August 10, 2017

Danny Rose: a stark reminder

When Kyle Walker was branded a snake after quietly manoeuvering his exit to City behind the scenes, landing the club a staggering fee for a 27-year old and sending a heartwarming video to the fans after his many years of service, I thought the treatment was incredibly harsh. Danny Rose’s moves yesterday feel thoroughly reptilian.

Rose who, lest we forget, has been injured for months, set up an interview with The Sun newspaper — the grubby tabloid needs no introduction — to explain that he will get what he deserves financially, that he will play for a northern club before he finishes playing, and to let the world know that he will never forget how badly Spurs fans treated him. There are various other points that he makes which I will come back to, but first I want to focus on the point of this interview.

In my opinion there can be little doubt as to the intentions of this: it’s both a ‘come and get me’ plea to the Manchester clubs, and a pre-emptive, PR-driven ‘I had no choice but to leave’, face-saving, mop-up job. Rose wants fans, media and potential sponsors to feel as though he was backed into a corner by Spurs’ lack of transfer activity, lack of silverware and by them not paying him market rate.

I have seen suggestions that Rose is taking one for the team, giving Daniel Levy a kick up the backside. There is absolutely no way that a player would approach a mainstream tabloid in this way for that purpose, it is far too risky a move.

Some have some sympathy with Rose. He’s 27, he’s paid considerably less than players at the wealthiest clubs, and he has never won a trophy. But he’s also playing for the team that finished as runners-up last year, with the potential to improve with some consolidation. There are no guarantees that a move would bring trophies and, indeed, he owes his career to Mauricio Pochettino, who has transformed him from a decent Premier League player to one of the best in his position in world football. He is paid a decent salary compared to most other Premier League footballers (ignoring the wealthy five for a moment), has been given steady incremental rises over the years, even when– quite frankly — he did not deserve them.

To arrange this interview days before the season starts in order to benefit himself (either, depending on your interpretation, to ruffle feathers, negotiate a better contract or to try to force through a transfer) will — at worst — leave us without a top class left-back for the season or — at best — have a destabilising impact. This self-centred approach to the game is a stark reminder of what football (a game played by a team) has become, and also of where Spurs really sit in the pecking order.

The points Rose makes about Spurs’ lack of spending would be fair enough coming from an embittered fan. We have yet to strengthen, and it has been frustrating to watch our rivals improve their squads (and in some cases, their first elevens). But ultimately he is an employee of the club, and the management will be absolutely furious that he has gone rogue in this way. Levy has generally overseen a tenure where players toe the company line, and anyone who hasn’t has generally not lasted long.

Pochettino must feel incredibly let-down too. Rose and Pochettino are known to be particularly close, with Rose nicknamed the manager’s son by his teammates.

The suggestion by some fans that Rose has a point, and that Spurs should just pay the going rate totally missed the point.

Daniel Levy is hamstrung by our lack of revenue — hence the need for a new stadium. Swiss Ramble writes wonderfully about football finances and wrote in January of this year that we had a ‘wages to turnover ratio’ of 51%, with Manchester United 45% and Manchester City 50%. This means that the percentage of our turnover that goes toward wages is higher than that of the Manchester clubs; their huge turnovers make their higher wage bills possible/sustainable. For comparison, Arsenal’s ratio is 56%, Liverpool’s 56%, and Chelsea are an anomaly on 68%. When you see Premier League wages presented in this way it illustrates the market that we are working within.

If ‘market rate’ for Rose’s wages are £160k per week, reportedly around £95k per week more than what he earns currently, that would involve spending an additional £5m a year on him alone. Were we to make similar increases to all of our best players (which we would have to do were we to bump up his salary), we’d be looking at over £50m. We cannot afford this; not least because we have £750m worth of stadium to pay for.

