Happy Again

It’s irrelevant that it’s only Sheffield United, who are, this season at least, one of the worst Premier League teams in history. Unless you’re a Mourinhista you’re probably feeling like me today: happy again.

It’s seeing Dele back out there having fun, it’s having Gareth Bale re-installed in the starting eleven and banging in a brilliant hat-trick, it’s seeing Toby Alderweireld look up ahead of pinging a diagonal and there actually being a few options to hit. It’s pressing the ball in the opposition third. It’s watching a back-line which isn’t defending the edge of our box constantly. It’s having an interim manager who is invested in the future of the club.

It’s sitting and watching the whole 90 minutes without getting distracted and messing about on your phone. It’s feeling like things are moving in the right direction again.

The approach was one that built on what we saw against Southampton (and that was, sadly, entirely absent against Manchester City). It saw a lot of movement ahead of the ball, players rotating positions regularly, making runs in behind and coming short to create triangles.

And this is why it’s irrelevant that it’s only SU – because it’s not necessarily about the success of the approach but the approach itself. And I think given that we’ve seen the approach in the two league games that Ryan Mason and his team have overseen, we can assume that this is what he will use for the last four games.

Playing attractive football is sometimes seen as frivolity. A nice to have non-essential. Unless it is accompanied by good results, it’s not important. But that’s not the case at Spurs — it is as much a part of our club’s identity as being the club of firsts or our lilywhite shirts or our To Dare Is To Do club motto. You all know the historic quotes.

But it’s not just aesthetes vs pragmatists. The romantics vs the objectives-focussed. My argument has always been that this Spurs team gets better results when they attempt to play more progressive, front-foot football (with some exceptions). The majority of our current squad is far better suited to having the ball and trying to create than not having the ball and trying to defend.

Quick sideways look here at the expected goals timing charts from Understat to reflect on our intentions in the two Sheffield United games.

In the game back in January it ended 0.98 vs 1.28 on expected goals. In yesterday’s match it ended 2.26 vs 0.47. So already things are looking better on that front, but then when you examine the timings chart, you can see that there was simply a far more productive output from 60 minutes on. 0.38 first game vs 0.88 second game.

Understat xG Timing Chart – Sheffield United 1-3 Tottenham, January 2021
Understat xG Timing Chart – Tottenham 4-0 Sheffield United, May 2021

It’s given us a glimpse of what next season could and should be like and it already feels like the dark clouds have started to lift.

We Will Be Good Again Very Soon

It’s been a very strange week for me. Spurs-wise, I really enjoyed watching us against Wolsfberger on Wednesday night. Seeing Dele (who I wrote about here) scoring a glorious goal and getting a couple of assists was beautiful, exciting, invigorating, nostalgic. Gareth Bale was enjoying himself out there too and looked great again. Dane Scarlett came off the bench again, and Marcel Lavinier and Nile John made their debuts. It was such a worry-free, easy watch.

Gareth Bale and a young (or even younger!) Dane Scarlett

My grandad had passed away on Wednesday morning having tested positive for Covid a week or so before. Spurs vs Wolfsberger was a very welcome distraction. I needed them to play well and be fun and they stepped up for me, for the first time in a while. Spurs properly cheered me up. It’s really hard to lose someone close to you at any time, but there are so many added complexities right now. My thoughts go out to anyone who has suffered loss during this horrific year.

Then yesterday, Football Twitter was Football Twitter again. That video of me started doing the rounds again. The one I talk about here. And, as well as that, people started calling me racist because they can’t read, or — if you’re cynical like me — because it helps to distract from an anti-racist message and they’re quite happy with the arrangement of power as it is thank-you-very-much.

A similar phenomenon happened as with the video too — me and my ‘Sidekick and Best Friend’, Bardi were having a bit of bantz and I tweeted this:

It’s true. As you’ll know if you’ve read this, I’m over the José Mourinho tenure. The rumours of him leaving and of interest in Julian Nagelsmann are very exciting to me. I think we have massive potential as a team and as a club, and I’m keen for us to maximise that as soon as possible. That it seems closer to fruition has made me genuinely a bit giddy at times this past week.

