April 19, 2013
The Fighting Cock iPhone app, developed by Mitch is now free!
It features the Fighting Cock podcast player, the Fighting Cock blog, access to the excellent forum, the fabulous DearMrLevy.com, as well as this very blog amongst other things.
It is available at the iTunes store – get it now!
April 12, 2013
I feel like I need to start this article with a whole load of caveats, but I’ll try to avoid that. I apologise in advance for rambles and tangents. Thanks to the stress of supporting Spurs, I, like many of you I’m sure, didn’t get much sleep…
I’m regularly asked on Twitter why I ‘defend’ Emmanuel Adebayor despite his apparent lack of quality and effort. It is impossible to answer that appropriately in 140 characters so here are some hastily put-together thoughts that have been running through my brain overnight, amidst a barage of online abuse for the Togolese striker.
Firstly , I guess I do find myself defending him. This isn’t because I have any particular regard for him as a person or even as a player – he has, in the past, shown signs of being greedy, money-motivated, career-driven, uncaring about his clubs and their fans; in other words, a typical footballer. However, he is also a footballer whose abilities benefited us last season, and should theoretically be able to benefit this season and beyond.
Let’s not sugar-coat it, it was an awful penalty. He tried to take the unsavable penalty – high and into the corner. He ended up leaning back after a stuttering run up and got under the ball. Is it, as I’ve heard people say, ‘inexcusable for a professional footballer to miss the target from such close range’? Does this make him a bad player? Of course not. Even Messi missed the target from the penalty spot against Chelsea last season. Clearly, players don’t just try to hit the target – they try to place it so far away from the goalkeeper as to make sure of scoring. Did he miss deliberately? Of course not. A man with his ego would love to have scored and been one of the heroes.
Reasons to dislike
The swathe of popular opinion is currently against him, let’s make that clear from the outset. He’s ex-Arsenal; he’s shown signs of being a mercenary in the past (and therefore it’s easy to apply this to him now); he doesn’t tear around the pitch like a Scott Parker, a Didier Zokora or a Steffen Freund; instead, he has a languid, laid back style – somewhere between Berbatov and Kanoute – that can be seen as arrogance. Essentially he’s pretty easy to dislike, and the above reasons make him an ideal scapegoat for many.
Reasons to like
Last season he excelled. He was a vital player to us – after Kaboul and Modric, he was probably my player of the season. His goals were vital, his assists were vital, and his all round link play (and understanding with Bale, Modric and Van der Vaart in particular) was vital to our (moderate) success.
This season so far
This season, it’s true, he has suffered. Some reasons for this might be:
- a lack of pre-season due to his protracted transfer (be that due to him holding out for more money or otherwise);
- initially being unable to put together a run of games, due to injury / suspension / Defoe’s form;
- playing with Defoe, a player notoriously unable to form partnerships;
- playing without Van der Vaart and Modric, players he so enjoyed playing with last season;
- a lack of confidence caused by all of the above.
The last reason, for me, being the most important. Tellingly, AVB said in the build-up to the Basel game:
“Finding the back of the net allows him to go into the game with more confidence and I always think it’s self-belief from the player, rather than anything else that helps them improve.”
Adebayor the player – nuance
It seems an irritatingly snobbish thing to say, but a lot of his good work does go unnoticed.
Fans get frustrated by his indirect play – he’s not a player who is constantly in the box poaching, for example. But his hold-up and link play, ability to drift wide (dragging defenders away and creating space for others), and his awareness of his teammates are impressive. He will often be the one to make a run to drag a defender away, which indirectly leads to a goal.
He encourages midfielders into the opposition third by dropping deep and creating a focal point/platform for them to play into, and receive the ball back from. We have seen a lot less of that this season due to the sales of Modric and Van der Vaart. Instead, with Bale playing centrally, we are often more direct and will not build in such a slow, patient way. But last season Adebayor was integral to our possession play in the opposition third, and if we do sign a Moutinho-like player, it is essential that we have someone like Adebayor for him to link with.
The attitude / work rate
Some football fans love players who visibly put effort in – who work hard for their club, and do what we as fans would do as a bare minimum were we ever lucky enough to play for the club we love. It speaks volumes that Scott Parker won our Player of the Year last year: a player who almost has to drag himself off the pitch every week, such are his endeavours. A player who gained favour by charging around for 90 minutes, winning the ball back and passing it five yards to the supremely-talented Luka Modric (OK, that downplays him a little, but you see my point). Parker, a player whose own limits have been (almost cruelly) exposed this season by the lack of Modric alongside him.
