5-1 humbling at the hands of Chelsea in the FA Cup semi final.

With each passing week the sound-bites from Redknapp have been changing. It has gone from, “there’s no reason we can’t win the league” to, “if we win all our remaining games we’ll finish fourth”. There have been various staging points along the way between those two remarks. Ultimately it speaks of a man incapable of arresting Tottenham’s slide down the league table.

By my own admission there were times this season when I thought that this Spurs team were the best I’d seen in my time supporting the club. Fast, incisive, intelligent and surprisingly for a Tottenham side, reasonably resolute in defence. So what went wrong?

The uncertainty over Redknapp’s future is a convenient excuse for Spurs’ 2012 failings. It would be all too easy for the club, manager and players to claim that speculation over the England job has derailed Tottenham’s season. Does the malaise run deeper than that though?

One of the biggest arguments about Redknapp is how tactically astute he is. There are those that say Harry’s success is purely down to man management skills, that tactics are an abstract art form which hold no interest for him. People point to the apocryphal tale of Redknapp telling Roman Pavlyuchenko to go on and “fucking round about a bit” as proof of this.

In a now infamous interview with The Sun, Rafael Van der Vaart gave an illuminating view of life under Redknapp, “there are no long boring speeches about tactics like I was used to at Real Madrid”. This view seems to have borne itself out this season with some strange choices in personnel from the Spurs boss.

All too often we have seen Spurs play with their best players out of position. Gareth Bale will end up on the right or through the middle. Tottenham’s most influential midfielder, Luka Modric will be played on the left. Then there is Redknapp’s bizarre insistence on playing a 4-4-2 formation which leaves Spurs woefully exposed in midfield.

There seems to be no plan B with Harry Redknapp. No rotation of players to keep his stars fresh. Questions have been raised about the players’ conditioning too. When asked about the rotation issue Harry will often cite injuries as an excuse but he has many players still at the club that he clearly doesn’t trust to do a job.

Redknapp has now had seven transfer windows at Tottenham to build a squad he believes in. What he has done is to build a first XI he trusts with very little in reserve to challenge for a title. It could be argued that Spurs are not a title challenging team but we must take the manager at his word on these topics and judge him by those words.

Reports emerged after last weekend’s game with QPR that there had been some kind of altercation at the club. Various players were said to have fallen out with Redknapp. Others are meant to have organised a meeting to ask Harry his intentions about the England job.

It is fair to say that the wheels are coming off Tottenham’s season at the moment. It is hard for Spurs fans to watch, especially when considering the fact that Tottenham were London’s best placed club in the Premier League by a distance.

In relation to Tottenham Hotspur it is hard to describe Harry Redknapp as anything other than the club’s most successful manager of recent times. Harry has proved me wrong on a number of occasions and there were even times when I found myself defending him. However, I can defend him no more. It is clear to me that Redknapp has taken these players as far as can. England job or not, at the end of the season it is time for Daniel Levy to say to Harry, “thank you and goodbye”.

Changing Faces

“I’d put up with another 10 years of rubbish results just to see Spurs batter Arsenal tonight”.

January 2008 and it was the day of the Carling Cup semi-final, second leg. The pessimistic Spurs fan in me saw little way that Tottenham Hotspur could beat the oldest of enemies, ‘the scum’, to reach the final of the league cup. In almost 10 years Spurs had failed to beat Arsenal and the gloating from that end of the Seven Sisters road was too much to take. The constant jibes had fostered a real hatred of the Gunners within me and I was desperate for a chink of light, something to crow about.

I got what I wanted that night, Spurs did batter Arsenal  and crow I most certainly did. It made it all the sweeter that at the time I worked on Green Lanes in Haringey, slap bang in the middle of Gooner country. I worked with what felt like an entire building of Arsenal fans and I hated them. I didn’t just hate the fans, I hated everything connected with the club. The players and the bespectacled buffoon of a manager. If you’d have introduced me to the tea lady I’d have probably hated her too.

It is hard to say where this hatred came from. It was very real but why was it there? I’m not from Tottenham so it’s has never been based on regional pride. I can only assume that it was borne out of a misguided belief that this was how ‘real’ fan behaved. Stories on The Spurs Show podcast just reinforced these ideas. Fans who would hold their breath when on the tube and the doors opened at Arsenal station. People who wouldn’t spend money at Costa Coffee because they were part of the Whitbread group and a board member at Whitbread had an Arsenal season ticket. I loved all of these tales and bought into the idea with gusto.

It wasn’t just Arsenal that got my footballing ire pricked either. There were the none too insignificant spectres of Chelsea and West Ham looming over Spurs as well. Detesting them was also a badge of honour worn by all ‘proper’ fans. There exists, as a Spurs fan, a sliding scale of dislike. A hierarchy of hate if you will, and it goes like this. Spurs fans support any team playing Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham. This only changes when the three start to play each other and then it’s Chelsea over Arsenal and West Ham over Chelsea. I would say that I still basically adhere to this theory but something has definitely changed. I no longer ‘hate’ any of the three rivals.