What people have taken this to mean is that… I want Spurs to lose. I mean, the reason I want this change in management is because I want Spurs to win. Obviously it would be much easier (and a lot cheaper for Daniel Levy!) if Mourinho were to never lose a game again, to win the cup double and finish top 4 this season, to patch up his relationship with Dele and instil him in the team, to pin Harry Kane down to a new contract, to become the most successful manager in our club’s history.

But the reason I want Mourinho to leave is because I have lost all faith in that happening. Because we’ve just had our worst run in the league for over a decade. Because he’s got a brilliant team in which we have some of the best players in the league… and we’re ninth. Because a couple of favourable cup runs haven’t convinced me that he’s not doing a very bad job overall.

Premier League Form Table from WhoScored.com

I love Tottenham Hotspur. Have a listen to our conversation on the podcast from about 3:40 here to hear what Tottenham means to the three of us. That old Billy Nich quote — “It’s been my life, Tottenham Hotspur and I love the club.” — … that’s me. It has been my life. It is my life. So when things are bad, and I believe they are comparatively bad now, you want them to be better again.

In the nineties, it did occasionally cross your mind that a bad run could end with relegation. The good thing about this Spurs is that Daniel Levy has built us into such a financial powerhouse that I doubt we need to be too concerned for that in the short, medium and even long term. We can have a couple of years out of the Champions League and we still have enough clout to bounce back quickly. We will be good again very soon, of that I have no doubt. So for now, we wait.

Meanwhile, I’m scaling back my use of Twitter because otherwise my blocklist is going to be higher than my follower count and I’m going to end up with RSI. I have found a much better, more productive place to chat about Spurs, and am putting most of my ‘online Tottenham chat’ energy into that. It’s our xSubs Discord channel. It doesn’t need a sales pitch because it’s brilliant, but here it comes.

If you want to join this glorious safe space, you can sign up here. There is 16% off annual memberships until the end of February. If you’re not sure it’s going to be for you, you could try subscribing for a month and giving it a go. It’s the cost of a London pint and for that you’ll also get 30+ videos, 17 episodes of Straight Off The Training Ground (the xSubs-only podcast I do with coach and analyst, Chris Summersell), access to our live Q&As, newsletters and other bits and bobs too.


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Mourinho Out

If I’m honest, I’ve wanted him gone for months, but I think now my views are more crystalised than ever and I’m seeing this rationally rather than just emotionally. Though, frankly, I feel strongly that the emotional has become the rational, as I’ll explain below. There are, I believe, five main reasons why we should sack José Mourinho quickly.

1. The results

We’re currently eighth in the Premier League table but according to our expected points that’s actually an over-performance. Understat has us 10th by this metric.

Understat PL table, sorted by xPTS

Expected points are based upon expected goals scored and conceded. Mourinho teams can be expected goals busters, since they often stop trying to score after going ahead, so don’t rack up the goals or at least expected goals numbers that other teams might in matches where they have the opposition at arm’s length. But, frankly, expected points has proven this season to be a useful predictor of how results would go; i.e. by showing how Spurs were over-performing points-wise and Brighton were under-performing points-wise.

Back when we were winning games against Burnley and Brighton and West Brom I was saying on The Extra Inch (Spurs Podcast) that I didn’t think these results were sustainable — that we had to find another way of playing against the ‘lesser’ teams (shorthand for those teams against whom we would dominate possession and chances due to, mainly, our comparative quality). I felt pretty convinced that our results would regress to the mean and I feel they now have. I’m not a soothsayer, of course — the data was there, the performances were there, people were just distracted by the results.

There is not a single game I do not fear at the moment. Mourinho currently has the worst Premier League record as Spurs manager since Juande Ramos. For a man so results-focussed who places the importance of the result above all else, this is a pretty big deal.

