How do you solve a problem like a Boas?
City 2 Spurs 1
This morning I received a review copy of 'The Biography of Tottenham Hotspur' by Julie Welch (via Vision Sports Publishing). Can't wait to get stuck into it. I've only had time to read the press release info where I found one or two things staring back at me with a heavy hint of irony.
'...the club has a proud tradition of ambition, excellence and of playing football the right way, 'the Spurs way'. It is an unspoken but implicit prerequisite that means that the teams who pull on the famous lilywhite shirts will always endeavour to entertain and exhilarate the club's fans with fast, quick-passing, attacking football. "The game," as the great Spurs captain Danny Blanchflower so succinctly put it, "is about glory"...'
It's part of our character, our tradition. It's also been part of the problem, forever trying to emulate a period of time that will never be emulated, simply because football is not the same game it was back then. Spurs, under Arthur Rowe and later on Bill Nicholson, innovated. Created styles, iconic moments in history. Defined what it means to be Tottenham Hotspur.
In these modern times we desire a restoration of a classic when we should be attempting to paint an original. Our current predicament finds our painter with a variety of missing colours from his palette. Both ears still on his head, but I'd hardly blame him for cutting one of them off.
We've been patient before, during those dark days where the only consistency was found jumping out of one transitional season into another. Even though our expectancies back then were high, it was more wishful dreaming than actually standing on the brink of something, anything, special. The reason many of us lack patience in today's world is because there's no reason to waste time dreaming. It seems the chase is better than the catch. We aspired, we achieved our goal and we attempted to relive it, but came up short. So we know it's possible.
We're not stuck in mediocrity. Therefore are expectations are elevated with reason and not beyond the realms of impossibility. Which leads to frustration when it all struggles to come to fruition with immediate impact.
Once again, that old broken record plays, dusted off for another sharing. It's in surround sound for me, but I'm sure some of you can only hear the echoes of mono beats that dissatisfy you. No foot tapping from me either, but unlike you I'm expecting the hook to kick in soon.
Before you scoff at yet another article in defence of our coach and accuse me of blindly following him, I'm not going to suggest he hasn't made any mistakes. He has. He's remained committed to some players when perhaps others could have been involved. No different to our last coach re: stubbornness. He's made some strange tactical substitutions, sometimes a touch too defensive. No different to our previous coach. He doesn't like a 442. Something our last coach wasn't too fond with either. Then again, who trusts a 442 these days?
We keep on referring back to the past. I keep doing it. I've already down it directly above. You keep doing it too. More so the recent past than those rather glorious years from the 60s. There is no doubt (as witnessed by Liverpool and Aston Villa) that it doesn't take too long to fall from grace. Liverpool's more profound over time than Villa who simply aspired for more and buckled. Illustrating how easy it is to have something and lose it. The problems we have ourselves are both inherited and a consequence of a confused new vision that has to battle its way through obstacles off the pitch and on it to truly make its voice heard.
Arguably, there are no true Villas-Boas signings in the squad. We're starting from scratch in some ways in how we prepare and approach games. Less expressive for the moment to mould certain players into more robust versions of themselves rather than the gung-ho variant we've enjoyed that's easy on the eye but not always dependable when the going gets tough. The problem we have is our current football is hardly sexy and it's also not working due to lack of personnel in key positions. That broken record, I'll shatter it after I get past this article. But for the moment it has to keep on playing until the very end of the season because I can't turn on Villas-Boas and shoot him because there's no bullet to load the gun with. I might throw the gun at his head though.
Those inherited problems exist. It's not a fallacy. Yet it's easily ignored by those quick to want change after change has just been implemented. What's compounded our position is the loss of our chief play-maker and chief creative spark, not quite replaced like-for-like. The two midfielders that have come in have struggled to claim an indenity within the team, to impose themselves. One of our forwards hardly had a pre-season, then picked up injuries twice before finally showing us what we've lacked so much of so far. One new key signing is exhausted and another is on the sidelines. Our defence is also missing two outstanding performers from last season. We don't have a collection of £20M + players warming the bench we can call on. You think any of our previous managers/coaches could manage this differently?
Yes, I get it and I've cited it before many times. We could be braver. We could dare more. Shape up more offensively, take more risks. There is no guarantee it will work. For example, shaping up to be more offensive would not have given us the ilk of performance we got at Eastlands last season when we almost won it before losing it. It was a glorious defeat in the end, and it was one us Tottenham fans can happily embrace and accept because we gave it a go. But it would have been suicidal to attempt this on Sunday, even against a misfiring City side. We might have opened ourselves up to lose by more goals and what would we have proved? The Spurs way is the only way? I'd love to believe all of us would be happy to play that way and graciously accept defeat, but somehow I don't think that would happen - proving that the Spurs way isn't enough.