It has been a gradual shift in my attitudes towards Tottenham’s nearest and, well, not quite so dearest. A large part of this is purely down to winning. The dislike of other teams is often directly linked to results achieved against them. Spurs’ performances against Arsenal and Chelsea have ceased to be an ever-expanding list of misery. Recent league outings against Arsene Wenger’s charges have generally been kind to Spurs of late whilst games against Chelsea are now real pick ’em affairs.

As with so many things recently, Twitter has been behind a lot of the changes in my footballing opinions. It has been a real education to learn that you can support your team just as well without resorting to behavioural extremes. One of the things I have grown to dislike about football in general is the amount of importance placed on abusing your team’s rivals. I regularly go to Oxford United games and regardless of the opponent, the cry of “stand up if you hate Swindon” is never far away. To my mind it’s a pretty redundant chant at any game, it’s no secret that Oxford United and Swindon Town are not the best of friends. Yelling “stand up if you’ve got more than three fingers” would generate a similar result. Surely the team would be better served by the fans getting behind the players they support.

Another strange personal trait was an obsession with Arsenal’s results. I’d get almost as much pleasure in their failures as I would in Spurs’ successes. At times it felt like I was more of an anti-Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham fan than a Spurs fan. It could be argued that all of this is part and parcel of supporting a football club but it has begun to seem like a strange way to go about things. Many Spurs fans were absolutely thrilled by Manchester United’s 8-2 annihilation of Arsenal but I was more concerned by the fact that Tottenham had just been hammered 5-1 at home by Manchester City earlier that day. To many it seemed to be a case of, “it doesn’t matter how much we lost by, look at that lot. 8-2!”.

In the past there hadn’t been room for even grudging respect of Arsenal. I now watch and marvel at the abilities of Robin Van Persie and Jack Wilshere. I still think Theo Walcott is a bit rubbish but I’d think that whoever I supported. I feel the same about Chelsea. I’ll always dislike John Terry but that’s more to do with him as a man than the shirt he wears. The ‘Fat Frank’ Lampard jokes are getting tiresome now, (they probably always were) and any team with Juan Mata playing in it is one I’d happily pay to watch.

I have grown to realise that you don’t need to be a complete zealot, foaming at the mouth to support your team. Validation does not have to come in the form of how much you hate another club. I cringe a little looking back at the ridiculous behaviour of a few years ago. The mantras I quoted and my attitude towards other people based on the club they chose to align themselves with were daft at best. I still passionately hope that Spurs win their derby games but the vitriol surrounding them in the past has dissipated, within me at least.

Another 36 Hours…..

……a tale of ‘A’ roads and reassessed ambitions.

From 10 am on Sunday to 10 pm on Monday my sporting life seemed to be a story of long running bad spells and teams in red. The revisiting of a lower league rivalry and a self-fulfilling Premier League prophecy. For 36 hours I would be slightly hypnotised by both sides of my own footballing coin. My first trip away with Oxford United and Tottenham Hotspur’s opening game of the league season.

Upon reading the League Two fixture list when it was released earlier in the summer I had blithely committed to joining a friend on Oxford United’s first trip to play Swindon Town since the 2000-01 season. I hadn’t really thought about the “derby of the A420” until I attended Oxford’s last match before big game, it was only then that I realised what a serious event this would be. Even earplugs would struggle to keep out the noise the made by anti-Swindon Town songs regularly bellowed at United’s Kassam Stadium but when I learnt that some fans would not be travelling due to fears over safety I did start to wonder what I had got involved in.

Luckily the game seemed to pass without any major off-field incidents, (other than Paolo Di Canio being sent to the stands). There was the usual name calling and questioning of parentage but beyond that it was far from the nastiest game I’ve ever been to. Our vantage point of the advertising hoardings behind one goal meant that it would be tough to give a coruscating blow-by-blow account of the game. I saw the net at the other end of the pitch ripple twice, (a good thing) in the first half and saw it not rippling, (also a good thing) in the second half. We were close enough to the touch-line for me to believe that Swindon striker Raffaele De Vita was actually eyeballing me when he screamed “f*** off!” at the Oxford fans following Town’s equaliser. Despite the post-match statistics proving me to be a buffoon it felt like we stood there for almost 5 hours watching wave after wave of Swindon attacks threaten to ruin our day. In the end it was Oxford United that missed the best second half chances but the team held on to win at the County Ground for the first time since Donny Osmond topped the charts with Young Love.