2. The performances

It’s amazing how much good results change your perspective on things — you’re only ever one good corner routine away from a ‘Mourinho Masterclass’. Take that corner routine away, or add a defensive error, and suddenly we’re what we’re seeing now.

‘You should have seen us in the nineties’, people say, when you start to talk about whether this is the worst we’ve played. I mean, sure, but that was like twenty-five ago and things have changed. We’re ninth in the Deloitte Football Money League. Comparisons with nineties Spurs are meaningless — we’re a different club now. We are allowed to expect more. And yes, this is the worst we’ve played since we’ve been good.

Barney Ronay’s description of Spurs for The Guardian was both damning and accurate.

‘For the first half of this weirdly gripping Premier League game it seemed Chelsea’s players were being set an unexpected philosophical conundrum. Never mind trying to win a match against active opponents. How do you kill that which was never really alive in the first place? How do you put away a team that comes pre-put away?’

José Mourinho’s rigid thinking brings zombified display from Tottenham‘, Barney Ronay, 4 February 2021

Low block and counter is a viable strategy against the bigger sides, as we proved against Manchester City (and Arsenal). But we’ve got no alternative — we don’t know how to play when we are handed the majority of possession. We lack any sort of possessional structure, attacking routines (obviously aside from the ball into Kane and spin in behind from Son) — automations as Nathan A Clark refers to them.

Mourinho has had 14 months to implement a philosophy and all we’ve had are lop-sided full-backs and low block and counter. 14 months and the strategy is *gestures at the television* this. We’re paying him an enormous salary for *gestures at the television* this and he’s actually got us more reliant on Harry Kane than we’ve ever been. We got quite defensive when Pep Guardiola referred to us as The Harry Kane Team. I don’t think any of us would have the audacity to argue with that nickname right now.

3. The immediate future

Whilst it’s great news that Harry Kane is due back soon and, of course, that will help, I don’t see a world in which things change drastically anytime soon. There’s little to no time on the training ground between matches, so we seem largely stuck with the system we’re using.

We may see Kane and Son Heung-min briefly return to their over-performance of expected goals and assists from earlier in the season, but they will likely revert back again. It is simply not sustainable for Son to score with his first shot of every game to enable us to defend deep for the rest of each match.

We’ve also started hearing reports of minor dressing room unrest. Miguel Delaney reported in The Independent this week that ‘There isn’t yet mutiny among the players or anything like that, but a growing number have serious misgivings about the football. A minority are fed up with it.’ And the day before the same journalist wrote of the training and implementation of tactics.

‘Some sources at Spurs say the attacking idea genuinely doesn’t extend much beyond getting it to Kane and Son Heung-Min. There is little preparation for progressing the ball up the pitch. This is what has struck opposition staff in planning for games against Spurs. Matches thereby reflect the training, which has largely been based on defensive organisation, set pieces and second balls.’

‘Jose Mourinho and Thomas Tuchel hold opposing ideals on two sides of the same coin’, Miguel Delaney, 4 February 2021

Minor unrest becomes major unrest when results continue to go badly and players continue to be treated differently.

I have long-feared that our lack of rotation would haunt us later in the season given the focus on winning a trophy. The number of minutes our players have under their belts will make them susceptible to muscular injuries as time goes on, particularly as the frequency of matches gets worse rather than better as time goes on.

My tweets on Tottenham’s schedule

We had been very fortunate with injuries and COVID outbreaks until the past fortnight where we lost Kane and Sergio Reguilón at the same time. We need to be prepared for more periods without key players – particularly Son and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg who have barely had a break.

We need to get more from our players, and quickly. In the 14 months of Mourinho to date, I’ve seen very few matches where I’ve felt as though the team was greater than the sum of its parts.

