June 30, 2016
At the beginning of the summer I was expecting numerous Development Squad players to be released in order to clear the decks for more promising younger players. This was a little hasty, and I’ll explain why.
In a recent player update, the club confirmed that young professional Emmanuel Sonupe was released at the end of his contract, and that Under-18s Armani Daly, Charlie Hayford and Chris Paul were released at the end of their scholarships. Paul has signed a one-year professional contract at QPR (congratulations to him), whilst the others — as of today — have not yet found new clubs.
The 32 senior clubs that qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, as well as the 32 domestic youth champions are all entered into the ‘UEFA Youth League‘, which is a sort of Youth Champions League. This is a competition for Under-19 players, and for next season players are eligible to play in the competition if they were born on or after 1 January 1998. To give you an idea of what this means for Spurs, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Kyle Walker-Peters and Shayon Harrison miss the cut, but Zenon Stylianides, Shilow Tracey, Kazaiah Sterling and Marcus Edwards are all eligible.
The rules also allow up to three players born on or after 1 January 1997 (i.e. three players a year older) to be included on the list of 40 players, so long as they fulfil various other conditions.
The regulations also state ‘Any player who is fielded in three or more UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League matches (as of the group stages of those competitions) in the course of the 2016/17 season ceases to be eligible to play in the UEFA Youth League’. So we will need to be a little clever with the three overage players that we register; if there is any chance of Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters and/or Harrison playing first-team football, there is no point in registering them.
Chelsea won this competition last year, and in doing so they played 10 matches, so it’s fair to say that it’s a tournament with a substantial number of games.
In addition to this, it is likely that we will enter the English Football League Trophy, formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (but currently without a sponsor for the forthcoming season).
For a one-year trial, the tournament has been adapted so that as well as all League One and League Two clubs, it will include 16 category one academy sides.
The format will see 16 regional groups of four teams where the top two progress. I believe that this means it would be an 11-match run to the final consisting of: six group matches, Round of 32, Round of 16, Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, Final.
As a slight aside, this change has not gone down well with fans of League One and Two clubs, with the Football Supporters’ Federation recently releasing a statement saying that academy sides entering “undermines the integrity of the competition”. Personally, I wouldn’t be happy if a cash-rich Academy side potentially stood between my club and a Wembley appearance/prize money.
It is — as yet — unclear as to whether Spurs will enter this competition, and there are reasons not to, as this article by a Liverpool fan site underlines:
These reasons include not being able to play anyone registered in the first team squad of 25 players, and that all games are to be played during the international breaks.
Therefore, Liverpool – and other Premier League clubs – will lose all their youth internationals as well as anyone in and around the first-team squad.
That would leave the Reds with a handful of players, plus U17 or schoolboys – being played up against full first-teams of players aged 10 years older than them.
Had the competition been more thought out and planned correctly, it would have been a good opportunity for Liverpool’s young players to get competitive football.
If, as expected, Spurs participate in this tournament as well as the three others, the load will be significant for our Academy, and so it quickly becomes obvious why we have not shed what I consider to be the ‘deadwood’.
By my calculations, we have just under 40 players to cover these tournaments; that does not include the new academy intake (which should be somewhere between nine and twelve players), nor does it take into account loans and first-team promotions.
As I mentioned in a previous article, Spurs have very clearly changed their loan policy over the past few years, with numbers dropping off significantly from around 30 loan deals eight years ago, to roughly a third of that now – see The Spurs Report’s piece on this for more detailed information. If we assume that there will be between five and eight loans at any one time, that narrows the pool. If, as the Liverpool site said, the EFL Trophy matches are played during international breaks, that pool is narrowed further — we have a fairly high proportion of youth internationals.
Given the late return of players from the European Championships, we can expect the youngsters on the fringes of the first team squad (Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters, Harry Winks), plus the returning loanees (Grant Ward, Dominic Ball, Connor Ogilvie) to be to be involved in the early first-team pre-season friendlies, and we have seen in the past how players can use that opportunity to put themselves in the first-team squad picture.
It is going to be very tough to navigate through four competitions with a relatively small squad of players to select from, and I think there will be a number of repercussions from this:
- A negative: I don’t think we will perform particularly well in the English Football League Trophy or Under-21 Premier League, with an added caviat that we might do better if next year’s second year Academy players are heavily involved (and that is tricky, as a number of them will be playing Under-18 and UEFA Youth League games). A proportion of the players that played a lot of the Under-21 games last season are not good enough to break through to the first team, and are not showing enough signs of progress.
