Goodbye, Poch

My dad was always more of a football fan than me; it came naturally to him – it was in his blood. He grew up playing on the streets of Buenos Aires and throughout his teens and twenties he and his brother Cacho would go to la Bombonera to watch Boca Juniors in every home game.

A Boca lino print by my dad.

When he met my mum and moved to London he married into a family of Spurs fans. He kept alive his links to Argentine football by helping Spurs new-boys Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa settle in London (a story I will save for another day).  Even after his marriage to my mum ended and he moved back to Buenos Aires, he would drag us on tours of La Bombonera every time we visited him. Often when I called him from London on a Sunday evening, he’d be listening to a Boca match on the radio.

My dad in the centre, with Spurs manager Keith Burkinshaw on the right. Spurs had just signed Ardiles and Villa and my dad offered to help them settle in London.

Football didn’t come as naturally for me. I loved playing in the school playground and on a Saturday morning with school, but as a kid I never went to matches and I wasn’t bothered about club football; I never had that romantic scene of father and son cheering together on the terraces – I was too shy and too middle-class; I was happier tucked up in bed with a stack of comics. It was only when I started university life in Leeds in the mid 90s that I started following Spurs on a weekly basis.  I began to realise that football was a way to make new friends and pad out flagging smalltalk – the cliché of football as a universal language is true.

And then over time, week after week, Spurs got under my skin. Managers came and went, we flirted with relegation and consistently underachieved. Bad results would ruin my weekends; last minute winners would have me swearing at the telly. And every so often we’d sign a Ginola or a Berbatov or a Bale and we’d behold… magic. (I should also point out that in 2003 I applied to be Spurs manager. I still have the rejection letter).

I did not get the job.

My dad was back in Buenos Aires and I was in London. For much of the last 20 years, before Facebook and Skype erased the distance, our relationship was restricted to a letter every few months, but football remained a small, tentative island of common ground. Over the years we rebuilt our relationship, and football was part of that. I remember talking excitedly to him when Spurs appointed Pochettino as manager; there was something so right about my club bringing in an Argentine, as though the stars were working for me and my dad. And Poch was great: warm, handsome, suave, clever and a brilliant manager. He made Spurs unSpursy. At least for a while.

And then in December 2015 my dad died. It was a sudden, violent death, and in that moment of trauma, everything in my life was smashed together. And in the weeks and months that followed, his death became fused with the fortunes of Spurs and Pochettino. It wasn’t quite as simple as me transferring my affections from one Argentine man to another, but it was hard not to cling onto Poch as I flailed around.

It was good timing: in the season after my dad died, Spurs threatened to win the title for the first time in 50-odd years (well, we never really looked like winning, but it was exciting to be leading the chasing pack) and when we finally blew it in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea I felt unexpectedly emotional. I hadn’t realised how much I wanted them to win it for my dad. But next season Spurs didn’t collapse. We just got better and better, and to my pleasure we added more Argentines to the squad. Here was the team that my dad and I supported (and my mum, bless her, who embodies the natural pessimism of the lifelong Spurs fan), full of Argentine players, playing magnificent football and tearing up the league. We didn’t actually win anything, but we were qualifying for the Champions League year after year and playing thrilling attacking football. We made it all the way to the Champions League final, but it wasn’t to be.

And then two days ago Pochettino was sacked. The team hadn’t played well for nearly a year, and Poch had looked irritable and distracted for some time but I was still gutted. It was the end of an era that felt like it had only just begun. And that’s a lesson life teaches you, I suppose: that the story doesn’t always work out the way it should. That you don’t always get the ending you deserve. My dad didn’t.

Spurs already have a new manager, and all eyes are on the next game. But right now, this feels less about football and more about a certain sadness. Another connection with the past is gone, and all those memories feel a little more distant.

He was handsome, wasn’t he?

Redknapp vs Levy

Last time I blogged it was about Harry Redknapp and whether Spurs would qualify for the Champions League. How time flies. As I write this, Spurs aren’t in the Champions League and Harry Redknapp is no longer the manager of Tottenham Hotpsur.

I’m still not sure how I feel. My last blogpost was all about Harry; about how he plays the media game, how he always looks out for number one, and always manages to shift the blame for his failures. You might think, judging by what I’d written, that I’d be happy Harry has gone. I’m not. I’m ambivalent at best. More than anything else, I feel disappointed. Disappointed because for all his faults, Redknapp was the best manager I’d seen at Spurs in a long, long time and disappointed because I think that had Redknapp and Levy both handled things differently, it could all have been avoided.

