In amongst the struggles

 

Thought I'd revisit August 2014 and take a look at what I was thinking at the beginning of the season regarding our players and if some of it stuck to the wall.

From the Squad Dynamics article:

 

Let's play a game.
 
World class - Lloris
First team certainties - Lloris, Vertonghen, Eriksen, Sandro, Adebayor
Need to raise their game to be dead cert first team - Kaboul, Dembélé, Sandro
Consistency question marks - Lennon, Adebayor
Not yet performed consistently (be it their own problem or the problem of coaching/selection) - Paulinho, Holtby, Capoue, Chadli, Chiriches, Soldado
Youngsters still finding their way - Townsend, Bentaleb, Kane
Youngsters that might excel to first team certainties - Bentaleb
Players that have a lot to prove based on initial expectancy - Soldado, Lamela, Holtby, Paulinho
Key players that can sometimes go missing - Adebayor, Vertonghen, Sandro, Eriksen (I'd add Lennon but you'd probably laugh)
Extra depth/cover required for following positions during summer transfer window - Defence (central and fullback positions), left-wing, striker
Extra depth/cover acquired for above positions for first team improvement above and beyond what we already have - 0
Young players signed that will need developing - Dier, Davies, Yedlin
Actual tangible improvements to squad that don't involve light strengthening with young players - 0
Players that might go out on loan - Carroll, Mason, Obika, Fredericks
Fringe players - Veljkovic, Fryers
Players being touted as potential 'surplus to requirements' - Dawson, Rose, Naughton, Assou-Ekotto, Chadli
What's the actual point? - Khumalo
Pochettino says we have an unbelievable squad. I'd agree. It's unbelievable that there are still so many question marks. Seriously though, this article is just nonsensical musings yet somewhere in all of the above are genuine scratches of the head. The answers will be forthcoming shortly. Starting at Upton Park.
Are we ready? Or just perpetually fragmented?

 

The definition of world class is often debated. In this instance I'd argue that Hugo Lloris could stake a claim for a place between the sticks for any club in England and a fair few of the elite on the continent. Lloris for us is the closest thing we have to that vanquished legacy of Modric, Bale, King, van der Vaart. Players that are certifiably key, no questions asked. You might pose one for the always only ever 75% fit Rafa and perhaps even question some of Hugo's decision making and occasional lapses, but without him we'd have lost far more games than the total ones that dampened our season.

Sure, with a defence like ours (mismatched for the most part) you'd expect any keeper to have ample chance of showcasing their abilities thanks to the sheer magnitude of incoming shots and crosses. But most keepers don't pull off the saves our Frenchman does. The easiest prediction of the season was that he'd have a solid one. Whether he remains a Spurs player beyond this summer is one of the headline acts for this summers festival of rumours.

Now for the first LOL of my pre-season musings. First team certainties. Ignore Lloris. The other four make me shudder.

Vertonghen remains this enigma of a player. Ignoring his miserable demeanour, he's one of those players that is meant to be head and shoulders above others but rather than fly in the sky like Superman he's crippled on the floor whilst his kryptonite afflicted team-mates wait desperately for rescue. It's almost like that olde culture of comfort has crept back into the conciousness of the club. Either Verts doesn't have that big game attitude that some players are able to produce in the not so big games (meaning he has the talent but not the application) or he's the type that fits in better when the ones around him are on par with what he's capable of on a good day.

Jan playing alongside King and that team from 2010-2011 would be a different proposition. But this has no relevance to the here and now. What really bugs me out is that he's still our best defender. So how does one get the best out of him? How does he get the best out of himself? Is playing him alongside Fazio the answer? Not to hate on Federico, but alongside Stambouli these are under-used players, that can sometimes look out of sorts when selected.

Eriksen struggled initially to fit into the pressing mannerisms of Pochettino's early season experiments and reshuffles. Then he encapsulated the lost spirit of Bale with his last minute heroics. This was possibly my favourite patch of the season. It gave me hope and inspiration. In amongst the struggles there was spirit and more telling, fitness levels, that allowed us to remain sharp and willing to push forward. Eriksen remains our only genuine creative force and that in its self is worrying.

His inconsistency was always a concern and that remains true as we look back. Again, another player that should start but can't always muster the goodness. The question again relates to the players around him. Would he improve with better team mates? Or should our key players elevate the ones around them? A lot of the above it's subjective. Tactics, formations and team work ethics allow the blossoming of players. We haven't really settled on anything just yet.

Sandro, the beast with the roar of a pussy-cat. I should have seen this coming. When you know more about a footballer because of his Instagram account rather than his football, we have problems. Possibly one of my biggest disappointments of recent years. Sure, he wasn't refined with touch and pass but when his knee didn't give way he was a brick wall in midfield. Marshalled with the splendour of Gandalf. You shall not pass indeed. Occasionally made a great tackle (usually after losing the ball) but he looked future proof. Someone we could invest in with heart and mind. That's until the illusion was washed away thanks to brittle, crispy bones. Like a packet of Skips there was very little to offer. The fact he ended up at QPR pretty much sums up how far away that future with Sandro in our midfield was.