- A positive: I expect one or two players to make an unexpected breakthrough. There are players who will get exposure to more game-time at a higher level than they otherwise might have had, and who just needed that chance to have a run in the team (be that Under-18, Under-19 or Under-21).
- A final thought: perhaps we will sign some Under-21 players to help bolster the squads at different age groups. Or perhaps we’ll see us borrow players, like when we saw Ipswich’s Kundai Benyu play in the NextGen Series with us in May.
In the coming days we should have confirmation of the new academy intake and news on whether we are participating in the EFL Trophy; it will be interesting to see if Spurs release any type of statement on this, which might inform us to how this will be managed.
Interesting times of change ahead in the world of youth football.
June 18, 2016
During the England vs Wales match on Thursday, my Twitter-friend Dan Rattigan tweeted ‘England don’t deserve Kane’. I chortled to myself in the pub, hit the retweet button, and carried on my day. But then I came back to it later that night and realised how much it had resonated with me.
England don't deserve Kane
— Dan Rattigan (@djrattigan) June 16, 2016
Of course I’m a Harry Kane apologist; I’m a Spurs fan. So here are my excuses on his behalf.
Before this tournament I was feeling grumpy, because I didn’t want to share Harry with other football fans — particularly those casuals who only show up when a big tournament comes around. So I should be happy, right, that I’m not having to? You’d think. Quiet in the first match, and hauled off at half-time against Wales, the backlash has begun, and I’m feeling like a protective boyfriend whose partner has just had her backside groped in a grotty nightclub.
Kane looks sluggish, and it doesn’t take too much digging to understand why. The Daily Mail (*spits*) did some really useful analysis (I know, me either) of the number of matches Kane has played over the last two years.
It’s understandable that Kane looks tired.
But has Kane really been that bad? He’s been quiet, certainly. He’s not had much of the ball, he’s had no presentable chances, and he has not looked much of a goal threat.
On Thursday, Kane had just 13 touches in his 45 minutes; that’s not like him. Normally he is so involved, creating a platform for his team to play from. And yet Jamie Vardy only had seven touches in his time on the pitch. Vardy came on, scored a poachers goal from a position that would often have been offside and is spoken of as a hero, with fans in pubs across the country considering the alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs that may or may not be on offer at his upcoming soirée.
Whilst the other ‘super sub’, Daniel Sturridge, played 1700 minutes last season compared to Kane’s 4027. He’s fresher, looks sharp, and should be used. I’m sure he will be now, having come on and scored an impressive last-minute winner.
But I have no doubt that Kane would have buried the chance that Vardy scored to bring England level. And I have no doubt that had Kane remained on the pitch with either Sturridge or Vardy, he’d have had a positive impact in that second half.
The bigger issue, for me, has been the lack of service for the forward(s). Much of that can be put down to Raheem Sterling — bereft of confidence and looking a shadow of his former self — but even England’s better attacking performers (Wayne Rooney, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana) have failed to provide Kane and co with many clearcut chances.
Contrary to popular opinion, I actually think that England have generally played well, looking structurally sound, and conceding few chances in open play. They have played some neat and tidy football, which has been eye-catching at times, and a bit too side-to-side at others. We must remember, though, that the teams we have played so far have defended deep and in numbers, and it is never easy to penetrate sides that do that, as Spurs often found out last season.
For the Slovakia game I’d be looking at starting Sturridge and Vardy, but only to give Kane a bit of a break. Bring him on in the final twenty against tired legs, and hopefully he’ll get a goal to pep him up ahead of the next round. I would absolutely start him thereafter, because he’s our best forward. But I do think that he will need Sturridge and/or Vardy on the pitch with him, or for Alli to play high on the left as he did for Spurs for much of the season. Essentially, he needs someone to play off.
England don’t deserve Kane because ‘they’ don’t know how to love him like ‘we’ do.
Final thought. If you only read one thing today (other than this!), read this masterpiece about Eric Dier by Barney Ronay.
May 20, 2016
70 points for 70 points.
- We’re a good team.
- An actual, properly good team.