First of all, let’s take a look at some of the reasons Harry Redknapp is no longer Spurs manager. The obvious reason is that Spurs failed to qualify for the Champions League. In a normal Premier League season, finishing fourth would qualify a team for the Champions League. And at the beginning of last season, nearly every single Spurs fan would have settled for finishing fourth. But Spurs didn’t have a normal season. We spent most of the season in the top three, and for large parts of it looked like we could even challenge for the title (my apologies for using “we” for Spurs. It’s presumptuous and annoying but I do it anyway). And frustratingly, our fall out of the top three coincided with the long period of time in which Harry was blatantly touting himself for the England manager’s job – a position he clearly wanted (after leaving Spurs he admitted that had he been offered the job, he would have taken it). It became clear to all but the most blinkered pro-Redknapp fan that Harry had taken his eye of the ball. From the moment England manager Fabio Capello resigned, something wasn’t right at Spurs. In addition, it also became clear from April onwards that there was a slim but realistic possibility that Chelsea would win the Champions League and that fourth place would not be good enough. So, being charitable to Harry you could say that he took the team to fourth, which would normally qualify them for The Champions League. Being unkind, you could say that it was clear for some time that to guarantee Champions League football Spurs would have to finish third, and that Harry’s personal ambition badly hampered the team’s chances of achieving that goal. Would Levy have sacked Redknapp if the team had finished third? Judging by his quotes in the press, Harry thinks that he’d have been fired anyway, but I doubt it. It would have been Tottenham’s highest ever finish in the Premier League and Levy would have faced a revolt  from the fans. And I also believe that for all Levy’s faults, he only ever does what he believes is best for Tottenham Hotspur. If he’s wrong, he’s wrong with the best of intentions.

But I suspect that the schism between Redknapp and Levy wasn’t really about the Champions League or Redknapp’s fondness for making indefensible statements to the national press. It was based on the fundamental differences in their approaches to football, which is what I’d like to focus on. Let’s take a look at Daniel Levy.

Daniel Levy is an excellent businessman, who has very sensible and progressive views on how to run a football club. He likes to balance the books and make sure the club is well run and cost effective. The club is in rude financial health, has amazing new training facilities, great sponsorship deals and is exploring a new, larger stadium. Levy has a clear long-term vision for the club.

Now, if you were a progressive young chairman like Daniel Levy, and you were in charge of a top 10 Premiership club, here are some things you might do:

  • You would install a young, dynamic manager (preferably one with European experience, who speaks a few languages and is committed to pretty football, rather than a horrible old English manager who likes long-ball football and drinks the wrong wines). This manager would be part of a long-term plan and would be in charge for decades. He’d leave a legacy of success. Think of Arsene Wenger when he first arrived at Arsenal.
  • You’d get a Director of Football. Directors of Football aren’t very popular in England, but on the continent they’re ubiquitous. They allow the manager to get on with coaching, whilst the DoF can flip through his massive rolodex and unearth hidden talent from New Zealand to Romania. No more buying overpriced players from Everton or West Ham! Now the whole world is your oyster. The Director of Football is the magical svengali who magics players out of nowhere.
  • You would buy young players with a high resale value, meaning that if they did leave the club, you’d have made a healthy profit.
  • You’d make the occasional big money marquee signing to send a message out to the big clubs that you’re a serious contender, and to reassure the fans that you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is.
  • You’d build a new, bigger stadium to ensure that money coming into the club through gate receipts actually covered the money the club is spending on players. The club would not be dependent on an Abramovich-style sugar daddy – it would be self-sustaining.
  • You’d build new, state-of-the-art training facilities so that the players were always fit and ready.
  • You’d invest in an academy so that rather than always having to buy expensive players, you’d have a constant supply of talented, home-grown players, proud to wear the shirt.
  • You would make sure that the club had strength in depth – that as well as having a strong first-team, there was a big enough squad of quality players to ensure that the team was always competitive, no matter how games and injuries took their toll.

If all that sounds familiar, it’s because  – with the possible exception of the Director of Football – it’s essentially the blueprint that almost any young, ambitious chairman has when he takes over a football club. Whether it’s Newcastle, Aston Villa, Spurs, Chelsea or Liverpool, roughly the same promises are made. Even with clubs like Man City and Chelsea, who are plucked from relative mediocrity by billionaire owners, the same mantra is chanted: “Sure, we’ll invest heavily at first, but in a few years time the team will be packed with cheap, home-grown players”. Even disastrous chairmen who have led their clubs to the brink of bankruptcy (Hello Portsmouth! Hello West Ham!) start their tenures by repeating the same clichés about grass-roots investment, long-term financial stability, investment in local players and endless seasons of sunshine and happiness.

The blueprint above  is brilliant. It’s full of sensible, progressive ideas that should lead to long-term success. The problem is this: the blueprint rarely works. Or rather, it works in parts, but rarely leads to the kind of success that is promised. And when it comes to Spurs, Daniel Levy has done an excellent job in reinventing the club, lifting the team out of the mire of 90s mediocrity, and making them competitive again; but the long-term stability and glory he craves still eludes him.