Adebayor has also faded with magnificent drama. Another player with ability. But what is ability if you don't know how to use it? If you can't channel it with consistency it counts for nothing. He was made vice captain (much like Kaboul took the armband) because of the middle ground that Poch found, thinking it would aid team morale. A misfiring Ade is like having no player to select. His personal problems (family) have deeply impacted any hope of a return.

Kaboul, another injury plagued defender, ended up losing to politics. You can't command respect if you don't play often and your name isn't Ledley King. Can comment too much on the alleged disagreements between the new and the old guard, but if there was a power struggle, he lost and lost badly.

Dembélé joins Verts as another enigma from Belgium. He should offer so much more than he does. It's criminal that nobody (at Spurs) is able to work out how best to play him. Deeper, more forward. Either way he doesn't quite fit. When pushed up it's because of his lack of quick thinking decisiveness. Yet there were times when I found myself missing him if not selected. Not so much these-days, which would suggest a further decline. Maybe we can't work him out because he's not able to excel with a single position.

Questions of consistency with Lennon? He ends up at Everton on loan. One of our more experienced players but a poster boy for what might have been had he match his youthful electric pace with astute development of the mind. Guess he kept the latter for the Essex night life.

The next batch sees only the one that will have next season to build on.

Paulinho. Holtby. Capoue. Chadli. Chiriches. Soldado.

A truly catastrophic advert for our transfer policy.

Chadli (where's he from again?) has at the very least the inclination to get into positions in and around the box and scores goals. I'm still uncertain what suits him best. We have players that start in wide positions but are not your traditional flank types and not versatile enough to offer more from a more central role. If he can improve on goals scored, I'll be more than happy. But his involvement in-game has to be stepped up. We need more players that give us options, to ease pressure on the main players that carry the team.

Holtby (like Soldado) might have offered us something if their career at Spurs had started with more love and care. This theory actually falls apart when you consider that if you are good enough, you can force an impact and consolidate your importance to the club. Class is undeniable but it can also be suffocated and left to rot. Lewis always looked to have more finesse when playing for the U21s at international level. In the real world of domestic football, he looked lost. Biting at legs, used sporadically as someone to push and chase. So what? We signed the German Jamie O'Hara?

Capoue is another one that has fallen to politics, although personally speaking if your attitude isn't right then neither is your football. Looked great in that one appearance. You know the one. His first game. Fell victim to Sherwood's honest carpet bombing and hasn't had a look in since. Another ad for our top notch scouting.

Chiriches remains a source of entertainment. He reinvents defending with each appearance. At times he is the most meta of players.

"If I don't defend, then there is nothing to defend which means there is nothing there to be attacked"

He didn't actually say that but I like to believe it's what goes through his head when he's instilling his maverick ways.

Soldado, two seasons in, has hit Rebrov standards of apology. Isolated by AVB as a single striker with no support, he never looked like the type to craft something for himself out of nothing and it's always a telling sign if others that come into the team are able to score with simplicity whilst he continues to struggle. He's not cut out for it. It being Spurs and England.

We said goodbye to Dawson, who in turn said goodbye to the Premier League. Naughton also departed. Danny Rose was one touted for a similar exit until that five year contract. Turns out that he's one of our stories of the year. The boy that improved. For all the scapegoating, Rose has performed with consistency. He might not be upper tier quality, he might even to a degree hate playing for supporters that dislike him. At the very least, applaud him for his graft and our coaches for fixing him up to be a tad sharper than he was prior. He got on with it and good on him.

Not sure I even mentioned Kyle Walker in the quoted article. Returning from a long injury lay off, he's often played like someone that looks like his return to first team football should have retained an essence of stagnation. A full summers rest and pre-season and hopefully the same work can be completed on him that Rose received. Sure, neither have the greatess sense of positioning and discipline, something defenders require. Yet, our full backs have never been the most dependable when on the back foot. Probably not the best insight there to admit and accept failings that have plagued us for generations. Some players can't be improved on in terms of the grey matter. But you live in hope.

I'm guessing Pochettino saw something in Ben Davies that we've yet to see. Still, can't expect anyone to settle in our back four when we keep swapping players in and out. Dier has shown maturity when asked to play out of position and no doubt is one for the future as long as he plays in central defence. The rotation at the back doesn't breed confidence or stability.

And finally we have the kids.

Townsend. Bentaleb. Kane. Also Mason (someone I expected to be loaned out).

Here we have the brutal yet somewhat satisfactory reality of our first season under Pochettino. When he took the job, with broken English and repeated soundbites about philosophy, my expectancy was one to not expect. Most new Spurs managers inherit a flawed squad. But this one had spectacular failings. Could he work with the players he had? Perhaps. I guess looking back, he did just that. He worked with them and found out that some of them simply don't work. Either as part of a team based on best players in their best positions or the style of football he wishes to implement going forward.

