Then, now, tomorrow
Earlier into the season I wrote about the problems with Tottenham’s selection, our lack of cohesive football, then revisited all five headaches again in November to see if Andre Villas-Boas had managed to embrace tangible resolutions.
‘Old problems are now new problems. Everyone has a headache – but only AVB has the medication to clear the dizziness’ – I stated as my concluding thought. Oh how naive I was. Nothing was fixed and with his departure and Tim Sherwood’s promotion and subsequent up and coming summer removal, this will all be someone else’s conundrum to solve.
This is what I wrote in November. I’ve accompanied the past with present-day commentary.
November: For equilibrium to be restored on the left flank we need Danny Rose to return or for us to purchase a new left-back. Jan Vertonghen is a class player but should be playing central rather than slotting into the full-back role.For equilibrium to be restored Danny Rose needs to return or we purchase a new left-back. Jan Vertonghen is a class player but should be playing central.
Present day: Full-back positions need upgrading. Rose returning has only elevated the importance rather than resolve it and Vertonghen’s form has degraded to the point of irritation. Rose will do as backup. Vertonghen can only lead if he’s surrounded by players of equal class.
November: Inverted wingers are not working because it gets too congested through the middle when they cut in, leaving Soldado on his own up front.
Present day: We don’t actually have wingers. Aaron Lennon no longer seeks to beat his man on the outside. Nacer Chadli continues to improve, but these are left-sided midfielders. If we want to support a spearheaded Roberto Soldado – we need to be able to zip in crosses. Ironically, ‘central midfielder out on the left’ Christian Eriksen has recently shown us how it’s done.
Start Erik Lamela
November: Still benched, still with the cameos.
Present day: Thirty million pound signing. Struggled with acclimatising. Wasn’t fancied for selection. Looked lost out on the field. Got injured. Then disappeared. He can be that extra something special for us. Still very young. First season syndrome out the way, he might be the only player that can invert from the wing and do so with effective flair. If we can find him.
Introducing Roberto Soldado
November: Isolated, nobody drilling or floating crosses. Doesn’t attack the ball thanks to the lack of service.
Present day: Confidence null and void. Our football currently doesn’t suit him and vice versa. He looks good when in deep positions, linking up play. But as a target man he’s struggled and he’s not the type to pick up the ball and run at defences. Has to hit the ground running next season. Has to.
The number 10
November: No creativity, need to link attack with midfield.
Present day: Eriksen is showing us why he will be important for us in the future. Creating and scoring from the left. Will be wonderful through the middle. Another kid. Another key component. Build the midfield around his brain.
Do we still have a headache? Don’t fret, it will be gone the moment the new coach takes the job. New perspective, new solutions. Some might be sacrificed others might find their Lilywhite destiny. It’s that simple. The real headache has been the players haven’t suited the current/old coach. Amazing when you think we spent £100m in trying to match up perfection.
AVB attempted to play a system that didn't match the personnel and persisted with his stubbornness until the very end. Sherwood hasn't really stuck with any given formation or selection as he uses Spurs to attempt to find his feet in the Premier League and prove the hype he generates out of his own mouth is aligned to the results on the pitch. Anyone else sense he'll be moved back to his old role or perhaps even displace Franco Baldini as director of football? Is that thought strong enough to give you night terrors?
The one connection both AVB and Sherwood had is they only got decent results because of the depth of quality in the squad. We're going to bully (most of the time) weaker teams. Our record against the teams above us only proves the dysfunction with the planning and application of ideas and management. That might seem unfair and it's a massive generalisation but I'm making it to illustrate that with the players we have we should be so much more than a side plodding along, constantly looking in the mirror to work out who we are and never quite recognising our own reflection.
Make the system fit the players and if they don't then we're going to need players that do. This is unlikely in the short term because of the outlay made in the summer and the fact that regardless of some fans writing off certain players - you can almost excuse their form thanks to the disaster the season has been from start to finish. Seven new players seemed magnificent when they arrived. The reality was that seven new prospective first team starters would only lead to fragmentation.
