One Hundred Imaginary Trophies

I wasn’t sure whether to do this or not but, after the week I’ve just had, it’s good to get it off my chest. Plus, I have a platform, and occasionally I ought to use it to raise awareness of the impact of issues affecting me that might also affect others – in this instance, it’s online bullying and pile-ons.

It’s been a tough few months. On the 1st October – the day that a clip of a video of me got mass tweeted and retweeted by hundreds of people telling me I’m a nonce, paedo, melt, snowflake, cunt, not a Spurs fan, everything that’s wrong with our fanbase, that I should find a new club, that I should fuck off and die and/or that they’ll celebrate my death – my partner and I were waiting for a paramedic for her dad. That was the culmination of a number of months of him being desperately ill, becoming more ill, and of us helping to care for him, and of me helping to care for her and for her mum (who has also been in and out of hospital). I was exhausted – between giving practical and emotional support to my partner whilst working 10-hour days in my very intense day job, I was feeling pretty high levels of stress. Her dad, Alan, a man who I cared about deeply, passed away four days later. It’s been devastating for everyone. RIP, Alan.

I am kind of used to Twitter abuse (not that that makes it okay) but this was a bit of a wake-up call. ‘What am I doing here? Why am I wasting so much time and energy on this god-awful platform?’.

I adored Twitter – I’ve had insightful conversations and hilarious interactions for a decade. Recently, few conversations happen in good faith: football Twitter is about point-scoring, showing off to the cool crowd and proving what a massive fan you are. It’s about likes and retweets and shoe-horning memes and calling people nonces. I have failed to accept and adapt to this. That’s definitely on me.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have blindly retweeted a two minute snippet of me appearing on a one hour show, particularly when I made a divisive comment within it. I said flippantly that ‘I wouldn’t swap the two and a half years that we had under peak Pochettino for 10 trophies’. And then in my Twitter replies I said 100 trophies.

10 imaginary trophies. 100 imaginary trophies. I was making a point. Of course, if Spurs were to win 10 trophies it would be over a number of years, having built a successful, sustainable team and squad, probably playing good football (because you couldn’t win repeated trophies not playing good football in modern football in my view), creating a dynasty akin to Manchester United in the nineties. That journey from an also-ran to a successful, sustainable club would no doubt be one of the greatest times to ever be a fan of any club, not just Spurs – that’s the point!

For me, it’s always been about the journey, not the destination. Would I swap Arsenal’s last six years for ours because they’ve won some FA Cups? Absolutely not. Many would and that’s also fine. Football fandom is a personal thing. I don’t believe that the point of football fandom is ‘trophies’ or ‘winning’. I believe that football is about escapism, family, friendship, community, values, belief, optimism, culture, history. If football was solely about winning, everyone would just go and support the team most likely to do so, no? That’s what happened at my Primary School in the mid-nineties, when all of my classmates became Manchester United fans and my dad was unendingly proud that I was the last remaining Spurs fan in my class.

Do I want Spurs to win matches? Do I want Spurs to win trophies? Of course I do! To see my club successful makes me incredibly happy. Watching Ledley King lift the League Cup at Wembley in 2008 with my dad next to me made me cry happy tears. But I don’t define my success or my fandom by numbers of trophies (though, again, it’s fine if you do). I desperately wanted Pochettino to win the league or the Champions League or at least a domestic cup – my god, he deserved to achieve his goals because he had us punching so far above our weight for so long.

Alan was a Liverpool fan (from Liverpool) who had followed them loyally since childhood. He saw them win the league in his final year on this planet and, for that, I am grateful. When I mentioned this to his eldest son the day after we lost him, he said ‘but we couldn’t enjoy it together, we couldn’t be there’. He said it with tears and a look of sorrow in his eyes – because winning isn’t the be all and end all – him sharing this experience with his dad would have meant the absolute world. To be sat in two different living rooms, in two different houses, in lockdown, watching apart, was not the way he dreamt it. It felt somehow empty, an unfulfilling experience.