- I’ve loved this season, despite the way it ended. In an article I contributed to last week, I said it’d be a 6/10 season if we finished below Arsenal. In hindsight, I can’t hold us to that. 7/10 minimum; so much progress.
- It’s fairly obvious that we need to add depth for next season. The Champions League will take its toll far more than the Europa League and, whilst we could make mass changes and bring in ‘the kids’/squad fodder in the Europa League, we need players at a similar level to our first choice players in order to compete in both competitions next season if we want to hold our own. In fact, I would say that not necessary having obvious ‘first choice’ players is an aspiration.
- Because, as it stands, our first XI is pretty established; other than Son Heung-min/Kevin Wimmer pushing, the squad lacks players who genuinely challenge the first team spots. This is not ideal. We need to be able to rotate with less of a drop-off.
- We do have other players who *might* push next year — players like Clinton Njie, Nabil Bentaleb, Alex Pritchard, Harry Winks, Josh Onomah, heck, even (Big Fat) Nacer Chadli. And, based on the last two years, we can expect Mauricio Pochettino to improve all of those players. But I don’t think we can expect break-out seasons; we have been spoilt this year!
- Then you’ve got Kieran Trippier, Tom Carroll, DeAndre Yedlin, and Michel Vorm. Personally, I think that these players are not good enough for the number and status of games we’ll need them for and, personally, I’d try to move them on (though I know Trippier is relatively popular amongst our fan-base and that many disagree with me on that point).
- Ryan Mason is another who many expect to leave. He has been linked with Bournemouth, and it was telling that he was taken off at half-time against Newcastle, and that post-match Pochettino said “It’s important to analyse the goals, the formation of the squad and make some decisions.” This implied that he knows that some tinkering is required.
- On Mason specifically, it is worth noting that he has had significant injury problems throughout the season. I also, personally, think he’s unsuited to the role that he is being asked to play. Is he good enough to play as a Christian Eriksen/number ten in our team? Probably not. I could see him playing the Dele Alli false 9 role, though that is almost entirely based on what I saw during his youth career, which is now some time ago — Mason turns 25 in June.
- With the European Championships, so many question marks over squad members, so many youngsters who *might* fill gaps, and so many high-level games to play next year, it’s a very tricky summer of planning for Pochettino, Paul Mitchell and co.
- Who might we sign? We know that we need a defensive midfielder, and N’Golo Kanté would be the dream, though perhaps an unrealistic one. I am an admirer of Christoph Kramer of Bayer Leverkusen. Statistically, he’s comparable to Dier in terms of pass numbers, pass length, interceptions, but it’s noticeable that he makes three times as many tackles and also a higher proportion of forward passes. From the ‘eye test’, I know that he anticipates danger exceptionally well and, whilst he doesn’t cover ground too quickly, he gets across in time because his anticipation is so good.
- We might well need another central midfielder too, depending on who leaves and who is promoted. How settled is Morgan Schneiderlin at United? Will we rekindle our interest in Adrien Rabiot? These are good players who would add significant depth.
- Striker-wise, we’ve been linked with Michy Batshuayi (Olympique de Marseille), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion) and, recently, Calum Wilson (Bournemouth). Statistically, none of them really match up to Kane, but we have an elite-level striker and it will be incredibly difficult to find someone as good.
- We do need someone, though, and preferably someone who can play up front alone, but also in tandem with Kane should we require it. Versatility would be useful.
- Do we need to buy? Can we promote from within? Do we need to be concerned about the ‘home grown’ rule? Were we to lose Mason and Carroll — as many people expect — it would take us down to five home-grown players (Walker, Rose, Trippier, Davies, Kane), as we sold Andros Townsend last season.
- Alex Pritchard and Grant Ward would also need to be included on our 25-man squad list, as they have now passed the age barrier, and they are also home-grown — so that could be one way to manage this and would take us to seven. Dominic Ball has not passed the age threshold just yet so would not need to be listed – nor would Winks, Onomah, or even Dele Alli.
- I am also fairly certain that Nabil Bentaleb *will* be counted as home-grown (depending on when he was formally registered).
- Next year’s a big season for Bentaleb. As I said on the final Fighting Cock podcast of the season: if he’s the Bentaleb of two season’s ago, he’s an exciting asset; if he’s the Bentaleb of last season, he’s a liability.
- Rumour has it that he has settled down and smoothed things over with the club after an apparent falling out about his contract negotiations. I heard that the club were unhappy with his ‘entourage’ for going to the press.
