To dare is to buck the trend
Another season is upon us. And it doesn't bode well. At least not if you take Twitter-gate as an omen. But I wouldn't fret. We usually attract publicity, whether it's sacking and hiring managers or prolonged transfer sagas. You just know with Spurs there's a story waiting to happen just around the corner, and usually it involves plenty of egg on face. Last season was an absolute melting pot of circus activity. We had a manager who could hardly speak a word of English and put as much effort into learning the lingo as he did with team selection (zero) and then blessed us further when he started appearing in post-match interviews to apologise for yet another woeful display. West Ham fans danced in the street showering themselves with mash and eels as they moved 15 points ahead and e-mails and Facebook groups taunted us with jokes about certain relegation. 50 page threads on Spurs message boards cursed us with grim mathematical evidence that proved we couldn't possibly survive. Knee-jerking had turned us all into nervous blithering wrecks. Suddenly every game would be a cup final. A must win. A do or die.
How did we fall to such lowly depths when in the not so distant past we were meant to be on the up? Or have we aimed too high when we should just accept that we've spent the majority of our Prem years mid-table.
The irony was not lost on any of us. Two 5th spot finishes under Martin Jol were meant to signal THE revoultion of hope and progression. The one we've longed for. But Carrick was never properly replaced and then we suddenly found ourselves slumping. Which was no surprise when we later found out the trouble the disruptive squirrel loving Berbatov was causing behind the scenes and that our esteemed Director of Football, Mr Comolli had decided that our big bear of a Dutchman didn't have the skills in his locker to take us to the next level. The devolution had began and one dizzying offer later Jol found out he was about to get sacked mid-match during a UEFA Cup tie. Yet more drama, the Spurs way. And then in came the new messiah who deflected the obvious problems with our league form with a rather wonderful League Cup run and win against Chelsea in the final, masking the decline towards the bottom three.
Blips and transitions is what we are famous for. Chopping and changing on and off the pitch in desperation, hoping to force success. Because, with hearts on sleeves, it's what we crave - to be successful. But impatience strikes us down each time. We're happy to watch our team play entertaining swashbuckling football, pushing the ball around the pitch with shirts tucked out swaggering like kings of yesteryear. We are traditionalists with romantic notions of how football should be played, refusing to see the ball spend more time up in the air than on the ground or bully and stomp are way through the opposition. But alas it's been our downfall too many times. It's a failure that we haven't been able to take elements of steel and blend it in with the flair. We are happy to watch our team play entertaining swashbuckling football, but we are not truly content to always see us nearly be good enough for more. Especially with the money spent. We speculate but rarely accumulate.
We continue to win silverware with every passing decade, flirting now and again with the top end of the table, but never building and progressing. We've lacked the mental strength in recent years along with metal strength in the backbone of our sides. The balance is never right and the weakness always obvious but never worked on. But still we are entertained and still we do our utmost to play great football.
So how did we get to the present in such good nick when we looked so doomed? You couldn’t blame most for our depressive outlook back at the start of last season, because we were so bad it was almost believable we'd perish. Too good to go down? We were so bad we deserved to go down.
When the Ramos chapter concluded with two points from eight games it was time for yet another appointment. It was bleak, considering that the Spaniard was meant to be the man to move us forward. A 'world class' manager who simply didn't settle with the English game.
If we were a TV show, we'd be a dark comedy on HBO. Gratuitous scenes and loads of swearing. A hit with some for the wrong reasons, and a miserable mess for it's targeted audience. With cancellation looking imminent, the producers had to take drastic action. In a surprising scene, the main character (Daniel) got out of bed and walked towards the bathroom, he was surprised and confused to find that it wasn't his Spanish lover in the shower but instead a saggy faced East Londoner, who turned and smiled seductively at him and gently spoke one word:
The ratings went through the roof.
Harry Redknapp turned it around.
- Logical selection based on effectiveness, form and tactics. Play our best players in their best positions.
- The re-discovery of pride in the shirt. Too often we accomadte players who casually stroll around in a comfort zone. No more.
- Belief. Even when you're dead and buried, it's not quite done and dusted. Ask Arsenal.
- Grit and determination. Working for each other and working for the team.