For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed being on the Elite Football Show and I had a great chat with Haider, who seems like a really great person. I nearly always say ‘yes’ when asked to appear on other people’s channels and podcasts – I know they’re normally asking me because they see I have a large following rather than my being a source of particular insight – it’s a way to grow their channel, and I am very happy to help out. He absolutely did not set out to deliberately create this level of controversy – and he had my back by taking the video down (and messaging me support throughout the day that this happened).

Here’s an example of the lack of good faith I mentioned at the start of this piece – the clip was right there, the words that I wrote in a subsequent tweet were right there, and yet I had people telling me over and over that I had said something that I hadn’t. They’d filled in the gaps and created a straw man argument – to what end?

It felt very much like a ‘right vs left’ argument that I see regularly on social media – one side arguing against an imaginary point that had simply not been made because they were so aggressively angry. Why? How had I insulted their values so deeply?

I also saw people saying that I should have just shrugged this all off. Just block and move on (I blocked at least fifty accounts). That if I’m going to say something as outrageous as how much I enjoyed Pochettino being our manager then I deserve everything that follows. It’s an opinion on football. On a sport. A hobby. This is meant to be the fun part of life! I mean, if I’d said something outrageous about asylum seekers or Brexit or Covid – actually, no: I still wouldn’t deserve what followed.

Also, more than one person said that it’s hardly surprising given how I talk to people…

…honestly, I am endlessly polite on Twitter when, at times, I am gritting my teeth. I have never abused anyone. I’ve probably been rude a handful of times across the last decade, we’ve all had bad days.

I initially had some nice tweets back and responded to them, and then responded to a couple of the people who were criticising me. Then the quote retweets with clown and bell emojis racked up. The hundreds of tweets and sub-tweets started pouring in. There were multiple threads popping up across the whole Spurs Twitter community, talking about me as if I didn’t exist – like I was my avatar and not a real human being. Even people I have conversed with on good terms for most of the last decade decided to jump on the bandwagon. I saw people I thought were Twitter friends slating me on threads about me.

I’ll briefly describe what it felt like. And bear in mind the context described above, as I was already under immense stress and so my reaction was pretty extreme. It felt like I was utterly hated. Like I had embarrassed our fanbase. I was a figure of ridicule, I had let down my friends at The Extra Inch and The Fighting Cock and become a laughing stock. I briefly considered closing my account. I just wanted it to all go away. Of course these were irrational, heat of the moment feelings – responding to an avalanche by jumping off the mountain rather than waiting it out and trekking back down. But that’s how I felt.

I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m really only writing this because it’s cathartic. But there are a couple of points about what happened to me on 1st October to clarify, as it’s not nice to see rumours repeatedly tweeted about yourself:

1. After this all happened I was regularly accused of blocking anyone who’d disagreed with me. Trust me, if I blocked everyone who disagreed with me, I wouldn’t have any followers left. I don’t need to justify it, because I can block who I like, but I didn’t block and have never blocked a single person for simply disagreeing with me. I blocked people because – in the midst of an immense pile-on – people were being rude, abusive, quote retweeting to belittle and bully me, tweeting about me to encourage the growing pile-on, wishing me dead (I know) and retweeting a clipped up video (not Haider’s I hasten to add, someone else had made a new version, zoomed in on just me) to ridicule me. Why would I *not* block people that were doing these things? Knowingly and deliberately adding to the misery of my day to score Twitter cool points and then saying afterwards ‘he blocked me because I disagreed’ like butter wouldn’t melt.

One person sent me a very polite DM from their alt account saying I’d blocked them unfairly, they’d only sent an emoji of a clown and they love my account. I unblocked them. If I have ever blocked anyone, it’s for a good reason, not on a whim. It means I don’t want to hear from that person again (for a variety of reasons but mostly abuse, bullying behaviour or racism/xenophobia/homophobia/transphobia/etc).

2. I tweeted as it was all kicking off:

I’ve had people say ‘teenagers and gammons’ was the wrong language to use. At the time I tweeted this most of the accounts retweeting and being obnoxious were called things like LoCelsoSZN or TanguyzTottenham or some derivative: teenagers – or had flags in their names and were calling me a snowflake cunt: gammons. Sure, both are shorthand terms, but it was pretty clear what I meant and I still mean it. Anonymous troll football Twitter and angry shouty sweary gammon football Twitter are toxic swamps that I want no part of in my Twitter experience. I think it was pretty reasonable under the circumstances to be dismissive of these types of trollish, hateful accounts.

