The progression regression of Harry Redknapp's Tottenham - Part I
I'm working towards something. It's fairly drastic but considering I've managed to contradict myself with a number of footballing beliefs I can only find redemption by first cleansing myself of this season's dramatics. This means I have to get it all out of my system.
It would be easy to give a knowing nod of approval towards hindsight and then dissect Redknapp’s tenure in relation to the 2012 season and our mental and physical collapse. Except most of the subject matter I’m about to discuss has been discussed before and many of us have/had given the manager the benefit of the doubt on numerous occasions.
He has built Spurs up to be a competitive team. There has always been fragmentation of opinion regarding his transfer dealings and his tactical prowess and in addition his working relationship with Daniel Levy. We’ve tolerated his sound-biting and the manner in which he displays loyalty to himself above all other things. Most take it for granted that anything he says publicly for the camera or mic is reactive to whatever is going on at that precise moment, suiting his own agenda to protect himself and whatever predicament we happen to find ourselves in. Except it's hardly ever 'we'. It's mostly 'them'.
The media adore him, a comforting extra shield of protection he wears like a badge of honour. Never heavily criticised, unlike some of his counterparts at other clubs. This isn’t to say that he should not take credit for what he’s done. He’s taken plenty of that already. Also, he deserved the right to give it a go at Spurs post-Champions League season. He’s failed. Even if by some miracle we suddenly start playing like a team and other results go in our favour and we qualify in 4th spot (which might not happen thanks to Chelsea), he’s still failed. I’ll explain the reasons why I feel this to be the case. I will also work my way through one or two other talking points.
I guess I should add a caveat here that I'm not setting out to knee-jerk or promote propaganda against Redknapp just because things have turned sour. There's a popular misconception that we're fickle and don't complain when things are going in our favour. That's partly true in some instances (don't change a winning formula for example, was one way of us attempting to deal with the lack of genuine consolidation in the transfer windows) but in most cases we've always admitted to weaknesses and shown concern in some of the decision making. Even when winning.
It's lengthy. So I've broken it up into four blogs. Read at your own leisure.
We are never going to know exactly what happens behind the scenes. Sorry to break the hearts of the ITK community but aside from leaked info from football agents its tricky to guess with any certainty what the dynamics are between chairman and manager when it comes to scouting and signing players. If we go by what Redknapp has said in the press (take the Scott Parker saga as an example) you could wager that the chairman wasn’t too keen on signing an ‘aging’ midfielder. With no technical director of football I imagine that Levy keeps an eye out for players that fit into the mantra of who we should be signing (ideally top class 20 - 26 year olds players for example that can provide longevity and that infamous sell-on potential to keep the accounts happy). Levy signed Rafa van der Vaart as a consequence of talking to Madrid in the past. We were given the chance when the Dutchman’s move back to Germany fell through. Opportunistic. A case of manager agreeing to it because the player is ‘top class’ and cheap and the window was about to close.
Did we need Rafa at the time? Maybe, maybe not. You can't say no to such a gift of a transfer and you therefore find a way to accommodate him. That’s what we had to do. For £8M we made it work (although his fitness has always been subject to a variety of question marks). Rafa has a winners mentality and we should have no regrets. But during that window, it was a forward we wanted more than anything. So in truth, we signed someone without having a strategy.
We’ve wanted a genuine forward to lead the line since the Berbatov/Keane partnership disintegrated. Seems to be the most difficult of tasks to accomplish, as with every passing window we shrug despondently at yet more tentative links that turn out to be nothing more than rumours and clubs using the media to leverage price tags or look strong in rejecting.
We’re stuck with a loan player, an old player and a player that’s in and out of the side.
In January we wanted/needed consolidation. Either the money isn’t there or it is but Levy doesn’t want to commit to spending masses of it because of the uncertainty of Redknapp’s future (even back in the new year this was a reason discussed). The money might well be available but chairman and manager are not on the same page if you go by consensus. Harry has turned his nose up at suggested Levy signings and vice versa.