The antithesis of Parker is the ‘lazy’, uncaring Adebayor. He is not a player to try to rush defenders by pressing them at every opportunity or chase back into midfield if he’s not successfully in retaining possession. But how many strikers are? And do we want them to be? There MUST be a balance between the above, and conserving energy for other areas of the game.
Of course that totally ignores the other types of effort that often go unseen: movement off a defender to show for the ball, movement into the channels to drag defenders around and create space for others, the strength and endurance of constantly holding off brawny defenders.
I’m not saying he’s a workhorse and that people just don’t notice it – of course there are harder working forwards who visibly ‘put more effort it’, to put it simply – but to call him lazy is, in my opinion, unjustified and short-sighted.
Worst striker, etc
I’ve seen it said on Twitter and on forums that Adebyor the worst striker we’ve had in recent seasons. Have we improved so much that we have forgotten some of the dross in our recent past? Our current squad is probably one of the most, if not the most talented we’ve had in my lifetime (I’m not yet thirty), and Adebayor is certainly not one of the worst players within it.
He has played for Monaco, Arsenal, the modern-day Manchester City and Real Madrid. Were he to leave, it would almost certainly be to a club participating in the Champion’s League. He is a very talented player – he may not have a skill-set that tallies with what some fans want to see in a forward, but to criticise his technical ability and all-round game is pretty ludicrous, in my opinion. By all means have an opinion about what you want to see from our forwards, what you want to see him do more or less of, but worst striker in x years? Really? It’s also important to look beyond form – all players have ups and downs, just look at fan-favourite Defoe, who seems to suffer from dips in form more than most. Or more recently Jan Vertonghen, who was absolutely outstanding in March, but has had a pretty appalling April so far.
Of course, most football fans will, knowingly or unknowingly, have agendas. If I’m honest, my own is based on youth players; because I follow the youth teams, I like to see products of our academy involved in the first team squad. Rightly or wrongly, I call for them to be involved (be it from the start of games or from the bench) on more occasions than other fans might. For example, I have frequently called for Tom Carroll to be involved in games when others might not think he is ready yet.
Many fans seem to have an unwavering agenda with regards to Adebayor. For years he was the unfortunate victim of a deeply unpleasant song, shamefully sung by a section of our fans – he was a hate figure, as he played for the enemy. Some fans would simply never take to him, simple. However, the level of negativity towards him – even after a successful first season is confusing – particularly when the leeway offered by fans to similarly under-performing players is clear to see.
Defoe and Acebayor have a similar scoring record since the turn of the year, but whilst Defoe’s name is still sung out even when he is sat in the bench, Adebayor’s name is sometimes booed when read out by the stadium announcer prior to matches.
Clearly Defoe has earned affection – scoring regularly over a lengthy spell at the club, and showing what appears to be a genuine passion for THFC. On the other hand, Adebayor is perceived as a mercenary who stops trying after becoming too comfortable at hus clubs – or so the press’ narrative would have us believe. And so it goes – agendas are built on perception, a player’s lack of confidence is perceived as not trying, and the vicious circle continues.
As mentioned, I have no attachment to Adebayor as a player or person and, so long as we replaced him adequately, I couldn’t care less if he was to leave in the summer. In fact, I think it’s probably for the best that he does, such is the job in ‘convincing’ our fans that he would have ahead of him were he to stay.
I just hope that we aren’t cutting off our nose to spite our face. Were we to sign a Moutinho type or a van der Vaart type, we may end up greatly missing a technically-gifted forward who can play one and two touch passing football, bring talented attacking midfielders into play, and who has the ability and intelligence to draw defenders out wide and create space for others.
The negativity towards Adebayor (I heard boos when his name was read out at Swansea – I thought our away fans were meant to be steadfastly supportive?) is, in my opinion, depressing.
More so because it is so obvious to me that Adebayor is a confidence player – a player who is bubbly, bright, and plays well when his metaphorical tail is up, and who suffers when things are not going so well – on or off the pitch. To get the best out of him, we need to get behind him. Can I see that happening? Unfortunately not.
We all want what is best for Tottenham Hotspur – we just have different opinions on how we achieve it. Even if you disagree with my opinion that Adebayor is a player affected by confidence, and instead think that he is an arrogant mercenary, consider whether you think that moaning, groaning, booing and jeering has any chance of helping him improve his form. Alternatively, what if I’m right? What if our collective support can help to get an extra 5% out of him? What have we got to lose?