- Clinton Njie’s first season has been a bit like Erik Lamela’s first. He’s looked a bit lost, has suffered with injuries, and a lot of fans are writing him off and calling for him to be sold. But, like Lamela, he has shown some promising glimpses. Hopefully with a good pre-season behind him, and plenty of Pochettino moulding he will become an asset next year.
- Lamela: wow! Boy, has he stepped it up?! A remarkable season from him considering where he was a year ago — 11 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. He is also the through-ball king.
- Lamela finished the season as our second top scorer in all competitions. We also had two players (Lamela and Alli) with 10 or more goals and assists. Eriksen ended the season with eight goals, 16 assists. So impressive from our ‘band of three’.
- Part of Lamela’s improvement has come due to the general tactical progression seen in this season. For a full run-down on our tactics, you really must check out this outstanding article from Talking Tottenham Tactics.
- But, generally, what a turn-around this year compared to last. We punched above our weight last year, and were heavily reliant on Harry Kane. This year we went up a notch in terms of team-shape, organisation, tactical astuteness, and individual player growth.
- In my opinion no player improved more than Mousa Dembélé. He was consistently one of our best players, and he was also very well-managed. His body is not up to playing two matches a week, and Pochettino intelligently ensured that he played just 2511 minutes across the season — nearly a full 2000 fewer than Toby Alderweireld, who played the most in the squad (4410).
- Other players who played a very high number of minutes are: Dier (4360), Lloris (4140), Kane (4027), and Eriksen (3906). And I would argue that these are four of the players for whom we lack obvious back-ups. Ideally next year we will have alternatives so that we can cut down the number of minutes that they play and keep them fresher for longer.
- Dembélé had his break-out season and became one of the first names on the team sheet and one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. I am fascinated to see whether he starts for Belgium in the European Championships; previously he has been a bit-part player for them as much as he has for us, presumably because they also struggled to get consistent performances out of him.
- But Dembélé wasn’t the only midfielder to shine. First, Eric Dier. A storming year for this 22-year old stalwart. I cannot wait to see how he progresses next season; not only in terms of his defensive play, but his burgeoning ability on the ball.
- And PFA Young Player of the Year 2015-16, Dele Alli. What a superstar. The confidence with which this guy plays the game is next level — I’ve rarely seen anything like it in a player that young. Well, perhaps I have: Wayne Rooney.
- If he got a four-game ban for this on Claudio Yacob, how did he not get ten games for brutalising Mile Jedinak at Selhurst Park?
- As a slight aside, I think Charlie Parrish will give birth to a kitten if this happens.
- And on the subject of Charlie, he and I have an exciting project planned for next season which you will hear more about very soon! No, not that.
- Back to the goals. We’ve seen some special goals this season. Alli’s was special, but Harry Kane’s goal against Arsenal made me cry real tears. I was a bit overcome. If only… if only it had been the winner, it would have been the perfect moment that Martine McCutcheon sang about.
- Kane continues to be a total hero. Not only is he a top-class striker, he is a top-class footballer. A #baller, in fact. The only tiny, tiny downside to Kane this year is that he only managed two assists, a third of last year’s total. Is that a problem? I doubt it, but it’s a point of interest.
- Kane was brilliant for nearly all of the season, but looked a little jaded towards the end of the campaign, and it’s a pity in many ways that he won’t get a full summer off.
- In fact, @raymondverheije has been tweeting about Spurs’ fitness levels.
- Personally, I don’t think the issue is quite as serious as Verheijen describes, though I must admit to being concerned by burn-out throughout the season as our squad is so small. Plus, Bielsa Burnout is a thing.
- For me, the problem was more mental fatigue than physical. The ‘title challenge’ seemed to take its toll, and the matches against West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea and especially Newcastle United were low points. Southampton was a bit of a blip, as we didn’t play too badly (despite losing).
- “We were on holiday and that is the reality.” was the slightly worrying quote from Pochettino post-Newcastle. How did this mentality seep in? Rumour has it that Danny Rose was out enjoying himself in Sunderland the night before (hence being dropped), so perhaps that shaped Pochettino’s comments.
- I still believe that if we’d had Dembélé and Alli for the full run-in, we’d have finished second.