A point to end on before I have to try to forget Danny Rose and think about my day job: Rose is risking an awful lot in a World Cup year. If he doesn’t get the move that he seems to crave, he could face having to build bridges with his manager and we know from experience that Pochettino has a low tolerance to this kind of behaviour. Players have said far less and ended up gone.

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July 28, 2017

Being Left Behind

One of the comments being directed at signing-less Spurs this transfer window is that we are ‘being left behind’.

In this unusual transfer window, where prices have rocketed similarly to how they suddenly leapt up around 2006/2007, Spurs are the last Premier League club to make a signing. There are two key points to make on this, surrounding:

1. The pool of players.
2. Value for money.

The Pool of Players

The pool of suitable players available to Spurs is smaller than that available to other clubs due to a number of factors. The first factor is that we have one of the best teams (if not the best team) in the Premier League, and so improving on that is naturally more difficult for us than, say, for Everton, who last season had a demonstrably worse team.

Secondly, due to our wage structure — which has been necessary for a number of reasons, including limited match-day revenue — we are unable to offer the wages that some of our rivals offer. We can counter this to some extent with large ‘signing-on’ fees, and also apparently offer an attractive bonus structure, rewarding players for successes. We also regularly refresh contracts, meaning that players have a constant sense of financial progression; a smart move. But there is little doubt that our wage packages are less attractive than those at other clubs.

So with a smaller pool of players that would improve us available, and being unable to attract many of those players due to our wage structure falling below that of their current clubs/rival clubs, we are left trying to find value elsewhere.

Value For Money

Daniel Levy has described transfer prices as ‘unsustainable’ and, in some cases, he is right. There are clubs who simply cannot continue spending these sums as their revenue won’t sustain the level of spending. But Daniel Storey makes the point well in his article for Football 365 that Manchester City, for example, ‘have unprecedented resources; why wouldn’t the transfer fees be unprecedented too?’. For some clubs this will simply be the new norm.

Levy will undoubtedly have been frustrated by the £30m which was (in)effectively thrown away on Moussa Sissoko, and asking him to part with the same or a bigger fee will now be a more difficult task; he will need assurances that we are getting better value for the prices stated. One would have to imagine that Sissoko in this window would likely cost another £5m minimum.

My gut feel is that we ought to resort to the transfer strategy of a few years ago, focusing primarily on strategically identifying young prospects who have not quite ‘broken out’, signing them early and loaning them back to their clubs to foster their potential. Ryan Sessegnon would have been (and would still be) an ideal signing at this level, but there are other budding young talents in the football league too: Ronaldo Vieira at Leeds, Ben Brereton and Joe Worrall at Nottingham Forest, Ezri Konsa at Charlton to name a few.

In my opinion we do need to sign a right-back to replace Kyle Walker (because I don’t think Kieran Trippier is stylistically the right fit), and we could also do with a Christian Eriksen rotation, but otherwise we are pretty well set and don’t need to worry too much about keeping up with the Joneses.

There are no issues with our 25-man squad list either. Despite the fact that we have lost a number of ‘homegrown’ players in the last twelve months — Walker, of course, but also Tom Carroll, Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb — we only actually have 18 players to list, four of whom qualify as homegrown (Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier). We could feasibly sign another three non-homegrown players and still be able to name them all in the squad list.

Far from being left behind, last season we were the team leaving others behind, and there is no reason why our squad cannot continue its upward trajectory, boosted by another year of experience, a few more Academy players looking ready to step up, and the return from injury of Erik Lamela and (hopefully) Danny Rose.

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May 29, 2017

Some Post-Season Thoughts

After living most of my life with Spurs as the punchline to a joke that was only funny to my friends, it still hasn’t completely sunk in that we’re legitimately good. So good, in fact, that some pundits have described us as the best team in the league over the past two seasons.

Leicester trolled us all two seasons ago, and Chelsea had a Europe and injury-free ride to the title this past year, albeit playing some fantastic stuff along the way, with Eden Hazard showing that last season was a blip, and N’Golo Kanté showing that last season was not a blip.

