It’s always Chelsea. It is. Every time. There is just something about this fixture that causes knots in the stomach and a sense of unease to overwhelm the senses.
Thus it was so that I was sat on my sofa, teeth gritted and nerves jangling as Monday’s fixture kicked off.
However, to my pure elation, the form book was absolutely spot on in the first fifteen minutes.
Despite an element of fortune in the finish, the sweeping move for Dejan Kulusevski’s goal was scintillating. Moments later, Son thought he had steered the ball in to make it 2-0. Alas, correctly, the offside flag was raised and after the first of many lengthy VAR checks, play resumed.
This, in my most humble opinion, was where the damage was done.
At the time of that goal, Tottenham were in full flow and who could have begrudged them a two-nil lead? Yet the break helped settle Chelsea and calm their nerves.
If this were a boxing analogy Spurs had come flying out of the traps, scored a knockdown and then, while the opponent was stunned, landed a low blow – allowing them time to regroup.
The mentality at this point became scrambled. Instead of pausing, the boxer desperately tries to start the fight again with the momentum they had initially accrued in the opening stages.
However, the thing about momentum is that it needs to be built up. The opponent then benefited from the almost desperate attempt to regain the initiative and built a foothold. That foothold then panicked the team who had previously looked imperious and they pressed harder to reassert their dominance and in doing so started losing control.
This is exactly what happened on Monday. I think it was and is clear that Tottenham are by far the better footballing team. On Monday’s evidence – even with ten men – it wasn’t close.
The fans saw it and so did Ange Postecoglou.
The problem is that the players did not quite realise this. If they had they would have realised that they could outplay Chelsea and go on to record a relatively comfortable victory and had ninety minutes to do this.
Instead, they felt as though they needed to put Chelsea away early and go all out to land a knockout. When that blow seemed a bit elusive, it got frantic, desperate and out of control. This rashness was personified by Cristian Romero, who needlessly got himself sent off – giving away a penalty into the bargain.
Before I deep dive into this most significant of moments a little deeper, I must make several things clear about my position on this:
- Romero is an outstanding defender and has the capacity to be in the ‘World Class’ bracket.
- The decision to make him a vice-captain was a brilliant one and demonstrates excellent man-management on behalf of Ange Postecoglou.
- The challenge he made on Monday night (after his almost equally poor decision to kick out whilst prone on the floor) was infantile, hot-headed and quite frankly stupid.
What needs to be ‘cleared up’ first is that it was undoubtedly a red card. To my mind, it is not even a debate.
Online, a plethora of supporters seem to think that putting up a still of Romero’s foot low on the ball and writing ‘Please explain to me how this is a red card?’ means it’s an air-tight defence.
The truth of the matter is that he followed through hard with his studs up and endangered the safety of the opposition player. I don’t care how myopically biased and partisan you are – there is no defending this.
He was getting the ball and deliberately going in to ‘make a mark’. There is no place for that in today’s game – if ever there was.
If you still feel that he was hard done by, imagine that Thiago Silva had done that to James Maddison. You would be spitting feathers, fuming and baying for blood. Anyone still denying that – there’s no hope for you.
But let’s rewind a bit.
Arguably, Romero’s first mistake was moments before when Destiny Udogie lunged in two-footed and somehow escaped a red card, Romero should have been in his ear talking some sense to him and encouraging the team to take a breath and calm down.
I know that it’s probably not in Ange’s playbook, but he could have ‘suggested’ to someone to go down with a ‘slight tweak’ and just take a beat. He is part of the leadership team and that means to lead by example and identify when the collective need to be calmed.
Some may counter this and argue that ‘aggression is part of his game, and if you take that away from him then you lose so much of what makes him good’.
This is a fair point, indeed it’s absolutely true. Yet one can be icily calm and still aggressive. In fact, I want him to judge tackles and go in hard – but fair. I want him to challenge aggressively in the air for the ball – but without throwing an elbow.
Aggression and rage do not automatically have to go together.
The issue we have here, is that he acted like an Under-9s player – and I am not saying this to be hyperbolic. Minutes before, Thiago Silva goes into him – aggressively, but fairly. Romero thinks he deserves a free kick and doesn’t like this, then lashes out, not once but twice.
You see it with kids all the time. Something doesn’t go their way, and they are unable to control their emotions, because they believe getting retribution ‘levels the score’. However, children pretty quickly realise, in many cases because their coaches make it crystal clear, that behaving like this is actually fruitless and gains you nothing.
Indeed, if anything you end up being in a bigger mess than you started in in the first place.
The ‘joke’ here is that Romero is not a child. He is not a Year 4 kid in the playground or over the park. He is a grown man at one of the biggest clubs in the world and performing on one of the biggest stages in football, and as of a few days ago, he still has not learned this lesson.
He needs to and fast, because he cost Tottenham massively in that game.
Now I am not suggesting that the subsequent injuries, red card for Udogie and eventual defeat are all things that can be blamed solely on him. Yet his petulant actions shaped the way for the rest of the game.
So, what now? Despite my previous remarks about his immaturity, he will not learn unless he is treated like an adult and with respect. Ange knows this.
The days of being summoned to the office for a dressing down and a bollocking are in the past pretty much – and so they should be.
Ange will have a conversation and it will be frank and to the point. Romero is supposed to be a leader and he didn’t show it.
Now at this point, the conversation goes two ways. Hopefully, he throws up his hands, accepts the point, and believes it, then apologises to the coach and the players. Not in a staged social media post, but properly and from the heart.
If the conversation swings the other way, and he gets all defensive and argues the point – trying to plead innocence, then there is a longer-term issue.
Let’s get it straight – Romero until this point has been immense. A colossus at the back. Yes, he has a ‘colourful’ past at Tottenham before Ange, but I am happy to ignore this, because my opinion is that he was really poorly managed by the previous regime and not used to his strengths.
But this has to be a line-in-the-sand moment for the Argentine. For me and the majority of the fans, there is no animosity moving forward. But there cannot be a repeat.
Cuti Romero. Grow up. Front up. And go on to be the player you are destined to be.
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