What we'll need up next is someone to make the most of what we have. Not so much a troubleshooter but someone astute enough tactically to bring the players together with effect and impact. Hence why Louis van Gaal is such an obvious (and necessary) choice. Someone with experience at the very top level that commands respect and has the balls to back it up. Someone that won't **** around either and unlikely to simply dismiss players out of hand based on what's transpired in the past ten months.
Take Paulinho. Doesn't look refined playing for Tottenham. Does for Brazil. Do we write him off because it's the easy option or does someone instil the right balance of coaching and on field responsibility as an individual and as part of a functioning balanced midfield? Why is the latter so difficult to envisage? Well, probably because the last two coaches have been able to work out how to best use him. Same can be said for many of our new signings. If the player(s) don't know what it is they are meant to be doing then don't expect them to excel. You can look towards Mousa Dembele as the example of all examples. We still don't utilise him with any great clarity. Is he best served deep or gliding forward?
If van Gaal doesn't happen then our options might be of a more progressive approach like Mauricio Pochettino. Progressive no different to the Villas-Boas appointment. Which means patience, which means we default to standard implosion. LVG (as aforementioned) has to give us instant gratification. Interestingly, one scenario Spurs haven't yet applied is one that sees us appoint someone that doesn't fit the billing. Roberto Martinez was considered not good enough by supporters. Equally Brendan Rodgers (although rumour would have you believe Levy spoke to him before he went Liverpool). The last time we appointed someone unfancied we, well...ask Harry Redknapp.
Go back a year or so, I kept persisting about the importance of a blueprint and longevity. Half way through this season it finally dawned on me that this was fantasy, a fallacy of what old footballing templates were written on. In recent articles I've citied this when discussing the modern day obsession with Champions League. The fact that as much as we all like to hark on about cup finals and silverware the way football works these days (with player loyalty weak for the knees for more money and easy access to the elite playing field) CL is what allows clubs to grow stronger, attract better players and push for domestic titles. Because of the uncertainty and erratic nature of our own league, there is no guarantee even if the usual suspects are always up there competing for the four places.
Daniel Levy alluded to this many years ago. Making it one season doesn't mean we'll make it the next. I can only assume this is why we go through coaches so quickly. The pressures of attaining that qualification based on fan expectations, money spent (when we spend it) and other variables like brand, marketing - making us the perpetual pretenders and a proposition for some as a stepping stone to success. Keeps us ticking over, forever chasing, and we all know the adrenaline rush feels fantastic. That feeling you've got now is what happens when it's been drained away.
The mentality of what we seek to achieve probably won't change when we appoint the next coach. We'll want everything we want at the start of every season - without the disappointments and under achievements. If that rush inspires a victory in the chase, then enjoy the next stage of adventure (like we did last time). If there was ever a way to reconnect with football - ignoring the politics, the money - attaining those moments, those glory glory nights is it. Building on said adventure is unknown territory. Do we need to look that far ahead into the future when we still have to find out feet in the present?
Spurs have an excellent squad. There is no leadership on the field or in the dugout. There is no fear within the players. Just an automated response to playing every week, a lack of sustained desire. Do I blame them? Yes, they should still wear the crest with pride, but they're a fragile lot that need guidance and need to know the club - everyone at the club - is pulling in the same direction, binded by belief.
I'll make the single prediction. Players are not the only fragile ones. We are equally fickle. Although many of us are no longer dazzled by any official club statement or carefully released news items to deflect attention away from the manner in which we are run by ENIC (with matters purely based on football), the second Spurs start to swagger and swashbuckle is the moment we allow ourselves to forget about all the off the field controversies and start to fall in love all over again.
So seduce me Spurs. No more dirty talking, skip the foreplay and give us pleasure. Even if it only lasts for five minutes. As long as another five minutes isn't that far along, we probably won't mind. Not sure we could handle the tantric stuff just yet. Probably have us complaining of a headache before the socks come off.