This seems a good time to mention the 1882 event coming up. If you fancy being a part of a crowd who will sing for the lilywhite shirt of Tottenham Hotspur, regardless of whether the player in it is Ledley King, Emmanuel Adebayor, or Kenneth McEvoy (who?), then you should read this, and come along to watch our U21s take on Arsenal at Underhill.
March 29, 2013
Despite the recent negativity displayed by many in the media, the Spurs blogging world, and the Twittersphere, I personally think this can be deemed a successful first season for André Villas-Boas even if we *don’t* finish in 4th place. Am I crazy? Maybe…
Of course a top four finish was always our aim after the dismissal of Redknapp, who achieved two fourth place finishes in three years. However, at the start of the season – having lost King to retirement, Modric to a bigger fish, and van der Vaart to… well, having lost van der Vaart – this seemed an entirely unachievable target.
I wrote back in August that we should aim to finish in the top six with the squad that we had (albeit that was before we signed Mousa Dembele). I saw this as a realistic aim given the rebuilding job required – rebuilding of the spine of the team, rebuilding of the squad and rebuilding of the remaining squad’s fragile confidence.
Rebuilding of the spine, because losing three players as vital as King, Modric, and van der Vaart was inevitably going to have an effect – little did we know that Kaboul would soon get injured too.
Rebuilding of the squad because a number of our squad players became disenfranchised under Redknapp; capable players, the likes of Corluka, Kranjcar, Pienaar and Pavlyuchenko, just didn’t get enough games to make it worthwhile sticking around. Finding similar quality to deputise was always going to be an issue.
And rebuilding of the remaining squad’s confidence because we ended last season on a low – not only because we had a run which saw us win just five of our last fifteen games, but because we lost out on a Champions League place due to Chelsea’s win over Bayern Munich.
Change of approach
Many fans felt that should we finish lower than 4th this season, we might as well have kept Redknapp. Of course, that is entirely missing the point that AVB was a long-term appointment, with new priorities very much on the agenda: the development of youth, full and proper use of the new training facilities, and a club pulling in the same direction from top to bottom.
The slimming down of an admittedly bloated squad – much of which was initially done by sending players on loan – seemed to signify a greater confidence in homegrown youth players – the likes of Caulker, Livermore, Townsend and Carroll. Whilst this hasn’t necessarily been the case so far, AVB has shown trust in Caulker certainly, and increasingly so in Carroll too – hopefully a sign of things to come.
When a new manager joins a club, there is generally an initial upturn in form – be it players wanting to impress, fresh ideas giving everyone a lift, or something else. There then tends to be a dip, as a manager begins to instil his methodologies and ideas. I would suggest that most managers don’t get their ideas across until a good halfway through a season – with that bedding in period in mind, managers should, under most circumstances, be given time and leeway by everyone concerned with the club – be it executives or supporters.
Villas-Boas had the advantage of a strong start to the season – to be in the top four in January was a terrific achievement – but we should not forget that this is his first season, that he is still getting to know his players’ strengths and weaknesses, and that key players have been missing for long periods of the season – not least Kaboul, who I voted as our Player of the Year last year, and now Sandro, arguably our most consistent performer of the first half of the season.
A distraction? A chance of glory? Both? AVB has a reputation for taking cups seriously. Whilst a League Cup run never materialised and an FA Cup run ended disappointingly, our Europa League run continues. The knock-on effect that this has on league form is obvious, but it is a difficult balancing act, and decisions will never please everyone. Some fans would rather sacrifice further progress in the European competition to prioritise a stronger league finish, whereas others want the glory and historical memento that a trophy brings.
The modern-day football fan demands success and demands it now – I can understand the frustration; we are “closer to success” than we have been in many fans’ lifetimes – certainly mine, in terms of being one of the four or five best clubs in the country. This is why so many fans went ballistic when Levy and co failed to land a big-name striker in January, in the summer, in the January before that, etc etc. But, without a sugar daddy investor, the key is sustainability - and that means building towards “success” over a period of time. This is why Villas-Boas is a perfect fit for our club – a club with resources, but limited resources compared to some. His focus on getting the best out of what he has, on integrating youth, on utilising psychology, on using modern methods generally, will take time to embed, but, in my opinion, have a greater chance of delivering regular Champions League football, as well as delivering trophies. Maybe not this season, but we have to look beyond the now and realise that he has laid foundations this year that will stand us in good stead.
