Friday, April 25, 2014

The End of an Era

I feel like one of those wartime reporters, sitting at a window, watching the conflict (or lack of it) from my portal and chronicling, for history's sake, a momentous event. All I need is a glass of scotch, a butt-less cigarette hanging from a determined mouth and a fedora and all will be perfect; but it's 8.45am and even in my most reckless days that was an unlikely scene.

Fishwife is moving out.

Possibly the best next-door neighbour I've ever had, despite the ridicule and scorn I have poured towards him and his loud, pooh-fixated family. The second van is loaded and I expect, because he is just so bloody organised that they could be gone before I get back from an envelope run to Staples in town.

I haven't had a chance this year to pay much attention to their antics next door; there's the occasional 'Daddy, I've done a big pooh!" screamed down from the bathroom window with triumphant assertion and I've wandered down to let the ducks out on a weekend morning and found their eldest knee deep in chicken shit, reinventing home poultry farming at the age of 10, while surrounded by a bunch of birds that obviously think a slightly odd sounding child is their god. But my gut feeling is they've been lying low because they've wanted to move. They are a big family and the house they are in is in many ways smaller than ours despite being technically identical (it's long and boring story also architecturally meh).

He still knows everything and I expect he'll have more idea than me what goes on in the road long after he's moved, just down the road (about 500 yards).

The street is taking on a new complexion and my busy work (and illness) schedule has meant that I don't really have new nicknames for any of them. In fact, we've had three new families move in since I last wrote about this place and I'll be dipped in pooh and shouted at if I've even seen one of them or would know them from the potholes in the road. Anodyne? I might have to move myself.

By the way, I'm bashing this out like a pervert on a fetish site because I've been ill again. Again, you say? Heh...

I've been attacked by my chest - to quote Joni Mitchell - from both sides now! My COPD means that catching a cold is bad and catching a chest infection is ha ha ha. I got both at the start of April, wobbled through until a week before my birthday, when I had the suspect mole removed, in a minor surgery done at my local surgery. It went well and I shall remember the sound of the doctor cutting my flesh for as long as I live. Four days later, on my birthday, I went out with the wife and friends for food and started to feel a little dodgy. The day after I was quite poorly; it appeared I had another cold and it looked like someone had mixed the inside of my chest with mushy peas - and that was just the stuff I was hacking up. By the time Tuesday came around and I was back for the removal of the stitches, oozing joined the hacking and I again marvelled at how the human mouth can fill up with unwanted saliva when faced with something putrid...

My chest wasn't just bad, it had gone bad too. I was a pus-ridden borderline septicaemia case and was given industrial strength antibiotics. I phoned the wife up and asked her to buy a gun; if I was a fucking horse I would have been put out of my misery by now!

Still, the drugs appear to have worked; my chest infections are either gone or are so far removed I can function on something more than autopilot and it gives me the chance to sit here, in my dressing gown, with the window slightly open and the blinds manoeuvred so that I can see out but no one can see in, and watch as Fishwife and family ride off into not quite a sunset, more like a damp and slightly chilly English morning. I won't be able to do it again. I think I'll miss him...

Thanks fella.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Birthday Football Post

Blaming John Terry for everything is probably one of the few shreds of comfort I can get from the last two years. If it hadn't have been for him and a racist altercation with a mixed heritage QPR footballer, I wouldn't be wondering how I wandered into an alternative football reality where Spurs were struggling to even be 6th best team in the country, again.

I have, for a couple of weeks now, been trying to work out what I actually want to say about my team, the chairman, his recent managers and that event above, which heralded the beginning of the downfall for a football club the former England captain never played for...

Most football fans are aware of what John Terry actually said to Anton Ferdinand; the fact the then England manager, Fabio 'Beaker' Capello, chose to fall on his sword as a direct result of the Chelsea captain's racist views is perhaps the most bizarre twist in this (and suggests yet again that racism is an issue that concerns the British far more than other countries and cultures). There had been suggestions that all was not well within the Football Association and that Capello was rapidly becoming persona non gratis anyhow, but by the time the N word had been uttered a few times in Southwark court, it was the Capello man's removal from the captaincy that caused the schism to become permanent.

To the casual observer, what this had to do with Tottenham - then lying in 3rd place just 5 points behind Man Utd and 4 behind City and being touted, as Liverpool are today, as a clever bet for the premiership, is nothing at all. But, within 20 minutes of Capello's decision to quit the ramifications began to hit home. The bookies had installed then Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp, as 1-6 favourite to replace the departing Italian muppet. Roy Hodgson was next best placed at 7-2 - the bookies saw this as a foregone conclusion, especially as Harry had been involved in some inappropriate contract negotiations that had put his not particularly good relationship with Spurs club chairman Daniel Levy under even more strain and there were smart journalists already forecasting that even if Redknapp pulled off the impossible (and won something), his position might have become untenable despite unprecedented success. Plus, he'd just walked away Scott free from a tax fraud case after admitting he was a dimwit and didn't really extort HMRC. The press seemed to think this exoneration was enough for the FA to walk barefoot over broken glass, just to put matchsticks in his shit.