Let’s take a look at the managers that Daniel Levy has employed. When Levy took over at Spurs in February 2001, his first act was to get rid of George Graham. Graham was not popular with Spurs fans, but we won the League Cup under him, which should not be overlooked. But Graham had a few things working against him: He was always an Arsenal man. And he was old-school. He was never the kind of shiny, new continental manager that Levy fancied. So in late 2001 Graham was booted out and replaced by Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle was a Spurs hero and just the kind of young, progressive coach that Levy liked. He’d even played abroad! And for a short while it worked, but by September 2003 Spurs were once again in the relegation zone and Hoddle was sacked. Levy appointed David Pleat as caretaker manager for the rest of the season and set out to find a new manager who could rebuild the club from scratch.

In June 2004 Levy made his move. He installed Frank Arnesen as Director of Football (a position that was unheard of in English football) and made former French national team manager Jacques Santini his new coach. Levy’s sexy new modern Spurs were ready to roll! Spurs had money and a new continental-style set-up. What could go wrong? Everything. Santini was a disaster and left the club after just a few months. Assistant coach Martin Jol was promoted to head coach (This is important to remember. I maintain that had Jol been hired specifically to be the head coach, he’d have had more clout with the board and wouldn’t have been treated so shabbily and the end of his reign). Still, despite Santini’s departure, Spurs still had Arnesen, right? Wrong.

In June 2005 Arnesen defected to moneybags Chelsea. Levy’s grand plan for long-term success had come unstuck in little over a year. Arnesen was replaced as Director of Football by young, bespectacled Frenchman Damien Comolli. Levy continued with his vision of a Director of Football. Jol would take charge of coaching the team and Comolli would sit above him, signing and selling the players; indeed, it’s hard not to see Comolli as the personal embodiment of Levy’s dream. An articulate, intelligent, bespectacled, business-savvy, pan-European man – shave Comolli’s hair off and you’ve basically got Daniel Levy. The Comolli/Jol combination was a limited success; there were successful runs in the UEFA Cup but Spurs narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Champions League on the last day of the 2005-2006 season and never quite recovered. In addition, there were clear tensions between Jol and Comolli, with the former clearly unhappy with some of the players Comolli signed (I’m thinking of Didier Zokora here). Spurs were supposed to challenge for the Champions League in the 2007-2008 season but started badly. In October 2007 Jol was sacked, undone by the Spurs board. Comolli kept his job. Many Spurs fans felt that the wrong man went.

Still, Jol was history and it was an opportunity for Levy to indulge in his proclivity for progressive, continental coaches. The club hired Juande Ramos from Seville. Ramos, working with a Director of Football, had worked wonders for Seville. Here was a manager firmly in the Levy mould. He ticked all the boxes. How could he fail? To be fair to Ramos, he did lead Spurs to the League Cup in the 2007-2008 season but the club’s start to the 2008-2009 was disastrous. Two points after eight games looked like relegation form. So Levy did something unexpected…

In October 2008 Levy got rid of Ramos. He also got rid of Comolli, scrapping the beloved Director of Football post. He installed Harry Redknapp as manager. Redknapp was given money to spend and told to rescue Spurs. He did so. On the final day of the 2008-2009 season, Spurs finished in eighth position, just missing out on Europe.

The next season, Redknapp did even better, with Spurs finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in their history. In the 2010-2011 season, Spurs defied all expectations, reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League, beating Inter Milan and AC Milan along the way. Tottenham couldn’t quite match that form in the league, finishing fifth and missing out on another season in the Champions League. That brings us up to the 2011-2012 season, which is where we began, all those paragraphs ago.

So let’s take a look at how Harry worked during his time at Spurs, and how it contrasts with Levy’s philosophy. If Levy was always planning for the long-term, then Redknapp was always focused on the present. Redknapp was never interested in running a club; it was all about the first team.

Levy’s philosophy involved signing big names, but was really built on unearthing young gems and slowly developing them into first-team players. It was about ensuring success for the club at every level. In contrast, Redknapp appeared only really interested in players who were ready now, who could slot straight into the team. If that meant signing 32-year-old William Gallas or 40-year-old Brad Friedel, promising them huge wages and putting them straight into the team, so be it. Harry wasn’t worried about whether they’d still be around in a year or two, as long as they could do the job now.  (Redknapp’s history of signing older, experienced players on huge, long-term contracts had a very unhappy ending for his former club Portsmouth. On the verge of liquidation, the club is still paying astronomical wages to players Redknapp signed. He should not be wholly blamed for this – it was the Portsmouth owners who needed to ensure the bills could be paid). Redknapp’s philosophy, certainly when it came to buying players, was always short-term. He wasn’t particularly interested in nurturing young talent or unearthing undiscovered talent. (It’s no coincidence that Tottenham’s most valuable players over the 2011-2012 season were mostly signings Redknapp had nothing to do with: Bale and Modric predate Redknapp and Van der Vaart was a deal brokered by Levy and delivered to Redknapp. Redknapp can take credit for Scott Parker, I’ll give him that).

Harry cared about winning games. He didn’t appear very interested in the youth team or the reserves (very few reserve players ever broke through to the first team and made Premier League appearances). He wasn’t interested in financial prudence. He was interested in who could slot straight into the first team and make a difference. It was an enormously short-sighted, unsustainable model. The only was problem was, largely speaking, it worked.