February 1, 2013
Lewis Holtby, 22, Schalke 04
Zeki Fryers, 20, Standard Liège
Carlo Cudicini, Los Angeles Galaxy
Jermaine Jenas, QPR
Soli Coulibaly, FC Grosseto, loan
Yago Falque, UD Almeria, loan
Adam Smith, Millwall, loan
Heurelho Gomes, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, loan
Andros Townsend, QPR, loan
Alex Pritchard, Peterboough United, loan
Simon Dawkins, Aston Villa, loan
Ryan Mason, Lorient, loan
Tomislav Gomelt, RCD Espanyol, loan
The signing of Lewis Hotlby came slightly out of the blue, with his name not having been mentioned a great deal until a few days before the transfer was concluded. Of course, as soon as it was announced that he was to join in summer, everyone wanted him now. I was relaxed about him coming in the summer – I felt that this would allow him to finish off a season which was going well for him, say his goodbyes, and have a full pre-season getting to know his new teammates’ strengths and weaknesses allowing him to hit the ground running in August.
However, his cameo in the Norwich game has pretty much proved me wrong – he seemed to adapt instantly and gave us the one and two touch footballing spark that we have lacked since Rafael van der Vaart departed. I feel confident that he can have a positive impact on the team between now and the end of the season, but it is worth remembering that he is young – younger than the likes of Sigurdsson, Livermore, Falque, Walker, Rose and Obika – and, therefore we must be careful not to expect too much, too soon.
Zeki Fryers is a punt – he has clearly not been bought to slot into the first team fold, and Tim Sherwood’s comments following the conclusion of his transfer confirmed as much: ”Zeki is fully aware that he’s a long way away from being ready for Tottenham Hotspur’s first team. The plan is for him to come in and work hard with the development squad to get to a level – no guarantees – where he could perhaps play for our first team.”
Zeki will fill the left back void in the under-21s, and any progression beyond that will be a bonus.
Carlo Cudicini joined Los Angeles Galaxy before the window had even opened, announced on the 31st December. He was well down the pecking order, and it was a good move to get his wages off the books.
The surprising thing about the Jenas move was that someone was willing to take him, after hugely injury-hit loan spells at Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest over the past two seasons. Jenas has only started two matches in the last two campaigns, and hasn’t played back to back matches since April 2011.
He scored some important goals for Spurs – especially against Arsenal – and will be remembered fondly for those. However, most fans seemed to feel that he never fulfilled his potential, and had a tendency to fade out of games. Personally, I felt that he was a competent footballer, who did not have the knack of decision-making which would have allowed him to achieve more on the pitch. A good pro, though, who always came across as a likeable person, and never complained when he was out of favour. All the best, Jermaine.
The much-hyped Ivorian has joined FC Grosseto of Serie B on loan. They are based 70km from his previous club, Siena, which may have something to do with the deal (homesick?). There was no mention of a permanent deal at the end of it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if things panned out this way.
I think the choice of club (UD Almeria) in this transfer is telling – had we been attempting to integrate Yago into Premier League football, we might have looked for a Championship club, or continued using him in the under-21 league. This move implies to me that he is in the shop window in the Segunda Division.
Adam has been getting plenty of praise for his showings at Millwall, and Villas-Boas indicated that the club would try to get him a Premier League move for the back-end of the season. This hasn’t panned out, though, which I don’t think will bother Adam – he seems settled at Millwall and is playing under a manager who clearly rates him. Kenny Jackett on Smith: “We’re delighted Adam is staying. He’s been a regular at right-back for us and has done very well. We look forward to continuing to work with him and help with his development and football education here.”
Desperate for game-time, Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga seems a good move, and I wish Gomes well. I presume he will move on permanently in the summer but, funnily enough, he is arguably a more suitable deputy for Lloris than Friedel, being a more similar style of keeper.
This is the one move I’m a little disappointed by, as I felt Andros had the potential to offer much-needed wing-cover on either side. However, if he gets regular Premier League appearances, it can only be good for his development.
Peterborough seems a decent fit for Pritchard, a player who has become widely known due to his NextGen Series displays – particularly against Inter two seasons ago, and Barcelona this season. They play a 5-3-1-1, meaning that he could potentially play behind the striker, giving him much-needed freedom to be creative without the shackles of defensive responsibility.