It wasn't always pretty and sometimes there was a massive degree of luck but we went from a hapless embarrassing mess to something that suspiciously looked like a football team. And from bottom we climbed out of the mire and back up to claim a little respectability.
In addtion, when the window opened, there was no longer any room for superfluous signings. In came Wilson Palacios - the type of player we have been crying out for several years. Defoe returned home. Less said about Pascal the better and Keane did have a postive influence when he returned (even though he has struggled since). But it all came together and the stat geeks salivated over the points accumulated under Harry. Our home record had returned to something good enough to crow about. And away, we began to dig deep when it mattered most. We almost nicked a European spot. All this after looking down into the depths of decimation.
And the summer months have brought us a distinct lack of the usual over-exuberant spending where we usually find ourselves throwing money at anything tagged with 'Player of the Moment'. We've plugged the holes that needed plugging. In came a couple of young lads from Sheffield United, for future-proofing. In came a striker for the one that tweeted his way up North to Sunderland. In came a centre-back to help support the walking wounded. Out went the reserves and academy teams inclusion in their respective leagues. Loan deals for the young ones who aren't quite ready for first team action. Others have gained a second chance to impress. Pre-season has been without the usual over-hyped delusional cries of intent (Roma were not available for a friendly kick-about). It's been understated. Twitter-gate aside. Sure, we've had a couple of 'we are good enough for Top 4' comments, but unlike the past the media have settled for us to challenge for 6th which is a far more realistic goal. The players have no reason to believe they are deserving of anything more and after last season they should all understand that you can't turn up and accept to win just because you all look good on paper.
Plenty of ITK rumours and players linked throughout, and as we approach the big kick off, there's still time to find the final piece to the jigsaw. Someone to add to the Kings, Modrics, Wilsons and Lennons. While others hog the headlines, we are quietly sitting in the shade allowing them to bask in the sunshine while we keep to the cool shadows. And when it's time to swagger, we won't be the ones sunburnt to a crisp. Patience. We'll have our moment in the sun.
We must not fear. We have to be as one, a unit, home and away. Working for each other. No excuses. Relentless, ruthless. With confidence. And with belief. As much as Harry loves a sound-bite, we need to do our talking ON the pitch. It's regarded as nigh impossible to break up the monopoly on a more permenant basis and nobody expects us or anyone else for that matter, to do so. But it's more probable than it was 3-5 years ago. A certain team in red and white the apparent weak link. Everton have proved it can be done. Us and Villa were not far of it.
But there's no point in worrying about others and their ambitions - we just need to concentrate on a continuation of improvement. No European games, so the league is an automatic priority. Compete and aim to defeat the Top 4 sides. Our record against them last season wasn't too shabby. And brush aside the promoted teams. No disrespect to them, but we have always been a soft touch when playing them away from home. Turn WHL into a fortress and look to play offensive football on our travels, taking the game to the home side.
Too often in the past we've failed to do any of the fundamentals (would be nice for us to finally look good with set-pieces). We've tried various structures off the pitch and had far too many managerial appointments. Harry himself admitted he isn’t a long term answer to our ambitions. He's come in to steady the ship and before he moves on his aim is to leave us in a strong position and not another transition.
Someone once said that it's better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we have set our sights very high, as a club with both the board and the fans. But claiming an echo of glory even in failure has become the bane of our lives. Aim high, don't ever change that, but get there through hard work deserving of a reward.
Stand up, stand tall and play like your life depends on it. Leave the soap opera and comedy for the other pretenders. I'm not naïve enough to dismiss how the modern game works. If we fail, and failure would be to finish anywhere below a European spot or perhaps to not taste a cup final, we wil stand nervously this time next year possibly without Luka and Aaron and perhaps even Wilson. There are one or two amongst us who would cite that we have to push for 4th. Otherwise Utd will once more pluck our very best, feeding off us with assured confidence we'll always be supplying them with delicious snacks leaving us once more starving with hunger. The perputal rebuilding exercise that haunts the chasing pack.
Pragmatically, if we play to our best and do so consistently throughout this season - we will take the position in the league that we deserve. Might be 6th. Might be 4th. The aim should be neither, but simply to excel as much as possible.
It's all in the attitude of the players and manager. We simply want the best they can give.
To dare is to believe.
To dare is to buck the trend.
To dare is to do.