Conventional wisdom tells us that football clubs should build slowly, plan for the future, have stable management and invest in youth. The “Levy way”. But let’s take a look at which teams finished the 2011-2012 season with silverware. Man City won the Premiership with a team rammed full of ready-made, experienced footballers, all on huge wages. Aside from Joe Hart, the promising youth players of yesteryear were discarded. Chelsea started the season the Levy way, by hiring a promising young manager in André Villas-Boas and planning for long-term success. Then, half-way through the season Abramovich got nervous, sacked Villas-Boas, promoted Roberto di Matteo and reverted back to type. They then won the Champions League and the FA Cup with a team full of old, experienced, highly paid superstars. Chelsea and Man City didn’t win by being sensible, sticking by their managers, investing in youth and having a long-term vision; they won by spending shitloads of money on big-name players, whose egos and salaries were bigger than the manager’s. Football is a funny old game.

Redknapp’s last season with Spurs was an odd one. As I’ve said, Spurs finished fourth, which would normally constitute a success. They also finished with a hugely unbalanced squad, consisting of just one recognised striker in Jermain Defoe. (Redknapp had signed Adebayor on a one-year loan at the start of the season, had sold Roman Pavlyuchenko and replaced him with Louis Saha, also on a short-term loan deal). In addition, Redknapp’s focus on the first team meant that the rest of the squad appeared alienated and frustrated by their lack of playing time.

The bitter irony is that somewhere between Levy’s long-term planning and Harry’s understanding of what makes a good first-team squad, a good balance was achieved. Last season was the closest I’ve seen to Spurs actually winning the league. (From the very first game of the season I was thrilled to see Brad Friedel in goal – of all Redknapp’s signings, Friedel was my favourite. For the first time in years, we had a goalkeeper I totally trusted. He was a short-term solution, but he was marvellous).

Redknapp simplified Levy’s grandiose visions and delivered a winning team, and Levy kept Redknapp’s financial excesses in check and made sure the squad consisted of more than a load of pensioners. For four years, Spurs had a combination of chairman and manager that actually worked, which is why I feel so disappointed that Harry has left.

It also explains why I’m undecided about the appointment of André Villas-Boas. He ticks all the Levy boxes. He’s young, continental, progressive and has a long-term vision for the club. He’s everything that Harry isn’t. I want him to succeed. But in Hoddle, Santini and Ramos, I can’t help but think I’ve seen it all before.

Harry Redknapp and Spurs; an unravelling season

As I type this, Tottenham Hotspur are fifth in the Premier League. With four games to go before the end of the season, there is a good chance that they will finish outside of the Champions League places. Indeed, it’s not impossible that Spurs will finish sixth, behind Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Newcastle and Chelsea. For a team that has spent most of this season in third place, and that was close to topping the table at times, this would a very disappointing end to the campaign. Whether Spurs finish third or sixth; whether the season is a triumph or a failure, only one man is really responsible: Harry Redknapp.

I’ve always liked Harry. Before he came to Spurs, I always admired the way his teams played football and the way he handled players, getting the most out of them. I wasn’t always fond of his wheeler-dealer schtick, but I liked his enthusiasm and irreverence. Since he’s been Spurs manager I’ve managed to take a closer look at him, and some of the shine has worn off. I still think he’s a good manager, although the last few games of this season will determine just how good.

Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify how I see the role of a football manager. It’s different overseas, where there is more of a director of football/coach set-up, but in England, as far as I am concerned, the manager is God. The whole identity of a club is determined by the manager. Obviously, a manager is limited by the finances at his disposal, but beyond that, he has complete control. The manager should be in charge of selecting which players to buy and sell, training the team (alongside coaches), selecting the tactics for each game, developing the players – both mentally and physically, man-managing each player so that they are used to their full potential, picking the team on the match-day and making tactical changes and substitutions when necessary. The manager should have a plan for the long-term, understanding their objectives for the season and how they will use their squad to realise those objectives. If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. The manager has to take control. When Roberto Mancini was criticized for his handling of the Carlos Tevez affair, he found an unlikely ally in Sir Alex Ferguson, who backed the Italian and reiterated his belief that the manager remains the most important figure at a football club. Sir Alex Ferguson is a good example of how a football team is moulded in the identity of a manager. Players (and owners) come and go but every Manchester United team remains defiantly Ferguson. Even when the players aren’t great, the team still reflects Ferguson’s identity and embodies his desire for victory. Mediocre Man Utd teams regularly beat the best Spurs teams.