Well this certainly came from the left field! Dawkins is 25 now, and it was widely expected that he’d join San Jose Earthquakes permanently at some point. Perhaps this is his final crack at “making it” in the Premier League. He’s a quick-footed attacking midfield player nowadays and, whilst technically proficient, I do wonder how influential he can be – especially in a struggling side.
This is a fascinating move – Mason is certainly ready for a greater test, and I have been surprised not to see more of him on the bench for us. However, a move to Ligue 1′s Lorient could be a stroke of genius. I am reliably informed (by @IainLiddle on Twitter – well worth a follow!) that the club wanted Mason to go to a “technical” league, rather than the Championship, which suits his style perfectly.
Little has been seen of Gomelt this season, amid rumours of work permit and contractual issues (I presume he’s actually been injured). He’s looked a promising player on the two occasions that I’ve watched him (the 7-1 thrashing of Inter and pre-season against Kingstonian), and it will be interesting to see whether he makes any appearances for Espanyol’s B team in the third tier of Spanish football, or whether this is another shop window exercise (I hope not!).
The January transfer window seems to send people potty – players, chairman, managers, journalists, and especially fans. The absolute hysteria surrounding the “lack of striker signing” and the apparent chase of Leandro Damiao yesterday was somewhat baffling.
If rumours are to be believed Spurs have been chasing Damiao for nearly three seasons, and so why anyone thought we would suddenly finalise a deal on the last day of the January window, heaven only knows. It seems to be a very complex deal for many reasons – not least because he is seemingly settled in Brazil – and, such is the level of the player now, I simply can’t see him joining a club that does not have guaranteed Champions League football, and the wages that go with it.
Daniel Levy’s name is mud this morning, having “failed” to land a striker. Apparently he puts the balance sheet before success (and there was I thinking that one largely depended on the other). Apparently we have to speculate to accumulate. Apparently we won’t get 4th spot unless we sign a striker. That may, ultimately, be the case but I can certainly understand why Levy did not throw mega-bucks around in this window.
To improve on our current players, we have to either spend very big or unearth hidden gems. Our squad is at such a level that, to improve upon it, large fees and large wages are generally required. Given that we have just announced a loss (admittedly without the Modric sale, but making profit through selling players is unsustainable anyway), it is more sensible in many ways to see if we can qualify for the Champions League, and then bolster the squad using the additional funds and the prestige of the competition to attract better players – we all know that the top (top) players want Champions League football.
There’s another point somewhere about Levy being a tough negotiator, and future bargaining positions being lost by caving in at the last-minute, but I’m not going to go there.
The rest of the season
We are 4th. In fact, we are 4th in spite of our two strikers not scoring regularly right now. If just one of them can hit a run of form, perhaps even form a partnership with Holtby (hopefully Ade/Holtby can mimic Ade/vdV from last season) we should be well set to maintain 4th place. To me, 4th place was only an aspiration at the start of the season; we had a new manager implementing new techniques and integrating young players, having lost three vital pieces of the jigsaw in King, Modric and van der Vaart, and coping without three of last season’s best players – Parker, Kaboul and Assou-Ekotto – who were injured. To be at this point, and to still have a chance of 4th is impressive.
Of course there is a chance that one of the strikers may get injured, but not many clubs that want to play with one up front (and that is what AVB will inevitably and rightly move towards) are able to keep three strikers hungry and satisfied – note that Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton, our rivals for 4th, all have just two out-and-out strikers. It is only City and United that seem to have infinite numbers of forwards, and even theirs are versatile and can cover other roles too (e.g. Aguero/Welbeck have both been played wide), making it easier to give them game time.
We have a manager who has made the team greater than the sum of its parts. We have strikers with goals in them if we can utilise them correctly. We have a new signing who galvanised us in the second half against Norwich. We have the ability to push for a Champions League place, with or without a new striker.
I’m not saying that I don’t want us to strengthen – of course I do. But, for me, the summer is the most appropriate time to do so – knowing which competitions we’ll be in, how much we have to spend, and having the time to do deals without the last-minute panic setting in.
My areas for strengthening are as follows:
- Wing-forward (two if, as expected, Bale leaves).
- Number 10/trequartista (this could be mitigated if Holtby turns out to be as good as he looked against Norwich).
- Back-up left back.
- Deep-lying playmaker to replace Huddlestone.
- Long-term replacement for Defoe.
- Long-term replacement for Parker.
That’s considerable work, and work best carried out in a carefully planned and measured manner.
I’m sure there’s more I want to say, but that’ll do for now. COYS.