4. The long-term future

Perhaps Mourinho will have us beat Manchester City — hell, there are few managers you’d trust more in a one-off match. But is a League Cup going to keep Harry Kane at the club if we fail to finish in the top 4? We could perhaps manage it for one more season, but Kane could play for any club in the world and he’s not going to choose to stay for long should we not be competing for the top honours.

The idea, as it was sold to us, was that the winning of one trophy could change the entire perspective of the club and open the floodgates for more trophies. We have absolutely no chance of challenging for the league unless we have a total change in philosophy.

An issue which may have gone more under the radar so far but which is starting to come to the fore is the number of fans who are starting to switch off — both literally and metaphorically. Because I’ve been vocal about the disconnect I’ve felt, I’ve had dozens and dozens of tweets, direct messages, emails, etc on the subject. People have told me that they have stopped watching matches entirely. They don’t want their day ruined by Spurs.

Of course, this isn’t just due to Mourinho — this is the effect of the global pandemic, of no crowds, of not being able to actually go to the stadium yourself, a crucial part of the routine for a core of our fans. But it’s definitely exacerbated by Mourinho. I find myself increasingly on my phone whilst we’re playing — just because there’s not much to enjoy unless you get something from watching our opposition have the ball. We are a highlights team now; occasional bursts of excellence.

Levy will be attuned to this like he is with all things that impact on business. The fact that Spurs are currently playing the worst football in the Premier League and are being publicly called out by pundits and journalists for doing so will not have passed him by. I wrote in my recent article about Dele that there are Spurs fans who are Spurs fans because of Dele; well, we’re not going to acquire many new fans playing the way we are currently. Every day, youngsters across the globe will be looking for a club to follow, and apart from the obvious teams there’s a chance they’ll currently be picking Aston Villa, Everton and even West Ham over Spurs.

I think Levy might have shown his hand here. By refusing to sanction the sale or loan of Dele (like Tanguy Ndombele before him), it shows that he’s not backing Mourinho at all costs. Some costs, maybe — I’m not sure we’d previously have signed Matt Doherty, an older full-back, and perhaps not even Joe Hart, though that’s less clear as we did sign and re-sign Michel Vorm — but he won’t let our top talents go on the cheap. Perhaps that’s a sign that he is not sure how long Mourinho’s tenure will last.

5. The man

I think it says a lot that I don’t feel particularly comfortable making my thoughts on this publicly available, lest the Mourinho cultists find me again, so instead I put them behind our podcast paywall.

The tweet below is a snapshot of what Mourinho can be like, though, and it was totally unacceptable behaviour, which should be confronted.

He is a pretty unpleasant character, wrapped up in football legend — being good at or in football means pretty much anything goes (as we’ve seen with Cristiano Ronaldo).

I’m ready for us to part company with Mourinho whenever Levy feels the tingle of his trigger finger. I’ve been ready for some time. I only hope we get this over and done with sooner rather than later and build with a fresh skillset and outlook. We are a club and a team with enormous potential.


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Dele

I remember arriving for work on a Monday and one of my colleagues — a lady in her fifties, not a football fan — did the Dele hand/eye goal celebration at me.

Such an iconic footballer. In my eyes, one of the most iconic players in our recent history.

What a glorious player to watch. A player who, when he first joined, was noted for having the fearlessness of youth — in both his creative play and tendency to get involved in altercations — but who had the movement and positional awareness of a much more experienced player.

I remember, in the early days, regularly tweeting things like ‘Dele needs to come off now, he’s done nothing’ only for him to pop up with a late goal and make me look foolish. He was one of those players that often seemed to be on the periphery of a match but then would suddenly come alive and do something that no other player on the pitch could do.

Though I think that diminished overtime — he seemed to become more involved, want to feel the ball more. That was potentially a direct result of him moving from playing from the left (I liked him a lot there) to playing more centrally. He mainly played centrally — and crucially very high — in 2016/17, his most productive season.

