Opinion: A Baptism of fire

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

Japhet Tanganga made his Spurs debut against one of the world’s best players in Cristiano Ronaldo in a pre-season friendly v Juventus during the summer.

In his first training session, Jose Mourinho made a beeline for the young Englishman and made it known that he was fully aware of this.

Fast forward to the 11th January of the same season. When the team sheets for the Liverpool game were announced it was revealed that young Japhet Tanganga would make his Premier League debut. This time not against one of the worlds best but arguably three of them! This may have raised a few eyebrows amongst the Spurs faithful but the calmest man in the stadium, undoubtedly Tanganga himself.

This evoked memories of two famous clashes v Liverpool involving debutants.

In May 1999 a certain Ledley King made his Spurs debut at Anfield of all places in a 3-2 defeat. The rest, as they say, is history……..

When looking back at this game it throws up a number of interesting facts.

Firstly there was the Liverpool trio of Friedel, Leonardson and Redknapp. All three also representing Spurs with some distinction.
Secondly (and I would challenge the most knowledgeable of Spurs history students to recall this) the Norwegian Roger Nilson made one of his three Spurs appearances.

Finally, Spurs were managed by George Graham. A manager who struggled to win over fans but ultimately delivered a trophy. Let’s hope that Mourinho can replicate the silverware but have more joy with the supporters!

The former Arsenal manager was sacked in 2001 by new owners ENIC for an alleged breach of contract. Interestingly earlier that week Graham had gone to the press and cited a limited transfer budget. A lot has moved on in the intervening years, not least the stadium. Some things seemingly don’t change………

The following November Spurs hosted Liverpool. This was an era when Spurs fans didn’t have great expectations when playing Liverpool. This feeling probably much the same as Spurs fans experienced in the lead up to today’s game, albeit there has been a more level playing field in the intervening years.

The symmetry continued with young full back Alton Thelwell making his debut in a starting 11 featuring 8 Englishmen. This was arguably a more left field pick than Tanganga with Thelwell finding himself up against the lethal duo of Fowler and Owen.

The youngster only went on to represent Spurs 18 times but had a decent lower league career. Most notably with Hull and Leyton Orient.

Interestingly this game was acknowledged as the game in which Ledley King cemented his place as a first team regular with a stellar performance in the centre of midfield.

Against the odds Spurs emerged victorious by two goals to one with goals coming from Sir Les and ex-manager Tim Sherwood.

Sadly the similarities with today ended here as Spurs slipped to defeat by the odd goal.

While some will argue that there are positives ultimately another pointless game has further harmed top four aspirations.

I can however accept the positives providing this performance is used as a catalyst for improvement.

The players MUST replicate the hunger shown in this game today in the forthcoming games against Middlesbrough and Watford. Today’s efforts mustn’t be in isolation.

I think there was enough evidence today that the man that some opposition fans and journalists label a dinosaur isn’t quite extinct yet. Tactically the Portuguese manager didn’t do a lot wrong considering the depleted squad. I don’t think Mourinho could have done a lot more baring strapping on his boots and defending the throw in.

The performance gave Spurs fans hope that there is a way of playing without Kane despite Mourinho’s pre game protestations.

I particularly liked the fact that Son and Moura traded left wing / centre forward positions and also felt that the right wing position suited Aurier more than his usual defensive role. (Perhaps a sad indictment of the current depth of the squad though)

Mourinho resisted the temptation to play five in the middle with Alli playing close to the centre forward. This meant playing Alli in his best position as well as meaning a more offensive approach than most probably anticipated.

Spurs at times went toe to toe with the best team in the world and probably should have won a point. However the reality is Spurs fans want more than this with this team feeling a long way off from the one that was challenging the upper echelons in recent seasons.

Finally there was Mourinho’s blooding of young Tanganga, sensibly in the right full back position. I’ve often felt that more aspiring centre halves should cut their teeth in this way, much the same as when Jamie Carragher first broke into the Liverpool team.

While I’ve made reference to the likes of  King and Carragher we shouldn’t get carried away. Pochettino’s mistake with young Marcus Edward’s evidence that comparisons at this stage of a career are futile. However, there was enough about Tanganga’s performance today to suggest that one of Mourinho’s short term priorities should be to get the youngsters signature on a new contract.

While players can undoubtedly show promise on the training ground there is no bigger test of temperament than a debut against the league leaders. Jose should be very satisfied with what he saw.

Since Klopp’s first game in charge, ironically a 4-1 defeat at White Hart Lane a chasm has developed between the two sides. Spurs initially keeping pace with the Merseyside club only to rapidly be left behind in recent seasons.

We may get an idea of who quickly Spurs are likely to close the gap by their decisiveness in the transfer market both now and in the summer. Time will tell.

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