Oxford United weren’t the only team to be battling a long hoodoo in this early round of league games. My true footballing love, Tottenham Hotspur had the usual daunting trip to Old Trafford to look forward to. Unlike the Oxford game, if you like football and haven’t spent the last 24 hours under a rock there is a good chance that you’ll know how things played out between Spurs and Manchester United. We may have seen the beginnings of Alex Ferguson’s latest team reincarnation but it’s the issues surrounding Tottenham Hotspur Football club that left me with far more to think about.

Spurs haven’t won at Old Trafford since Arthur Rowe was a player and whilst this might be a slight exaggeration it feels as though it has been that long. Every season when this game happens I lose all hope. In recent memory there have been bad decisions, (the Pedro Mendes “goal”), contentious decisions, (the Gomes/Carrick penalty) and downright baffling decisions, (Nani’s goal last season) but in the majority of these games the rule of thumb is that Spurs generally roll over and take their beating and the latest meeting was no exception. Personally I think that last night put paid to the myth that Spurs have a strong squad. What they actually have is a lot of players and there’s a huge difference between the two but it all boils down to one thing, ambition. Where exactly do the board and the manager want the club to be?

In the past 16 months I have heard Harry Redknapp say, (about the same group of players) that Spurs could qualify for the Champions League, win the Premier League and then be lucky to finish in sixth place but that we as fans should be thankful for it. The frustrating thing is that I think he might have had a point. All of these remarks can be directly linked to a particular subject, the transfer dealings of the teams around Tottenham and the dealings of the club itself. With the exception of Arsenal, (which is a different can of worms altogether) all of the teams that are likely to be ahead of Spurs in the league have strengthened their squads significantly in the last 8 months while Tottenham have been left behind. It’s worth noting that the only attacking player of substance purchased by the club in two years, (despite its three frontline strikers managing just seventeen league goals between them last season) is Rafael Van der Vaart, a player that Redknapp laughingly told us he didn’t need but that the Dutchman was a gift from his chairman. All of this smacks of either blistering ignorance on the part of the people running the club, including Redknapp himself or a tacit admission that Spurs just can’t afford to challenge the top four. With no new stadium plans in place and a vocalised  desire from the board not to break the club’s wage structure perhaps it’s time we Spurs fans finally admitted that the upper echelons of the Premier League are a fast fading dream.

This article first appeared here on 24.08.2011

My Favourite Goal

This piece first appeared on 14.01.2001 as part of GhostGoal’s My Favourite Goal series.

“What team do you support?”

“Erm, Tottenham?”

It’s 1987, I’m nine years old and I’ve just moved to a new school. Oh, and I’m not particularly interested in football.

It’s a defence mechanism innate in most kids. Say what you think people like to hear and they’ll generally leave you alone. The kid asking me had the shortest hair I’d ever seen and it was a time when the word Skinhead still provoked a fearful reaction from  a lot of people. If I’d known that the boy in question was a bit of a wet blanket and ate beetroot sandwiches for lunch every day, (and I do mean EVERY day) rather than being a fully paid up member of the NF, (not as common as you might think in rural Northants) then I might not have committed myself but I did and it stuck. Tottenham ’til I die.

Supporting Spurs has given me a number of things over the years. Sore feet from queueing at White Hart Lane station, a footballing inferiority complex and a few moments of utter, unspeakable delight. And my favourite goal.

When asked ‘what’s your favourite goal?’ a few possibilities come up. Nelinho’s 1978 curler against Italy in the World Cup. I’d never before seen anyone swerve a ball like that when I first saw it on video. I was quite a fan of Mark Hughes’ tight finish in the ’91 CWC Final against Barcelona too but when it comes to my favourite there is only one.

“Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is you know. Oh, I say! Brilliant!”

For an awful lot of Spurs fans of my age this will be their favourite goal.  Too young to appreciate Chivers’ rocket against Wolves in the UEFA Cup Final and Villa’s slalom past Manchester City at Wembley. Gascoigne’s ’91 FA Cup semi-final thunderbolt free kick into the top corner against Arsenal was ‘our’ moment.

I didn’t actually see the goal on the day it happened. Some childhood indiscretion on my part meant that I wasn’t allowed to watch television on the day of the game and whilst I got very excited listening to it on the radio it only became clear how good that goal was when I got to see it a few days later.

One of the things that makes it my favourite is what the goal represents as much as the quality of the strike itself. It was Spurs distilled into a split second. The genius of Gascoigne is almost a logical progression from Arthur Rowe’s push and run team, Bill Nicholson’s double winners, the teams that won 2 UEFA cups. This is what Spurs did and to do it against the then boring, boring Arsenal made it all the sweeter. The drab mediocrity of the years that followed served only to heighten the enjoyment of watching moments like that. I still get a buzz when I watch the clip now. It’s tinged with a little sadness when you look at how life turned out for Gascoigne but rightly or wrongly for a lot of us he’ll be that prodigiously talented young man sprinting away in delight forever.

Schoolboys Own stuff indeed.

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