To the people who tweeted, direct messaged or emailed me support: thank you, it’s really been hugely appreciated. I have received way too many messages to respond to everyone but it really meant the world to me and I’m sorry to have caused drama and hassle. I’m sorry to have made you feel the need to take time out to send me a message – it was lovely though, and you’re ace.

A bunch of people are going to think I’m a ‘melt’ for writing this. But if I’ve discouraged one person from making a throwaway but potentially hurtful comment online, it’s been worth it. This whole experience has certainly been an eye-opener for me.

What have I learned? I need to remember what football Twitter is now. I need to be a lot more selective about what I share. I need to choreograph my account. I need to save my ‘takes’ for platforms where they can be discussed in good faith (I’m not moving over to Parler, don’t worry).

So I’m going to be using Twitter differently from now on and scaling back my use. And I’m going to extend my Twitter break too. It’s been really welcome. You can still hear from me on The Extra Inch, of course, and 15 Minutes (With Flav and Windy). And you can still email me and I’ll (nearly) always respond.

Let’s end on a positive…

‘Fixture Chaos’

The early season schedule has led to a sense of panic amongst some Spurs fans, but I just wanted to briefly attempt to allay some of that panic by illustrating how we could manage the congestion.

The below assumes that George Marsh, Anthony Georgiou and Serge Aurier are gone, but that Tanguy Ndombele and Juan Foyth have stayed. It shows the absolute necessity for us to sign a deputy for Harry Kane, and assumes that we will sign someone.

In addition, it recognises that we can still loan players out *after* the final game listed here.

It is based upon Mourinho prioritising the league (as I believe he will) and using the squad against the weaker opposition that we will face in the cup competitions.

17/09 – PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv (A)

Hart; Gedson, Sanchez, Foyth, Cirkin; Winks, Ndombele; Sissoko, Roles, Bergwijn; <striker>

20/09 – Southampton (A)

Lloris; Doherty, Alderweireld, Dier, Davies; Hojbjerg, Lo Celso; Lucas, Dele, Son; Kane

22/09 – League Cup Third Round

Gazzaniga; Tanganga, Carter-Vickers, Sanchez, Sessegnon; Sissoko, White; Clarke, Lamela, Bergwijn; <striker>

24/09 – Europa League Qualifier, Romania or Macedonia (A)

Hart; Gedson, Foyth, Dier, Cirkin; Winks, Ndombele; Lucas, Roles, Dele; <striker>

26/09 – Newcastle United (H)

Lloris; Doherty, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies; Hojbjerg, Lo Celso; Sissoko, Bergwijn, Son; Kane

29/09 – League Cup Fourth Round

Gazzaniga; Tanganga, Carter-Vickers, Dier, Sessegnon; Winks, White; Lamela, Ndombele, Dele; Lucas

01/10 – Europa League Qualifier, TBC

Hart; Gedson, Sanchez, Foyth, Cirkin; Sissoko, Lo Celso; Clarke, Roles, Bergwijn; <striker>

03/10 – Manchester United (A)

Lloris; Doherty, Alderweireld, Dier, Davies; Hojbjerg, Winks; Lucas, Dele, Son; Kane

Obviously there will be some fans that feel that some of the above teams are too inexperienced and that we need to go full-strength (or close to full-strength) in the majority of matches. The above is an extreme example of what we *could* do if we were to rotate fully. The reality will probably see us make fewer changes, but puts the players at risk as they are not getting as much time to recover during games.

Even with a squad that we perceive to be quite small, though, it shows how it’s possible to manage such an intense run of matches.


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Pre-Season Anticipation

Things feel okay again.

I didn’t like last season. I didn’t like the way things quickly went south under my beloved Mauricio Pochettino. I didn’t even like much of the football post-restart (I understand I’m potentially in the minority there). I didn’t like our players and manager breaking lockdown, Dele making a racially insensitive joke on Instagram, the emerging tension around Tanguy Ndombele… if we were going to skip a ‘season review DVD’, 2019/20 is definitely the one.

But I really fucking loved watching Tottenham Hotspur vs Ipswich Town in a pre-season friendly on August 22nd 2020.

