February 9, 2016
I wrote this for Iain Macintosh’s wonderful site, The Set Pieces.
“Spurs did well at the weekend,” is something my work colleagues generally used to say to me, perhaps twice a year and usually in a slightly surprised tone of voice. The sort of voice that suggested they were still questioning the accuracy of the late James Alexander Gordon correctly. These days, or this season at least, it’s never said. It’s just expected that Spurs did well at the weekend because, and I can’t believe I’m writing this either , Spurs do well most weeks.
But Spurs don’t just do well in a Spurs way, by looking the better team, going a goal ahead before playing a horrible back pass or scoring an own goal or doing something equally daft which ultimately leads to defeat. Spurs are doing well and winning matches. They are also drawing a lot of matches, granted, but they are winning quite a lot of matches, More than they lose, that’s for sure.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham are a new breed of Tottenham, regardless of how this season ends. They are a youthful, exciting, progressive Tottenham. A Tottenham that, prior to this weeks’ fixtures, had recovered more points than any other team in the Premier League (14). A Tottenham that runs and runs and presses and presses and doesn’t just rely on individual moments of brilliance from Gareth Bale or Dimitar Berbatov or Robbie Keane or David Ginola or José Dominguez (EDITOR’S NOTE: Wait…what?). There is no ‘I’ in this young, united Tottenham Hotspur team, despite the presence of some brilliant individuals.
And young they are; the youngest in the Premier League. That Mauricio Pochettino likes to work with young players is surely one of the main reasons why he was employed. The Spurs Academy has recently produced a conveyor belt of talent that just needed a chance. That chance began with Tim Sherwood, and has thoroughly continued under Pochettino. There’s more talent to come too.
18-year old attacking midfielder Josh Onomah has started a couple of cup matches and had a handful of league minutes. He is a direct, hip-swivelling, creative player who commits defenders and carries the ball well. His 20-year old central midfield buddy Harry Winks has made an appearance, too — a more patient player, Winks likes to dictate tempo, and passes and moves a little like a more forward-thinking, more right-footed Tom Carroll. The likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers (centre-back) and Shayon Harrison (forward) have been involved in first team training, and 18-year old right back Kyle Walker-Peters (EDITOR’S NOTE: I checked, he’s real. Imagine him and Kyle Walker and Moussa Dembele and Mousa Dembele) might just be the best Spurs youngster that you’ve never heard of; his ability to carry the ball forward at pace, and especially his dribbling and control in tight spaces, are exciting indeed.
Spurs are, for once, a functioning, coherent football club. Daniel Levy is accumulating expert Heads of Department in every area that you could imagine a football club might need: Mauricio Pochettino (Head Coach), Paul Mitchell (Head of Recruitment), Rob Mackenzie (Head of Player Identification), John McDermott (Head of Coaching & Player Development), Aaron Harris (Head of Sports Science & Medicine). I could go on. We have so many departments that we’re like the football equivalent of John Lewis. Never knowingly ripped off; Levy’s price matching game is strong.
Levy has finally got it right. He’s tried pretty much every style of manager: the traditional, the less traditional, the dogmatic, the experimental. And he’s settled on a coach that wants to… well, coach. Pochettino has more philosophy than Aristotle, Plato and Confucius put together, but he doesn’t just talk, he delivers. Spurs have a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, possibly for the first time in my lifetime. The system works because each player is indoctrinated, each idea entrenched.
When Eric Dier robotically drops in between the centre-backs, giving the full-backs license to push on to allow us to transition from back to front, it excites me almost as much as Harry Kane’s finishing, Son Heung-min’s quick feet or Christian Eriksen’s vision. It is the tactical, methodical minutiae that add up to create a fully functioning game-plan. When the opposition get over the halfway line: press them. When Toby Alderweireld gets his head up: make a diagonal run. Like clockwork.
Spurs’ season is going swimmingly, but there are a couple of things that could still derail them in what would be Spursy*, as the kids say. The lack of cover for Harry Kane is well documented, but the lack of cover for Eric Dier is less so. An injury to either would be fairly devastating. And the spectre of burn-out looms on the horizon like a Dementor, not sucking the soul, but rather spewing lactic acid directly into the legs of key players.
Pochettino has been smart in his rotation of the wingers and band of three behind Kane, but Kane himself, Dier and Alli have played an awful lot of games for players not accustomed to a full season at this level. They have done remarkably well to last as long as they have, but it would not be a great surprise to see a dip in form from any of them. Let’s hope that adrenalin can get them through.
Regardless of any potential drop-off, Pochettino has delivered a season of which everyone can be proud. A fit, well-drilled, youthful, and fairly home-grown Tottenham team that consistently plays good football, consistently defends well, and consistently doesn’t get thrashed by their top four rivals is a rare delight; fans will be speaking of this season for many years to come for all the right reasons.
*I say ‘as the kids say’ because those of an older vintage will remember 2013 — very different times — when Spursy was ‘invented’ by a poster on The Fighting Cock forum known as Carlito Brigante. He used it to describe the flair players at Spurs — a bit lightweight but with a touch of class. Those who he said may ‘go missing at Stoke on a cold February evening’. It now has an Urban Dictionary entry, but alas with the newer definition: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Spursy.