Spine point


One of the comments posted underneath my first article, about Ricky Villa’s debut goal for us in 1978, queried whether it was going to be “all old school now?” Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a trip down memory White Hart Lane now and again but I don’t particularly want to live there. I don’t think that the teams and players of old are better just because they are the teams and players of old, anymore than I hold with that ludicrous claim that gets trotted out every so often that the players from the past couldn’t live with today’s players because the latter are so much fitter and the game so much faster now. ( If Greavesie and Gillie were playing today, they’d have the benefit of modern training methods and be just fine. Ok, so they’d also have to lay off the booze a bit).

Now, while I would argue that the midfield quartet of the late 70s and early 80s of Ossie Ardiles, Ricky Villa, Glenn Hoddle and Steve Perryman was quite possibly the most collectively skilful ever to don the lilywhite shirt, I also recognise that the team they graced lost 7 – 0 at Anfield once. And there have been many Spurs teams, before and since, which, while drawing plaudits for exhilarating attacking play at times, were equally derided for being ‘soft on the road’, mentally fragile, consistently inconsistent. Only a year or so ago, Alan Hansen on Match of the Day voiced what a lot of Spurs fans secretly felt when he said, when asked whether ‘this time’ Spurs could challenge for the title: “You always know where you are with Spurs – they’ll always let you down.” Harsh words, perhaps, but more than a grain of truth. It’s why we’ve not really ever been considered as title contenders since the double days of Bill Nick. Good for a fair number of cups along the way, even in Europe, but not for mounting a serious challenge in the league.

We’re a notoriously hard bunch to please, us Spurs fans. Some so-called big teams would kill for a ‘mere’ cup or two to put in their trophy cabinets – Newcastle, 42 years and counting since a Fairs Cup win, spring to mind. But I think it’s fair to say that many of us now, despite us constantly reminding Arse Whinger that 4th place isn’t a trophy, would sacrifice cup success ( been there, done that, got the Chas & Dave single (ok, not the last bit)) for consistently getting into the top four and the Champions League ( been there once, liked it). Dare I say it ( and remember that every time one of our players or managers says it, it signals a dip in form and a slip back down to 5th place), even a tilt at the title.

So, what has stopped us in the past? Apart, of course, from that dodgy lasagne before the last game of the season at West Ham a few years back. Well, leaving aside the aberration of 4th place under Harry a couple of years ago, I feel we have pretty much been guilty as charged by our accusers; fragile, rarely capable of clutching victory from the jaws of defeat but all too frequently capable of the reverse, often lacking an inspiring leader on the pitch capable of instilling a collective ‘rolled-up sleeves’ mentality when the going gets tough. In short, we have, at crucial times over the years, appeared somewhat spineless in the face of adversity. Indeed, in the home 2004 cup game against Man. City we notoriously managed to achieve invertebrate status without adversity (a.k.a. Joey Barton) even being on the pitch, somehow conspiring to throw away a 3-0 lead against 10 men to lose 4-3.

Harry recognised this problem and tried, with some success, to address it by getting what he felt were proven winners into our team. But we still lost valuable points to teams that we should have beaten and I can remember matches where the opposition winning a corner was as good as a penalty, so poor were we at defending them at times. Anyway, most professionals argue that successful teams are built from the back forward and need a spine running through the centre of the team; a safe pair of hands between the sticks, a strong partnership in central defence, a ball-winning midfielder and a striker who can hold the ball up and score goals rather than appear that he is actually on strike (like Adebayor for much of last season). Maybe that is what AVB is now seeking to build, judging by the number of clean sheets we’ve kept. We are certainly no longer seen as a soft touch on the road. We have, in Lloris, possibly our most reliable goalkeeper since Pat Jennings. Vertonghen is a great buy, who not only exudes confidence himself but seems able to inspire it in others at the back. Sandro is exactly what we’ve needed in midfield – a player capable of breaking up opponents attacks and starting our own. In short, we seem to be getting better defensively – notwithstanding that horrendous result at home to West Ham, which we can only hope was something of a fluke and not a sign of things to come – and that should provide us with a good platform on which to build.

My worry is that, while we often seem to dominate possession in games, we are doing so in areas where the opposition are happy to let us have it and are struggling to move the ball quickly enough to break defences down. While we are not conceding many goals, we are not scoring many, at least in the league, either, hence our miserable goal difference. This does not bode well should we, as when undone by the self-proclaimed tactical genius of big Sam Allardyce against West Ham, go behind and have to chase the game.

Let’s hope that we can now start to get the balance right and start adding goals to our game. Maybe that excellent 2nd at Villa will kick start a scoring run from Soldado. If that happens and we keep Sandro fit, get Kaboul and Danny Rose back fit and keep Townsend on form, who knows where we might go. How I’d love to witness a real return to the ‘Glory Glory’ days; winning, as Danny Blanchflower used to say, with style, not just boring the opposition to death.

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