It’s a pre-season friendly. It means nothing. We were playing a League One club who changed their full XI at half-time. Caveats all over the shop, and rightly so. But I felt hopeful and excited and – simply put – I just enjoyed watching us play football.

José Mourinho is many things, and his autocratic style and his communication methods are probably never going to sit comfortably with me, but there are two elements of his tenure that I am thoroughly enjoying so far.

  1. The common sense approach to transfers.
  2. The way that he is developing our young players.

Transfers

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is not a special player. He’s not Tanguy Ndombele or Giovani Lo Celso. But I believe he’s potentially the No More Nails that our team has lacked. He’s the guy that puts out fires, that anticipates and that allows the others to express themselves. He’s very neat and tidy technically (and I definitely don’t want to under-sell this), very vocal, a good organiser and an excellent reader of the game. No frills but… we’ve got plenty of frills, so that’s okay.

And whilst I don’t believe that he’s a special player, he might well be a special person. I would really recommend listening to this interview. He’s highly intelligent, articulate and most importantly – I think – reflective.

Link to Højbjerg interview with Andy Brassell

Joe Hart has not been a good goalkeeper for a few years now. The data shows us this pretty clearly. But if Mourinho feels that he needs another experienced goalkeeper then I am simply pleased that he has been backed in this way. I’d rather we’d have trawled data and scouted more widely and found a younger, ‘bigger upside’ goalkeeper who could potentially go on to become first or second choice, but perhaps the club think they have that in Brandon Austin and Alfie Whiteman, and want to give them two years to prove themselves on loan. This signing was just ‘fine’ for me.

Just as excitingly as Højbjerg’s signing, I believe, are the loan moves for Troy Parrott (Millwall) and Oliver Skipp (Norwich City). I wanted Parrott to go out on loan last January, and I wanted Skipp to go out for the whole of last season. But Mourinho seems to have totally ripped up our previous loan policy and has set about making up for lost time. I think these moves bode really well. I predict that Parrott will score 15+ goals in the Championship and that both Skipp will make pundits’ Championship teams of the season. This is exactly what they both needed. They are excellent young players with the highest of high ceilings.

We seem to also be close to selling Serge Aurier. This gives me enormous faith. We’re being linked with right-backs and strikers, positions of need. It all just makes sense.

Developing young players

I’ve watched two Spurs matches in the past seven days: the Under-23s at Leyton Orient, and the first team against Ipswich town.

I’ll start with the first team as that’s the most pertinent. With many regulars not yet back from their holidays (or back, but quarantining) it opened the door for plenty of involvement from youth players, and Mourinho certainly doubled down in that regard. We ended the match with an insanely young side. In positional order: 28; 21, 22, 31, 18; 18, 16; 19, 19, 20; 16.

I think we all expected to see Dennis Cirkin and Harvey White involved – two players who have caught Mourinho’s eye and who have been in squads previously. When I got wind earlier in the week that we might see some 16-year olds included, though, I got very excited because this is new. Not only is it a show of faith in those players – Dane Scarlett and Alfie Devine (who recently joined from Wigan), both of whom are England Under-16 players (in a very, very competitive age group) – but, just as importantly, it’s a statement. And that’s what’s been missing these past three years. That’s the reason why we haemorrhaged young talent and will now rue the loss of many a player, but especially Noni Madueke, Omari Forson and Luis Binks. The youngsters need to see a pathway because there is an increasingly well-trodden alternative – go abroad and get the opportunities you won’t necessarily get in the Premier League.

None of the young players who were involved yesterday looked out of place. I think Harvey White, Ryan Sessegnon and Jack Clarke could and should play all of the early Europa League matches. I think Dennis Cirkin should be our left-back rotation full stop (he’s ideal for that withdrawn role). I suspect Cameron Carter-Vickers will leave permanently and I believe the club are looking for the right club to loan Jamie Bowden to.

