May 31, 2010

Decline of the English yoof?

I read an interesting article by The Times’ Oliver Kay this morning regarding the England U17s winning the European Championship in Liechtenstein. He writes:

Even as they got off the plane, FA officials were sending joyous texts about the first age-group success of an England men’s side since a team including Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes and Robbie Fowler — David Beckham, although he had played for Manchester United’s first team, did not even make the squad — won the European Under-18 Championship on home soil in 1993.

Compared with:

An England Under-17 team reached the final of the same tournament in 2007, narrowly losing 1-0 against Spain. Three years later, a starting line-up of players now aged 19 or 20 have started a combined total of five Premier League matches — Danny Welbeck two, Victor Moses two and Danny Rose one. Dan Gosling, of Everton, was among the substitutes.

Based on that snapshot, it looks like a genuine decline in the talent breaking through, at least in the Premier League.

Obviously this ignores the likes of Phil Jones (a current England U18 international, who started seven times for Blackburn Rovers last season, and even won the Man of the Match award on his full debut against Chelsea), plus Rodwell (19), Wilshere (18) and Delfouneso (19), who would all have been in the same age group, and who are getting relatively regular Premier League football.

It seems that the larger clubs, Spurs included, are happier to send their promising talents out on loan to league clubs to gain their experience, whilst instead offering squad places to older (and often foreign) players. Young players rarely get thrown in at the deep end, with managers knowing how high the stakes are.

Interestingly, one of Spurs’ biggest success stories, Lennon, was very much thrown in. He was expected to be a bit-part player in the 2005/6 season, with Wayne Routledge ahead of him in the pecking order. With Routledge injured, however, Lennon took his chance, and ended up playing 27 league games, and being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year.

I’m not suggesting that we should be throwing young players straight into the team – far from it. But it’s interesting to see managers taking a more cautious approach, when previously it’s been seen as worthwhile to take a risk with a young player once in a while.

Kay’s comparison is a useful one, and it will be interesting to take a look back at the current England U17s in three years time,to see how many have made the break through.

As an aside, good luck to the England U19s against the Ukraine this afternoon – Steven Caulker and Dean Parrett are starting the game, with John Bostock and Andros Townsend on the bench.

NB: Spurs’ Harry Kane missed out on the European Championship due to injury.

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May 10, 2010

Analysis of the goals conceded against Burnley

Never a dull moment, eh? Great season, highest finish for 20 years, away at relegated Burnley on final day, 2-0 up. Just enjoy yourself, lads!

Oh dear.

Burnley’s goals.

Elliott’s goal.

Graham Alexander has the ball in the middle of the park. Very little pressure on the ball – in the previous games where we’d played Huddlestone and Modric in the middle of midfield, we’d relied on the strikers to work back and close in situations like this, whereas Tom and Luka tended to hold their positions.

A simple threaded ball takes our midfield out of the game. Notice Elliott at this point sneaking round the back of King. Assou-Ekotto is out of shot at the moment, but he is not aware of his position.

A glorious flick from Fletcher puts King on his back-side – something you don’t see too often.

Very clever strike-play – you have to stand back and applaud a bit of skill like this. Good player, Fletcher.

Elliott’s in, and Assou-Ekotto’s positioning is now shown up.

Alnwick goes to ground horribly early. Surely Gomes would have put up more of a fight?

Cork’s goal.

Elliott drives forward through the centre of our midfield, unchallenged.

Modric gets close to him, but not close enough to get a foot to the ball.

Bale has been caught upfield, and the pass to Paterson is therefore a simple one.

One touch, and he whips in a cross. They often say that strikers make good crossers of the ball, and it certainly rings true in this instance.

The ball is a beauty. It drops steeply over Dawson’s head, and poor old Kaboul has no chance, having been left with two players.

Lovely header from the totally unmarked Cork. Awful, awful defending – the whole team failed to close properly, but Dawson’s positioning was all wrong. Let’s hope Fabio wasn’t watching!

Paterson’s goal.

Fletcher has the ball, and faces up Kaboul. Palacios is interested too at this point.

Fletcher jinks through both Kaboul and Palacios like they aren’t there.

It’s pretty awful defending from the pair of them, but credit has to go to Fletcher again.

Awful ball-watching from Assou-Ekotto, who lets Paterson sneak in ahead of him. Alnwick is in a poor position.