I get the distinct feeling that most of the big name European and South American players we are linked with and supposedly interested to sign are ones that our scouting system target and report back to Levy who then presents to Harry. Harry has his own list of players he targets via expertly not tapping them up via the media.
Fact is, Redknapp thinks in the short term. Literally, from one season to the next. As witnessed by the players he has signed. Some of which have worked. The rest (the ones that arrived in Jan) appeared to be nothing more than cheap cover for the players we allowed to leave. Players that had to leave because they were simply not in the managers plans. Discarded.
To be fair he has got the 'money ball' touch about him. But we should not always be so reliant on cheap options. We've failed in the past when spending big but that doesn't mean we should not be brave enough to speculate in the present.
Our transfer strategy is lopsided.
It's a cluster of crazy if you take the words of Bill Kenwright (Everton chairman) to heart. He spoke to my brother-in-law (cab driver in London) this past week and stated the following about the Steven Pienaar transfer:
- Pienaar was desperate to join Spurs and only Spurs
- Kenwright offered him an increase in wages/new contract, the player rejected any further talks
- Signs for Spurs
- Within 6-8 weeks is back on the phone to Everton saying he hates it at Spurs, he's made a mistake and wants to rejoin Everton. Begs to be signed back asap
- Everton sign him back on loan
- Pienaar will never return to Spurs
Bill appeared to be genuine when discussing this and not that bothered with sharing Pienaar and Everton's experience. Equally interesting and damaging is the alleged comment he made concerning Levy and Redknapp. Pienaar was signed by Levy without Redknapp's knowledge or approval. Crux being that Harry didn't want him or even know he was about to be made a Spurs player.
The worst thing about all this? It's quite believable.
This brings me onto the actual squad. We are so finely tuned a side that a single players injury can cause imbalance. We have a wealth of talent, audacious and vibrant and for most of the season hungry and determined. But there are some fundamental flaws in the squad. Again, nothing we don't know but concerns that were very easy to box up and place under the bed and ignore when we we’re jumping up and down on said bed having fun. Now the springs are broken we find ourselves on the cold hard floor without a clue what to do for entertainment.
Pound for pound we have a fantastic first team. Let’s not pretend otherwise. But our squad falters to deceive because it's not been handled with care. We’ve been unfortunate with one or two injuries but this happens to everyone and has happened to us every season for as long as I can remember. It’s no excuse. It does link in with our transfer strategy because say for example, in Lennon’s absence we had no natural cover for the right-wing. Playing Rafa or Bale there is not the answer. Playing either in that position is a solution to a problem created from within. Almost feels like we didn’t think about every position pragmatically and decide where our weakness might hurt us during the course of the season.
We've let players go out on loan which would have been better suited to rotation. Some of our first teamers play if their fit to play rather than being rested periodically to allow for a more sustained challenge across the season and avoid fatigue/burn out.
We have problems in key areas because of the risk that comes with the (successful) system we play and that lack of rotation early on has cost us. I guess you’ll argue why tinker when we’re winning games? Why should players struggle with fatigue in the latter stages of the season when we’ve shown disdain towards the League Cup, pretty much the same towards the Europa League and mis-mashed sides in the FA Cup? Well they do and they have.
You know how you've probably thought 'play the strongest line-up' a few times this season? Works when you show intelligence with selections rather than being completely reliant on certain players and combinations. Harry has rotated players but this is about rotating key players, something he's failed to do.
Parker has old legs. A brilliant signing, one that proved the Harry doubters wrong and equally the ones that did not trust Parker was up for the job (i.e. me). But when there was opportunity to perhaps rest him Harry didn’t. Sandro was injured, Livermore did came into the fold and Huddlestone won’t be back until next season. So with all the graft Parker provides if he’s out of sorts we are instantly weakened in the middle. Playing Niko there has proven to be suicidal. The same principle applies with Lennon on the right as mentioned. There is no genuine depth. And if there isn't you need a workable plan B which we don't appear to have. This in-turn affects tactics and fluidity which ends up with us constantly banging on the door and trying to kick it in rather than simply take the key out of our back pocket.