It’s far too early to make proclamations about the futures of Dane Scarlett and Alfie Devine, but I liked what I saw…

And, frankly, if you don’t long to be in Alfie Devine’s crew, are you even Spurs?

https://twitter.com/Nolchan_/status/1297349115014262785

The Under-23s were less convincing in their heavy defeat to Leyton Orient (though roughly the same group did draw with Crawley Town yesterday). The Orient match neatly encapsulated the damage that we’ve done to our youth development over the past few years. There were players playing in that match that ultimately have no place in a Spurs Under-23 team at this point (it’s not good for them or us); they should have moved on permanently by now and opened the door for some younger boys to get chances in their place.

This summer is going to be quite ‘shop windowy’ for some of these guys, both in terms of loans and permanent transfers. Jack Roles is the one who can probably think himself a bit unfortunate not to be in the first team group, but he will hopefully get a decent loan to a Championship club (Wycombe Wanderers would be ideal) and that could be transformative for him. I’m not convinced that he’s a future Spurs player yet but he’s certainly very talented and has a good career ahead of him. Goal-scoring midfielders have real value and, if he’s not going to make it with us, we need to absolutely maximise that value.

Tactics

To finish, I think it’s worth noting that the match against Ipswich was exactly what we have come to expect under Mourinho. That is:

  1. Low block and counter. We defend deep and narrow, we crowd the box, we allow the opposition to have the ball at arm’s length, we wait for them to make an error and then we pounce and attack with pace. It’s not what I want to see from Spurs in the long-term but, for now, it’s effective.
  2. Out-to-in movement from wide. Part of that attacking with pace comes from wide players driving inside in a very direct way. They tend not to hold the wide position to open the pitch – we don’t play possession football, so that’s not necessarily needed. Instead, they are constantly looking to time runs in behind. Sessegnon’s goal showed this – a run inside to get onto a long-range pass from Dele. Son’s second showed defence-stretching movement but down the centre. Mourinho loves Lucas for this and for his work-rate, though I personally think Lucas’ poor decision-making and lack of productivity mark him out as a poor fit long-term. I think Clarke and Sessegnon are more than capable of performing this role – Clarke was quite productive yesterday in terms of chance creation. He’s incredibly good at fronting up his man, beating him and getting a pass or cut-back into the box.
  3. 4-4-2 out of possession, 3-4-3 in it. As we saw very often last season, the left-back tucks in to create a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 shape when we are building from the back, allowing the right-back (in this instance, Gedson, who had a strong game) to push forward. At this point it seems to be the approach we will continue with rather than simply a solution to ‘The Aurier Problem’. Though, of course, that might change if we sign a new right-back.

So yes, here I am enjoying Spurs again. Long may it continue!

Whilst I’m here I’ll tell you about a new project that I’m involved in. Myself and Flav from The Fighting Cock podcast have started a non-football pod called 15 Minutes (With Flav and Windy). It’s a coffee break podcast, give it a go.


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Homegrown

I tend to write each year about the 25-man squad and the implications of the homegrown players rule. This year I’m writing about it a little earlier than usual because it will impact on Spurs’ transfer strategy. The reason being that Spurs have sleepwalked into a potential issue with homegrown player numbers which could impact on how many signings José Mourinho can make and/or the size of our squad for next season.

I wrote last June that ‘This summer will likely see Spurs re-build the squad both from the top-down and bottom up. By that I mean that we will need to add first team-ready additions in at two or three key areas, but also prepare for the future, with one eye on the home grown players rule.’

We signed Jack Clarke and Ryan Sessegnon — a nod towards some forward-planning. However, their lack of progression over this past year causes an issue. Both count as ‘freebies’ for the next couple of years – i.e. they don’t have to be named in the 25-man squad. But it does not seem likely at this point that they will get significant minutes because… well, they’ve both essentially stood still since signing.

Back to the homegrown 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 home grown players, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad — for example, if we only have seven home grown players, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. 

Remember, a home grown player 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 homegrown players, 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 coming season we still have a number of ‘freebies’ who are fairly well-known names: Brandon Austin, Gedson Fernandes, Jack Roles, Japhet Tanganga, TJ Eyoma, Ryan Sessegnon, Oliver Skipp, Jack Clarke, Jamie Bowden, Harvey White, J’Neil Bennett, Troy Parrott, Malachi Fagan-Walcott, Dennis Cirkin. One would expect the majority of these to be out on loan next season, but we can probably expect Gedson, Tanganga, Sessegnon and, perhaps, White, Cirkin and Parrott to get some playing time.