It's so evident, he almost gave up on the pressing football because so few players could follow his instructions. Enter Ryan Mason. Let's forget about the scapegoating that he's another academy player that won't ever improve and has limited qualities. Sure, he might never be tagged with the world class label. Yet the very same player some of you have mocked is capable of the basic instructions that Poch requires from a central role. He's not even playing in his preferred position.

So our oldest youngster turns out to make an absolute mockery of other more expensive imported players by receiving and releasing the ball with pace. Here's that brutal assessment for you. The team assembled for the previous coach can not produce the football that the current one desires or any incarnation of football that we'd find entertaining or competitive.

That question around 'taking the job and agreeing to work with the players' is pretty much the bullet that killed the gun-holder. Likely to happen when waving it around manically.

Our £100M squad couldn't work regardless of coach or tactical think-tanking. It wasn't working even before that money was spent. So to promote Mason into the team is the most damning of decisions for what came before, yet the one decision that restored some faith in what supporting THFC should be about.

It wasn't just about Mason. Nabil Bentaleb's baptism continues and his claimed his place in the starting eleven. Both have impressed, both have equally (at times) struggled. Mostly because of the responsibility given to them. It's not that they don't have the fortitude, rather that they lack the experience and at times the protection. Even if they are the ones that are doing the protecting.

The midfield is far from  perfect but the kids are displaying the application that's needed to regain the lost identity. You need players to have that 'your life depends on it' look, and both (at their best) do. The tragedy is that we've never replaced Luka Modric and that remains the deep-lying element that a successful side needs. The nucleus. Eriksen plays further up the field, isn't comparable. We need that catalyst in there. Maybe the structure doesn't require it. Win the ball, protect is, lay it off to the flanks or ahead to the waiting Eriksen. Type of thing AVB tried which failed. As good as the kids have been, we need more.

Townsend is another popular scapegoat. For England he's always looked more purposeful, even when direct. If Rose can attain consistency then Andros might yet find a balance between cutting in and attacking the pen box centrally and when to lay the ball off to the better option.

As for Lamela. When he impresses it's because of the graft and not because of the game-changing magic. Sure, there are touches of class. There's no doubt he can play football and has vision. It's yet another case of whether the pace in England doesn't quite suit him. So we end up with a fusion of him trying very very hard but trying too hard to find that zen quality required to influence a game. For the money spent (be it Baldini signing someone for the hype and sell on value to appease our usual policy), he's not produced what we've wanted. The price tag isn't his fault. Which is why I'm still inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Expressive players need to be able to express. I guess when you compare him to someone like Eden Hazard you start to question whether the benefit of the doubt is just a way to avoid the inevitable truth.

Then we have Harry Kane. The stick of explosive that ruined Chelsea and Arsenal in those grand highlights of our domestic season. A player that was initially underplayed and understated from the perspective of selection. Poch not wishing to burden the lad, gave little away as to how quickly he would be pushed into the limelight. Guess we had no choice in the end.

Kane is the success story of the academy but also another reminder that supporting Spurs should be something that evokes pride. His attitude is one that demands attention. His willingness for self improvement and desire to do well for the team and the club is positively emotional. What binds it all together is that, as it turns out, he's a bloody good footballer.

He can create for others, for himself. He has good vision and awareness. Look, you know all this. It's been the only thing worth writing about. He smashed and caressed the goals in. Finally an advertisement even Don Draper would be proud of. He's the real thing.

Yet another accidental smile for THFC. Had others performed, perhaps Kane would not have been anything more than an impact sub. Yet the one thing out of our control when it comes to predictions and pre-season analysis is that we can't really know how things will play out. In this instance the circumstance that was crafted out of the mess we created allowed Kane to step up. Nothing suggested (in terms of his loan spells and cameos at Spurs) that he had this level of performance in him.

Those London derbies. The England call up and début goal. 30+ goals. Schoolboys own stuff, right? Our most dependable players, as a collective, have been the ones from within. Boys to men. The end of the road forthcoming for the ones they displaced.

In the grand scheme of things, this season was the very definition of transitional. With new backroom staff and player scouting blueprints, this summer will hopefully give us some credibility again that the coach is in control rather than that perpetually forced cycle of marquee disasters. We need the right players, be it ones that are not glamorous, as long as they fit the system and support those key players that remain in flux. If there is to be a philosophy, it has to have substance and not be built around hype. Like Kane, Mason and others have proved - have faith. You might believe in your opinion but just look at how many opinions got over-turned due to the element of surprise, spurred on by circumstance.

We still don't have that identifiable style. We still have players that need to be moved on and others that will have to build on their form or prove the scathing majority wrong. Pochettino himself shifts into his second season with the emphasis on him being able to give us that refinement and definition we need. It looks like, for the moment, that he has the backing of the chairman (what with the Paul Mitchell appointment). Roll on 2016.

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Yeah, yeah. Long old article. I don't blog that often, so deal with it. Next article will look at the season in terms of competitions (league, Europe, cups) and what I think we should be aiming for next season.

Peace.

 

edit:

Danny Rose. Not sure why I thought he signed his 5 year contract this season. He didn't. I was wrong.