Social media encourages ‘takes’, as people clammer for likes, and this has led to an overbearing abundance of definitive statements. Footballers are no longer human beings who have up and down times in terms of their own self-confidence and psychology, have space for improvement in one or several aspects of their game or who can evolve over time and adapt to positions, roles, or tactics. They are either world class or shit. ‘End of’. They should either be kept for the first team or sold to make room for the next signing.

I am guilty of this myself and don’t want to appear above it. I have been very dismissive of Moussa Sissoko and Lucas Moura (and others) – essentially writing them off as assets that are no longer viable, that should be moved on as soon as possible. Sissoko has proven me wrong by showing his utility in a number of ways. Lucas gave me the greatest moment in my Spurs-supporting life; had it been up to me he’d have been long gone.

The point I’m trying to make is that because Dele’s form has somewhat dwindled over time, we shouldn’t assume that it will always be so. It’s so short-sighted to think that this is Dele now, that he will never get back to his wonderful best.

Dele waves at the camera

This video is what Spurs’ YouTube channel calls ‘DELE ALLI’S TOP 10 SPURS GOALS!‘. You should watch it, it’s really fun. Clearly it’s missing some important moments but, that aside, what struck me is the number of individual pieces of brilliance from Dele that these included. And some — magic against Man United and a gorgeous finish against Brighton — as recent as December 2019, just over a year ago.

There’s absolutely no doubt that Dele has dropped off — for a whole variety of reasons, but the main one being, in my view, a drop to a deeper role under Mauricio Pochettino — but his level of productivity cannot be questioned, even in spite of this.

SeasonMinutesGoalsAssistsG+AG+A/90
2015/162480107170.62
2016/173044184220.65
2017/18297197160.48
2018/1918325490.44
2019/20185282100.49
Dele in the Premier League

These are good-to-elite numbers, even in seasons where he has been perceived to have been ineffective. This is a good player who has been an elite player. He will likely be elite again.

But the thing with Dele is that it’s not just about numbers. It’s about fun. It’s about tricks and flicks and boisterousness and shithousery and handshakes and hand/eye celebrations and what’s your favourite chocolate bar. He’s as inquisitive and ephemeral on the pitch as he is off it.

He is also really fucking cool. There are children who are Spurs fans because of Dele. He only cost £5m (he’s better than Ozil, etc etc). As the piece of commentary from the Wheeler Dealer Radio podcast theme goes: ‘This young man is a sensation, Dele Alli, out of League One into the Premier League’

I have feared that this was the end of the road. I initially wrote this piece as a goodbye and I’ve been feeling quite sad about it. But Daniel Levy has once again vetoed a talented young midfielder leaving and given me a glimmer of hope.


I am the host of The Extra Inch; a Spurs podcast that delves into the analytical side of Tottenham games. Check us out!

I recently added a Donate button to this site. It’s on the ‘About‘ page. I explain why on there. Cheers!

Home Grown Players (HGP) Quota – January 2021 Transfer Window

I tend to write each year about the 25-man squad and the implications of the home grown players rule and how it will impact on Spurs’ transfer strategy. The home grown player numbers could impact on how many signings José Mourinho can make, the nature of those signings and/or the size of our squad for the rest of the season.

The Premier League ‘Home Grown Players (HGP)’ Rule

The misconception about the requirement itself is that clubs must name eight home grown players in their squads. We could name fewer than eight HGPs, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad — for example, if we only have seven HGPs, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. 

Remember, an HGP is defined as one whom, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21). Source: Premier League.

As ever, we will not need to name players who are under 21 on our squad list, so could augment our squad with youngsters. This would mean that we could manage with, say, a 22-man squad with just five HGPs, but would need plenty of under 21 players who are ready to play (particularly if we qualify for the Europa League). For the 2020/21 campaign, players considered ‘under 21’ will have been born on or after 1st January 1999. This means that for the current season we still have a number of ‘freebies’ who are fairly well-known names: Brandon Austin, Gedson Fernandes (if he stays…), Japhet Tanganga, Jack Clarke, Jamie Bowden, Harvey White, J’Neil Bennett, Malachi Fagan-Walcott, Dennis Cirkin.