- Newcastle-aside, the season’s other low points for me were the West Ham match, where we barely turned up and struggled tactically…
- …and Borussia Dortmund away. At the time, I could understand the rotation. But, in hindsight, I don’t think it would have been asking too much to squeeze a little more from the first-choice players for such a big game. Tom Carroll and Ryan Mason in central midfield was a step too far, and with Keiran Trippier and Josh Onomah also starting, it felt a bit too ‘reserve’.
- The high points were the 4-1 thrashing of Manchester City, where we absolutely took them apart and showed how far we had grown since the previous season.
- Plus the 3-0 win at White Hart Lane against United. A cagey game where we flicked a switch and scored three goals in six minutes. Bliss.
- And the 4-0 demolition job on Stoke, where we looked like we would score with every attack.
- Shout-out too for Watford away, where we played poorly but scored an offside, last-minute winner. Glorious!
- So much went right, on the pitch, but things are going well off it too. Pochettino has signed a new deal and had a change of job title – he’s now Manager rather than Head Coach.
- I have no idea what this means in terms of responsibilities or day-to-day operations (I’m hoping we’ll know more after the THST have met the board next week), but it seems to imply greater responsibility.
- Does this mean he has more of a say in transfers? I’m not sure, but I don’t want anything to change in that respect. Because: Toby Alderweireld, Dele Alli, Kevin Wimmer. Three monstrous signings for comparatively little money. Clinton Njie and Kieran Trippier have — so far — not been as positive, but are by no means duds.
- I hope we take the cups seriously next season. Some fans still haven’t fully forgiven Pochettino for Fazio against Arsenal (I’m looking at you, Bardi). The FA Cup was a little different, as we deserved to win against Crystal Palace; but that felt like a huge missed opportunity.
- Another minor concern was the lack of opportunities for youth players this season. Not that I’d have expected lots to be thrown in during a title-chase, but earlier in the season against some pretty poor teams in the Europa League, I felt that a few more players could have been introduced/integrated/included on the bench.
- We have some good youth players bubbling under who can hopefully push for squad places next year: Cameron Carter-Vickers (18-year old centre-back), Kyle Walker-Peters (19-year old right-back), plus the returning loanees Grant Ward (21-year old midfielder), Conor Ogilvie (20-year old left-back) and Dominic Ball (20-year old centre-back / defensive midfielder).
- On the subject of youth, I fully expect the Under-21 squad to be trimmed this summer, either through players being sold or released. We have a few players who are clearly not going to make it, and who are effectively standing in the way of those who might.
- We should find out the list of released players on or around the 10th June; the club has to submit its list of released/retained players by tomorrow (21st May).
- At the moment, we are pretty much sure that Emmanuel Sonupe from the Under-21s, plus Armani Daly, Charlie Hayford and Chris Paul from the Under-18s will not be retained. There will undoubtedly be others.
- The progression to the final of the NextGen Series last week was a good sign — as was Marcus Edwards (arguably the best 17-year old in the country) winning the joint Most Valuable Player award.
- The next tournament is the Terborg Tournament, which takes place between the 20th and 22nd May. Our squad should be made up of Academy scholars, plus three overage players. The rules say that it is a tournament for “…players born later than 1. January 1997 and before 31. December 1998. Each team may have up to 3 players no more than 1 year older…”.
- The intake for next year’s academy is incredibly exciting, with some very talented players beginning scholarships. We are expecting the following to be given scholarships: Freeman, Eyoma, Dinzeyi, Omolabi, Hinds, Oakley-Booth, Kirby, Griffiths, Lock. There are at least a further two players who must be in contention in Reynolds and Grant. We await confirmation!
- This will be a particularly strong Academy group, with the second years made up of: Austin, Bennetts, Brown, Duncan, Edwards, Marsh, Mukena, Oteh, Roles, Tanganga, Sterling, Shashoua, Tsaroulla and Whiteman. A number of these players should be promoted to the Under-21s pretty much from the start of the season.
- What might next season have in store? Would finishing lower than 3rd be a failure next time out? Personally, I don’t think we can expect to finish third or above next year as the richer clubs (notice I didn’t say ‘bigger’!) will be wounded animals. They will spend vast amounts in the summer and at least some of them could reasonably be expected to revert back to their previous levels, depending on how they get on with new managers. But I do think we have the ability to challenge, especially if we can keep key players fit again.