Harry Redknapp has been in charge of Tottenham Hotspur since October 2008. He has been in control of the team for nearly four years and has done a lot for the club. As he is fond of telling the press, when he joined Spurs they had 2 points after 8 games and were propping up the table. He has done well with the players at his disposal and has been backed in the transfer market when needed. The current Spurs squad is very much a Harry squad, composed of players he has brought into the club (Friedel, Parker, Defoe, Gallas, Adebayor, Saha) and players who were already at Spurs, but who who he has moulded into his style of play (Bale, Lennon, King, Assou-Ekotto). There remain a handful of players who Redknapp clearly doesn’t rate but who he can’t get rid of (Dos Santos, Bentley). But it is very much Harry’s team. When the team plays well, as it has done regularly over the last few years, it is due to good management by Harry, and when the team plays badly, it is because of bad management by Harry. That is how football works. Win, lose or draw, it is because of Harry.

When a team is playing badly and losing games, one of the mantras repeated by football fans and pundits is that the players have to take responsibility – that the manager can’t go out there on the pitch and play the game for them. This is a fundamentally flawed statement. Of course the players have some responsibility, but the ultimate responsibility always lies with the manager. It is his responsibility to pick the right team over the course of the season to ensure that players remain fresh, to ensure all the players understand their roles on the pitch, to motivate players and protect them from pressure, to inspire and lead them. If the players are nervous or tired or flat, this is a failure on behalf of the management.

Which brings us back to Harry Redknapp. One of the reasons I like Harry less now than when he first took over at Spurs is because I understand what motivates him. What motivates him is doing the best thing for Harry Redknapp. In many ways that is understandable, but it is an unedifying sight. I’ve watched countless post-match interviews with Harry and have come to marvel at how he deflects attention away from his own failings. When Spurs play against Man City or Chelsea Harry is quick to highlight how much money these clubs have and how Spurs can’t compete. When Spurs lose to Stoke or Norwich, Harry isn’t quite so keen to dwell on the financial disparity. When a player he brought to Spurs has done well, he will highlight how he had to persuade the chairman Daniel Levy to buy him (see Scott Parker). He ensures that when things are going well, credit goes to Harry and when things are going badly he manages to shift responsibility onto players or other figures at the club – he throws up his hands and claims that he is helpless. He has given almost no credit to Daniel Levy for ensuring that Luka Modric remained at Tottenham after the Croatian attempted to jump ship to Chelsea. In the recent slump Harry has often talked about the failings in the squad, whether it is tiredness or lack or height, as though he’s not directly responsible for those failings. He is the manager. He has been the manager for 4 years. If the players are tired or playing badly it is because he hasn’t managed them properly. If the squad is lacking depth in certain positions, it’s no one’s fault but Harry’s.

In some ways I don’t entirely blame Harry for the way he deals with the press – you don’t survive that long in football management by giving the media and fans enough rope to hang you with.

And despite Harry’s attitude irritating me, it hasn’t really upset me too much because over the last four years, what has been good for Harry Redknapp has nearly always coincided with what was good for Spurs. That all changed in February 2012. A day after Harry was cleared of two counts of cheating the public revenue, England manager Fabio Capello quit his post. Harry was instantly installed as favourite to replace him and a media campaign to appoint Redknapp as England manager sprung into action.

Of course, Harry himself refused to commit himself either way, because being Harry he wants to keep him options open. He could have issued a “come-and-get-me” plea and stated that he wanted the England position. He could have stated that he wanted to stay with Spurs. He did neither. He left as many doors open as possible. And almost immediately, Tottenham’s season turned to shit. Of course, according to Harry, the dip in Tottenham’s form has nothing to do him being linked to the England job. Because, according to Harry, none of his decisions ever have any negative impact on the team. Over and over he has stated that the players aren’t affected by the uncertainty hanging over the club, as though not knowing who the manager will be next season or whether your manager will even last until the end of the season won’t get into a player’s head. A lot of football is mental. The difference between a great player (Fernando Torres for Liverpool) and a poor player (Fernando Torres for Chelsea) is rarely physical. It’s an accumulation of doubts, fears, lack of self-belief and self-confidence. Players are affected by what goes on around them. Of course they are.

I’m not suggesting that Spurs’ recent slump is entirely down to Harry flirting with the FA. There are plenty more issues. But what unites all these issues is that as manager, Harry is responsible for all of them. As I’ve said before: this is Harry’s team.

Earlier in the season, when Spurs were 3rd and making an almost-credible push for the Premier League title, Harry Redknapp repeatedly stated that it was possible for Spurs to win the league – that the club had the players and resources to do it. I suspect, because I’ve heard it so many times before, that if Spurs do finish fifth or sixth, that Harry will swiftly rewrite history and claim that “we can’t compete with the Arsenals and Chelseas of the world” and that finishing sixth is a wonderful achievement. Because that’s what Harry does: he always paints a picture in which he is blameless.

I was thinking recently that Spurs need a leader: not a leader on the pitch, but a leader in the dug-out. Because no matter how good a manager Harry is, he isn’t a leader. Being a leader involves a certain degree of self-sacrifice. It means standing tall and taking responsibility for your actions. It’s not about being liked by the press or players. It’s not about jumping ship when an opportunity arises. It’s about committing to a cause and leading by example.