Remember, we also have some players out on-loan – these players could also have been classified as ‘freebies’: Jack Roles, TJ Eyoma, Ryan Sessegnon, Oliver Skipp, Troy Parrott. More players may well move out on loan in January.

The Europa League ‘Home Grown Players (HGP)’ Rule

The Europa League rules are a little different to the Premier League rules — have a look at article 42 (‘Player lists’) of the regulations. UEFA don’t just want clubs to have players trained elsewhere in the FA structure — they have additional requirements for club-trained players. They want to encourage clubs to bring through their own young players.

If we want to name a ‘full’ squad in the Europa League, we would need at least four ‘association-trained’ players (we currently have: Hart, Dele, Doherty, Sessegnon, Clarke) and four ‘club-trained’ players (we currently have: Bale, Georgiou, Kane, Marsh, Rose, Sterling, Tracey, Whiteman and Winks). Many of these players are on-loan (Sessegnon, Sterling, Tracey), or simply not likely to be selected (Georgiou, Marsh, Rose).

Summary

When we named our Premier League squad list in October, we included exactly 25 players, nine of whom were HGP: Dele Alli, Gareth Bale, Ben Davies, Matt Doherty, Joe Hart, Harry Kane, Joe Rodon, Alfie Whiteman, Harry Winks. If we were to sell or loan Dele or Winks, we would would be able to add one additional HGP or non-HGP without removing any other players from the squad list. If we were to sell or loan both, we would only be able to name a 24-man squad unless we signed a new HGP.

It’s a more delicate situation in the Europa League, though. The bottom line is that, if we were to sell or loan Dele and/or Winks, our Europa League squad would be reduced. We could replace Dele with another association-trained player were we to sign someone new, but we could only replace Winks with a club-trained player (Georgiou, Marsh, Rose, Sterling, Tracey). Of course, we could also sign a non-locally trained player and remove another from the Europa League squad.

#PlayerDOBAgeStatusPL HGPEL Locally Trained
1Hugo Lloris26/12/198634   
2Joe Hart19/04/198733 YAssociation
3Toby Alderweireld02/03/198931   
4Gareth Bale16/07/198931 YClub
5Moussa Sissoko16/08/198931   
6Danny Rose02/07/199030 YClub
7Paulo Gazzaniga02/01/199228   
8Matt Doherty16/02/199228 YAssociation
9Erik Lamela04/03/199228   
10Son Heung-min 08/07/199228   
11Lucas Moura13/08/199228   
12Serge Aurier24/12/199228   
13Ben Davies24/04/199327 Y 
14Harry Kane28/07/199327 YClub
15Eric Dier15/01/199426   
16Pierre-Emile Højbjerg05/08/199525   
17Harry Winks02/02/199624 YClub
18Giovani Lo Celso09/04/199624   
19Dele Alli11/04/199624 YAssociation
20Davinson Sánchez12/06/199624   
21Sergio Reguilón16/12/199624   
22Tanguy Ndombele28/12/199624   
23Anthony Georgiou24/02/199723 YClub
24Steven Bergwijn08/10/199723   
25Joe Rodon22/10/199723 Y 
26Cameron Carter-Vickers31/12/199722On-loanYClub
27Juan Foyth12/01/199822On-loan  
28Shilow Tracey29/04/199822On-loanYClub
29Alfie Whiteman02/10/199822 YClub
30George Marsh05/11/199822 YClub
31Kazaiah Sterling09/11/199822On-loanYClub
32Gedson Fernandes09/01/199921 N/A 
33Ryan Sessegnon18/05/200020On-loanN/AAssociation
34Jack Clarke23/11/200020 N/AAssociation
Spurs’ over-21 (and UEFA List A under-21) players, ordered by DOB


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