- We have a number of players who have yet to peak, or who have untold levels of potential (Kane, Alli, Dier), along with a few who seem to peaking — Dembélé, Alderweireld and Lloris come to mind, but I’m tempted to include Walker and Rose in this list too.
- Spurs must be a very attractive option to players right now, and the fact that we pay less than other clubs is probably slightly less significant than it once was.
- If we can keep Pochettino and his team in place, then the future is just so exciting.
- The final few points are a bit me-me-me but, hell, I’m running out of material and it seems fitting to end on a few thank yous.
- Thank you to my sister, Sarah, and my good friends Paul and Nick for the great company at first team matches this season.
- Thank you to C Raynor and MW for their occasional but excellent company at youth matches this season.
- Thank you to my Fighting Cock brothers for the million WhatsApp messages every day. If you like our podcast, by the way, it’d be wonderful if you could leave a review on iTunes.
- Shout out to GERRYinHONGKONG who is the most consistent commenter on this blog. I don’t always reply to your comments, Gerry, but I read and appreciate every single one!
- Thank you to Dan for maintaining this website — rather excitingly there might be a new look next year.
- Thank you to you all for reading my blog, Twitter feed and listening to the podcast. I’m hopefully going to have more time to take on new writing opportunities next year, and will consider anything (paid or unpaid); please do get in touch at Windy@WindyCOYS.com. See you next season and Come On You Spurs! #COYS
May 14, 2016
The reboot of the NextGen Series is ongoing in Amsterdam this weekend, with Spurs sending a squad which included an Ipswich Town player!
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) May 13, 2016
As Those Were The Days explain, it is not yet clear whether Kundai Benyu is on a trial, or whether Ipswich have just let us borrow him to make up the numbers.
Today we won our opening match against PSV Eindhoven, with a goal from Joe Pritchard deciding the tie.
The team was as follows:
Walker-Peters (19) Maghoma (18) Walkes (19) Muscatt (18)
Lesniak (20) Benyu (18)
J Pritchard (19) Miller (19) Goddard (19)
Sterling (17) for Pritchard, 46.
Duncan (17) for Goddard, 46.
Stylianides (18) for Miller, 50.
Tomorrow we play twice – at 11:00 (10:00 UK time) vs Ajax Cape Town, and at 16:00 (15:00 UK time) vs Right to Dream, from Ghana.
Meanwhile, our Under-16s are participating in the Geneva Cup in Switzerland. Today we drew 0-0 with Atlético Madrid, lost 2-1 to Swiss side Servette and won 5-1 against Meyrin FC (another Swiss side).
May 7, 2016
On this week’s Fighting Cock podcast we had a lengthy discussion about the Chelsea match, specifically the ‘antics’ of our players. I felt I needed to get it out of my system — I was really angry at their behaviour, and I used some strong language — ‘ashamed’ being one such word. I stand by it too.
The response I had on Twitter, on forums, in messages from friends and on the pod itself was… let’s say ‘mixed’! I’ve had messages from people saying that they agreed with me and that I articulated their own views. Equally, I’ve been called a disgrace, and more than one person has said that they actually switched off the podcast, so angry were they at my views, which were obviously the polar opposite of theirs (which is a pity, as if they had carried on listening, they would have heard Flav and Thelonious arguing with me vehemently and laughing off a lot of the incidents. Both sides were covered.).
I’ll preface this by saying that I totally *get* why the players were so wound up. There are many factors which undoubtedly played a part:
– The fact that it was a local derby.
– The pressure of being in a title challenge.
– The fact that we had given up a lead the previous week and, effectively, given up that title challenge.
– The comments of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas leading up to the match.
– The fact that the team are — on the whole — young.
– The fact that some of these players have had a few years of ‘big clubs’ winding up our players, surrounding and intimidating referees, and using the dark arts against us.
– Diego Costa. Enough said.
There are mitigating factors. Lots of them! I do understand that.
But our behaviour was, in my view, 1. unacceptable and 2. counter-productive.
Some of it was acceptable. We set out to wind up Diego Costa, hoping that he’d last out or, at least, lose focus. We went into challenges with that extra bit of fire in the belly. It’s a derby, and that is all understandable, excusable, and even potentially useful.