Andre Villas-Boas has to remain stubborn to retain his focus on his own methodology and tactics. But he also has to sacrifice on occasions - which he has done, as witnessed with the Maribor game. I'm going to stop comparing it all with the past just because others choose to do so. It should help avoid this infinite cycle of rationalising. The present, and the future can be influenced, the past is history. The reality is that the Spurs way isn't the Spurs way if it's a fake copy.
In the coming weeks, when players return to the fold, then that's when I expect to see a more recognisable vision from Villas-Boas. What I saw on Sunday was simply damage limitation. A risk in its self and not very Tottenham. But it might have paid off if it wasn't for some poor defending and some generally lacklustre passing and possession. Again, the midfield is struggling for a stranglehold on games and this is decisive in how it pans out across the 90 minutes.
We started well. The home crowd and City players, petulant and tetchy. Sandro smashing his way through their midfield. Adebayor trolling at Zabaleta. Huddlestone's delivery a masterclass for Caulker to head in and Joe Hart to fluff. But again, we were far too reactive than pro-active. No true attacking presence for all of Adebayor's link-up play to aid the midfield in pushing forward. Our depth, not comparable with City's. We still had the players on the pitch to test them more so than we did. Bale and Lennon mostly. But it never happened. In the end, the high line proved the end of the line and City find a way back in and then ahead. AVB throwing on defenders but not instructing them to sit a little further back to avoid punishment.
Aside from Hudd's set-piece deliveries and a brilliant effort from an Adebayor flick, he wasn't able to stamp authority in the middle. Dempsey was lost somewhere in there too, like Jack on an island, he doesn't seem to be able to escape. Or perhaps he doesn't want to. Vertonghen looked shagged. In fact the whole team did in the latter stages.
I guess we should entertain the fact that City hardly ever lose at home, they're the champions, they have an abundance of quality to select from (compare our subs with their subs, it's worth highlighting again not as an excuse but as a harsh bitter pill to swallow).
So with the first half been tempo-free and mostly City in possession but not productive, we still got through it. Our best bet, the counter attack. Shrewd set-up, but not enough conviction and highly reliant on us not conceding. The most telling issue - no creativity through the middle.
Second half, City more determined but wasteful. Spurs, failing to drop deep. I found myself thinking 'we're just waiting for them to score, everyone is'. The offside and poor touch so far our friend. But friends always let you down. When it came, it was soft. We gave the ball away and the midfield were slow to react. No urgency.
We could have made it 2-1 ourselves, Lennon cutting inside passing to Bale who shot over. Those missing players, the ones you tire of hearing about? You can't pack punches with one hand tied behind your back. The high line continued to tease and scare. The lack of any form of possession in the centre meant the inevitable was bound to happen. Bale was quiet. Lennon was mostly isolated. My wish to see Adebayor score, run, slide and morph into Godzilla before devouring 3/4 of Eastlands remained fantasy.
Dawson came on, was beaten in the air within seconds. Dzeko on for City would surely mean only one thing. Adebayor subbed (to save a red card or is that stretching it? Should AVB have been brave and kept him on?) for Defoe. City kept pushing. Brad kept saving. Then Dzeko did what he always does. 2-1. Practically at the death. Second half not good enough. Result, nothing to complain about. Villas-Boas needs to revisit some middle ground to find some form of inspiration and reclaim winning ways in the league.
Dempsey needs to be dropped. Adebayor should take his role as the second forward in a more adaptable 451 (which some of you will go on pretending it's a traditional 442). The substitutions invited pressure. The alternative was to throw Carroll in there. Which might have been unfair on the young lad. Passing, possession was non-existent. Sandro the stand out player with his tackling and interceptions but with no midfield partner to allow that release for that spark.
The manner in which we continue to concede late goals has to stop. Villas-Boas has to also concede that not everything he's persevering with will work. Is he trying to play a certain style without the right type of players? Is he trying to compensate? I don't know, but it lacks that edge at the moment. He has to face up to the fact that we don't have Dembele in there or any like-for-like replacement(s) for Modric and van der Vaart. We, in the stands and in support, have to accept that too. Try playing the Spurs way without Blanchflower and Mackay and White. Another way has to be found. This is not yet Villas-Boas team.
Broken record now shattered into pieces. Wait up, I hear another tune...
Let's sack our coach. Next man in has 15 games to play the Tottenham way. If not working out, sack him and bring in the next man who has...
I hope you're not whistling along.
We are still better off than last season's away Manc travels. That first half at Old Trafford testament to what this side is capable of when players are on song and the intensity matches the occasion. That's at least one positive to take. Had we held on at Eastlands, we'd have been happy with the point. That fine line again and its damned ambiguity.
I don't have the answers. Neither do you. We don't have to have them. AVB, the players and the chairman (come this January) do. Unequivocally and with deceive belief.
Our next game is a catalyst.