Up front we signed Adebayor (another Levy signing). A footballer in the true sense of the word that fits into our style of play. He can work the channels and link up. Sadly, he’s not a clinical finisher. If he doesn’t play we revert to two up front and all shape is lost and the midfield surrendered. We are smooth when it works, stutter when important elements are missing.
Our defence has a variety of question marks, prominently the centre-back positions. We need rebuilding here for the future. We were keen on Cahill so the Levy/Redknapp are more than aware of the issues at play here. We ended up with Nelsen. That sums it all up. King and Gallas look spent. Dawson’s injury hasn’t helped. Kaboul has shown promise but needs to play as part of a settled pairing. Caulker will no doubt be part of the squad next season having shown he can cope with the Prem at Swansea. Although we (club and fans) should not weigh him down with expectation. Which is why it's key to sign a new centre-back to give us complete strength and faith at the back.
The squad is light because of the way certain players have been dismissed and others ran into the ground. Our fringe players moved on. We've got no reserves, so our younger players are loaned out. The simple philosophy embraced by Redknapp is not a forward thinking ethos for success.
When things are going well you naturally build on the confidence and rhythm attained with each passing game. When you suffer injuries your resolve is tested. We’ve come through several tests during the first part of the season. So why has it gone so horribly wrong?
Tactics and Formation
Not really sure Redknapp believes he knows what our best line-up and formation is. He has enough about him to take a talented squad and make them play for each other. Back to basics, players in their best positions. Well, for the most part players in their best positions. He seems far removed from this particular trait currently. There is a naivety that sees him struggle with retaining shape. There are times when he has delivered (recently against Swansea). And his record at Spurs is a very strong one (in terms of win %). But he has limitations. Whether this is heavily influenced by outside story arcs or not, on the pitch we have failed when it was so easy to succeed (taking into account our pre-new year form).
The persistence with 442. Accommodating players when perhaps they are better dropped to the bench for the sake of team fluidity. Making decisions based on basic logic rather than tactical engineering (i.e. we can't break opposition down, so change to 2 up front). And so on.
Harry has no patience. He can’t wrap his head around the long game. It’s always a sprint, never a marathon. Everton away is a perfect illustration of ‘just go out and attack them, a goal will come’ team talks. No guile or intelligent game plan to break them down. Just keep on plugging away and it might just happen. The more it doesn't happen the more difficult it becomes to shake off the rust and morale will consequently drop.
There’s no doubting that we’ve played some of the best football in the league this season. When it works, it works. It’s easy to send out a confident team and just get them to keep working the way they’ve been working. Not much in this football lark he’d have you believe. Players need formation as much as formation needs players. When we don't play well, it's not because we're so miserable and calamitous in our performance (okay, maybe once or twice this season) but because we are not functioning correctly. You can almost see where it's going wrong, endlessly, without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion.
On paper and in practice we have been majestic at times. Then the same set of players look like headless chickens in a chaotic den of madness. I guess when Rafa said we never discuss tactics he was telling the truth.
One up front, three men behind the striker with Bale on the left and Rafa as the most forward midfielder. It works. It did work. Parker was a revelation protecting Modric and allowing the pixie playmaker to dictate possession. When it does work its magic. When it doesn’t nobody can find the wand.
The fundamentals are all wrong. There's no balance. There is stagnated application and misfiring effort. The midfield is isolated and without influence. The most forward players are detached from the rest of the team so we're left with few options when attacking. It always looks desperate rather than calculated. Adebayor ghosts to the already over-populated flanks where he finds our over lapping fullbacks running into space (have they actually stopped running this season?) and leaving plenty of available space behind them for the opposition to run into.
We've gone from the side asking all the questions to one struggling to answer them. It's comfortable for teams to have a go at us. We're making it easy for them. The manager is struggling to mix it up and refresh the team to bring back that lost belief. Obviously, there's always room for desire to impact the side, but even that appears to be AWOL.