There was — to my eyes — a slight stylistic shift from Spurs in this season, which could perhaps be backed up by the fact that we covered less ground than other teams (I don’t have up-to-date data but on April 21st we were 4th at 114.1km behind West Brom, Man City and Liverpool). Rather than tearing at the opposition and forcing them to turnover the ball, the Pochettino-press evolved to a slightly more sophisticated level. We compressed the pitch, or areas of it, backed the opposition into narrower areas and made ‘getting out’ more difficult, forcing them into risky long-balls, and using our three centre-backs to easily pick up the pieces.

With some previous managers, as time has gone on, we have been ‘figured out’, and tactics have become almost meaningless. With Pochettino and his coaching team, there is constant evolution, some subtle changes, some large changes (i.e. to 3-4-3) and the honing of what we thought was already honed.

Where last year we managed to be largely injury-free, this year we have suffered, but the squad have stepped up. Son Heung-min has gone from being ‘first rotation’ at best to playing 3000 minutes (and starting 23 Premier League games). He has been terrific. Ben Davies has stepped in and performed admirably in the absence of Danny Rose. Kieran Trippier has become a genuine rotation option for Kyle Walker. And, prior to his injury, Harry Winks was on the road to becoming an important option in midfield as well.

There are still some question marks over depth, and finding some cover for Christian Eriksen (who got my Player of the Season vote) would be my priority for the summer. Whilst Erik Lamela and Harry Winks between them can cover some of his skill set, the way that he controls midfield and our tempo, as well as the amount of running he does for the team, makes him almost irreplaceable. Finding someone who can do some more of what he does would be useful. I am a big fan of Manuel Lanzini who, at 24, has considerable upside, but that would be a tricky deal to do (plus his output is far, far more modest).

It looks as though we will also need to find a replacement for Kyle Walker. The excellent Jack Pitt-Brooke is the voice that I trust on the issue, and his piece on the Walker situation at the beginning of the month cited long running disagreements about Walker’s fitness. Spurs’ latest England call-up, Kieran Trippier, has left egg on my face. I had been critical of him, and suggested in May that he wasn’t good enough to be a back-up:

Trippier has proven to be a more than useful back-up — at least against certain types of opposition, and his crossing is undoubtedly a weapon. Personally, I think there are still concerns over his defensive nous, and I would also question his stylistic fit. By that I mean that Pochettino full-backs (or wing-backs) are all about turning defence into attack as quickly as possible, carrying the ball at pace; Kyle Walker is almost unparalleled in this regard. These two tweets sum it up beautifully:

Trippier ended the season with six assists, a highly impressive tally. These came against Watford (x 3 across both matches), Leicester (x 2) and Millwall. Pochettino used him exceptionally, and it is clear that he is a great outlet in matches where he can push on and not worry too much about defending. Next year he needs to work on his defending, as he was exposed at times, particularly against Monaco, Manchester United (where Anthony Martial beat him with regularity) and against his former club, Burnley (Scott Arfield had the better of him several times). At 26 (he turns 27 in September), Trippier is hopefully about to hit his prime but, for me, we cannot go into next year with Trippier as first choice.

Davies on the other side had a nightmare showing against Liverpool, for whom Sadio Mané gave him all kinds of problems. He came back strongly, however, and ended the season with two assists and a goal in his final three matches. I was impressed with Davies’ consistent performances, and I think the fact that he can also fill in on the left of a back three makes him a useful squad option for Pochettino. The constant links with Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham, however, perhaps show that Pochettino would like to bolster the attacking options from the left; Sessegnon is more suited to the wing-back role than Davies.

I am regularly asked on Twitter who will be the next player to ‘do a Winks’, and break into the first team and look the part. With Marcus Edwards recently travelling to Stemwede in Germany to play for us in an Under-19 tournament, rather than participating in the end of season friendly in Hong Kong, there does seem to be concerns about his ‘situation’ again, but I would only be speculating if I were to comment.