The problem was the press were so convinced that Harry became convinced, Daniel, also convinced, started to play hardball - because that's what he's good at - and the only thing that really suffered was the form of the team in the Champions League driving seat. What had been an inconceivable dream the February night Spurs annihilated Newcastle by five goals, became a surreal joke by the end of May. Beaten out of 3rd place, after an actually not-that-disastrous run, by our greatest rivals and then being denied Champions League altogether by Chelsea and bloody John Terry's heroics in Munich. No Spurs supporter can be blamed for thinking that someone (probably God), somewhere liked screwing around with their club, especially when Daniel Levy decided that Harry had 'taken the team as far it he could'.

Ironically, John Terry is rumoured to have been involved in the player revolt to get rid of Andre Villas Boas - the young manager tasked with becoming Chelsea's new and cheaper version of Jose Mourinho. Had Terry not been instrumental in the then 33-year-old Portuguese manager's removal, he - AVB - might never have become a cheap and worthy gamble to replace the aged Redknapp.

Harry was now this unfortunate unemployed English 'national treasure', who had been kicked out of a job by fate and then didn't get the job everyone thought he was nailed to, the press now focused on AVB: was he as good as was first thought? Could he take Spurs to a new level? AVB's first job was the fact there was little or no unity in the squad he was inheriting; Modric wanted out; Levy wanted rid of Van der Vaart and it was obvious that some 'senior' players had problems with the new man.

I don't know what happened when AVB took over, but it was clear he probably didn't have a lot of say in the players Levy brought in to replace Modric and VdV. It was like he was given Redknapp's squad with a few substandard replacements and challenged to prove he was a good manager and then, and only then, could he have the keys to the bank vault. That seems like a naive and silly suggestion/accusation to make, especially with the Premier League and its economic giants, multi-million pound companies are not just run on an ad hoc, day-to-day basis, with the bosses switching on their PCs each morning and peering through gaps in their fingers hoping some financial catastrophe hasn't befallen them. Football clubs have more contingency plans than you can shake a stick at - what else do you think Daniel Levy does?

The suggestion that he had to prove himself makes some sense, although in the world of Premier League football, you get the impression that you need to hit the ground running or face revolt. I don't believe that Clint Dempsey was on Spurs' radar at all; but shorn of a #10 and poacher, the American seemed like good business - the fact he was prepared to give up British football after one season with a so-called top side, I think says more about AVB's first year in charge of Spurs than Clint Dempsey's ambition.

AVB took a vibrant, exciting and woefully inconsistent team and turned them into a dull, boring, uninspiring and very slightly more consistent football team, constantly knocking on the door of a Champions League place in his first season - last season - but failing by a whisker. Intellectual fans excused the change in style, putting it down to the players not being AVB's players. The blindly faithful sheep-loving supporters bought into the ethos that AVB was the future of football and those who watched the games and followed the team witnessed the birth of a world class footballer, who [ahem] Bale-d the team out of many probable dreary defeats and bore draws. Spurs might have finished 5th, but it wasn't that tough a season with the top 5 teams a distance away from Everton in 6th and 13 of the 20 teams taking less points than ever before, between them all.

The new season promised much as things were going to be happening that Tottenham could take advantage of: Mancini - sacked from Man City. Ferguson retired from Man Utd. Mourinho coming back to an old and less quality Chelsea side. Arsenal and Arsene still in decline (apparently). The top 4 were going through major transitions; Everton were going to lose their manager and Liverpool were utterly rubbish without Luis Suarez - who they were liable to sell. All Daniel Levy had to do was persuade Gareth Bale to stay for one more season; buy the players AVB needed to put round the Welsh wizard and the club could, theoretically, go better than the nearly season - the season of John Terry's unwitting influence. The team could challenge for their first crown in 52 years.

However, football fans all know what happened. Bale went. Suarez stayed. Pelligrini replaced Mancini. Mourinho came back. Wenger stayed consistent and Moyes replaced Ferguson and Man Utd become the new laughing stock of Premiership football, but had it not been for Spurs, they would have won the accolade by a mile; now the two teams are fighting it out to see who starts next season in July (and, sadly, it's advantage Spurs)... 

The weird thing is this: during the 1990s when football manager simulations came out, one tactic often tried and almost always failed was the replacing of the entire team. This was proven in real life by Liverpool's grandiose spending of a similar period that yielded a new hall carpet and the white lines in the car park being repainted, that was the success of Benitez, a man who decided that the team that won the Champions League was actually rubbish, so he replaced them all except Gerard and won nothing, ever.