This article isn’t an attack on Harry. I still like him. I think he’s a good manager. Over the last couple of years Spurs have played some extraordinarily good football. He has done a lot for Tottenham Hotspur. But Tottenham Hotspur has also done a lot for him. Despite a potentially damaging court case hanging over him, in 2008 Daniel Levy gave him the manager’s job and the budget and support to succeed. It was this support that put Harry in the frame to be England manager. As much as Spurs owe a debt of gratitude to Harry, so he owes something to Spurs.

I hope that Spurs qualify for the Champions League. I hope that Harry Redknapp has the skill and experience to pick the right team for the remaining games, and the passion and craft to motivate and inspire the players to victory. I really do. And if he fails, I don’t want to hear his excuses.

Spurs drawings

Over the last few months, when I’ve been bored and there’s been nothing on Twitter to entertain me, I’ve drawn pictures of Spurs players. (Well, I trace photos of them, but I take enough liberties in the tracing that it doesn’t feel like total plagiarism)

I’ve been experimenting with a different style. Sharp and clean and angular, with lots of movement. I don’t know what I’ll do with them, but I enjoy them. Click on the pics for larger versions.

Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale

Rafa van der Vaart

Rafa van der Vaart

Louis Saha

Louis Saha

Emmanuel Adebayor

Emmanuel Adebayor

Younès Kaboul

Younes Kaboul

Aaron Lennon

Aaron Lennon


Carling Cup final, book, etc

I spent the afternoon in the pub, watching Spurs lose on penalties to lucky, lucky, greedy Man Utd in the Carling Cup final. It was a strange game – I thought we played well, but felt that our defeat was inevitable. I should feel gutted but I don’t – I suppose the main aim for the season is that we stay up and everything else is secondary. We never win against Man Utd, so I wasn’t expecting much. I wrote off this season a long time ago.

It was quite bizarre in the pub. I met my mates Sam and Jon there, but my mum also tagged along, as I know she  enjoys her football. She had to leave before extra-time and so I texted her the result. We also bumped into Martin, a bloke who me and Sam went to university with in Leeds many years ago. It turns out he now lives in Wood Green. It was one of those odd occasions where various social spheres all collide, but no-one gets hurt. A jolly time was had by all, if you remove the football from the equation.

Yesterday, in a second-hand bookshop in East Finchley, I found a copy of my book. It cheered me up, briefly. I often forget that I’ve written a book. Come April it will be 3 years since I wrote the damned thing, and I can’t say I have any particular urge to write another one. I assumed that once I’d written a book, fame and fortune would instantly beckon, but that hasn’t been the case. I should really pull my finger out and write something else, but my creative well is dry.

Anyway, here’s a good interview with Alan Moore.

It is snowing

It is snowing very heavily. No buses. Limited tubes. Fortunately I am working from home today. The girlfriend managed to get into town via First Capital Connect, but is on her way home before all forms of transport are cancelled.




I went for a quick wander around Alexandra Palace but I own no gloves and my hands were turning into lumps of frozen meat, so it’s back home to wear thermals and keep the central heating on. My nostalgic joy at snowfall lasts about 2 hours before I’m sick of it and resent feeling trapped, cold and slippery. Bring on the heatwave.

Oh, and today is transfer deadline day. I don’t really think Spurs need new players. We just have to remember that turning up on matchday doesn’t actually mean you get to win the game.

Burnley, Redknapp, Fletcher

I have just watched Spurs lose 3-2 to Burnley, but make it through to the Carling Cup final on aggregate. The scoreline is deceptive. Spurs were leading 4-1 from the home leg, meaning that Burnley needed to score at least 3 goals to make it to the final. And they did. After 90 minutes they were leading 3-0, having comprehensively outplayed Spurs. I had assumed before the game that a 3-0 scoreline would mean that Spurs would be eliminated on the away-goals rule, but it turns out that rule only comes into effect after 120 minutes. Which is lucky for Spurs, because having failed to create any chances for the entirety of the match, they scored after 118 minutes. Burnley’s heads dropped and we got another goal.

The result should not mask the fact that we were appalling. It was a performance as bad as anything under Ramos in the first 10 games of this season but was sadly not much worse than recent performances in the league against Portsmouth, Wigan, West Brom and Fulham. At the moment Spurs are fifth from bottom in the league, with all the teams below on the same number of points.

I am a fan of Harry Redknapp’s and was pleased when he was appointed. He has experience fighting relegation (mostly successfully), has an eye for a bargain (a pleasant change from our policy of big money marquee signings)  and his teams generally play good football. When he was first appointmented, I marvelled at his man-management and his ability to boost the confidence of struggling players. He boasted about how this was the best squad he had ever inherited, with quality throughout the ranks. Suddenly, a collection of strangers looked like a team.