Returning to the over-21s, Spurs currently have 29 players who would need to be named in the Premier League squad list in order to play. But, of those, I would expect 10 or more to leave, either permanently or on loan.

No.PlayerDOBAgeHomegrown?Leaving?
1Michel Vorm20/10/198336 Y
2Hugo Lloris26/12/198633  
3Jan Vertonghen24/04/198733 Y
4Toby Alderweireld02/03/198931  
5Moussa Sissoko16/08/198930  
6Danny Rose02/07/199030YY
7Paulo Gazzaniga02/01/199228  
8Erik Lamela04/03/199228  
9Son Heung-min08/07/199228  
10Lucas Moura13/08/199227  
11Serge Aurier24/12/199227  
12Ben Davies24/04/199327Y
13Harry Kane28/07/199326Y
14Eric Dier15/01/199426  
15Harry Winks02/02/199624Y
16Giovani Lo Celso09/04/199624  
17Dele11/04/199624Y
18Davinson Sánchez12/06/199624  
19Tanguy Ndombele28/12/199623  
20Luke Amos23/02/199723YY
21Anthony Georgiou24/02/199723YY
22Kyle Walker-Peters13/04/199723YY
23Steven Bergwijn08/10/199722  
24Cameron Carter-Vickers31/12/199722YY
25Juan Foyth12/01/199822  
26Shilow Tracey29/04/199822YY
27Alfie Whiteman02/10/199821Y
28George Marsh05/11/199821YY
29Kazaiah Sterling09/11/199821YY
Spurs’ over-21 players, ordered by DOB

Of those I would expect to stay, only five are homegrown: Ben Davies, Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Dele and Alfie Whiteman. With just five homegrown players, we would only be able to name a squad of 22 players, so if my assumptions about those that may leave are correct, we would only be able to add three non-homegrown players.

Naturally, this would make the signing of homegrown players a more attractive proposition. We have been linked with Max Aarons and Nathan Ferguson, both homegrown and, even better, not needing to be listed for another couple of seasons. Ollie Watkins is tearing up the Championship and has an £18m release clause. Eberechi Eze has long been linked with Spurs. An alternative would be to keep Walker-Peters, though Mourinho has already said that he would not stand in the way of his ‘leaving the club in search of happiness’.

Young, English players are amongst the best in Europe, but they do come at a premium because of the additional value that the homegrown tag adds.

One other consideration is the Europa League. Of course, we may not even qualify, but the Europa League rules are a little different to the Premier League rules — have a look at pages 39 and 40 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 four ‘association-trained’ players and four ‘club-trained’ players (based on my predictions we would have just Kane, Winks and Whiteman).

With strong links to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Kim Min-jae and Arkadiusz Milik, Spurs could soon be in a position where they would need to sell (or loan) a non-homegrown player in order to buy another. It’s something to keep an eye on as the transfer window develops.


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Desire

Football’s intangibles will be forever debated because it’s almost impossible to come to a resolution or sometimes even a compromise when the arguments are so antithetical. ‘Desire’ is definitely one such intangible in this category.

‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’, Alex Ferguson famously said of Spurs. But that was at least fifteen years ago, and probably more like twenty years ago. Our players have turned over five or six times since then, our managers more.

There are a group of fans who will see a player charging into tackles as a representation of desire, but that is an outmoded view and far from the discussion that I want to have here.

I have spent a lot of the last 24 hours tweeting about Jose Mourinho’s latest press conference, in which he said ‘I believed in the evolution of the team and I thought that by a desire point of view, they [Sheffield United] put more than us. That’s something that disturbs me. It’s something that I feel, I don’t know, that’s my way of being – it’s something that destroys me a little bit on the inside because I think the last thing in football is when you have the feeling you could, you should do more.’

He thought Sheffield United beat us because they tried harder than us. They wanted it more. In explaining this, he also distances himself from what happened on the pitch. The players had shown ‘commitment and professionalism’ on the training ground, so why wouldn’t he trust them out there? They’d tricked him into believing that they cared, those little scamps! And, yet, when it mattered, they let him down.

