Sunday, May 12, 2013

This Year's Football Post

I respect the people who read my blog and therefore you'll notice that my football ramblings have all but dried up. I can't remember the last time I did one, in fact I shall check, so hang on a mo'... It was actually 13 months ago and while I have probably mentioned it occasionally, that was the last big one.

So why am I writing now - a week before the end of the season? Especially given the fact that my beloved Spurs are just playing out time before the inevitable crushing disappointment hits the fans and the prospects of another year of misplaced ambition and failure looms before even the first kick of a ball or David Moyes first game in charge at Manchester United. The logical answer, by the way, is that I'm a masochist. Or perhaps it's because I realise if I don't get it off my chest now my entire summer will be ruined by me walking around with a sour face and blaming AVB, not for being tactically naive (because he clearly isn't when he has who he wants at his disposal) or for experimenting in games where a comfortable 3-0 win would have sufficed but he conspired for us to lose to an inferior team. No, I'd blame AVB because he treats the poisoned chalice called the Europa League like it will be enough to quell the fans desire for the club to be just a little better than it currently is. Me and loads of my fellow Spurs supporters become incensed that AVB can prioritise a competition that ultimately can be only the thing responsible for us missing out on a Champions League spot this season. Ooh, a catch-22.

But before I get into one let's examine why AVB loves the Europa League and, more importantly, why he has to.

You'd think it was because he's already won it once, but the reality is I think he views Spurs as a stepping stone to return to a bigger club, but maybe not quite as mercenary as I make it sound. He joined Spurs (and if you believe rumours his contract has all manner of clauses in it that prevent Daniel Levy from paying him anything unless Spurs sack him after winning the quadruple and we all know how likely that is) knowing that his former team had prevented them from playing Champions League football. He saw what the board were prepared to invest, he didn't get his preferred players (some can say that he was never going to get them because of the lack of Champions League football) and still he decided that we were good enough to warrant having a go at both the Europa League and a top 4 in the Premier league (not to mention the other two domestic cup competitions). The players he inherited (Vertonghen, Adebayor and Gylfi Siggurdsson included as they were done deals before AVB arrived) coupled with the lack of signings once he arrived - Clint Dempsey was a panic buy at best - this was all about achieving whatever they could with much limited resources.

If AVB has any management acumen (or common sense and observational skills) he will have seen that the team he took over wasn't a patch on the one Harry left, but through some tenacity, interesting tactics and the failure of 18 of their fellow clubs to put anything like a consistent season together, Spurs will still finish in the top 5; that represents a massive achievement for the club and AVB knows this which is why he tried to win the Europa League as opposed to the much easier League Cup; it was because he realistically knows that the best Spurs can expect is to win a trophy such as this - maybe regarded as Mickey Mouse metal by the likes of me, but still a considerable achievement according to everybody but the English. Spurs aren't going to win the league (at the moment) and a guaranteed top 4 finish, as they found out, still doesn't mean dining at the top table. The best Spurs can expect is what they're going to get.

You could argue that AVB knows the best Spurs can hope for is Champions League once every two or three years and that lack of consistency does not give the club enough guaranteed financial stability (especially with the new stadium build travelling along at a crippled snail's pace) for the board to invest heavily to maintain a challenge in both the Premier and Champions leagues (plus Spurs have this abysmal psychological block now that seems to haunt them the longer a season goes on). It becomes a vicious circle that keeps us as eternal bridesmaids who get to sit at the main table just this once or twice, but must always return to their proper place.

You could argue that with an inferior team (regardless of how inconsistent Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City have all been this season) AVB still managed to be knocking at that Champions League door and right up to the last day (maybe). All AVB has done has put himself in a shop window for a much better team because he, personally, has suddenly showed something resembling consistency; his failure at Chelsea now classed as a blip, nothing else and that if he is still at Spurs in 3 years then he's either on the verge of a league title (we all know how likely this is) or he's achieved the absolute minimum requirement Levy expects. My personal belief is 3 years is the best a Spurs fan can expect, because if we're not challenging we're running to stand still and AVB is 35 and he's above everything else an ambitious young man - he wants to be a Real or Barcelona manager and if he can keep Spurs challenging for three years he'll make himself the best available choice for a lot of top clubs.

Regardless of the heroics Harry Redknapp and his team performed in the 2010-11 Champions League, the fact that Spurs fill White Hart Lane every fortnight with just 36,000+ people means that the regularity of that will only happen if Spurs build a new stadium (filling a 55,000 seater will not be difficult) and do not find themselves in a similar situation to their great rivals Arsenal, where the board is more than happy for that club to run and stand still just so long as the debt is being repaid. It is like the Arsenal board have put success on hold until they feel they can start spending money again. In fact, if I wasn't so wrapped up in my own team's politics, I'd be looking at the Arsenal and wondering if their fans are even more frustrated than me?