Watching Alnwick’s hopeless scramble across goal is cringe-worthy, but fair play to Paterson, who fully deserved his goal.

Thompson’s goal.

34 year old Robbie Blake skips around Palacios in the middle of midfield.

His control is so god that he’s also able to go round Modric.

He lays the ball off to Thompson, who has support.

Elliott picks up the ball, and strikes low and hard from distance.

As the ball comes into the box, Thompson opportunistically sticks out a leg, and prods the ball beyond Alnwick.

I say beyond Alwnick…is it? It pretty much goes in the middle of the goal. Abysmal second half performance from the entire team, but especially Alnwick – hopefully his last for Spurs, though, as I believe his contract is up.

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May 6, 2010

Emotional evening

Firstly – I was wrong. I said 6th or 7th at the start of the year, and I only started to change my mind late on. And I wouldn’t have been unhappy with 7th either (especially after last year), which shows in itself just how well we have done.

I don’t know if it’s my age, but I feel like my life as a Spurs fan thus far had been building towards last night. I was 7 when we won the FA Cup so, although I remember it, it wasn’t a huge deal for me. Winning the League Cup… yeah, lovely to win trophies, but when the competition has been devalued by reserve teams being used, then it’s not quite as special.

Finishing in the Champions League places really feels special. I realise that being 4th best shouldn’t necessarily be something to crow about but, in context, it’s massive. Although we’ve spent a lot of money, we have, I believe, the 8th highest wage bill in the Premier League.

Our previous Premier League finishes have been unspectacular:

08/09 8th
07/08 11th
06/07 5th
05/06 5th
04/05 9th
03/04 14th
02/03 10th
01/02 9th
00/01 12th
99/00 10th
98/99 11th
97/98 14th
96/97 10th
95/96 8th
94/95 7th
93/94 15th
92/93 8th

We have been seen as under-achievers (and even a laughing stock as a result) for years.

Well that has now all changed.

We have a young, predominantly English team to be proud of, with many of players being considered for a place in the England World Cup squad.
We have a popular, charismatic, and pragmatic manager, also English, to be proud of.
We have a new training complex on the way.
We have a new stadium on the way (albeit not immediately!).
And now, we have Champions League football (albeit qualifiers) at WHL.

Last night was huge and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to feel the emotion… especially seeing Ledley’s post-match interview.

What a season.

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May 3, 2010

A response to an excellent article by a Man City fan

I don’t know if anyone else occasionally peers into the bizarre world that is Blue Moon, but it does leave you thinking that all City fans are egotistical, Spurs-hating morons.

I am ashamed to say that I, therefore, felt surprised when I read an insightful and interesting article written by a City fan (Bloovic), regarding Wednesday’s game: Team and Tactics v Spurs (home) Double Bumper Edition. Well worth a read, and I couldn’t help but want to write a similar article in response to this, so here it is.

I could start by emphasising just how big this game is, but I think we all already know – it’s what we’ve been building towards all season, and it’s still in our hands.

These were the line-ups when we beat City 3-0 at White Hart Lane back in December, a performance which was probably in our top three of the season (better than the 9-1 in my opinion, because the opposition are that much better):

Gomes
Corluka Dawson Bassong Assou-Ekotto
Lennon Huddlestone Palacios Kranjcar
Crouch Defoe

Given
Richards Onuoha Toure Sylvinho
Barry De Jong
Tevez Ireland Robinho
Adebayor

Mark Hughes was the City manager on that day, and it’s fair to say that things have changed fairly significantly for them since then – Mancini is now in charge, they’ve tended to go 4-4-2 with more regularity, Adam Johnson and Patrick Vieira have come in, Robinho has left, and Ireland has barely had a look-in.

Things have also changed for us, though. Modric has recovered from his broken leg, and has had some excellent performances, Pavlyuchenko is now generally preferred to Crouch, and Kranjcar is out for the rest of the season (and probably the start of next). The most significant change, though, is the form of Gareth Bale. He was a last minute substitute in the home game… I’d imagine that he will be near enough the first name on the team sheet come Wednesday.

There were two comments that stood out particularly to me from Bloovic’s analysis:

If Spurs decide to park the bus, City’s job will become that much more difficult – we’ve struggled against this tactic on a few occasions – and Mancini will likely have to alter his formation and approach while the game is in progress to achieve victory.