In the last six weeks, however, we have seen the other side to Harry’s character. The shrugging, hangdog, nothing-is-my-fault Harry. As results fell away, he has ridiculed the strength of the squad, saying we are lacking in most areas (we aren’t), he has singled out players for criticism (Bent, who thrives on confidence) and has generally acted as though the events on the pitch are nothing to do with him. Let’s be honest: Spurs have a very good, expensively assembled squad. Not good enough for the Champions League, but good enough to finish in the top ten. We are lacking a decent defensive midfielder, a striker who can hold up the ball (someone like Heskey was more of a priority than a poacher like Defoe, much as I like him) and goalkeeping cover. We could also do with a left-winger, but I don’t want to be greedy.

What is most galling about our current performances is our refusal to play football. We are hoofing the ball. I’ve seen more long balls in the last month than in the whole of last season. The long-ball has its place, but when you have the players Spurs have, you should be keeping the ball on the ground and letting the quality on the pitch do the talking. Tonight, Burnley outplayed us. They didn’t bully us or foul us, they just passed us off the pitch, moving the ball quickly and decisively. Harry can whine all he likes about the depth of the squad, but he cannot pretend that he is not responsible for the team he puts out on the pitch and the tactics they employ.

I haven’t given up on Harry. His job was to keep us up, and if he acheives that, he will have been successful. But if we do go down, he will have to accept that the blame lies squarely at his feet. So let’s see if he can stop blaming everyone else, and start getting Spurs playing some decent football and winning some games.

For those of you more interested in rubbish celebrities than football, I spotted a porky Dexter Fletcher on Oxford Street today.

Reality TV

Last night was spent alternating between football, Strictly Come Dancing and X-factor. I have joined the massed herds of middle-England, pointlessly jabbing a finger at the television screen as a series of mediocrities are served up for my amusement.

I wasn’t watching X-factor properly, because watching X-factor properly makes me feel like a grumpy old man who is out of step with the popular trends of the day. But let’s face it – it really is a pile of shit. This year the final was between Eoghan, a small Irish boy who looked like a Turnip and had a voice unable to fight its way out of a paper bag, boyband JLS, who had average voices and no charisma, and a good-old-fashioned Diva/belter/warbler called Alexandra. As it happened, Alexandra won, which was indeed the triumph of the lesser of three evils. She was merely average, whereas the other contestants were actively crap. It’s easy to knock reality TV contestants, but honestly, I’ve heard kids singing Christmas carols outside Boots with more melody and harmony than JLS.

The low point of the evening was watching the final two contestants sing versions of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen (or Jeff Buckley, since no-one actually listens to the Leonard Cohen version).  It’s the song that will now be released as a Christmas single and will no doubt go to Number 1. It’s a strange choice of song, given that a) it’s quite good and b) it’s lyrical content is the precise opposite of the traditional aspirational bollocks of most X-factor songs, which normally go like this: I’m going to reach for my goal/my perfect moment/reaching for the stars/climbing every mountain/eating every cloud. It’s a song about finding grace in suffering (I think). Anyway, the judges obviously just saw the title and thought: “Hallelujah! It’s a Christmas song!” Never mind that it was written by a Jewish Buddhist.

There was some supreme irony in hearing the contestants singing: but you don’t really care for music, do you? as the camera panned across Simon Cowell and Dannii Minogue.

Meanwhile, back in the world of Strictly, there was controversy as all three contestants made it to the final. Which was the correct result, given the way the voting worked. All the votes made will carry over to the final, so no-one has wasted any money, and everyone goes home happy. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the story being the FRONT PAGE headline of The News of The World, and causing hundreds of people to furiously ring the BBC to complain. I just don’t get it. Britain seems to have become a nation of simpletons, waiting for the tabloids to tell them who to be manically outraged with each week. At some point we may as well just bring back hanging – not for criminals, but for comedians, chat show hosts and BBC executives – basically, whoever has offended the Daily Mail’s sensibilities in the last six months.

On the bright side Spurs drew with Man Utd  and Berbatov didn’t get a sniff of a goal.

A Spurs week

What a week to be a Spurs fan. I awoke last Saturday to see that Spurs had sacked Ramos, Comolli and all the backroom staff and that Harry Redknapp was our new boss. Normally when a manager is sacked, there’s a period of a few weeks before the new boss is installed, but this was different. We went into the Bolton match with Clive Allen officially picking the team, but with ‘Arry on the sidelines screaming and looking like a melted waxwork of a bulldog.

We won 2-0. And looked like an actual team.

Still, I didn’t expect us to get anything from the midweek game at Arsenal. I could have watch the game in a pub, but had a prior engagement at The Boogaloo film quiz with some mates, and they don’t have a telly there. Nonetheless, I kept up to date with the game on my mobile. I cackled when Bentley scored, but suspected that we’d still lose. I remember the same match last season when we took the lead through a Bale free kick but then lost 3-1. So I wasn’t too surpised when we did end up 3-1, but was heartened when we pulled a goal back. Then, in typical Spurs fashion, we conceded, and I accepted defeat. And then, in three mad minutes we scored two goals. When I saw the final score was 4-4, I leapt onto the floor and did a little impromptu running-man dance, much to the delight/disgust of my team-mates on the quiz. I dashed outside to phone my mum to tell her to watch Match of the Day.