However, as a Spurs fan, once the inevitability of Bale's departure became clear, the expensively assembled bunch of replacements was tickling parts other transfers failed to reach. it never once dawned on me that, as stated, history does not favour the wholesale changer. This is Tottenham, they don't do things by the rules - we sold Elvis and bought The Beatles and The Stones!

The opening weekend of this season saw Arsenal lose at home to one of the previous season's masterful underachievers and Spurs beat newly-promoted Crystal Palace, at their ground, 1-0, in an utterly demoralising and boring encounter that was instantaneously excused by 95% of Spurs fans as a 'settling in period' and 'probably three good points considering our historical record against promoted and destined for relegation clubs'. 

The team's performance that day was not an exception to the rule.

The problem was, in some fans' eyes - mine included - we'd stopped playing football the Spurs way and had seemed to run out of creative ideas and were winning games by a combination of luck, boredom and penalties. Others praised the 'win ugly and at all costs' mentality and at times, when the players seemed to forget what the 'master tactician' had drilled into them, they even looked capable of producing dynamic football again. Then the wheels began to slide, one came close to coming off and the honeymoon period was well and truly over. Spurs' expensively assembled bunch of misfits might have managed to find their way into the top 4 by the time a rubbish West Ham arrived at WHL, but at no point during that season's opening period did they look comfortable - they actually looked very capable of being torn to shreds... 

West Ham, without a recognised striker, won 3-0. AVB blamed the fans - who were now getting on his back with a degree more legitimacy and the unconvincing mini-recovery after this set-back was well and truly punctured by a smash and grab raid by Newcastle and then a serious humiliation by Man City.

The knives were out for AVB - he was clearly now in a situation where he was really out of his depth of ability again and despite another mini-revival (even if some of the performances were painful to watch), being beaten at home by Liverpool 5-0 was to spell the end of the AVB experiment. This is a team that finished a long way behind us in previous seasons giving us a lesson in attacking, free-flowing football. If I'd been AVB I would have quit from embarrassment.

The general consensus and feeling is that Daniel Levy sacked his Portuguese manager. The actual truth is most certainly closer to the hypothesis that Levy had no intention of sacking the manager, but wanted him to change his approach towards, predominantly, one of his squad's outcasts. As a businessman, you don't spend a lot of money on something practical and then put it in a box and never look at it again; you get it to pay its wages. AVB's refusal to entertain pampering Emmanuelle Adebayor's ego was the thing that caused the change and Adebayor's form and attitude would conceivably play a part in deciding what happened next.

With AVB's departure came Tim 'Youth Development' Sherwood, someone who is allegedly 'a Gooner' and has no experience whatsoever managing a top flight football team. Sherwood was bullish and said arrogant things that immediately isolated some and galvanised others. The strange thing is a huge portion of the Spurs crowd never wanted Redknapp to leave and Sherwood was as close to Redknapp as they were ever likely to get close to again, but they hate him as much as they hated AVB. Tim talked up his 18 month contract and his determination to be manager next season, but it is clear that this is now going to be unlikely. As a result, Sherwood is now blooding some of his young charges - Bentelab, Kane, Fryers - maybe in the hope that the next man in sees the good job he did with these kids (and to prove a point, perhaps?) or maybe for others to see the transformation he was responsible for in Adebayor's return to being a world class footballer.

What now? Three more wins would see Tim equal AVB's haul from last season and yet still finish 7th. How about Louis Van Gaal? Someone else maybe? Does Levy have a clue? Are some of our expensive signings just a bit rubbish? Is it even fair to analyse Spurs in this fashion, given their already legendary comedy status with managers and poor signings? Being a Spurs supporter is never dull (except when AVB was in charge) and there is an element that suggests that die-hard fans don't want success - nearly is so much better than failure.

What would I do if I was Daniel Levy?

Well, I think I'd actually give Sherwood another season. I'd give the man his 18 months because he's actually not doing too bad at all. He's out of his depth, floundering and getting emotional and I actually think that if we're going to let a man go through this in public and learn all the time then it's a bit stupid getting rid of him. Or do Spurs really plan their strategies on an ad hoc basis - I ask again? 

I think Soldado, Lamela, Chiriches, Chadli and Paulinho will all be much better in their second season; Christian Eriksen will be a £40million+ player by the end of next season and if Levy gave Sherwood a few quid to buy another striker, a decent left back and another central defender, we might be okay - other than that, there is the basis for Spurs to do what Liverpool have done this year (especially if the Europa League is treated like an training exercise for the Academy). 

But, I kind of think that's common sense and this is premiership football, therefore common sense is as much an illusion as Spurs challenging for something or acting like the chairman knows what he's doing.