As you can tell, I have an issue with this, but first I’ll explain why I’ve discovered that it’s problematic to even have this conversation.

When I tweeted about this it was met with a bunch of absolutely dumbfounded responses for a few reasons:

  1. People said that our ‘pampered’ (a word that came up a lot) players needed calling out, that they’ve been ‘mentally weak’ (another phrase that was used a lot) for years;
  2. Jose Mourinho has had a lot of success and therefore he knows best;
  3. This strategy has worked for Mourinho before.

I’d also note that ‘Mourinho fans’ – and my goodness is that a thing, there are a rather large group of people who support him and not his teams – are next-level.

It is really difficult to debate points 2 and 3 because, at least on some level, the statements are correct. I have a feeling that things have changed since Mourinho had success using this method. My gut tells me that when you’re at a club with almost limitless resources, you can afford to be brutal with players because if you alienate them, you just sell them and move on to the next. Spurs won’t be able to do that. But they are correct; Mourinho does (did?) tend to bring success to wherever he goes. He wins trophies, he is able to point to record books and say ‘I did that’.

But I take issue with the first point, and here’s why: for every single example you can think of where our players showed ‘weak’ mentality in the past five years, I can show you two where they showed the opposite. Spurs in peak Pochettino mode were famous for punching above their weight. We did not have the resources of the bigger clubs and yet we were right there on their coat-tails, and sometimes they were even on our coat-tails. Has this already been forgotten simply because we’ve been rubbish again for a bit?

In the seasons 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18, Spurs – noted bottle jobs, a gutless set of lily-livered little boys (judging by my Twitter mentions) – completed more comebacks than any other team, earning 47 points from conceding the first goal in a match. I’m pretty convinced that that wasn’t *just* because of those famous winners, Kieran Trippier and Christian Eriksen.

There we have Roy Keane in October 2017 saying ‘them [sic] days are over’, ‘very brave, showed a lot of courage’. Alllllll the intangibles.

There is absolutely no doubt that this deteriorated in 2018/19 as Pochettino’s Tottenham started to crumble. As Pochettino started to crumble, in my view. And yet, even then, we saw some of the most miraculous come-backs in football history in our historic Champions League campaign.

Mourinho may want to ‘separate the boys from the men’ as the rather toxic cliché goes, but we only need to look at Mo Salah, Kevin de Bruyne and Paul Pogba as examples of players he famously culled who came back to prove that they did have winning mentality after all and, not just that, truckloads of talent.

I’m not saying that Mourinho doesn’t know what he’s doing – quite the opposite, I’m sure this is very targeted, very considered. What I am saying is that it seems ill-judged at a club like Spurs, where we’re not going to be able to buy a whole new squad of ‘winners’. He needs to work with these players. He needs to foster a sense of togetherness and get them all on the same page – as they clearly were in that period under Pochettino – and I personally don’t believe that this is the right way to achieve that.

And finally, in separating himself from the concept of the players lacking in motivation is a dereliction of duty. It is his job to ensure that the players are motivated. He thinks the players threw the towel in against Sheffield United. Well, so did he. In his own words ‘I feared that in the second half we wouldn’t be strong enough to cope’. Judging by the second half performance, one can assume this came through in his half-time team talk.

It’s fine for fans to scream intangibles at the pitch if that makes them feel better, rather than look objectively for possible reasons why a particular game is going wrong (bad defending with Serge Aurier playing right-back and Moussa Sissoko in defensive midfield is hardly a shock, is it?), but for the manager to join in is an admission that he has failed in some way (whilst reflecting responsibility).

As Spice put it in response to me on Twitter, on one hand you’ve got people shouting “Poch lost the dressing room, couldn’t motivate the players, had to go!” and now those same people are saying that the players should be self-motivated. So which is it?

Jose Mourinho has forgotten more about football than I’ve ever known, and who am I to tell him how to do his job? But I think a more appropriate starting point for analysing that Sheffield United game is looking at the team selection, tactics, use of substitutes and failure to adapt to their style.

I’m not absolving the players of responsibility, by the way. We have some bad players who are playing badly and making mistakes. I don’t think telling them they’re mentally weak is going to make them any better, though. And it might alienate our good ones.


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