But it became unacceptable; we went too far. We were often the provocateurs, the antagonists, the troublemakers. I don’t need to list the offences — you all know what happened. But suffice to say that had the referee and/or his assistants seen everything clearly and correctly, we could have ended up with seven players on the field at the end of the game. Indeed, Eric Dier could have been sent off twice over (for two bookable offences and then a straight red card offence at the end).
People have excused it as the players ‘not giving in’ to Chelsea’s ways. That not only misrepresents the way that it went — i.e. we were more often the ones doing the winding up — but, for me, also doesn’t explain the levels of indiscipline. Setting a Premier League record for nine bookings in a match, as well as receiving a club charge for the melee at the end is shameful. To me, it came off as the players having a tantrum at Leicester winning the league more than anything else.
And it was counterproductive because when we lost our discipline, we also lost our tactical discipline, and subsequently lost our lead (okay, we didn’t just lose due to our indiscipline, but it contributed). So intent did we seem on kicking Chelsea’s players that we forgot to play like a team. Chelsea took advantage, mostly through a phenomenal second half performance from Eden Hazard, who not only reminded us of his ability, but also that he hasn’t shown up for nearly a whole season — shameful in itself.
So onto that shame word. The reason I was ashamed was that this was not the Tottenham Hotspur team that I know and have loved this season. I have never seen us play like that; with such venom, such aggression, such nastiness. I have not seen us react so strongly to decisions, or rear up at every flash point.
Some fans have justified this by saying that this is why we have not won anything in our recent history. That the reason we have not won leagues is because we have never shown this passion, aggression, fight, spirit. I could not disagree more; there have just been better teams.
This season we have shown more aggression — tactically, individually, collectively — than I have ever seen a Spurs team show. And it has mostly been on the right side of the line (bar a few Dele Alli and Erik Lamela moments). We have been so focussed, so disciplined, have shown bundles of belief, energy, self-control. Had we shown that same discipline against Chelsea, from start to finish, we would have won the match. At 2-0 up just show that same cold, calculating focus that we showed in other games, and see it out. It might be easier said than done, but we’ve done it for most of the season.
I was embarrassed watching us try to kick players for the last ten minutes because it felt desperate, it felt childish, and it felt like an outpouring of frustration of how the season had panned out, rather than a deliberate attempt to ‘send a message’ to Chelsea (and others) that they can’t just walk all over us any more.
And even if it were ‘a message’, it was the wrong one. What have Chelsea learned from that? That Spurs can very much be wound up. That we are emotionally vulnerable, liable to lose discipline and — in essence — very much susceptible to the dark arts.
Next season will see both fixtures hyped and billed as grudge matches, with a circus surrounding each. That will add extra pressure to an already big occasion, making it harder to simply beat Chelsea by being the better team — as we are at this moment in time.
Nobody said pre-match that we needed to show that we aren’t pushovers — that we need to go out and prove a point to Chelsea by being extra-physical. Because, frankly, we’ve done that across the entire season. We have steamrolled teams, we have had Alli and Lamela dishing out just-below-the-radar levels of spite, and we’ve had Eric Dier making strong challenges when it mattered. So to justify the behaviour based upon a need to assert ourselves is revisionist.
Another argument goes that the players showed that they care. That they went out with a fight. I just don’t buy this. They showed that they were angry, and they showed that they had a nasty streak. Is that showing that they care? Is losing a 2-0 lead going out with a fight? To me, showing that they care would have been following team instructions to the letter for 90 minutes, and then going over to applaud our travelling fans (who were utterly wonderful, once again by the way) at the end. That’s how the bond between players and fans has been built this season – hard work and focus from minute one to minute 95.
Having slept on it, I have mellowed on the Mousa Dembélé issue. On the podcast I got a little carried away and suggested that he deserved a ten-game ban. Actually, I think the FA got it right, and six games seems fair to me. But I stand by my other comments.
I’m not even going to get started on the ‘rise above it’ argument, because I imagine that many people are already finding this somewhat sanctimonious, and also that they enjoyed seeing us fire shots. Indeed, I feel a little bad going over this again, because I have loved this season. It has been up there with just about any other Spurs season in my memory, and to write this feels like a betrayal of what has been a thoroughly enjoyable year of football, which has left me feeling incredibly proud and optimistic about the direction of travel. But, equally, I don’t want to shy away from my opinion that this was not something I want to see repeated.
I love you, Spurs, but let’s learn from Monday and channel that aggression in a more productive way next time.