April 4, 2009

Ch-ch-changes

How things have changed since Harry arrived. The management structure, the backroom staff, the way the fans are now generally ‘in the loop’, the added swearing on the touchline, and, not least, the players. During the January transfer window, Redknapp was a real tinker-man, bringing in five players:

Jermain Defoe
Wilson Palacios
Carlo Cudicini
Pascal Chimbonda
Robbie Keane

However, what’s often overlooked is how many players he has managed to shift. Redknapp identified very early on that deadwood was an issue, saying “We have about 40 or 50 players who sit down for dinner at the club every day but only 14 or 15 of them are good enough to play in the Premier League.” These aren’t necessarily high profile players whose sales would draw headlines, but certainly players that were drawing wages, and potentially clogging the development of others by playing reserve games, etc.

Those who have moved on permanently are:

Paul Stalteri
Hossam Ghaly
César Sánchez
Andy Barcham
Charlie Daniels
Dag Alexander Olsen
Leigh Mills
Kieran McKenna (retired)

Those who have moved on loan since Harry arrived are:

Kevin-Prince Boateng NB: with a view to a permanent move.
Danny Hutchins NB: Hutchins has confirmed that his Spurs contract isn’t going to be renewed.
David HuttonNB: Cheltenham have confirmed that Hutton’s Spurs contract isn’t going to be renewed.
Troy Archibald-Henville
David Button (x2)
Lee Butcher (x2)
Dorian Dervite
Tomas Pekhart
Kyle Fraser-Allen
Yuri Berchiche
Chris Gunter
Adel Taarabt
Giovani Dos Santos
Andros Townsend
Jon Obika
Danny Rose

Clearly not all of these players are going to stay at the club, and I imagine a number of the loans are in order to put players in the shop window – especially Hutchins and Hutton, as both have been told that their contracts won’t be renewed. It’s also interesting to note that Harry has sent out two of our Academy players in Obika and Townsend.

Juande Ramos had seemed to want to trim our squad (which was understandable), and only issued squad numbers to those that he wanted involved. This made things uncomfortable for the sidelined players, and didn’t seem to benefit anyone. He sold players who were at least fringe players (Malbranque, Chimbonda, Tainio, etc), yet kept those players who were caught between Academy and first team football (Barcham, Mills, etc). Redknapp’s method of first clearing out the “inbetweeners” stands us in good stead and releases wage funds. I’m sure we’ll see Rocha, Gilberto, etc leave come the end of the season too.

Aside from personnel, the whole mood of the club has been lifted under Harry. Initially, he seemed to be putting a metaphorical arm around the entire squad, telling the press that the players are all capable, and that they’ve impressed him in training. There was a clear shift in confidence early on, and even when there’s been a wobble along the way, or Redknapp has pointed the finger at an individual, confidence has still seemed to be high amongst the squad as a whole.

On the pitch, the one and two touch, pass and move football is now being played with a vital ingredient – two players, in Jenas and Palacios, who are capable of positioning themselves in such a way that Lennon and Modric have a platform to spring from. It doesn’t matter if they bomb on and get caught up-field, because Jenas and Palacios have the awareness and the athleticism to cover where necessary. In turn, this has led to the pressure being taken off the defence, although clearly Ledley King playing a run of games is a massive factor. It’s also no surprise to me that since Didier Zokora came out of midfield, our play with the ball has become more fluent, and our defensive shape and discipline when we haven’t got the ball have improved drastically.

The team is now working as a cohesive unit. This is what has seen teams like Everton and Aston Villa achieve successes with squads that are certainly no more talented than ours. A period of consistency, a rigid team shape, and players that know their roles in the team inside out are the key elements in trying to live up to our billing.

One of my concerns with Redknapp is that there will be a lot more tinkering once the transfer window opens again. I sincerely hope that he doesn’t make too many changes – two or maybe three signings in weak areas should be enough – a central midfield player capable of stepping in for Jenas or Palacios (Michael Johnson of Manchester City would be my preference), a left sided midfield player as “Plan B” (the popular choice seems to be Downing, but I’m still not convinced), and possibly a left back to compete with Assou-Ekotto (I’d like to see Bale go out on loan for the season to regain confidence).

Overhauls clearly don’t work, and I hope we’ve learnt that now.

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