The one who might surprise a few people is Josh Onomah. Those who only watch the first team will have seen Onomah’s cameos at right-wing, left-wing, and even as a false nine. Onomah has always played centrally for our Under-18s, Under-21s, Under-23s and for England at various age levels. He has said in the past that his favourite position is number ten but, personally, I have always thought him best as an eight (essentially in the Mousa Dembélé role). The below (unfortunately I am not sure who made it so cannot credit) is a prime example of Onomah in this role, at his best.

Onomah is just over a year younger thank Winks, and so will start next season at the age Winks started this. It is a big summer for him because Pochettino and co will need to decide whether he is to stay in-house and make up the squad, or to go on loan and have a full season of playing in his favoured position.

Despite finishing without a trophy (having come so close), this was a terrific season for Spurs, and one of undoubted progress. We saw tactical progression, nearly every player improving or consolidating, and the breakthrough of a huge prospect in Harry Winks. The only downside was that very few of our signings proved successful. However, the form and ability of Victor Wanyama was so good that, overall, one is almost tempted to shrug and say ‘one in four ain’t bad’. If we can get that hit rate down to one in three or even one in two this summer, then things will be looking even healthier.

 

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May 18, 2017

Memory Lane

Since the club confirmed that this season will be the last at White Hart Lane (at least as it is now), there has been an outpouring of articles, videos, stories, memory-sharing and emotion about the old girl. Each of us has his or her memories of this place that we have always known, grown up in.

We all remember players celebrating special goals in front of us, but for me it is those quirky memories which link me to a specific area of the ground which have stayed with me and within my family.

When I was growing up in the early nineties, my parents would take my sister and I and we would sit in the Paxton Upper. A man who regularly sat there would become part of our communal memory, such was his love for our midfielder, Paul Allen. He would loudly shout
‘come on Paul Allen’ every time he came close to the ball; man, he loved him some Paul Allen.

And repeated whenever a man named Ashley comes on the television (rare nowadays, admittedly) is the phrase ‘Ashley’s a bird’s name’ – which we had all thoroughly enjoyed being screamed at Derby County’s Ashley Ward by a guy sitting near to us in the East Lower when Ward came over to collect a loose pas.

Likewise ‘The Colonel’s’ catchphrases pop back into our heads whenever we eat burgers together. That guy was outside the Paxton every home game for decades, yelling ‘look at these’ and ‘haaaaandsome’, and became known as the colonel as that was how he’d address every third man buying burgers. The first time he called my dad ‘colonel’ was one of the happiest days of my childhood.

These ridiculous memories and thoughts are all important to me and have collective importance in my family because they represent moments that we have shared together thanks to Spurs. But there’s so much more to White Hart Lane than my compartmentalised nuggets of weirdness.

White Hart Lane is dripping in history, and I am simply unable to do it justice. From Billy Nicholson to Glenn Hoddle to Ledley King, legends have been

So, instead, you should watch Memory Lane. A group of Spurs fans including my good friend Flav from The Fighting Cock podcast spent a ludicrous amount of time researching, interviewing for and producing this wonderful movie, and all proceeds go to local charity, Exposure.

Watch and enjoy this wonderful piece of work, and if you enjoy learning more about our club’s illustrious history, consider sharing with your friends and family. COYS.

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January 29, 2017

Wycombe – second half thoughts

Having re-watched the first half this morning, I re-watched the second this afternoon.

The substitution of Vincent Janssen for ‘GK’ Nkoudou saw Son Heung-min move a little deeper, and Josh Onomah was pushed out to the left. The presence of Janssen gave Spurs the possibility of playing into feet higher up the pitch, and Janssen had a couple of early moments where he controlled the ball and brought others into the game.

Ten minutes passed and there was still no goal so Mauricio Pochettino had Dele and Mousa Dembélé preparing for action. Spurs became increasingly desperate: Josh Onomah took on two shots from range — one good, one less so.

