I am a staunch believer in sticking with your manager and players, in giving things time to settle and allowing people to prove themselves. Just last week I wrote not just about the objective reasons why Tim Sherwood would be our manager next season, but also why this is something I would support. Whilst one should always exercise caution in changing their mind about such matters on the basis of 90 minutes of football, sometimes there are watershed moments. There was something rotten about Tottenham on Sunday afternoon; something I haven’t seen dressed in Lillywhite for a fair few years: an indifferent and perfunctory attitude that quite frankly, really pissed me off. I am not directing all my disappointment at poor Mr. Sherwood, but something at White Hart Lane needs to change and it needs to change fast.
My first suspicions about the mindset that was being taken into the game were aroused by the television shots taken in the tunnel. Jan Vertonghen slouched against the wall enjoying a nice chat with the Liverpool players, Danny Rose in casual conversation with Howard Webb and Roberto Soldado with a look on his face nothing short of fear. One must always accept being beaten by the better team, even soundly beaten if they produce a superb performance. Yet, when you know you’ve lost the match before the line-ups have been read across the PA-system, there is something wrong. Say what you want about Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Michael Carrick. They all knew that they wanted out at the end of the season; their agents had been in their ears about the overtures of big clubs for months before the curtain came down. Yet, they gave it everything, they played for the club and cared where we would finish, even if they weren’t going to be around to enjoy the benefits next season. I don’t see that in the body language or the performances of any our players and that is a real worry for two reasons.
The first and most obvious is that our season is (barring a catastrophic implosion by both Everton and Arsenal) now over. There is little left to play for and the players seem to have little desire to play for it regardless. This is of course depressing in its own right. The final six games of the season are likely to be played with the flip-flops on, shying away from tackles to avoid a world-cup ending injury. This is going to be dull to watch and frankly a waste of money for season ticket holders. Nevertheless, there is a second deeper, much more worrying question that this situation throws up.
I started this article with a mention to our manager, Tim Sherwood; yet, don’t let this deceive you. The criticism for today’s performance can’t be laid like a flaming bag of excrement solely at his door. There were 11 players on that pitch this afternoon, a majority of whom, no matter how loudly their fans were singing, no matter how much they are paid, couldn’t have cared less about the result. Whilst the manager is of course responsible for motivation and alike, he can’t change personalities overnight and he can’t make mercenaries play for the badge. Our squad resembles a cacophony of the not good enough and the couldn’t give a shit with a sprinkling of individual yet muted talent. The second, much deeper issue that I wish to discuss is what on earth we are going to do about. I think something needs to change, I said so in my introduction, but what and how?
The issue we are faced with is that most criticisms of our season can be traced back to the summer upheaval and replacement in our squad. If I hear one more commentator or columnist state how we shouldn’t have bought that many new players, I am going to throw a Sherwood and my now hallmark Gilet is going for a trip out of the window. Of course we bought too many players, I know it, you know it, surely even at this stage the immovable Daniel Levy knows it. Great, thank you Mr. Guardian Columnist, you win, we were wrong and you were right: we shouldn’t have blown all the Gareth Bale money in one fell swoop and now we’re up the proverbial creek with no paddle. However, what a lot of these writers have failed to notice is that we now seem to be caught in a catch-22. We’ve just paid the price for squad upheaval and wholesale changes; yet, we’re nearly all in agreement that a lot needs to change at the Lane, including a good number of the players. So, do we stick with what we’ve got and hope they gel over the summer, or do we instantly repeat our mistake of 2013 and have a clear out? To be brutally honest with you all, I don’t know.
The former option of trying to make it work with what we’ve got throws up more questions than Jeremy Paxman on a Monday evening. Do we try and aim for full continuity and keep Tim too? Surely a change of manager would bring further upheaval. What do we do about the players like Jan, Hugo and Eric who may well push for a move? The stick option in this complicated game of Blackjack seems like asking for trouble. There are too many players in the squad who are just not good enough for Spurs or who are good enough, but know it. Keeping this poisonous stew and letting it simmer over a warm summer might lead to another November sacking and pitiful top-4 attempt.
Yet, the latter option is a minefield in its own right. If this were Football Manager or FIFA 14, I’d get rid at least half of our squad. Naughton, Dawson and Rose are not good enough for a team wanting to play Champions League football. If Vertonghen doesn’t want to be here, then don’t make him. If Real Madrid offered me £30 million for Paulinho I’d drive him there myself. I love Aaron Lennon, he was the first name I ever got printed on the back of my shirt, but he has produced next to nothing all season. The less said about Soldado, the better. Nonetheless, this isn’t a computer game and team chemistry is something far more complex than a score out of 100 on your XBOX. If we go and ship out all the dead wood and try replacing it for a second summer running, then aren’t we just repeating old mistakes? It’ll be another season of transition; John Motson will introduce our “New Look Side” on August 10th and we can all pack up and go home for another year.
It seems that we have no option but to plum for the lesser of two evils. I, for one, have yet to decide which one of the two options presented that is. Perhaps I’ll make up my mind over the next six weeks. Perhaps a couple of players will come to the same conclusion and might even start playing for their Spurs career. Although, on the basis of today’s performance, that would be optimistic to the point of absurdity. I don’t know which way Daniel Levy will go but you can bet it will divide opinion in the stands, the press and the dressing room. Whether this summer is the parting of the ways for our staff and a number of our players is a decision that may well determine the foreseeable future of this club.
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