Another reality that I've been reminded of a lot in recent months is that Spurs have only really been knocking at this door for the last four or five years; before that they were as risible as a Bolton Wanderers or Leicester City as a 'dominant' force; the kind of team that wins a League Cup and dreams of its ancient history repeating; so having a team that at least challenges for a top 4 spot and is getting through to quarter finals of European tournaments should be enough to keep me happy for another 25 years. But the problem was Harry spoiled us. He assembled a starting XI that could just about beat anybody; yes, Spurs were as consistent as a Roman Abramovich recruitment policy, but boy was it fun - the rollercoaster that seemed to follow that old ethos of it doesn't matter if you win or lose as long as you played the Spurs way.

Well, the dichotomy I have is I can understand that AVB needs us to win a trophy like the Europa league because we're not going to win much else; but the dilemma I have is that I want Spurs to be a regular top 4 team; I want them to finish higher than Arsenal - in fact, I'd class a season where we finish 16th a massive success if Woolwich finished 17th; if you offered me this next season I'd probably bite your hand off because I know I wouldn't have to suffer the ignominy of having to put up with Gooner abuse again for another year. Just once now; that's all I really want. It's sad and pathetic, but if I accept the reality of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club that's really the best I can expect.

Even when it's in our own hands we conspire to throw it away. If it isn't a dodgy lasagne, a goal at Old Trafford that was not given; bad refereeing or just the team's inability to win games that would guarantee less nail-biting and desperate praying to a God who if he existed obviously doesn't like my club; Spurs have almost become this footballing version of a tragic drama queen.

Thanks to Everton's failure to win in the Mersey derby last weekend, Spurs cannot finish 6th and of course the Europa League now looks nailed on. Spurs' Premiership record of 4 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats following Europa's Thursday nights is actually the second best record of any British club since this restructure was introduced; but if those four defeats had just been draws then Spurs would have the comfort of being guaranteed Champions League football next season. The Europa league and AVB's determination meant we lost both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon at key stages of the season and we didn't win those games.

You could argue that Daniel Levy doesn't want Spurs to get Champions League football that often; it costs ENIC too much money and suddenly we're back to the new stadium issue, the real reason why the best Spurs can expect for the foreseeable future is 5th and an annual tilt at a competition hardly any of the Spurs fans want to see them play in. I saw this quote, from a fan, on the Guardian website following a game a few weeks ago and it summed things up for me, or maybe polarised them, you decide: "The reality is that, as things stand, barring a freak season we have zero chance of winning the premiership or the CL. Our best hope is on comps like the Europa league and the FA Cup. I don't support Spurs because I think they're going to win titles. That would be madness." I don't think it's madness to want my team to win the title. I'd like to think that even supporters of clubs like Northampton, Doncaster and Brighton harbour this notion that maybe, with Arab investment, they too might be able to sample the delights of what Chelski and Man Citeh have been experiencing; yet my mate, a solid Evertonian, doesn't follow his team because he thinks they'll win anything any longer, so perhaps I am in the minority at believing that improvement generates money, which generates investment and better players, which generates success.

I believe that ENIC should take a gamble; others think the safety first route is the only way forward and of course all of this becomes moot because without a top 4 finish, even if Spurs keep Gareth Bale for another season, they aren't going to attract the world class footballers they need to win enough matches to guarantee a Champions League spot and the vicious circle starts all over again. Daniel Levy was no longer prepared to invest huge quantities of money into the Tottenham experiment despite season after season of improvement; when Spurs finish 5th again this season, he will continue not to invest much money; Spurs fans will remain frustrated for the majority of the summer and by this time next season we will be having the same discussion as Spurs just fail, yet again, to break into the top 4 again. Tottenham Hotspur at 5pm next Sunday, will become the footballing equivalent of Groundhog Day.

Football historians might look back on this season, nowhere near a vintage by any stretch, and pinpoint Spurs abject capitulation against Fulham at home, or the 4 dropped points to the (almost certainly relegated cup winners) Wigan, or maybe even the pathetic surrender against Stoke on a cool day in May as the start of the decline, but AVB has managed to keep Spurs just about where they were from last season; you'd think that in his second season he'd have ironed out all the bugs, got in a few of his players; but where on this season's evidence he could probably mount an almost half-decent title challenge, because of the spectre of the Europa League looming yet again, the very best Spurs can hope for is a 5th place finish in the league and a run at a cup. That is all we are worth. That is all we can hope for. That is all Spurs will ever be. Dreams are no longer allowed.

No comments:

Post a Comment