The breakthrough finally came when Son Heung-min got on the score sheet having been found by Cameron Carter-Vickers, still up from a corner. Pochettino immediately brought Dele and Dembélé on for Kevin Wimmer and Onomah, with Dier dropping into the back line, and Dembélé slipping into midfield alongside Winks.

We levelled four minutes later — Trippier’s ball down the line was excellent, Janssen’s first touch was positive, and he was blocked off by Aaron Pierre. He took the ball off Son and buried the penalty (just), getting a big hug from Son as he retreated back into his own half for the kick-off.

Trippier was forced off injured on 73 minutes and it took Spurs a few minutes to settle into a new formation — at first, Dembélé looked to be at left wing-back in a 3-4-2, but it was soon changed to a 4-4-1 with Sissoko at right-back.

Throughout the half, Carter-Vickers made some good passes into the channels and pushed into midfield — on second viewing, he actually looked good for the majority of the game, and it was just the rash tackle for the penalty that really ‘blotted his copybook’, as they say.

Spurs were pushing and it felt like the momentum had shifted and that we would go on to win the game. That was until Eric Dier took a disastrously poor free-kick, aimed towards Sissoko but feebly struck and easily intercepted. Miles Weston broke down the right, knocked it past Dier, and then took his time when crossing, picking out a wonderful ball which fellow substitute Gary Thompson got up to power home. Ben Davies is not the best at defending back-post headers like this, and barely got up to challenge. It was poor from Dier, who went from the sublime to the ridiculous throughout the match. Some of his passing was top class, but at other times he looked sluggish and lacking in focus.

Having scored on 82 minutes, Wycombe must have felt that they would see the game out. However, Dele’s incredible piece of composure to level it on 89 minutes gave Spurs the impetus again, and when the fourth official announced the six minutes of added time, it gave the Spurs players a lift.

The winning Son goal again came via a deflection, but his positivity was the catalyst once again. He exchanged passes with Janssen and didn’t rush his finish, though it’s unclear whether it was going in without the touch from Jacobson.

It was a cruel way for Wycombe to lose, though Spurs did deserve the victory — we ended the game having had 22 attempts at goal, to Wycombe’s 17 (8 of which came from set pieces in the case of the away side). Wycombe’s goalkeeper touched the ball more than any of their other players. Their were a number of good performances from Wycombe — particularly from Sam Wood and Sido Jombati (and to a lesser extent Adebayo Akinfenwa) — but their key man of this season so far, Scott Kashket, completed just two passes all game.

Dele looked like a superstar when he came on. The goal was magnificent, but it’s the intangible — his general aura — which seemed to lift the rest of the team. Dembélé also added a calmness in midfield, and Son had another good half, showing positivity and generally making good decisions. Son’s vibrancy was key to Spurs throughout, and he was involved in most of our good moments.

Vincent Jansson looked tenacious — he was really fired up — and had some good moments, though his touch was far from immaculate and at times he looked a little immobile. Personally I feel as though he might benefit from some Under-23 games to try to regain his goal-scoring touch (from open play at least!) and to try to shed a few pounds; he could do with being a bit leaner.

It was such a mixed bag for Spurs, with Nkoudou, Davies and Wimmer having particularly shaky games, plus Onomah and Sissoko failing to push their claims for a first team place. I thought Onomah played it too safe and, though he made very few mistakes, he needed to do more. Mousa Sissoko had a better second half than first, but has such a knack of getting himself into a good position and then wasting it, occasionally in almost comical fashion. At one point he got the ball lost under his feet, at another he played a bizarre pass to nobody. Perhaps Pochettino can coach him to become a useful asset, but he still looks a very odd purchase as it stands.

It will be fascinating to see the team selection for the next round and whether Pochettino will go with a stronger core, perhaps with some youngsters on the bench to bring on if the game is safe.

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