For the Liverpool game I was in Cambridge on a weekend break with my girlfriend. We didn’t want to spent the evening glued to the telly, so we compromised and watched the first half in a pub. I found myself sitting in front of a couple of Arsenal fans who spent the first 30 minutes saying: “I fucking hate Tottenham,” every two minutes. They crowed like fishwives when Liverpool scored. I bit my tongue and resisted to temptation to point out that Arsenal had just lost to Stoke. But we were happy enough – we chatted to some lovely Irish people and then went off to dinner. There was no reception on my mobile so I assumed that Spurs had lost. We were playing badly and Liverpool were creating hatfuls of chances. A home loss to Liverpool wasn’t the end of the world.

We got back to the B&B, wet and tired and I managed to get a signal on my mobile. We had won 2-1. I did my little dance and postponed any romance so I could watch Match of the Day. My God, we were lucky. Liverpool may as well have gift-wrapped the game and handed it to us with a little card saying: “With our sympathy in these difficult times…”

Everything at Spurs has happened so quickly that I haven’t had a chance to think about what this means for the club. In fact, the whole season has taken on a slightly dreamlike quality. I keep on expecting to wake up to find that Jol is still in charge. As for Ramos, the speed at which he has been consigned to the dustbin of football history is incredible. His reign seems like a distant memory despite the fact that just over a week ago he was in charge. Even as a Spurs fan, used to turmoil and upheaval, I’m amazed at how rapidly everything’s happened. I feel a little sorry for Ramos – he was a decent man, but found himself out of his depth. Had things been handled differently with Berbatov and Keane, he might have made a better start to the season and clung on. But he never looked properly equipped for a relegation struggle.

As for the rest of the season, we’re still in a relegation battle, and right now I’d settle for securing our Premiership status and forgetting about cups. Things may change, but right now our priority is the Premier League.

Dark days at White Hart Lane

I can’t very well continue with this blog and not mention Spurs, much as I’d like to avoid the subject.

For those of you who don’t follow football, here’s a brief resume: A couple of years ago Spurs had a lovely manager called Martin Jol. I loved him. And under his stewardship, we finished 5th two times in a row, scoring lots of goals, which was very good for Spurs. But some people at the club didn’t think Martin was good enough, so after a poor start to last season he was sacked and replaced by Juande Ramos, a granite-faced Spaniard. We recovered enough to avoid relegation and did remarkably well in the Carling Cup, beating Chelsea in the final to win our first silverware in a decade. Hooray. Despite this, our form in the league under Ramos wasn’t great. Then in the close season, we sold our two main strikers, Berbatov and Keane to Manchester United and Liverpool, for good money. Berbatov had been itching to leave for a year, and Keane claimed that Liverpool were his dream club. Alongside them, we also sold lots of key players like Malbranque, Tainio and Chimbonda. We spent big as well, buying big name players from Croatia, Russia and even England. In pre-season we looked quite good. Then the season started. Whoops. Spurs have played 8 games, and have won none of them, with two draws to show for our efforts. We have rarely looked like scoring goals, and the team looks uninvented and uninspired. There is little leadership on the pitch and Ramos doesn’t look like he knows what he wants the players to do. If things continue like this, it is fairly likely that Spurs will be relegated, which would be a disaster for a club that size. Oh, and as a pleasant afterthought, Martin Jol has just steered his new club, Hamburg, to the top of the German League.

On Sunday evening I popped by my mum’s for dinner and told her that we’d lost to Stoke. Worse still, we’d had two players sent off, conceded two penalties and had a player knocked unconscious. We both shrugged. It didn’t really surprise either of us.

Over the last few months I’ve written thousands of words on the subject of Spurs on the messageboards at spurscommunity, and I’ve read thousands more words on who is to blame: from Daniel Levy to Damien Comolli to Juande Ramos and even the fans. It’s exhausting. And I can’t be bothered with foaming at the mouth and chanting “LEVY OUT!” or calling for the manager’s head. None of it will change things.

I’ve passed through the various stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining… and acceptance. Not an acceptance that we will get relegated, but an acceptance that the club I loved under Martin Jol has gone. And it has been replaced by a team in which reputations count more than substance, where a love of the club has been replaced by an celebration of mediocrity. At the moment, even the thought of relegation doesn’t horrify me as much as it should, because there is almost no-one in the team that I care about. There’s no-one I’m rooting for. I don’t have a favourite player, because most of the players I loved now play for other teams, and have been replaced by empty superstars signed by people who spend their days watching goal compilations on YouTube.

There have been a litany of woeful errors by both the board and the manager. The chairman has been short-sighted and greedy and Ramos inspires no confidence in me. I look at the team and can’t even bring myself to hate the players – I just feel a pathetic sense of indifference and contempt. I hope we don’t go down. But most of all I want my Spurs back.