And:

I think it’s reasonable to say that if Redknapp decides to take a more positive approach, then this will suit City’s counter-attacking style more, opening up the big Eastlands pitch and creating space for Tevez, Bellamy and Adebayor to exploit.

The reason these stood out is probably clear – he could quite easily be describing us. We too have had difficulty breaking down teams that are prepared to play with two banks of four, and not be too adventurous (Wolves, Stoke, Hull, even Villa) . Conversely, we’ve had less issue with teams willing to attempt to come at us (Burnley, Wigan, and even City themselves in December).

Obviously at Eastlands, the tables will be turned somewhat. The pressure will be on City, as the home side, to come at us and play an attacking game. For that reason, and remembering that we only need a draw from this game, I’d imagine that Redknapp will be tempted to go with the majority of the team that soaked up so much pressure against Arsenal.

His biggest decision in my opinion is whether to select Palacios. We know that he is one of Redknapp’s favourites, and we also know that he likes him when we play away – even at the expense of changing a winning team (United is a perfect example). The organisation and intelligence of Modric and Huddlestone as per the Arsenal and Chelsea games, or the combative, energetic Palacios? It’s a big call.

I have an inkling that he will go with one up top (probably Defoe), push Bale and Lennon high up the pitch, and give Modric a free role. Playing this way will mean that we won’t be able to play long too often, and we will need to ensure that our passing is short, crisp and, most of all, high tempo. What it does give us, though, is defensive solidarity – effectively a midfield three, with Modric occupying the deepest lying midfield-player (presumably De Jong), and Bale able to double-up on Wright-Phillips if necessary.

I do worry about Bassong, who hasn’t had so much football lately, against a City strike paring that seem to be re-finding their form, and I also worry about the prospect of Ben Alnwick in goal. Defoe’s form concerns me too – only four league goals in 2010, although two of them did come away from White Hart Lane.

This game could be a classic – there will be plenty of pace and attacking ability on display, and there is so much to play for. On the other hand, with so much at stake, both teams could play a cagey game, and try to grind out a result – especially as a draw for us would be seen as an excellent result. I don’t think that style suits us, so I hope we try to play football.

The nerves are building in anticipation, and they will only get worse. I just hope our players play to their true ability, and do themselves and us proud. COME ON YOU SPURS!!

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May 2, 2010

Loanee success

Just a brief note to say congratulations to Robbie Keane and Jamie O’Hara, who have received ‘Player of the Year’ awards for Celtic and Portsmouth respectively.

Special mention, though, to Steven Caulker, our 18 year old centre back. In his first full season of league football, he has picked up several awards at Yeovil Town, with Player of the Year amongst them:

CAULKER’S CUP CABINET CREAKS

Yeovil Town’s on-loan central defender Steven Caulker completed a near-clean sweep of the “Player of the Year” awards this afternoon.

The trophies were handed out after the game in front of more than a thousand fans who had stayed behind to acclaim the players after the home campaign finished today with a 3-0 victory over Oldham Athletic.

Steven, 18, scooped the top awards from the Green & Whites Supporters Club, the Cary Glovers, the Away Travel Club and also grabbed the Bobby Hamilton Young Player award. It marks an impressive haul for the defender who turned eighteen just after Christmas.

Craig Alcock prevented his defensive colleague from helping himself to the lot when both he and keeper Alex McCarthy pipped the Spurs loanee in the Western Gazette Merit Marks category while Terrell Forbes finished second to Caulker in the Away Travel Club award.

The Away Travel Club also awarded a special recognition award to former player Darren Way who retired from the playing side earlier this season and is now an invaluable member of the coaching staff.

The Andy Stone Memorial Trophy, given to the top scorer each season, went to Dean Bowditch for his ten goals making him the only non-defender to receive an award.

Log in later tonight to see the exclusive pictures from this afternoon’s presentation.

Green & Whites: 1st. Steven Caulker 2nd. Craig Alcock
Western Gazette: 1st Craig Alcock 2nd Alex McCarthy 3rd. Steven Caulker
Away Travel Club: 1st. Steven Caulker 2nd. Terrell Forbes Special Recognition Award Darren Way
Andy Stone Memorial Trophy – Dean Bowditch
Bobby Hamilton Young Player – Steven Caulker
Cary Glovers: Steven Caulker

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